Chronicle finally uses the P word: Progressive


The San Francisco Chronicle ran a good story yesterday on progressives hopes for appointing one of our own as the next mayor. But beyond being fair to progressives that are often demonized by a newspaper whose political sympathies lie with the downtown crowd, the article was notable for something else: it's use of the word “progressive.”

For years, Chronicle editors have refused to use the word that is most commonly used to describe the people and ideology that controls a majority of the Board of Supervisors, opting instead to label progressives as “far-left” or “ultra-liberal,” while the economic conservatives in town get the reasonable-sounding label “moderate.”

Sources tell the Guardian that this bit of Orwellian wordsmithing started with former Editor Phil Bronstein and was fueled by Mayor Gavin Newsom complaining to Chronicle editors that calling his political enemies “progressives” made us sound too reasonable, rather than the wild-eyed radicals he considered us to be.

I and others have discussed this with Chronicle Metro Editor Audrey Cooper, and her bewildering argument is that progressive “is a politically loaded term that doesn't mean much to our readers.” I've pointed out that the word is quite descriptive and has deep historical roots in California and its own caucus in Congress – and that labeling us “ultra-liberal” is far more loaded and pejorative – but to no avail.

I ran into the writer of yesterday's story – Rachel Gordon, a solid reporter and former colleague from the City Desk NewsHour television program – at the Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday afternoon and she said that political reporters at the Chronicle have long been pushing to use “progressive” and the editors finally changed the policy.

I have a message in to Cooper and I'll follow up in Comments if I learn anything more about how and why the decision was made. But it's good to know the paper of record is now letting progressives be progressives. Maybe now we can get rid of the “moderate” label. How about SoLibEconoCons (socially liberal economic conservatives)? OK, maybe that still needs some work.



I have never met a politician who described himself as "regressive", which of course is the opposite of "progressive". Have you?

So the term is meaningless. For that matter, so is "liberal". Who is illiberal?

So left-wing, moderate and right-wing are the most useful terms to use, and the rest is just "wordsmithing", to now use your term.

Posted by Tom on Nov. 24, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

I would argue that "left" and "right" are the meaningless terms. Progressive describes someone who believes that there is still much progress to be made in improving our social, economic, and political systems. While regressive might be a loaded term, it's essentially another way of saying "conservative," which implies that we've already discovered the best institutions and we need only preserve and enhance them. Both are valid and understandable ways of seeing the world, although they represent very different value sets. They are the two basic political worldviews, they accurately describe the political divide in San Francisco and many other jurisdictions.

Posted by steven on Nov. 24, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

round and met up with born again Christian on the other side.

Progressives and born again Christians know how you should be living your life and want to use the government to tell you how to do it, but get indignant when someone tries to do it to them.

Progressives and born again Christians obsess over language.
a. To a born again Christian a late term abortion is a partial birth abortion. b. To a progressive an illegal alien is undocumented.
Winning with language is half the battle, it seems.

They both get into hysterics over the thought crimes of those who do not hold the correct revealed word views.
a. Those who don't allow Born again Christians to force other peoples children to pray to the right god or teach the "other side of evolution" are anti-Christian.
b. The progressive finds racism everywhere and will go through massive amounts of in-group processing to expose it, if you want this nations laws obeyed you are a racist.

The progressives and born again types use revealed texts and concepts to get their way. The Born Againer can fall back on a massive book full of weird contradictions to complain about gay rights. The progressive can reference meaningless buzz words like "social justice" to push their agenda. For both it is all justifications for not liking something and wanting to get rid of it through jibberish.

In this case, cause for citing founding documents/meaningless buzzwords the progressive/Christain involved just don't like something or another. These two groups justify their dislike of something by pointing to some reading of their internally inconsistent documents and then blather on.
a. Progressives call for individual liberty and then try and ban guns.
b. Christians say all men are equal before a god then complain about gay rights.
c. Progressives get mad when Christians try and force Jesus on their kids, but they thinks its OK to tell parents what to feed their kids.

Progressives are just the lefts answer to the intolerant far right.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 24, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

well stated

Posted by Guest on Nov. 25, 2010 @ 2:11 am

Presenting liberals as being the only folks who want "progress" is perjorative. Conservatives want progress too - are you really suggesting that they are happy with the deficit, with illegal immigration, with MidEast terror and so don't want any of that to chnage?

All politicians want to change things, else they would never take up politics in the first place. No politician has as his agenda or message: "nothing should ever change".

You are simply trying to paint your side in colors that sound nice, and the other side as mean and nasty, i.e. the very wordsmithing that you criticise.

Having said all that, I propose a new dichotomy. Invasive versus non-invasive. Invasives stand for governmental interference; non-invasives for personal liberty.

And interestingly, the traditional left is usually invasive on economic matters but non-invasive on social matters, while the non-invaders are the exact opposite.

Posted by Tom on Nov. 25, 2010 @ 11:37 am

Here's my e-mail exchange with Cooper, whose response I don't understand and she has not yet clarified.

STJ: I notice in yesterday's paper that you've changed your policy and started to use the word "progressive" to label the progressives in town.

When and why was this decision made?

AC: If that's what you believe, then you're not paying attention. We have used it regularly in the last several years.

STJ: Audrey, you're the one who told us that it was the paper's policy not to use that word. You told me that directly, and wrote this in an e-mail to Bruce:
"We decided to stop using the word 'progressive' to describe the more liberal of San Francisco's political factions because it is a politically loaded term that doesn't mean much to our readers. And while 'progressive' may be the preferred term of some politicians — and, of course, they are free to use it to describe themselves — it doesn't describe where they sit on the traditional political spectrum.
We believe using adjectives such as 'far left' and 'ultra liberal' more accurately describe city politicians and policies in that broader context."

Given that, my question remains: when and why did the policy change?

Posted by steven on Nov. 24, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

I'm thinking of clipping my nails, based on the above story, I should be able to write 2 books on my adventures.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 25, 2010 @ 10:38 am

and doesn't want to admit it.

Your obsession with terminology is interesting.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 24, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

the so-called newspaper "the Chronicle" for years referred to progressives as "so-called progressives." So yes, this is a new development for the Chron.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 24, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

"Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP"

He complains about the conservative movement being taken over by Jesus freaks and neo-cons.

People on the left interested in human dignity and freedom should refer to the SF progressives as "so called progressives."

Posted by matlock on Nov. 24, 2010 @ 11:03 pm

Steven Jones seems to have had the same conversation with Audrey Cooper that I had had when I was running for supe in 2008. Start from the bottom and work your way up (a la Julio Cortazar):

You are blowing my mind, man.

On 11/18/10 8:10 PM, "John Avalos" wrote:

And if you think about letters are nothing more than expressing pixel
combinations and ordering blots of ink

Sent from an electronic mobile device.

On Nov 18, 2010, at 7:55 PM, Ross Hammond wrote:

That is so true.

On 11/18/10 11:20 AM, "John Avalos" wrote:

Adjectives really have no purpose but expressing different combinations of

Sent from an electronic mobile device.

On Nov 18, 2010, at 11:11 AM, Ross Hammond wrote:

Hey, like she said, they're simply adjectives.....

On 11/17/10 11:09 PM, "John Avalos" wrote:

On extreme progressives

Sent from an electronic mobile device.

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Cooper, Audrey"
Date: August 26, 2008 1:24:29 PM PDT
To: "John Avalos"
Subject: RE: Dude, the prefered nomenclature is . . .

Dear Mr. Avalos,

We will probably have to agree to disagree. We could discuss it issue by
issue but I don't think that's very useful. I guess I would only try to
convince you that the words are simply adjectives and to ascribe some
political bias to them seems to imply that it is somehow wrong to be at
one end of the political spectrum or the other. To us, it's all real

This discussion reminds me of a time in college when one of my
professors asked all the feminists to raise their hands. Nobody did. And
she yelled at us, pointing out that feminists simply believed in equal
rights but that we had been talked out of embracing the label.

Best of luck with your campaign. Hope to meet you soon.

-----Original Message-----
From: John Avalos []
Sent: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 1:04 PM
To: Cooper, Audrey
Cc: Buchanan, Wyatt
Subject: Re: Dude, the prefered nomenclature is . . .

Dear Audrey:

Thank you for your reply. I was throwing in a little humor here,
albeit obscure -- a reference to the Big Lebowski.

Having said that I do believe the Chron's use of "ultra left" and "far
left" is completely biased. After all, who's the arbiter here about
what "ultra left" and "far left are?" What standard are you using and
where did it come from? Seems pretty made up to me. Very rarely or
better yet, never do I here progressives talk about themselves in
these terms. The Chron's making it up out of whole cloth.

It's unbelievable, that you would even try to justify your use of this

Lastly, if any term is completely meaningless it's "moderate." I don't
recall there being a moderate political movement or ideology. A
Classical Greek philosophy maybe, but not a political movement like
the Progressive Movement.  Progressives established labor laws, the
women's right to vote and regulations of our workplaces and food

I don't believe Moderates can claim any such movement or
transformation of our government institutions. If there's something
they can champion it's ameliorating the effects of change or fighting
against perennial progressive issues such as single payer health care,
taxing high profits and rent control.

Thank you for your response. I really appreciate your sharing with me
the Chronicle's rationale, however shakey it may be.


John Avalos

Sent from my iPhone

On Aug 26, 2008, at 12:25 PM, "Cooper, Audrey"

Dear Mr. Avalos,

Thank you for writing to Wyatt about this issue. We appreciate your
feedback. However, just because a term is the preferred nomenclature
a political group does not mean we are bound to use it in the
As you've probably noticed, we only have chosen to use these
to describe the city's political factions in stories about the DCCC or
the tussle for control of the board.

We decided to stop using the word "progressive" because it is a
politically loaded term that doesn't mean much to our readers. Far
being biased, we believe that this decision makes our reporting
politically neutral.

While "progressive" may be the preferred term of some politicians -
of course, they are free to use it to describe themselves - it doesn't
describe where they sit on the traditional political spectrum.

We believe using adjectives such as "far left" and "ultra liberal"
accurately describe city politicians and policies in that broader

Thank you very much for your time and interest in this issue. As
we are most interested in accurately reporting on what happens in the
city and we believe that this policy helps us to do that. If you have
any questions, please feel free to contact me.


Audrey Cooper

Audrey Cooper
Assistant Metro Editor
San Francisco City Hall
San Francisco Chronicle
phone: (415) 777-7112

-----Original Message-----
From: John Avalos []
Sent: Monday, August 25, 2008 5:25 AM
To: Buchanan, Wyatt
Subject: Dude, the prefered nomenclature is . . .

Hi Wyatt

You're using some patently biased language here. The prefered
nomenclatuure is "progressive" rather than the value laden "far" or
"ultra left."

The Chron has typically used moderates and progressives, so it looks
like manipulation when it uses this new terminology. Is this your
language or the editors?

Let's save the biased language for the opinion pages and keep it out
of our news coverage.


John Avalos

This e-mail message is intended only for the personal use of
the recipient(s) named above. If you are not an intended
recipient, you may not review, copy or distribute this
message. If you have received this communication in error,
please notify the San Francisco Chronicle by sending a
message from this feedback page:
and delete the original message.

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please notify the San Francisco Chronicle by sending a
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Ross Hammond
242 Edna Street
San Francisco, CA 94112
Tel. 1-415-452-9322
Skype: rossfctc

Ross Hammond
242 Edna Street
San Francisco, CA 94112
Tel. 1-415-452-9322
Skype: rossfctc

Ross Hammond
242 Edna Street
San Francisco, CA 94112
Tel. 1-415-452-9322
Skype: rossfctc

Posted by Guest John avalos on Nov. 25, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

That Avalos he isn't embarrassed because he felt bad for not being ingratiating to a college professor at this point in his life shows he hasn't grown up, like all progressives and their revealed agenda.

I had some of those college types lecturing on not agreeing with them is the only wrong answer too.

Part of the "moderate movement" is trying to protect our liberties from idiotic progressive single minded scheming. Moderates are not true believers so they don't get together to figure out ways to harass the citizens with; new taxes to support out of town drunks, baning voluntary school programs, ridiculous fast food micro management, and all the attempts at controlling the citizens. Sure if you are for single payer great, but keep you stupid values to yourself, we already have born again Christians telling us all how to live.

Avalos and the rest of the true believers know how you should be living your life, a college professor told him.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

One argument that I consider compelling is that "moderate" politicians are allowed to self-define as moderate, but progressives are denied the right to identify their position but instead have a label slapped on them. That's the essence of bias on the part of the Chronicle.

If the Chron wanted to treat both sides equally in labeling their political viewpoint, then the only accurate label for those currently identified as "moderate" is to refer to them as "reactionary."

The fact is that the "moderate" political forces are based entirely on reacting to the progressive agenda and progressive successes. They want to end district elections. They want to cut back on services to the city's most vulnerable. They want to roll back commitments required of developers for affordable housing set-asides. They want to rewrite the rent control laws. It is entirely a politics based on reaction to the City Hall agenda.

I suggest that we all refer to such politicians by their proper term, using the same calculus as the Chronicle.

Let's begin by calling the Chronicle's coverage and editorials as "reactionary."

Posted by Milkcluber on Nov. 25, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

non sense.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 2:32 am

take your tablets!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

What the fuck are you all talking about? YOU label the moderates in the city as conservative/republican/right wingers and you whingers are complaining about been labeled left wingers.... S.T.F.U. cry babies.

Milkcluber, get a clue, where has anyone tried to cut services to the cities vulnerable, however any normal person may draw the line at providing help to every dick that this city draws from all country, how many are living in your house with you that you invited in to 'help', well answer that.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 25, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

You use the Bay Guardian to let people know that you complained to another news paper about been biased?

Do you realize the the BG is the MOST FUCKING BIASED paper that I have ever come across, you lose creditability by coming out with such crap.

John Avalos, tell me with a simple statement( and we all know that you are reading this), if you believe the BG is objective when it comes to reporting

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

Guest, we've never claimed to be an "objective" newspaper, an impossible standard that no newspaper ever achieves. We are a progressive newspaper (a bias we readily admit to, unlike the pro-downtown papers in town that pretend to be objective), but one that subscribes to the highest journalistic standards of fairness, accuracy, accountability, and professionalism, for which we've repeatedly won awards from the country's top journalistic associations. We believe in speaking truth to power and advocating for those without power, an approach to journalism that helped found this country and safeguard it against its wholesale exploitation by the robber-barons and corporate interests, a legacy we're proud to be a part of. In this era of corporate-run McMedia, maybe you don't even recognize would a crusading public interest newspaper looks like, but the Bay Guardian is it, the conscience of the city of St. Francis.


Posted by steven on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

"We are great, just ask us"

Posted by matlock on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 4:21 pm

Hey Guest,

If you say who you are instead of posting anonymous screeds, I'd be glad to share with your how I think about the SFBG.

And Matlock, if that's truly your name. That was Audrey Cooper discussing her college professor. My point of writing to the Chronicle was just to challenge them on their assertion that they were using politically loaded terms in NEWS articles vs. their political columns which I accept as being more political in nature.

Posted by Guest John Avalos on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

Is that a claim that you consider yourself and and Chris Daly as non radicals?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

Your revealed agenda really is no longer on the left, it's just special interest fawning, trying to legislate your values and getting over anyway you can. Things the left used to bemoan in the right, but now embrace.

It's also interesting that in this word game that illegal alien became "undocumented" so while you all whine about language being used against you, you try and rape it yourself.

Posted by matlock on Nov. 27, 2010 @ 11:19 am

Has John Avalos overdosed on turkey?

John Avalos, where are U?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 28, 2010 @ 11:46 am

Well, I for have no idea what this is,

"In this era of corporate-run McMedia, maybe you don't even recognize would a crusading public interest newspaper looks like"

Posted by Guest on Nov. 26, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

SF Mods are economic Reaganites who support same sex marriage. In any two party city, moderates would be liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats.

The SFBG is a liberal newspaper which tries to appear reasonable by not supporting progressives who push the envelope while it is not reacting to everything that the Chronicle or Beyondchron publishes.

Too many of the progressives have been caught up in activist-centered activism which measures success by how much public money it can direct to favored nonprofits and unions instead of by a yardstick of popular-centered activism, that which makes government work for San Franciscans instead of for corporations.

Perhaps after a couple of years of Glenn Beck ceaseless rantings demeaning progressivism as tantamount to a Stalin-Hitler pact, the Chronicle feels that the term "progressive" has been toxified sufficiently amongst a large enough segment of their readership that our self identification becomes the assumption of a pejorative, so they relent?


Posted by marcos on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 9:55 am

You love to listen to yourself!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 10:27 am

Can't hear you above that roar of anonymity.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 11:23 am

Sensitive too!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 11:33 am

Even Glenn Beck has the confidence to crawl out from under a rock.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

Now, we're lowering ourselves to name calling!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

Comparisons are not name calling, unnamed one.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

You're implying that I reside under a rock.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

The Rock of Anonymity.

Posted by marcos on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 3:17 pm


I find the "guest" thing annoying too but . .

Your name is not Marcos. Or if it is, we wouldn't know.

And guess what? My name isn't Tom.

Posted by Tom on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

I suppose it's because so few people post comments on the SF Guardian website that it seems like every other comment is from one of these four posters (or three, or two, or one since they often sound like the same poster, so maybe it's just a different screen name for the same person.)

All four of these compulsive posters often sound either so angry and authoritarian or so solicitous and patronizing, as if the world and people can be neatly divided between black or white and good or bad.

I imagine all of them standing on separate corners in Civic Center plaza spouting their "truth" to the passerbys in that famous Hyde Park tradition, slowly becoming aware that us ordinary people don't think they are nearly as clever, or smart, or insightful, or funny as they think they are.

Assuming they are more than one person, they might find it's much more enjoyable debating subjects among themselves in a cafe or a bar than it is exposing their stilted world views on a public chatboard. I feel sorry for their co-workers who have to try to work with them for a common goal. I'd be running to my boss asking for a transfer to another department since it's impossible to work with these type of people who are obviously so much smarter than the rest of us.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

You seem to be missing something though, there is no "truth" around opinion. Claiming to "speak truth to power" is patronizing to anyone who doesn't hold the revealed opinions of progressives. The ones cheering legislating values and behavior are the Guardian authors, that would be authoritarian. The people here who divide people up are the Guardian authors, they bemoan the rich and make racial and classist arguments all the time.

Ordinary people don't hold Bay Guardian views.

Thanks for playing.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 7:41 pm

Matlock, if you're going to log out (because you've been spooked off a message board, what a poon), you might think of even slightly changing your syntax or exhausted POV to maybe give the world the idea that you've never been here before.

If you had less of a life you'd be in an urn.

Posted by Percules on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

I was using a computer that I don't usually use. I think anyone who reads my posts will note that I lump progressives in with all the other people who know how you should be living their lives. Again.

How could I be "spooked" off this born again Christian like web page?

Never attribute to conspiracy what you can attribute to being lazy or not paying attention.

But the thing really is, how do progressive differ from born again Christians? I may be exhausted, although I'm really more in for the laughs, but no one has really told me how progressive entitlement to your life differs from the far rights?

Posted by matlock on Nov. 29, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

Matlock, just because I try to ignore your tired, repetitive, vindictive rants doesn't mean that you're making good points. You can compare progressives (who believe in good ideas, public process, and protecting the people and the planet from exploitation by the powerful) to born-again Christians (whose only core belief is that Jesus is coming back to judge us) over and over again if it amuses you, but that doesn't make it true. You're simply an angry little troll who only has cynicism and negativity to offer the world. It's sad. OK, that was my semi-annual Matlock response, I'm going back to ignoring you and I hope others follow suit.

Posted by steven on Dec. 01, 2010 @ 11:07 am

The comparison is the methodology, opinion as fact "You can compare progressives (who believe in good ideas," for example.

You have defined yourself a certain way that makes you think you speak for a whole host of people, and that you know how people should be living because of your revealed world view. You think its OK to tell people how to live because you know better than them, just like a Born againer.

This is where the comparison is, not in your buzz words versus their buzzwords, its in your sense of entitlement to have your way.

Posted by matlock on Dec. 01, 2010 @ 11:36 am

Gonzales, Daly .... and the city withers
@barton and h.brown,
you must be smokin' the pre-civil ganja to think that gonzales and his trust funder quasifarians would serve this city in any way other than a public urinal. chrissie (has he gone tj?) is movin on 'cause he smells the streets and it ain't pretty. forget your kingmaker fantasies and select: Jello Biafra for interim Mayor in 2010.
he has more balls than any of the recent poseurs you've cited. how about a big middle finger for you barton and h. brown and the rest of the progressive rot now infesting this once great city.
go to fairfield and don't come back until you grow a pair. sf is done with progressive whining. how about that?

Posted by you know who on Dec. 02, 2010 @ 9:22 pm