The San Diego Union-Tribune's layoff last week of Bob Kittle, the conservative editor of the paper's editorial page, was huge news. He was an institution in San Diego who had more influence over public policy than any other local journalist. Politicians were often sent scrambling to hold press conferences to respond to editorials either written by Kittle or published under his watch. He had direct lines of communication with local leaders—not just Republicans, but also establishment-type Democrats.
Simply put, Kittle was a key defender of the old business guard, a reliable booster for civic projects backed by longtime, well-heeled corporate interests. He had little use for left-leaning rabble-rousers such as former City Attorney Mike Aguirre or City Councilmember Donna Frye—Frye couldn't buy a word of praise on Kittle's page even when she stood firm against pay raises coveted by the unions, which Kittle detests with unparalleled ferocity.
But Kittle's protection of status quo extended beyond the boundaries of the editorial page. In 2003, he threw a hissy fit when he learned that CityBeat's editor had been added to the stable of fill-in guest pundits on KPBS's popular weekly radio show Editors Roundtable. In an e-mail to the show's then-producer, Pam Hardy—copied to the president of SDSU, someone from Cox Communications (which used to broadcast a version of the show on TV) and the higher-ups at KPBS—he said he didn't want to be associated in any way with CityBeat because of its use of off-color language, and he expressed shock that KPBS would want to associate itself with such “trash.”
However, the key part of Kittle's e-mail was where he referred to a meeting in which show host Gloria Penner apparently promised not to make any changes to the show without the approval of Kittle and the two other regular panelists. We believe it showed how tightly he wanted to maintain control over the dissemination of information in San Diego; he wanted things predictable and orderly.
Kittle stayed true to his boycott of any show that included CityBeat's editor. Hardy deserves a huge amount of credit for opening that show to other voices. Not long after that incident, she lobbied successfully to begin rotating in editors from other newspapers, magazines, websites and TV stations. Kittle and his cohorts quit the show in protest but returned under a deal whereby they would remain a unit for every other week's show. As a result, Penner maintained the trio she thought had developed chemistry, and KPBS's listeners got a far richer experience with the inclusion of a new group of panelists every two weeks. For example, no longer was the token liberal opinion on the show exclusively the realm of John Warren, a man who approves of the continued discrimination of gay Americans. These days, the list of panelists numbers more than a dozen and is growing all the time.
The point is, Kittle wanted the opposite.
It can be argued that what happened on Editors Roundtable was a sort of microcosm of what was happening in San Diego. Pam Hardy saw it. Politically, the town was moving increasingly leftward, becoming more like California's other large coastal cities. Seven months prior to Kittle's boycott, the election of Mike Zucchet and Charles Lewis meant that Democrats held six of nine seats on the City Council. Union leaders and environmentalists, Kittle's least favorite people, were gaining influence. No longer was a paper whose publisher loathes gay people and spends millions on initiatives that attempt to restrict abortion rights (The Reader) the city's only alternative weekly.
Fast-forward six years: The U-T's been sold, leaving observers to wonder if the end was near for Kittle's reign as the city's top opinion leader. That question's been answered, of course. But was it because the new owners desired a more moderate political stance to reflect a moderate citizenry—one that now holds environmentalism as a mainstream value, for example? Or was it simply about money?
The paper's editorial board is down to five people, but they're still conservative-libertarian—moderate on social issues but zealously pro-business, anti-worker and anti-environment. Monday's editorials, both of which bore the unmistakable fingerprints of blogger Chris Reed, ridiculed the state Coastal Commission for being overprotective of coastal waters and chided healthcare reform as too expensive.
So, the end of Bob Kittle? Yes. End of an era? Probably not.What do you think? Write to email@example.com.