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.