Days after a sweep of many key election races in his favor, San Diego real estate developer Douglas Manchester's U-T San Diego has run an unorthodox front-page pitch for subscribers.
The entire page is blank, except for the headline "Imagine..," followed below the fold by "...your life without the latest news and information.”
"That's why we are here — to make sure you don't have to imagine your life without the information you want and the news you need."
"Keeping you in the know. U-T San Diego.”
A vigorous debate on Twitter greeted the promotion, including: "A plea to subscribers on the front page? This seems desperate." Another U-T critic weighed in with, "Won't somebody please support our local plutocrat? do it for zombie reagan."
U-T’s Twitter maven, onetime city hall reporter–turned–“public engagement editor” Matthew Hall responded to the skeptics' fury with, "If you have specific issues with specific stories or reporters, please let me know."
Defenders of the paper say it is doing the best it can, having laid off most of its best reporters during bad economic times, but to many San Diego political insiders — both Republicans and Democrats — the U-T’s blank front page is a metaphor for a nothing-to-see-here news and editorial policy.
They cite a May 28 editorial urging voters to elect Republican ex-assemblywoman and former Chula Vista mayor Shirley Horton to the state Board of Equalization.
"Horton has been a consistent supporter of lean, smart, business-friendly government and championed legislation to get information about sexual predators online," said the endorsement, which energetically trashed Horton's opponent, Orange County GOP assemblywoman Diane Harkey, raising allegations of fraud against her husband.
"Both Harkey’s refusal to answer basic questions about her family scandal and her decision to depict herself as a victim are unconscionable. She is unsuitable for public service."
Then, at the bottom of its editorial demanding transparency from Harkey, the U-T left some unanswered scandal-raising questions about its own.
"The decision to endorse Horton was made by the newspaper’s owners in consultation with some members of the Editorial Board.
"Editorial and Opinion Editor Bill Osborne, who has a conflict of interest, didn’t participate in this process or in the writing or editing of this editorial."
Readers were left to guess the nature of Osborne's relationship with Horton, which the paper had never before reported on or disclosed in editorials.
Other recent U-T omissions called out by critics include its failure to report that General Dynamics NASSCO, the giant military contractor that financed the Manchester-backed electoral shoot-down of the Barrio Logan Community Plan update, is outsourcing many former San Diego shipyard jobs to Mexicali.
The paper also failed to tell its readers that ex-admirals who were said to be leading the effort and signed the ballot arguments to blow up the plan were actually high-priced executives of military contractors, including General Dynamics.
The fact that Jose Betancourt, another ex-admiral fighting the plan, had copped a plea to federal conflict of interest charges, went unnoted in a May 4 op-ed piece signed by Betancourt and GOP ex-mayor Jerry Sanders.
Manchester hasn't been the only super-rich San Diego media owner coming under fire for selective coverage this election season.
One of his friends and political allies, megamillionaire La Jollan Elisabeth Kimmel, owner of the KFMB TV and radio stations, was blasted by the campaign of fellow Republican and congressional candidate Kirk Jorgensen for allowing longtime Manchester associate and talk-show host Roger Hedgecock to bar Jorgensen from KFMB's air during the recently concluded campaign.
In addition, fundraising emails for Republican ex–city councilman Carl DeMaio, a Jorgensen opponent, bore the KFMB stations' address. Kimmel herself has been a past DeMaio donor. The controversy was not reported by U-T or KFMB.
DeMaio, another of the U-T publisher’s friends, beat Jorgensen and will take on first-term incumbent Democrat Scott Peters in the fall. The closely watched clash is expected to be a tight race that will feel the heavy footprint of Manchester's U-T coverage, both published and left on the cutting-room floor.