Friday, March 9, 2012

Life lessons

Why do I feel as if our U-T San Diego daily newspaper is shouting at me?  Headlines are so big.  So BOLD.  They jump right off the page. 

Just take a look.  It’s back to kindergarten with color-coded newspaper sections.  The BUSINESS section is dollar bill green.  SPORTS is football brown.  LOCAL is bay blue.  FOOD is plum purple.  

And what do you make of those front-page editorials that hammer away at us, nagging with instructions to love and embrace this or that splashy downtown development project -- aka vision?  Move over world and national news, you're getting in the way!

I guess Doug Manchester and John Lynch, the new U-T newspaper owners, figure that readers can’t be trusted to make the ‘right’ decision about what’s good or bad for San Diego.  Maybe they’re worried that readers are just yokels, too unsophisticated to flip to the back pages where most reputable newspapers put personal opinions and editorials. 

I guess that if you’re wealthy and accustomed to getting your way in The World’s Greatest Country and America’s Finest City you can buy the major newspaper and slap your marching orders on the front page.  Under the flag.

On the other hand, I guess U-T owner Doug Manchester can’t help it.  He never pretended to be an honest-to-goodness purveyor of the public good.  As far as I know, he has no pretensions of virtue in any sphere, public or private.

And he’s not the first newspaper owner to be a ham-handed handler.  He’s just our city’s latest and most blatant contributor to a deviant newspaper tradition called mouthpiece journalism – using the daily newspaper to control San Diego’s political, economic, and/or social decisions.  It's not the same as yellow journalism.  But he’s still new at the game.


Despite the heavy-handed bludgeoning and over-the-top style of the new U-T, I’ve learned at least four useful things from its new owners.  Life lessons, you could call them.
          a) Being very rich doesn't necessarily mean you're all that smart.  What is means, basically, is that you've got a certain knack for making lots of money.  And for those who simply inherited their wealth, a knack for keeping it and making more.
         b) Some very rich people do happen to be pretty smart.  But not all…not by a long shot.
         c) Very rich people (smart and/or borderline) usually wield inordinate influence over elected officials.  By virtue of their wealth they have special access to meet and greet in private sessions with decision-makers.  They tend to make good headway in these sessions. 
         d) Finally, while it's true that the public is often in awe of the very rich, it's also true that smooth talk, unctuous flattery, bullying, and financial heft don’t cut the same cake with the public as with politicians.* 

*In the interest of historical truth we might make an exception for John Moores.  He seduced the public with the same finesse and success he used on our local public officials.  But enough looking back...

On to Doug Manchester.  His (dead-end, outmoded, elitist, tunnel-) visions for San Diego’s future are projections of his personal ambitions for greater power and wealth.  To manipulate the system to his advantage he should have done it the regular way -- behind the scenes, behind closed doors. 

He wasn't using any smarts by turning his newspaper into a missive aimed straight at the public.  In the fresh open air, anyone could see how blurry his vision is.

When the city's well-being is at stake, San Diegans clearly have enough common sense and backbone to resist.  This fact should be another life lesson.  It could be our not-so-secret weapon, the saving antidote against both the grandiose posturing of some rich folk among us (smart and/or borderline) and the wishy-washy, floppy, timid inclinations of some elected representatives. 

Public spunk – it's the secret elixir that could ward off the wealthy and powerful not-so-smarts wishing to run our city and pump up our could/would/should have been bolder elected representatives.  As always, it's up to us.