The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier & Ross are zealously promoting perjury allegations against Mayor Ed Lee that lack any independent verification or credibility. To this end Matier & Ross omitted telling readers that Debra Walker, the source of one perjury claim
, is a longtime opponent of Mayor Lee. Nor did they reveal that Walker is leading the effort to save Ross Mirkarimi’s job, or connect Walker's allegations to similar charges of misconduct -- also promoted in a Matier & Ross column -- that she leveled against the Mayor only a month earlier. When the veteran duo promoted former Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s separate perjury charge against Mayor Lee, they also failed to inform readers of Peskin's hostility and political opposition to Lee. That Matier & Ross again elevated a charge by a political opponent of the Mayor to the status of "perjury," despite lacking any independent verification or credibility, is shameful.
I’ve been reluctant to address media falsehoods about Mayor Lee’s alleged “perjury” because, as the Obama team initially felt toward the birthers, responding to ridiculous allegations simply gives them more prominence. But when you have reporters like Matier and Ross interpreting silence from the Lee camp as a “strange thing,
” it becomes incumbent -- as it was with the birthers -- to set the record straight.
Walker’s Charges Lack Credibility
When someone accuses a city’s mayor with committing perjury, their potential bias, motives, and credibility become an issue. Yet Phil Matier and Andrew Ross continue to relate Walker’s charges against Lee without revealing that she is a fierce opponent of the mayor’s. Nor have they told readers that she has become a “go to” source for those seeking to criticize the mayor, as demonstrated by their own use of Walker for stories critical of the mayor that they promoted on May 27
and June 27
M & R’s lack of interest in assessing Walker’s credibility on any subject was clear in the latter piece, where she claimed that former DBI Director Vivian Day was “pushed out for insisting on strong code enforcement, particularly in Chinatown and the Tenderloin.” A single phone call to Tenderloin or Chinatown tenant groups would have refuted this falsehood, which is precisely why M & R failed to make such inquiries.
And while M & R do refer to Walker as a Mirkarimi “supporter,” she’s arguably his leading public backer. It would have been easy for the columnists to reveal the fervency of her efforts on Mirkarimi’s behalf, but that would have weakened their story.
The larger question is why Matier & Ross felt comfortable trumpeting an allegation from a biased source -- that Mayor Lee sought advice from Supervisor Olague about Mirkarimi -- that was denied by Olague and which was inherently not believable.
Ed Lee attended the prestigious Boalt Law School, spent over a decade practicing law, and has participated in trials, depositions, and all facets of civil litigation. How could anyone believe that he would be seeking advice from Supervisor Olague, who has no legal experience and would hardly be in a position to advise the mayor on whether to suspend Mirkarimi?
Further, Mayor Lee has no history with Olague that would lead him to turn to her for critical counsel. If reports surfaced that Lee consulted former Mayors Brown or Feinstein, this would be credible, because he has turned to them for advice in the past. But there is no current Supervisor who Lee would conceivably ask for advice about Mirkarimi.
I think Matier & Ross are promoting a story that would not get the go-ahead from a high school newspaper editor for two reasons. First, they have to publish something a few times a week, and there’s not a lot of intrigue otherwise at San Francisco City Hall. Second, accusing the Mayor of perjury brings him down a notch, and there is nothing M & R like more than increasing cynicism about politicians, public employees and the public sector.
Phil Matier is so brazen that he actually told KCBS radio during his 5:50pm segment on July 9 that the media was "throwing around the word perjury" and "that itself could hurt the mayor's reputation." As if listeners were unaware that it was Matier himself doing most of the throwing. KCBS's hosts were clearly troubled by the media's wrongful use of the term "perjury" against the mayor, yet Matier refused to acknowledge his own role in promoting these false charges.
The Peskin Charge
Matier and Ross’ July 7 endorsement of Aaron Peskin’s charges against the mayor -- the subject of a front-page July 5 SF Examiner story -- further advanced this false, birther-like “perjury” story.
Peskin claims that Mayor Lee’s assertion that he never tried to find another job for Mirkarimi was perjury because Walter Wong approached Peskin with such a request. According to Peskin, Wong “certainly left me with the impression that he was communicating on behalf of the mayor.”
If getting an inaccurate “impression” from someone about a conversation with a non-present third party can be the basis for “perjury,” our jails will soon be filled by those prosecuted for this crime.
As with Walker, Matier & Ross never described Peskin as a political opponent of the mayor’s, or as outright hostile to Mayor Lee. Yet they ran with the story absent any corroboration, and with Peskin as the sole source.
Running “explosive” stories with sole or anonymous sources appears to be the Chronicle’s strategy for growing circulation. But when the paper uses this approach to charge legal crusader City Attorney Dennis Herrera with not supporting gay marriages
, or Mayor Ed Lee of “perjury,” readership is more likely to drop.
Given what Mayor Lee knows about Aaron Peskin, it is not believable that he directly or indirectly would approach him to help resolve anything to do with Ross Mirkarimi. Or anything else. Lee is simply too smart, and too experienced, to allow himself to be taken in by such a trick.
Of course, the entire “perjury” storyline was cooked up prior to the Mayor’s testimony before the Ethics Committee. Lee was asked about speaking to Supervisors because Walker was ready to go public with her claims about Olague; the mayor was asked about job offers because Peskin was ready to move forward with his charges.
It’s a transparent strategy by Lee opponents to shift attention from Mirkarimi’s wrongful acts. But like the birthers ongoing claims about Obama, these false attacks on Mayor Lee’s integrity have failed.