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Rumors Running Rampant

Haaland to Murphy to Brown to Haaland

By Betsey Culp

Consider these questions: “How do you know? How can you be sure? Where is the evidence? Who is the source? How does he or she know? What is the supporting documentation?”

Code of Ethics for the Gannett Newspaper Division

If you’ve been out of town for the past couple of months, you may have missed the latest Building Inspection Commission uproar. It’s hard to imagine that you did though, wherever you were — the decibel level was rather high when Joe O’Donoghue and a parade of Residential Builders used brazenly sexist innuendoes to proclaim their opposition to the appointment of Amy Lee as acting director. The public outcry was matched by the Supes’ consternation: the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee voted unanimously yesterday to condemn “homophobic and misogynistic public remarks by the Executive Director and members of the Residential Builders Association of San Francisco.”

There was also an electronic spin-off.

According to his own subsequent account, Robert Haaland told the publisher of the San Francisco Sentinel about rumors he’d heard from a number of people that former supervisor Matt Gonzalez had intervened in the dispute.

In an opinion piece, Sentinel publisher Pat Murphy reported the rumor as a rumor, apparently without trying to confirm it:

Word circulates Matt Gonzalez now lifts the phone to head off Board of Supervisors condemnation of alleged homophobic and misogynistic remarks by Joe O'Donoghue.

In an email to the SF Call, Murphy defended his uncritical publication of the rumor:

I've known Robert Haaland for years, for longer than I've known Matt Gonzalez, and Robert is more embedded in the political milleu than even myself.

I respect and trust Robert greatly, more so than many in politics.

Gonzalez denied the allegations:

Let me say clearly that I did not make any phone calls to former colleagues on the Board regarding this matter. None whatsoever.

Stand-off at high noon.

Enter h. brown, who announced in his SF Bulldog posting for May 1,

It took some serious digging, but I found the source of the Sentinel story Pat Murphy ran last week accusing Matt Gonzalez of trying to influence sitting Board members vis a vis the condemnation of Joe ‘He dances with developers’ O’Donoghue.

Seems weasel, Robert Haaland is back to spreading lies.  Don’t let the cherub face fool you.  This guy can slither with Jack Davis anytime.  Word is, he came upon the idea to hit the two Greenies he blames for defeating him in the recent D5 supervisoral race.

So, Haaland went to Murphy with the lie that new D5 headman, Ross Mirkarimi had told him that Matt called him to get him to derail the resolution kicking Joe in the balls.  I went to Mirkarimi for a ‘confirm or deny’ to the Haaland story.  He called back within the hour and said he was astounded that anyone would say such a thing and that it was completely false.

In an email to the SF Call, Haaland responded:

A couple of people told me about it and I blogged about it.  I figure 2 sources is pretty good and since then had another couple of other folks confirm it. Pat asked me off the record what I heard and I told him.  I explained in my blog that is was an allegation and that noone wanted to be quoted about it.  Again, I think I was pretty clear that no one was willing to go on the record and that it was an allegation.

When the SF Call asked h. brown about the source of his claim in the SF Bulldog and the evidence behind it, he responded, “Haaland fessed up”:

Haaland admitted he was Murphy's source as I heard from others and of course I won't give up my sources. He says he told Murphy it was only a rumor but Pat went with it.

So, what are we left with, other than the hissing and growling commonly heard among San Francisco political junkies?

On one side, we have an anonymous and unsubstantiated allegation in the San Francisco Sentinel that Matt Gonzalez violated the San Francisco Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code by telephoning his former colleagues on the Board of Supervisors. Violations are not only subject to review by the Ethics Commission; they can also elicit civil and criminal penalties, including “a fine of not more than $10,000 for each violation or by imprisonment in the County jail for a period of not more than one year in jail or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

On the other side, we have an anonymous and unsubstantiated allegation in the SF Bulldog that Robert Haaland “came upon the idea” to publish a rumor that seems to libel Gonzalez. Section 45 of the California Civil Code offers this definition:

Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.

In the middle, we have the code of ethics that most journalists adhere to. The Society of Professional Journalists provides one example:

Journalists should:

Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.    

Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, somebody had the idea that the responsibility of the press in a democracy was to present evidence as completely as possible so that informed citizens could make up their own minds on issues. I wonder what happened to that galaxy.

Here on Planet Earth, where the “truth” is becoming increasingly malleable and where formerly bedrock concepts — evolution, for example, and global warming and weapons of mass destruction — are becoming matters of opinion, we need all the hard evidence we can get. We need to ask the hard questions: “How do you know? How can you be sure? Where is the evidence? Who is the source? How does he or she know? What is the supporting documentation?”

Without that, all we have is faith-based journalism. And you know where that can lead.