A local university professor has charged the San Diego Daily Transcript with "yellow journalism," and said he is planning to organize a boycott of the daily business newspaper.
UCSD political science professor Steve Erie, a regularly quoted political pundit in the national and local media, told CityBeat he is "appalled" by the Transcript's coverage of San Diego's recent mayoral election.
He points to the replacement of Kevin Christensen, the Transcript's lead politics reporter who had covered the mayoral election since it began in April, with Elizabeth Malloy, a newcomer to San Diego and its politics in late September.
With Christensen reassigned from the campaign beat, Erie said the Transcript's coverage tilted dramatically in the favor of Sanders, who eventually won. He said that bias became most evident in the final week of the election when Malloy didn't report a story tying Sanders to Fred Pierce, the controversial former chair of the city's embattled pension board, or write an article about how Sanders' top lieutenant, Ronne Froman, despite attending fundraisers and campaign events, had refused to talk to the media until after the election. Two other dailies closely covering the campaign, the Union-Tribune and the Voice of San Diego, covered both stories.
"The big anti-Sanders stories that broke the last week or so of the campaign, they were in every other newspaper and never saw the light of day in the Transcript," said Erie. "They changed the lead reporter and they changed their coverage. No other paper in town did so."
Erie alleges that the Transcript also benefited from its bias, pointing out that the day before the embargo on Froman was lifted, Malloy landed an exclusive interview.
"It looks to me like a quid pro quo," he said.
Erie said he will no longer return calls from the newspaper's reporters and plans to ask his colleagues at UCSD and San Diego State University to do the same.
The Transcript "is not a newspaper," he said. "It's a propaganda arm of the Sanders campaign."
Contacted by CityBeat, Christensen and Malloy both declined to comment. But Erie said he suspects they were pressured by their editor-in-chief, Reo Carr, who Erie thinks was facing pressure from some combination of the newspaper's publisher, the Sanders campaign and the downtown business establishment.
As of press time Tuesday, Carr hadn't returned calls from CityBeat. Transcript publisher Robert Loomis declined to comment on what he called personnel matters. Loomis did say he thought his paper's coverage was appropriate and called Erie's threatened boycott "a childish suggestion and very, very unsophisticated."
"We are a business publication.... We serve the business community. What is news to us is looked at through that prism at all times," Loomis said.
"I can't tell you why we didn't cover things because I don't make those decisions, but I think that, overall, we tried to present our audience with a balanced picture of what was going on, and when something was important enough to be brought to the attention of the business community we would try and cover it."
Although the Transcript never officially endorsed a candidate, Loomis is listed on the Sanders campaign website as a supporter. Out of hundreds of individuals, Loomis is one of just a handful whose occupation is listed on the website. Campaign records also show Loomis gave Sanders $300, the maximum amount allowed by law.
"I don't think that as publisher I give up my First Amendment rights," he said. "I have a perfect right to endorse any candidate I want to."
Tom Shepard, Sanders' campaign consultant, didn't respond to messages Tuesday, but Scott Maloni, a Sanders' campaign spokesperson, dismissed Erie's accusations. "That's sour grapes," he said. "Steve supported a losing candidate and he's obviously upset."
Erie said he remained neutral, was critical of both campaigns at times and didn't endorse a candidate. "If the Frye people had done this, I would be doing the same thing," he said.Jesse Knight, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said he respects Erie's opinion but called his allegations "ridiculous." Knight said, "The fact is my organization had nothing to do with it."