Oct. 23 2012 12:00 AM

Short answer: Editors say they didn't know publisher invested in '2016: Obama's America'


The new owners of San Diego's largest daily newspapers are using the media to "trumpet" right-wing causes? You don't say, Associated Press

OK, so Doug Manchester and John Lynch's commitment to using U-T San Diego (and now whatever the North County Times has become) as a propaganda instrument is getting to be old, old, sad, old news. Yet, the latest piece by reporter Elliot Spagat does include one tidbit that was fresh, even to the U-T's editors: ---

Manchester invested in San Diego-area resident Dinesh D'Souza's hit documentary, "2016: Obama's America," which portrays a gloomy future if the president is re-elected, according to Lynch.

This buried factoid is quite the scoop, since the film received significant play in the U-T during its theatrical run. The film was promoted on the editorial pages in a particularly batty rant about what the country might look like after a second Obama term (Death panels! No more God on the dollar!). The news pages ran dueling reviews written by former California Republican Party chair Ron Nehring and former City Councilmember Donna Frye. Then there was a piece by writer Peter Rowe declaring the film a sleeper hit. 

"After premiering in Houston in mid-July, the political documentary from Rancho Santa Fe's Dinesh D'Souza spent a snoozy month playing in fewer than 200 theaters," Rowe writes in the follow-up to an earlier, mostly positive profile. "This sleeper, though, has awakened-with a roar."

The film got plenty of play from the U-T in the letters pages and wire copy. Nowhere, however, is Manchester's financial involvement disclosed. 

Nor was it disclosed to Frye when she was asked to contribute to the U-T's coverage. Frye tells CityBeat via email:

I received a call from the U-T asking if I would do a movie review. I was told there would be two reviews, one from me as a Democrat and one written by a Republican. I never knew, until just now, that Doug Manchester was an investor in the movie, but did notice how many full-page color ads there were in the paper while the movie was in the theaters. I wonder how much he invested?

The disclosure, Frye says, wouldn't have changed her decision to participate, but it could've impacted what she wrote. 

"Had I known, I likely would have mentioned it in my review," she says. "The public has a right to know that."

The U-T's government editor Michael Smolens says he was unaware of Manchester's involvement and that, to his knowledge, there was no directive from up high to cover the film. Smolens writes via email: 

I was unaware of Manchester's involvement in the film at the time and only became aware from the recent news reports. If I had known, I would have mentioned that to them.

U-T Editor Jeff Light initiated the concept in a discussion he and I had about the documentary. We thought having reviews from Donna and Ron would provide a balance, coming from both sides of the partisan aisle. We also thought having the reviews done by people so well known in local politics would increase reader interest.

Inquiries sent to U-T San Diego editor Jeff Light's email account were responded to with an automatic message that Light will be out of the office until the eve of the election. 

We also asked Bill Osborne, the newspaper's editorial page editor, why the editorial board decided not to disclose Manchester's financial relationship in the unsigned editorial about the film. He writes:

There was no decision. If I recall correctly, the only thing published on the editorial/opinion pages regarding the film was the editorial John Lynch wrote back in September. I was unaware of any financial tie Mr. Manchester might have to the film. In fact, I am still unaware of any financial tie. So I had no decision to make.

Last week, the filmmaker, D'Souza, resigned as head of The King's College, an evangelical college in New York, after reports that he's has become engaged to another woman while still married. So far, the U-T has featured two short AP stories. 

This isn't the only conflict of interest the U-T left undisclosed. In August, business writer Mike Freeman wrote about AT&T's bid to buy out NextWave Wireless without mentioning that Manchester sits on NextWave's board


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