Some people root for the home team; I root for the home newspaper.
I cheer when the Sacramento Bee does important work like Cynthia Hubert's exposé of Nevada's mental patient dumping. I groan at shallow, boosterish, and credulous reporting of local issues but wouldn't think of canceling my subscription, as others have—a diminished newspaper is better than none.
Like someone who goes to the hospital daily to sit with a patient in a coma, I even turn to the Marcos Breton column. Will this be the day when the lines on the encephalograph move?
The other day, when I saw the following exchange on Twitter, I thought the moment had finally arrived:
Could it be? Here was Breton, head cheerleader for the pipe dream of downtown "transformation" by way of handouts to super-rich team owners, remembering himself back in St. Louis, a city where in the past two decades taxpayers have subsidized not one but two downtown sports complexes, Busch Stadium for the baseball Cardinals and Edward Jones Dome for the football Rams.
It was October. Football season was in full swing and the Cardinals were in the postseason. It was exactly the kind of peak moment that sports-subsidy seekers always ask their victims to imagine, the moment when taxpayer giveaways sown in concrete and steel will yield a bumper crop of "economic benefit" and red-sweatered fans driving in from the suburbs to "revitalize" downtown.
But Breton's eyes saw something different and unexpected. His eyes told him "how dead downtown St. Louis is," even after spending hundreds of millions on ballparks. "I was surprised," he remembers himself feeling.
Was he having a thought? A doubt?
A couple of days later he was back with pom-poms a-twirling, doing cartwheels for the Kings ransom: "The area downtown is a picture of inactivity, an urban disaster, a high-crime area. The arena deal changes this dynamic profoundly." Yes, what he knows not to have worked with two ballparks in St. Louis will surely work with one in Sacramento. Marcos Breton doesn't do doubt.
Or basic journalism.
Downtown "a picture of inactivity?" If Breton means us to believe that the city neglects downtown, as he's written before, he shows himself ignorant of the past six decades of city politics and policy, a period during which City Hall and state government have lavished obsessive attention and hundreds of millions of dollars on downtown. If he means to say downtown is empty of people, he needs to check his eyes and his facts. Among the 150 largest cities in the country, Sacramento ranks 16th in the number of people employed downtown and within a one-mile radius of downtown (151,828), and 10th in the number of people living in that area (73,225).
Downtown a "high-crime area?" Below is a map, generated by the city's online crime-mapping tool, showing all reported major crimes—violent crimes, robbery, burglary, car theft—in the city for the month of January.
Overall, Sacramento has a lot of crime, but the distribution of crimes in the map doesn't shout out that downtown is the city's "high-crime area." Given the huge number of people who flood into downtown daily to work, do business, visit, and play, the crime rate there—the chance of any person becoming a victim—probably puts it among the safer neighborhoods in the city. And if it were a high-crime area, wouldn't someone practicing basic journalism wonder why city politicians want to spend $300 million on subsidies to the rich instead of using it to hire more officers for one of the least-policed major cities in America?
Downtown Sacramento "an urban disaster?" Only in the fever dreams of the comatose. If a neighborhood could sue for libel, it would have no trouble proving Breton had made false statements about it with reckless disregard for the truth.
I root for the home newspaper because quality journalism—honest, informed, skeptical reporting and commentary—is an essential public good. Sports fans keep the faith knowing that, if a player won't lay off the outside slider, if he loafs down to first base on ground balls and answers the crowd's boos with a raised middle finger, the home team will waive him. But how long can you keep rooting for the home paper when, week after week, it trots out a player to pollute the civic conversation with lazy rants that don't meet the basic standards of the profession?