[Hpn] COH-SF Responds to SF Chronicle's Bised Coverage on Homelessness

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 23 Dec 2003 13:12:36 -0800

The San Francisco Chronic-Lies

By Paul Boden

Americans love to romanticize the press. We value the belief that our news
is free of tyranny and oppression by our government. We believe that the
articles we read bring us factual information and that reporters are
diligent and unbiased in getting at the truth.

While this romanticized naivity may be incredibly admirable, and maybe even
kind of cute for most, from the perspective of poor people and poverty
issues it is incredibly dangerous.

The media in general, and newspapers in particular, have more and more
become products. In good olı capitalist U$A, products are sold to make
money, which in turn makes us (people) into consumers. Economics 101 teaches
that the best consumer is a wealthy consumer, be they corporate or

As weıve seen with the shift of the San Francisco Chronicle from a local
paper to a regional newspaper the press is not free nor is it unbiased when
its Number One priority is to make more money.

When a product such as a newspaper seeks to attract wealthy consumers it
must package itself in a way that reflects those interests and
sensibilities. Thus we see a paper that is packaged primarily on its
business, sports and entertainment sections, while its news division is
reduced to gossip. AP wire stories and regurgitating press releases with
little or no fact checking in evidence.

Cries of separation of advertising, editorial board, and news divisions may
still be ringing in the halls of the old Chronicle Building on Mission
Street but they are clearly no longer heard in the newsroom.

So as not to be labeled just another lefty rant against the corporate media
we present you with two examples of the Chronicleıs disinterest in accuracy
when "reporting" on poverty (also see the article following this one).

The first email reproduced here was sent to city editor Chuck Finnie on
11/20/03. While he replied agreeing that we should talk as of today,
12/20/03, no discussion has ever taken place:
Dear Chuck

I hope this e mail finds you well.

I am writing to you regarding an issue that arose with reporter Rachel
Gordon of your city hall office.

In two separate articles (8/23/03 and 9/05/03) Rachael stated as a fact that
Court decisions have made it difficult to enforce aggressive panhandling

After the first article I called Rachel to tell her that while Newsom claims
court decisions had been made regarding these laws, in fact no such cases
had ever been brought to court. After the second article I had a lawyer do
extra research and write a memo to verify that no courts had made a ruling
or even heard a plea on this law.

I brought the documentation to Rachel and asked her why these claims were
not in quotes or led with "Newsom claims," but were instead in the body of
her pieces as a matter of fact. I asked what research she had done to verify
her writing. She admitted to me that she had not done any fact checking but
she thought she had maybe gotten an email from the city attorney. She then
looked at my memo and seemed to feel that since my information was in fact
accurate, and her articles were not, that she would be able to run a
corrected story on this issue (Prop M).

After a couple of weeks she told me that her editor said no. Hence my letter
to you...

Why wouldnıt the chron want to correct inaccurate reporting? Arenıt chron
reporters trained to check their facts before including it in two separate
articles? How are we to believe that the editorial positions donıt influence
the reporting when things like this go uncorrected?

I wasnıt asking Rachael to be our advocate (we have our own paper for that).
I was truly asking her to correct her mistake, and I also felt that if the
city attorney had given her intentionally bad information that was a story
in its own right. Possibly even a pretty juicy city hall story regarding the
impact of politics in the city attorneyıs office.

The fact that Newsom then used these articles in his campaign lit. just
added to our frustration in this matter. Had she been allowed to correct
this he couldnıt have exploited Rachelıs mistakes.

Iıve known Rachel for a long time and for the most part respect her work,
but the chron editors knowing of this and refusing to correct it should
concern you all.

If youıre willing to talk my number is 346-3740. Thanks for your time and

Paul Boden

The second example here is a letter we sent after a Chronicle editor used a
pull quote to take a random poke at us. This letter was sent by the letters
editor to be "vetted" by the news section before they reluctantly ran an
truncated version of what we had actually written:

In spite of the sensationalist photos, what really jumped out at me in
todayıs article was the comments from our U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein. Is
having to see "at least 20 homeless people" [on her way] coming home from
the airport really all she had to say on the issue? What an insult to all of
us who are living on a daily basis with this crisis before us! One of the
most powerful politicians on a federal level, and sheıs upset that she must
drive past us.

Hey Dianne, how about working with us on the local level (you remember us
donıt you, you used to be our mayor) to call for a restoration of the
federal funding we used to get for housing and treatment. When we were able
to access those funds we didnıt have "Homeless Islands" or "Homeless
Territories" and the children in our public schools werenıt living in the
back of a truck.

Itıs way past time for our State and Federal elected representatives to stop
driving past us and start working with us to address this shame once and for

Iıd like to see the mayoral candidatesı plans to make that happen.
Paul Boden

(see a reproduction of this letter as it was ultimately published on this

When we get to a place where accuracy is as important as advertising
revenue, and reporters are required (and given the time) to do fact
checking, we might actually learn more about our communities as we read the
paper every day; we might actually get our local paper back; and we might
actually learn more about our government and the important role it plays in
our lives.

Itıs a New Year... weıre allowed to hope.

*    *    *

Journalistic Inaccuracies and Editorial Bias in the San Francisco
Chronicle's Pre-election 2003 Series on Homelessness: "The Shame of the

By Jennifer Friedenbach

The Chronicle recently ran a five-part series, suspiciously timed the week
before the mayoral election, and politically positioned to support the
Chronicleıs candidate. In the series, there are many erroneous statements,
missing context and biased slant.

$200,000,000 spent on homelessness in San Francisco ‹ The Chronicle

came up with this number prior to the official number coming from the
Controllerıs office. According the San Francisco Controller, San Francisco
spends $97 million in direct homeless services and $5,000,000 in

169 homeless people died last year ‹Actually, an unknown number of homeless
people died on the streets of undetermined causes last year. There was NO
actual study or official report done to determine this number, and there has
not been one since 1999, although a partial study was done in 2000. Gavin
Newsom often repeats this false figure. He often changes it to " from 169
homeless to 169 panhandlers" according to what suits his purposes, and
claims to know cause of death.

Family homelessness under represented - According to our research, there
were 1,100 homeless families in this same time period, not 930 as the
Chronicle states. Currently, there at 151 families (more then 130) on the
waitlist for shelter. While the Housing Authority will not tell you this, a
more realistic figure is a 7 ‹ 8 year wait for housing.

No turnaways in the shelter between October 6 ‹ November 2, 2003-

Since the Department of Human Services stopped keeping track of turnaways in
1996, they have consistently reported they have empty beds each night and no
turnaways. Unfortunately, this is misleading; any further cursory
investigation uncovers many people trying to get shelter and being turned
away during these time periods and dozens of people sleeping in chairs at
drop-in centers. They also donıt count families who are turned away until a
separate article. 

In addition, the implementation of fingerprinting over the summer of 2003
led to a drastic reduction in shelter seeking. 44% of Latino immigrants and
30% of the general homeless population are now choosing to sleep on the
streets instead of in shelters (Shelter survey, 2003, COH)

Homeless People Congregate Around Services -- They make statements that most
homeless people congregate around services. Actually, according to the
Mayorıs office, most homeless people are in the more disenfranchised
neighborhoods, like under-served Bayview Hunters Point. Homelessness is an
urban problem, and disproportionately affects people of color, and other
oppressed groups. 

There is no plan - The Chronicle states "there is no plan" to address
homelessness in San Francisco ­ a favorite Newsom one-liner. They point to
Care Not Cash and Prop M as measures that got voter approval but could not
get political agreement. Actually there is a plan ‹ with costs, timeline and
responsibility all laid out in implementation plan. It is titled the
"Continuum of Care". It has broad agreement, but has been hijacked by
ambitious politicians that keep bringing up tried and failed proposals to
penalize homeless people. Our homeless policies are dictated by
scape-goating ballot initiatives rather then the community plans derived by
experts, homeless people and involved community members.

More hard-core homeless in San Francisco -- A Chronicle chart states 40% of
homeless people are "hard-core" in San Francisco. This assumes every person
on the streets falls into this category. This number is then compared with
what percentage of "hard-core" are in other cities. Other cities, however,
define chronic homeless according to the federal definition, which is based
on length of time being homeless. Beyond guesswork, we simply do not have
that data available in San Francisco. For example, the Chronicle compares
"hard-core" homeless population of all of San Francisco with smaller street
population in the upscale island of Manhattan, failing to mention that
homeless people have been pushed out to the poor borroughs by policy makers
and police.

The kindness San Francisco extends to the homeless allows the

problem to persist - One Chronicle chart shows how much we spend on
homelessness and how many people we have. While their own chart shows less
money is spent per person in San Francisco, they fail to mention that.

Missing Context:

Policy Decisions That Created the Homeless Crisis - We have not had this

number of homeless people in the United States since the Great Depression.
San Franciscoıs homeless program started up in Oct. 1982 with Mayor
Feinstein's "temporary emergency shelter program" ‹ the same year federal
funding for housing was at its lowest peak, having dropped about 80%. We
have also seen decades of cuts to mental health and substance abuse
treatment that have ravaged those systems.

Failed Policies in San Francisco - While the Chronicle headlines would lead
readers to think it is our generosity that perpetuates homelessness, in
reality our spending expenditures around homelessness have focused on
police, criminal justice and Public Works interventions ‹ not exactly
solutions. In 2001 alone, we spent $30 million on police enforcement ‹ three
times the amount expended on emergency shelters services.

Homeless Families are not the "rarity" - Headline on front page refers

to a small group of hardcore drug addicted and possibly mentally ill
homeless individuals and calls them " the harsh face of the homeless in San
Francisco" . Below the fold, a family who's children do well in school is
referred to as a "rarity". Percentage wise these two groups are about equal,
one is the face of the homeless while the other is rare.

Shelters Are Not Safe - Headlines state that contrary to homeless peopleıs
perceptions, shelters are safe, Yet, in their own article someone gets
stabbed and flagrant drug dealing is happening.

Chronicle Bias:

The Chronicle, KRON, KPIX, the Examiner and other media have done this
series many times now. They have all focused almost exclusively on the most
dramatic individuals they meet without any attempt to examine the broader
questions as to why this is happening. Ironically, they are always timed to
coincide with another punitive ballot proposition, or a Mayoral election.

For years local communities across America have called for the State and
Federal funds to reestablish our housing and residential treatment systems.
Yet this past year, S.F. suffered over 2 million in substance abuse service
cuts and lost funding for 22 residential mental health treatment beds. This
past budget cycle almost all outreach funding was cut from the health
department. According to Dr. Mitch Katz, Director of Health, "We don't have
anymore services for them"

True leadership on homelessness will REQUIRE an examination of what existed
prior to 1982 and how do we get those social supports back. True leadership
would DEMAND that all state and federal agencies take responsibility for and
address homelessness in S.F and across the nation.


chance martin, Project Coordinator
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA  94102
415 / 346.3740-voice € 415 / 775.5639-fax