On displacement, journalism, and the Guardian's fake Google-buser video

|
(56)
After the Google bus was blocked by protesters, the shouting began.
Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

It’s been a whirlwind morning here in the Guardian newsroom. First our coverage of the surprise Google bus blockade and protest, along with a video that appeared to show a Google bus rider shouting at protesters, went viral (congratulations to getting onto our site now, it’s been hard to keep it up). Then we discovered the guy was actually protester Max Alper, who staged this intriguing bit of street theater on the spot, unbeknowst to protest organizers who had tipped us off to their event in advance.

As the editor of the Guardian, it’s tempting to second guess how we handled this incident, but I believe that we did everything right, with full transparency at every stage in the process. For better or worse, we live in an age of Internet immediacy, and sometimes stories unfold in unexpected ways right before readers’ eyes.

We were clear in our original post that we couldn't confirm his identity as a Google employee, noting only that he had been on the bus and got off to confront the protesters. And as we pushed to confirm who he was and authenticate the video, we were the first to learn and report that he was actually a protester. We also got and ran the first interview with him. So we maintained a proper journalistic skepticism and diligence throughout the process.  

Besides, this is still a good and telling story about the current San Francisco moment. First of all, in the long and proud history of political theater in San Francisco, this is a great video. Sure, in retrospect, perhaps his comments were a little over the top, but they resonated because they seemed to represent a persistent attitude among some who want to let market forces determine who gets to live here.

“This is a city for the right people who can afford it, and if you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave,” Alper said, a comment that echoes posts regularly made on the Guardian website in reaction to our coverage of gentrification, eviction, and displacement issues.

As a protest tactic, I think this stunt is open to interpretation about whether it helps or hurts a housing rights movement that has caught populist fire in recent months, quickly altering this city’s political dynamics and making politicians scurry to address these issues.

But I think it does point to the need for San Franciscans to have a serious public conversation about who we are, what we value,  and where we’re headed, as we’re calling for our house editorial this week. And because print deadlines are immutable compared to the online world, I’d better turn my attention back to the paper now, thanks for reading.

Comments

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

Steven thank you for your reporting, openness and transparency on this issue. These are definitely difficult times in this city. A friend and I had a lengthy conversation about this issue last night. As you suggested, opening this conversation in our community could have a positive effect on letting people's voices be heard in a manner where respect for all parties is adhered too. This may encourage all parties to want to show up and be part of the conversation.

But where could we hold a meeting like this? Maybe The Battery. San Francisco's new private club for our well do to neighbors. I hear they are giving scholarships to artists. Weeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!

Posted by denny on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

Affordability is the biggest issue.

70 percent said the city is moving in the right direction, while 73 percent approve of Lee's performance and 60 percent approve of the supervisors. Fifty-three percent called the city's economic condition good or excellent, and 59 percent said it will get even better in the next six months.

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/San-Franciscans-ambivalent-on-futu...

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 10:35 am

Because Latterman is a disinterested third party.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 10:58 am

Lee with a massive 73% approval rating.

But that figure is consistent with what I hear on a day to day basis. I struggle to find one person in 4 who doesn't like Lee.

People like jobs, you see.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 11:02 am

The SFBG is broken.

The very real challenges associated with economic growth in our city are routinely presented with simplistic stereotyping and demonstrably ineffective ideologies. Your goal is only to sow discord and hate.

Today's political theater displays this fact for all to see.

Fail Fail Fail.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

"Your goal is only to sow discord and hate"
Good one, troll.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

The media 4th estate = 5th column

Posted by Claptrap on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

"So we maintained a proper journalistic skeptism and diligence throughout the process."

Actually, no you didn't. Otherwise this story would never have been under my gaze without Max Alper's true role at the event identified. You were not skeptical. You were not diligent.

Don't congratulate yourselves too quickly. I am not impressed with the integrity of your journalism. Your credibility level has dipped considerably because of this story.

Posted by Nathan on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

Served up by an anonymous troll who rags on this site every day.
Yeah, sure.
You used to put SO much stock in everything you read on SFBG.
Sorry to see you go, trollio.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

This is the first time I've ever commented on an article here (because I was disgusted by the awful journalistic standards). Although I didn't post with my social security number and mailing address, my name is indeed Nathan, so I'm hardly "anonymous" (unlike you, Mr. Guest).

Who the eff are you anyway? Never mind... I'll just name you "Mr. Trolltroller Guesty-Guesterson Guest-Guest"... that's good enough for me.

Posted by Nathan on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

Coincidentally, my name is also Nathan.
Also purely by coincidence, I am concerned with matters of journalistic integrity and my concern has risen just today to the level where, like you, I found myself with no choice but to post here.
We should start a club called Nathans Whose Greates Concerns Are The Journalistic Standards Of Publications That Disgust Us Anyway

Posted by Nathan on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

This cold snap has awakened the zombies.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

after the consensus here was that they had lost so many debates that they had quit.

Old habits die hard, I guess, and this is die hard part 5.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

" noting only that he had been on the bus and got off to confront the protesters. "

Um, by multiple accounts, he was never on the bus, and had no Google ID lanyard, which Google employees on the bus wear.

Posted by Lamont Cranston on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

"Besides, this is still a good and telling story about the current San Francisco moment."

In other words, "Fake But Accurate".

"“This is a city for the right people who can afford it, and if you can’t afford it, it’s time for you to leave,” Alper said, a comment that echoes posts regularly made on the Guardian website in reaction to our coverage of gentrification, eviction, and displacement issues."

Alper, of course, lives in Oakland. It must be terrible for him there.

Posted by racer さ on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

that is also portrayed by this video, is the charming protester who asks this guy how long he's lived in the City. Who cares, he lives here and is part of the community. Does she have moral high ground bc she may live here longer? is that what we are aiming for, seniority rules? Frankly, I can't figure out who is more obnoxious in this video, some schmuck actor playing an over the top part, or some schmuck protester who takes herself way too seriously.

Posted by guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

"is that what we are aiming for, seniority rules?"

That was, in fact, Tim Redmond's announced policy position - that housing in SF should be allocated by seniority.

"Maybe we should take housing in this city out of the private market entirely, regulate it like a public utility — and assign it by seniority."

http://www.sfbg.com/2013/01/08/editors-notes

Posted by racer さ on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

"self-righteous".

Apparently her full time job is drawing a map of the city showing where all the turnover is.

It's a pointless job but someone has to do it.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

Unresolved daddy issues...

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

and stopped angrily masturbating all over the SFBG comments pages.

Posted by The Hoebblin Love Child of Smaug on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

Sounds fascinating.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

Who was looking for their Daddy?

Posted by GlenParkDaddy on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

Let's put more cars on the road. Oh - and if this happens on a state road like Van Ness or 19th Ave the CHP can get involved.

Posted by The Hoebblin Love Child of Smaug on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

whose taxpayers support their workers with city services, rather than offshoring billions of dollars in profits with tax avoidance schemes.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

...oh wait...they do. Just like everybody else.

So their employer is supposed to pay additional taxes?

Should that law apply to all companies or just Facebook. Please explain.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

We're not in the corporate welfare business. Well, you obviously are, but you're also clearly not all that bright.
For instance not all "employees who live here pay RE taxes" because they don't all purchase "RE".
Don't ask me to please explain anything else to you, because it is a clearly a waste of time, like trying to explain to a dog why it shouldn't eat crap. You're just going to do it anyway.

Posted by The Hoebblin Love Child of Smaug on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

clearly doesn't count. Now we need to start taxing certain employees of certain companies higher rates - "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

Just imagine if someone on the other side had staged a stunt like this. You know that the great Steven T. Jones would be writing:

"One has to wonder why the Google side felt the need to plan and clumsily implement such an act of premeditated deceit; designed only to obfuscate the real issues and needlessly inflame passions on both sides".

Instead he somehow congratulates himself for publishing a false story and indirectly condones the act as 'good theater'.

Remember a few weeks ago how 60 Minutes fell on their sword for broadcasting a false story about Benghazi? Somehow they didn't congratulate themselves for doing so.

Methinks the SFBG is now 'good theater'.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

Then when people pointed how weird they were his defenders would say, "he was right anyways."

Still looking for that millionaire welfare queen and that google employee quote.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

As somebody who's worked on many a progressive campaign in SF, I'm disgusted.

I'm disgusted that progressives are targeting Google *employees.* If you think individuals who are doing well are the problem, not the system, please shove off.

I'm disgusted that anybody thinks calling something "art" excuses outright deception.

I'm disgusted that progressives continue to engage in so many self-destructive tactics that do nothing to further the cause. They only make progressive feel better.

I'm disgusted that somebody would think a good way to address these very real problems is to deceive the press and the city, and attempt to blame run-of-the-mill Google employees.

Stay classy.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

As a concern troll, you are disgusting and predictable and you are fooling no one with your laughable declarations of being a progressive.
Stay assy.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

You don't have to take my advice, nor do you have to like me.

But you have to accept the reality that after 10 years of near-total dominance of SF BOS politics, progressives have utterly failed to control the debate or make any lasting contribution to SF's political culture. Who's the progressive leader? What will the agenda be fore the 2014 elections? The answer is nobody knows, and that's a problem.

"Concern troll" is a better name if you're actually winning. And yes, I'd prefer to keep anonymous, because of attitudes like this. There's nothing I can say that will convince you of the number of precincts I've walked.

Perhaps you define "progressive" as being in tactical lockstep, in which case I'm certainly not "progressive." But I suggest identity politics and in-your-face ideological aggression are parts of the problem.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

When one of the complaints here is about paid posters and the mysterious out of town posters we hear so much about.

You need to be a little quicker on your feet.

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

I'm chuckling sitting here in the cold in Berkeley. Is there a comment board where the regulars aren't sure everybody they don't agree with is a paid out of town poster?

Shoot the messenger again, huh?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

@matlock, misread your comment

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

Steven, you're leading this fail train, so you get to have the biggest shitcake on the plate. Your expose is literally the joke of the City right now, everyone is laughing at your dumbass rag, and in typically shameless fashion you're trying to tell us it's all ok and you guys maintained journalistic standards and it's all good.

Dude.... it's not ok. You fuuuuuuuuuuuuuucccckkkked up.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

⦿ Alper's performance was so clearly contrived and rehearsed. How did anyone fall for it? #weaksauce

Posted by Jym on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

an agent provocateur.

I think this was all planned by Google/Facebook/the Conspiracy to make progressives look foolish.

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

"sometimes stories unfold in unexpected ways right before readers’ eyes."

Dude...you published an obviously bogus story. Everybody is laughing at you.

More than usual.

For a journalist this would be an utter humiliation. I really feel sorry for the young people who work at the SFBG, when their boss goes out and talks about what a great job he did instead of explaining what his/her mistakes were and apologizing.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

"appeared to show a Google bus rider shouting at protesters, went viral (congratulations to getting onto our site now."

A real Lee Atwater, Karl Rove-style stunt!

I didn't think you were up to it.

Posted by Guest Lecturer on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 9:18 pm

Bullshit walks - now more than ever.

Posted by Guesty Guesterson on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 10:11 pm

These comments sections are like USEnet threads. Most of it is people competing to see just how far the piss can be taken. The rest are just stone whackos.

Posted by DensityDuck on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

The variety of opinion was greater, the fringe righties and lefties were far smarter and less authoritarian.

Posted by Matlock on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

I find it disturbing that people who consider themselves progressive or liberal or intelligent could be small minded enough to single out a group of individuals (tech workers) and blame them for the housing problems in this city. Rather than figuring out solutions to help SF grow responsibly and sustainably and deal with the inevitable, they have found a group of people to generalize, blame and direct their hate towards. This fake speech had no purpose but to create more hate towards tech workers and in turn widen the divide of us vs them when the real problem is supply vs demand. If people addressed the real problem they might find solutions that allow for SF to grow (which is inevitable) and also keep it's existing residents.

Posted by Alex on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

Supply and Demand denial is the far-left's equivalent of the far-right's Evolution denial. It's essentially a religious belief and exists beyond empirical evidence and reason.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 10:44 am

Supply of housing is inelastic relative to demand in San Francisco, "we" cannot build "our" way to affordability.

Posted by marcos on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 10:57 am

because when SF home prices go up, some people sell and/or relocate. Others are deterred from moving here.

At the margin, more new homes = lower prices. But SF RE will never be cheap and people like you might be happier elsewhere. Portland, wasn't it?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 11:06 am

To me, this protest came off as a poorly executed stunt that did little to advance any new ideas or meaningful dialogue. The main thing the general public will take away from this event is that a union organizer from Oakland pretended to be a Google employee. The real issue, that Google buses are using MUNI stops without any sort of prior approval in place while the rest of us would get fined for doing so, is getting shoved to the side.

I agree that we should have more public discussions about the changes taking place in SF. Forcing the issue by blocking regular employees from getting to work and then staging a fake argument isn't an effective way to start a conversation though. There's a time and place for political theater and it's not during the morning commute.

Bringing facts, numbers, and realistic solutions to the table would help the housing rights movement more than anything else right now. Suggesting that housing be taken out of the private market entirely is not a realistic solution.

The Guardian did fumble a bit on the coverage of this event but I don't feel like any egregious mistakes were made. It was a fast moving situation and the errors in reporting were quickly corrected.

Posted by Yo on Dec. 09, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

Mr. Jones:

I stopped reading at "everything right." Your casual response is disappointing. Why is SFBG trying to cover breaking news? What next, the SFBG traffic copter? Whirlwind? The only whirlwind was likely kicked up by your publication's easy breezy shaky camera heckler chaser. TMZ Digerati Edition?

Instead of a discussion about media ethics, I hear some noise about immediacy. So what? Let someone else be first. Be right. Do what you do best. Many of us in Readerland are desperate for quality, long-form, local journalism. Use the internet for more imaginative storytelling. Please.

David C.
Albany

Posted by Guest on Dec. 10, 2013 @ 2:02 am

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.