The Mercury News Pro-49er Bias Ignore Facts and Covers Up Law Breaking

By Robert Haugh

I’ve been reading the Mercury News coverage of Santa Clara for a couple of decades. And recently I’ve been shaking my head a lot.

I read the newspaper as both a Santa Claran and a journalist. I’ve lived in the Mission City for 35years. I’ve been a journalist for 22 years.

As a professional, I try to be objective. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that the news coverage and editorial opinions in the Mercury News about Santa Clara’s relationship with the 49ers are really biased. It’s so bad that has to be more than just honest mistakes by reporters.

The Mercury News’ Biased News Coverage

Last week, we saw a major example of this. On Aug 16, there was a long, front-page story, by reporter Grace Hase.

The 49ers spokesman Rahul Chandhok was quoted multiple times. It was like he wrote the story. Never once did the reporter talk to Mayor Lisa Gillmor. No kidding.

Hase never mentions some critical facts. She never says that the team sued or initiated the legal actions against the City. That’s pretty important.

Hase writes that Gillmor and Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe “have historically had an acrimonious relationship with the 49ers.”

But Hase never mentions Jed York spending $3 million in 2020 to get control of the City Council. He now has five team-friendly Council members. It’s like she’s doing the team a favor by hiding that fact.

Hase writes that Councilmembers Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy are being investigated by the FPPC for possibly accepting free gifts from the 49ers.

But she again only provides one side of the story. She writes that Chahal said they were on an “operational tour.” Hase never says that Chahal has no proof of his claim. There was no vote to have operational tours. The City police department was actually surprised they were there. She accepted what Chahal said without any fact checking.

Hase also accepted Chandhok’s description of the settlement deal. Again, there was no fact checking.

Believing the 49ers’ version of the numbers was bad. This was really obvious days later when the San Francisco Chronicle did an in-depth analysis. They concluded that the team’s claims aren’t real.

For a while now, there’s been a major difference between how the Mercury News and Chronicle cover the Santa Clara-49ers story. It would be a good case study in a journalism ethics class.

The Editorial Board May be Worse

The Mercury News editorial board may actually be worse than the news side. Yesterday, they posted an editorial online about how the City Council should accept the team’s deal now.

They say the City could get more, but it’s time to move on. That makes no sense for Santa Clara’s interests. But that’s clearly what the team wants.

The Mercury News editorial board run by Ed Clendaniel believes that the 49ers should manage the stadium. There’s no mention that the City found evidence that the team engaged in wage theft, had conflicts of interest, and was self dealing with contracts.

The team wants to cover all this up and the editorial is helping them do it. That’s a terrible position for a newspaper to be in.

The editorial argues that the team can make the most money for the City, especially with non-NFL events. Simple fact checking would show that this is not true. The team has paid the City’s general fund zero for the last six years. That’s right, zero. And they won’t open their books to show the true numbers. 

The editorial also blames Gillmor for being “litigious” and losing the CVRA lawsuit for a total of $6 million. They ignore the fact that the City was sued in that case just like the 49ers have been suing the City, not the other way around.

The Mercury News also ignores that Gillmor led the fight when the 49ers tried to lower their own rent. The City won that battle in 2018 and approximately $170 million from the team. That’s kind of a big number to ignore. But the editorial board doesn’t mention it.

This has been a long and detailed column. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and it’s bothered me for a while. I respect most reporters. I only feel that I should call out bad reporting when it’s really biased and it raises issues about journalistic standards or ethics.

I realize I might not be totally objective. I care about Santa Clara. But I also care about good journalism. That’s why I felt I have to point out the Mercury News’ bias.

8 comments

  1. Dear Community,

    Justice for Santa Clara speaks the truth.

    Look at what the Mercury Media have done in the East Valley.

    For the last 8 years the Mercury has hid Carrasco’s Lacking Leadership.

    There is every example of their support for corrupting the East Valley by be-rating Citizens that have spoken up against the Elected.

    Saying that those opposing Carrasco want to take the East Valley back to the Stoneages.

    Ask the Editorial Manager.

    Fact-Check the Merc and what they claimed about others in her last Election.

    We have continually beaten Carrasco and the biased Paper Media in San Jose.

    Fortunately – our Community Work can not be beat by the Mercury News.

    Reporters That Truely report – are TRUELY REPORTERS.

    That is my opinion.

    In Community Spirit,
    Danny Garza

  2. Robert, I applaud you for doing the right thing, and bringing these discrepancies out in the open. The news should report the facts, and not their opinions.

  3. Fellow concerned residents, late last night I fired off my own letter to the City Clerk. I have asked that my letter read in public before the Council goes into Closed Session, sometime around 3 to 3:30.

    Please do the same. Here is the link to the Clerk
    clerk@santaclaraca.gov
    Also ask to have your letter read before they crawl away from the light, into the dark shadows of a Close Session, only to discuss our financial future of our City.
    Might be important… what do you think?

    Also if you have not done so already, please sign the petition that was set up to help bring us all together.

    https://www.change.org/p/stop-the-49ers-back-room-deal-with-the-santa-clara-city-council?recruiter=875349531&recruited_by_id=d386fd60-553f-11e8-ba09-552bc98eb463&utm_source=share_petition&utm_campaign=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_content=cl_sharecopy_34278427_en-US%3A3

    Please share that link with other concerned residents. This is important.

    Burt Field
    burt.field@gmail.com

  4. Local reporters (Hase, Clendaniel) cater to their publishers (Alden) who cater to top advertisers (49ers).

    Unless you work for a major paper (NY Times, WSJ, SF Chron) that’s financial healthy or a major nonprofit (ProPublica), you can’t do independent investigative reports.

    That’s what we’re seeing play out here.

    Kudos to you for covering Santa Clara so well. The 49ers haven’t paid the City anything for six years. Damn. Too bad more people don’t know that.

    • The Merc went downhill after that piece.
      Don’t think one good thing has been said since about gillmor or watanabe. Yet. They are still standing. Can’t say the same will be true for
      Jed’s 5 for much longer.

  5. Double wow, Robert. This is a good expose. Hope someone compares the Merc to the Chron and their coverage of this issue. Maybe Dr. Shanks can do that in his case study. It’s worse than unethical, it’s corrupt. Thanks for exposing.

  6. Earlier this year, 60 Minutes’ Jon Wertheim did a strong piece about the grim state of local newspapers, in part because of how hedge funds, such as Alden Global Capital (which owns the San Jose Mercury News), have bought them up and gutted them. When hedge funds come in and slash resources and staff, the impact stretches well beyond the newspaper. It impacts communities, which might lose the watchdogs who hold those in power accountable. This is happening at this very moment in San Jose and Santa Clara.

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