Extra! Extra! PG&E buys the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. The shame of Hearst. Why people get mad at the media (l9)


By Bruce B. Brugmann

And so Hearst, after decades of shamefully operating as a PG&E shill and shamefully censoring the PG&E/Raker
Act scandal out of its papers (both in its old Examiner and its new Chronicle), ran a large cheery PG&E ad in the right hand corner of the front page of yesterday's April l8 Chronicle.

The ad ran without the usual identification "advertisement," even though it was a pure political ad and part of PG&E's phony "let's green the city" campaign. The ad, spiffy and lime-colored,
was classic PG&E greenwashing: "Green is giving your roof a day job. To sign up for PG&E's solar classes, visit Let'sgreenthiscity.com."

In a classic of self-immolation, publisher Frank Vega sought to justify the front page ad with a short publishers' statement on page two. He wrote, "Today, the Chronicle begins publishing front page ads. Our advertisers recognize the value of the Chronicle brand, our audience and the priority of delivering key messages to you, our reader. In the recent past, newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and USA Today have all announced their willingness to accept advertising in prominent positions.

"The Chronicle is committed to delivering you important news, information and advertising in a variety of new and engaging ways."

Vega hasn't been around long, and he may not know the history of Hearst's obeisance to PG&E and so he may not realize that he was selling the front page to the utility that has created the biggest scandal in American history involving a city. But couldn't someone over at 5th and Mission fill him in?

Meanwhile, over at City Hall, Hearst's greenwashing for PG&E barreled along as usual. While Hearst allowed PG&E to take over the front page, the Chronicle was pitching in for PG&E on the news side by blowing off a major press conference and story by Sups. Tom Ammiano and Ross Mirkarimi on their introduction of their community choice aggregation plan. This is a major step toward public power that involves the city buying environmentally sound energy in bulk and selling it to the public at lower prices than what PG&E charges, which PG&E hates. Wyatt Buchanan, obviously new to the issue, buried the news in three dopey lines at the bottom of a supervisors' roundup story. And he didn't get the public power point, didn't explain the plan properly, and didn't even use the correct name the plan is known by "community choice aggregation." And then Buchanan reports without blushing, "The plan faces a series of major hurdles before it came be implemented," not mentioning that the major hurdle is that good ole greenwasher perched on the front page of his paper and spending millions on its greenwashing campaign. Doesn't anybody over there fill in the virgin reporters about the PG&E crocodiles in the back bays of City Hall?

Let me start with but one point: The Guardian and I have for years documented how Hearst reversed its policy of supporting the building of the Hetch Hetchy dam and public power and has censored its news and editorials on behalf of PG&E since the late l920s. The reason has perhaps been best explained in the book "The Chief:The Life and Times of William Randolph Hearst" by David Nasaw, who is the chair of the doctoral history program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Nasaw writes in his book, published in 2000, that Hearst and his old Examiner, the Hearst flagship paper, were for 40 years promoting "full municipal ownership and control of Hetch Hetchy water and power." Hearst was opposed by the "business and banking communities, led by (Herbert) Fleishhacker, a board member of several of the bank and power trusts, who hoped to be able to privatize at least some of the Hetch Hetchy resources." Fleishhacker was also the president of the London and Paris National Bank of San Francisco and Hearst's chief source of funds on the West Coast.

Thus, Nasaw writes, "the basis for a Hearst-Fleishhacker alliance was obvious. Hearst needed Fleishhacker to sell his bonds, while the banker needed the Hearst newspaper to promote his (privatization) plans for Hetch Hetchy."
Nasaw outlines the secret deal: Hearst got desperately needed cash. Fleshhacker and PG&E got a Hearst reversal of policy to support PG&E and oppose Hetch Hetchy public power--a policy that has lasted up to yesterday when Hearst sold its front page to PG&E (much too cheaply) and then stomped down an anti-PG&E, public power news story inside.

"No longer would the Hearst papers take an unequivocal stand for municipal ownership," Nasaw writes, based on Hearst correspondence with John Francis Neylan, his West Coast lieutenant and publisher of the Examiner. "No longer would they employ the language and images that had been their stock in trade."

And so PG&E bought Hearst in the mid-l920s and Hearst has stayed bought up to this very day. Through the years, as we have developed this theme story, I have asked every local Hearst publisher and many reporters and editors why their pro-PG&E/anti-public power campaign continues on, much to the damage of the paper's credibility and much to the embarrassment of its staff. Nobody can explain. If anybody can, let me know.
Believe me, there will be much more to come on this issue, in the Guardian and in the Bruce blog.

Postscript: Awhile back, during the latest public power initiative in 2002, Susan Sward and Chuck Finnie did a splendid story on the scandal. But it was a quickie affair and the two reporters and their story were snuffed out, not to be heard from again.

Bruce B. Brugmann, who sees the poisonous fumes of the Mirant Power plant from my office window at the bottom of Potrero Hill, courtesy of PG&E, Hearst, and the San Francisco Chronicle and its greenwashing for PG@E campaigns B3