They call that news?

Yet again, journalists & editors from DC & New York to San Francisco & Los Angeles have been duped—forcing voters to pay the price


Last week, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she would be seeking reelection to represent San Francisco in the House of Representatives for her 36th and 37th years. She appeared on MSNBC in a fawning interview that both ignored her record entirely, and allowed her to continue spreading any number of falsehoods without fact checking. 

While that may seem disappointing, the lack of independence reflects MSNBC’s role as a propaganda outlet supporting the corporate Democratic Party. More broadly, the news cycle responding to Pelosi’s reelection announcement reflects how widely the press has been co-opted, from corporate outlets like MSNBC and the Los Angeles Times to supposedly nonprofit independent outlets like 48 Hills and the San Francisco Examiner.

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Pelosi meets the press

Pelosi’s interview with MSNBC reflects several fallacies widely embraced by the press. She claims that San Francisco needs her in Washington to help address the various sources of dysfunction that have come to plague the city, as if she herself did not contrive them through 35 years of shamelessly representing capital rather than her constituents.

One of San Francisco’s greatest challenges is homelessness, which Pelosi has actively fueled by repeatedly favoring the wealthy over working people in her legislation. From recurring tax cuts for the rich, to blocking crucially needed programs like universal healthcare, Pelosi has been not only an active agent—but also a self-interested one, as a person born to inherited wealth and privilege—in the federal government’s continuing programs to transfer wealth upward from working people to oligarchs and robber barons. 

Pelosi also described a need to defend democracy—as if she had not evaded public debates for two generations, while leading a party that continues to protect entrenched incumbents (like herself) by smearing challengers more committed to human rights and the needs of our communities, and filing lawsuits to block third-party candidates from fairly appearing on the ballot. She and her party rely on corporate support while falsely claiming to represent the people.

Reality rather than rhetoric

In the wake of Pelosi’s reelection announcement, I had the opportunity to rejoin Sabrina Salvati (aka Sabby Sabs) from the Revolutionary Black Network to share my experience running against Pelosi and explore some of the various failures repeated by media outlets from MSNBC and the LA Times to the San Francisco Chronicle and SF Examiner.

At root, the central failing of media outlets covering Pelosi’s reelection announcement is that they treated it as news at all, by previously indulging rumors planted by her supporters that she was planning to retire.

At multiple points in the past, news outlets have treated announcements from Pelosi office as if she plans to step down from her seat, which she has never promised to do even once. She promised to step down as Speaker of the House in 2017, only to break that promise without anyone in the press particularly noticing.

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In a functioning democracy, running for office would convey an implicit willingness to appear before the public, answer questiond, and defend ideas, policy preferences and goals. That’s the only way for voters to know how a candidate anticipates representing their district during their term in office.

Yet Nancy Pelosi has not appeared in a public debate since 1987—and her record reflects a litany of issues where her votes in Congress and political choices have revealed her public comments to be something between misrepresentations and outright (often self-serving) lies.

Pelosi claims to care about reproductive freedom, despite having openly supported anti-choice Democrats against progressive women of color.

Pelosi claims to care about working families, while bending over backwards to deny them a right to healthcare and supporting reductions in their benefits that have increased the poverty level to its highest point in decades.

Pelosi claims to care about human rights, despite having chosen to fund concentration camps for migrants with no protections for human rights guaranteed under international law.

Pelosi claims to care about democracy, while ducking debates for 35 years, unconstitutionally using her office to fill her own pockets through illegal insider trading, and leading a party that maintains its grip on power by leveraging racist lies and disinformation to protect entrenched legislators like herself whose records can’t withstand public scrutiny.

To me, one of the most offensive parts of her interview on MSNBC is when Pelosi bragged about her time leading the House Intelligence Committee. The committee was created in the 70s to oversee national security agencies after Congress caught them illegally spying on Americans and plotting to kill civil rights leaders.

It was under Pelosi’s watch that the committees became thoroughly co-opted. She has spent 35 years in Washington as a cheerleader for illegal wars, mass surveillance, and impunity for human rights violations including torture.

As a representative of a city that claims progressive values who has come to command immense influence in Washington, Pelosi’s role as a leader of the Democratic Party is akin to that of a Trojan horse.

When I ran for office, I observed any number of instances where Pelosi’s work advanced Republican policy priorities—yet writers & editors refused to report either on the facts, or the alternative presented by the only intraparty general election opponent she has ever faced. Ultimately, more lies were published about my campaign than anything resembling the truth, while Pelosi gained the benefit of ultimately false rumors that she would retire if left her own devices.

I explained in real time that those rumors were untrue. Yet journalists and writers have better things to do than investigate facts, and publish the truth, like publish puff pieces to create cults of personality and mislead voters into undermining their own interests.

In 2022, the Los Angeles Times published an article envisioning the future of Pelosi’s seat, as if she were not facing a historic challenge at the time. While imagining whether her daughter or a state Senator would be more likely to replace her, the Times ignored the election that was actually happening at the time, simply imagining a future transition of power that will likely never happen.

In addition to articles presented as news reports by the San Francisco Examiner, a column by Columbia University’s Lincoln Mitchell did the very same thing. Mitchell explored whether Christian Pelosi would be the most likely voice to replace her mother in Congress after she chose to retire—even though she was not running for office, and her mother was not retiring. At the time it was written, the primary was four months away. I ultimately missed the crucial second position, which would have enabled me to face Pelosi in November a second time, by 600 votes.

It’s especially fascinating to see reelection announcements by longserving incumbents lead to multiple appearances on national media outlets. One of the factors driving the astronomical reelection rate in Congress, despite public disappointment in Congress as a whole, is the unique access that incumbents enjoy to the public. The franking privilege is one such example that allows them to send mail for free through the U.S. Postal Service. This discriminatory receptivity of the press plays a similar—and ultimately, even more influential—role. 

It’s worth noting that this is not only a problem with corporate media, but also with outlets that present themselves publicly as supposedly “nonprofit,” or “independent.”

One of the worst offenders of press ethics in coverage addressing Pelosi is 48 Hills, a nominally nonprofit, supposedly independent local outlet with a long history of publishing lies constructed to kneecap black and brown candidates. Editor Tim Redmond published stories—like those in the LA Times—imagining the future of Pelosi’s seat while ignoring candidates who were actually running, presuming Pelosi’s retirement despite her continuing refusal to step aside, and promoting establishment voices who lacked the independence to actually throw their hats in the ring.

Redmond uniquely went beyond that layer of disinformation. First, he gleefully smeared me, like many other writers in the city and across the country, when I was predictably falsely accused while presenting the only alternative that San Francisco has had in nearly 40 years. Redmond then went further than all of the other outlets complicit in my character assassination by declaring that I was “unqualified” to serve in Congress, despite 20 years of advocacy at the national level, teaching at an elite law school, and influencing policies from Washington to Sacramento.

My favorite part about Redmond’s mendacity is his public admission that he knows nothing about the national and international policy arenas in which I grounded my career for 20 years before running for Congress. He seemed to imagine that a presence in his corner of the city was a qualification to serve in Congress, ignoring the decades I spent fighting Pelosi’s policy agenda in Washington as a grassroots activist and non-profit leader working far beyond his neighborhood.

Will they ever get it right?

Beyond Pelosi’s recent announcement and predictable re-election, the 2024 election cycle appears to be lining up as a predictable repeat of previous contests in which the will of the people find itself overwhelmed by the preferences of capital.

That was the story in 2016 and 2020, when the leading Democratic nominee for the presidency was kneecapped by the party establishment in favor of voices long aligned with Wall Street. While Biden was able to overcome Trump in 2020, there is no reason to believe that he will be able to do so again.

Meanwhile, the press is yet again falling into the trap of constructing a cult of personality surrounding the former president, despite his open distain for democracy and working Americans.

In this moment, a free, independent, and robust press establishment would be one of the most crucial levers We the People might enjoy to defend our democracy. The critical role for transparency and accountability is reflected in the First Amendment, which grants the press particular privileges precisely because the public needs to know what is happening in Washington.

Yet, despite a presidential contest looming in just over a year, most national media outlets have never mentioned the names of Biden’s most prominent challengers, Democrats Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, and Cornel West from the Green Party…

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