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Leading by Example

Jan
22
2004

Let me get this straight: Recently elected San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris and Chronicle editor-in-chief Phil Bronstein are a “romantic item around town,” as TheEx recently put it.
Uh. Sharon Stone’s not-yet-ex-husband, the guy who runs the local newspaper, is dating the woman who is in charge of enforcing local laws? Stuff like, oh, I dunno, police brutality cases? Drug busts? Political corruption? The kind of stuff that makes headlines? Do I have that right?
Oh, boy do I. And it appears that the couple is making public appearances. Yesterday’s Matier and Ross column had Phil and Kamala hanging with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Mayor (as well as Kamala’s ex) Willie Brown at Le Central. Cozy.
This wouldn’t be so obnoxious – just more San Francisco goofiness – if The Chron hadn’t been so high and mighty when columnist Henry Norr decided to join an anti-war protest last year. The paper fired him citing a violation of its ethics policy. Management thinking – and this should include Bronstein, he is the boss –was that Norr’s appearance at the rally compromised the paper’s objectivity. The paper moved quickly to make sure its readers knew just how seriously it treated such conflicts. Of Interest.
It was one more example of newspapers taking themselves, their “mission” and their duty to serve the public far too seriously. Because the Chron hardly sets the pace when it comes to coverage of the war or the protests against it. It does, however, set the pace – not exactly a brisk one, thank you — when it comes to local government. And Kamala Harris is a very important part of San Francisco government right now.
Harris’ come-from-behind win election to the D.A.’s job, has made her a rising political star in this city, if not the state. She won election to office by promising she will not repeat the relaxed prosecution style of her predecessor, Terrence Hallinan. Harris is promising – directly or not – a cleaner, better-policed city that’s more in keeping with a city of law-abiding property owners rather than a bunch of screw-the-man rabble-rousers. Harris’ office will play a key role in resolving San Francisco’s homeless problem since getting people off the streets and into shelters is one thing the D.A.’s office can and should do as it enforces the law. How Harris handles this – and the differences or similarities between her and Hallinan – is a story the Chron should be watching.
Ad the main local newspaper, The Chron will cover these and other issues and that will almost certainly put Harris and Bronstein on opposite sides of a range of issues, providing they’re both doing their jobs. Bronstein has undoubtedly told his staff that his involvement with Harris won’t affect their coverage. But that’s if anyone’s had the nerve to talk to him about this pending mess. The Chron was the very, very last news outlet to carry word of Bronstein’s divorce from Stone — and he filed the papers! Playing catch-up, Leah Garchik had to throw something up on the paper’s website to match the NYPost’s Page Six. I’ll bet she was pleased.
The Harris-Bronstein affair is a mess, a real conflict of interest that should present far more concern to Chron and parent company Hearst management than a lone business reporter’s appearance at a anti-war rally of thousands. It’s a conflict that will affect its editorial news judgment on a host of issues that San Francisco residents care about. Henry Norr got fired. What do you think will happen to Bronstein?

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