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U-T readers who bothered to read past the first page discovered, in the 34th paragraph, that Safeco field had cost $100 million more than expected -- and that the Mariners were refusing to pony up the difference. That might have provided a good opportunity to talk about any wiggle room Moores might have if there are cost overruns in San Diego. But there was nary a word on the subject.

To the San Francisco Chronicle, the story was much simpler. The headline on its July 15 A-1 story on the Mariners' new home? "Seattle's Ballpark Fiasco: Costs soar and seat sales slump as Mariners open at Safeco Field."

"It was like black and white," a U-T source said. "I wonder who was right?"

Readers interested in fathoming the U-T's complicity in the current mess only need to compare the stories that ran immediately before the November vote on Proposition C with the fig-leaf "Ballpark Impacts" series the paper ran last week. One glaring example that had newsroom sources particularly outraged concerned parking problems associated with the new ballpark. Last fall, on the eve of the election, the U-T ran a story headlined:

"New ballpark would ease traffic, Padres say." Its first two paragraphs read:

"By car, trolley, or bus, getting to and from a baseball game would be a lot less of a hassle at a new downtown ballpark than at Qualcomm Stadium, Padres officials and consultants said yesterday.

"Releasing preliminary traffic and parking studies, team and transit officials described the proposed ballpark site as almost unbeatable from a transportation standpoint."

Fast-forward to last Saturday, when a story on the environmental impact report's findings on parking ran under the following headline:

"Ballpark will jam up freeways/Report sees fans parking at Qualcomm/EIR predicts up to three hours in traffic." Its first four paragraphs read:

"Think parking in downtown San Diego is a headache now?

"Wait until the new Padres ballpark goes in.

"Bad will turn to worse, in a big way, on some game days once the 46,000-capacity ballpark is up and running.

"Which should be no big surprise."

No big surprise, that is, unless you relied on the U-T's pre-election coverage. Then it would be a very big surprise indeed.

James Kelleher, a former assistant business editor at the U-T, writes for the Orange County Register.

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