Judging from the comments following a recent interview on voiceofsandiego.org with new San Diego Union-Tribune publisher Ed Moss, some people seem preoccupied with whether or not the U-T's editorial stance is way too conservative for its readership. It's the same whenever the paper is discussed on KPBS—callers often want to talk about the editorials.
But the thing about the U-T's editorials isn't that they're not moderate enough—really, the paper could be so much worse on issues like civil rights and immigration—it's that when they are rabidly conservative, such as when they discuss unions or environmentalists, they're insultingly simplistic and seem to assume readers agree with their premise: that unions are bad to the core or that the economy always trumps ecology.
Take, for instance, last Sunday's editorial, “Our incoherent City Council,” about San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders ongoing attempts to outsource some city services to the private sector. The U-T said, basically, that six of the eight members of the City Council are so beholden to the city employee unions that they were forced into a corner where the only option was to be downright “daffy.”
The editorial argued that in voting to send Sanders back to the drawing board with his “managed competition” guide book, a policy document that spells out the rules for outsourcing, the council was essentially saying that the mayor's plan is too good for the taxpayers: Because union compensation is higher than private companies' compensation, private companies have an unfair advantage over city workers when bidding for jobs, which can only mean lower costs, which can only be a good thing for the city of San Diego—and, therefore, the council hates the idea because it's too great an idea. The only explanation for such an “incoherent” stance, the editorial concludes, is that the unions are pulling the strings of the Democrats on the council.
Now, even CityBeat has questioned union influence on the City Council, so it would disingenuous for us to say some council members aren't beholden, to some degree, to the unions that helped get them elected. But the U-T either doesn't understand the context surrounding the outsourcing issue or, more likely, it simply chooses not to share that context with its readers, opting instead for a ridiculously black-and-white, good-and-evil take on the story.
First of all, Councilmember Donna Frye stood up to the unions not long ago when it came time for pay raises, so, in her case, for example, you couldn't possibly call this a matter of union-lapdoggery.
But more importantly, outsourcing is well known to be an ideological issue. Liberals like us are genuinely concerned about the deterioration of healthcare coverage and retirement security, not only for its impact on individuals, but also for the welfare of society at large. We believe the country would be better off in the long run if everyone had access to preventative healthcare maintenance; the sicker people get, the higher the cost to treat their illnesses. And we shudder to imagine how things will be when today's workers, who rely on 401Ks or worse, are 75 or 80 years old and can no longer work.
Could it be that some public officials would like to help preserve the last remaining bastion of health and retirement security—the public sector? Could it be that they believe government should set an example for how workers should be treated?
Yes, sometimes unions ask for too much, and every public official must balance the union interest with the public interest, but determining that services shouldn't be handed over to the private sector simply because the private sector doesn't have to bear the cost of a decent healthcare plan, particularly when it means increasing the ranks of the underinsured, is hardly an irrational stance to take.
What's irrational is thinking that your readers will continue to take your crude editorials seriously when they fail to demonstrate the most basic understanding of the other side's position.
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