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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Daly calls Nevius a Liar - UPDATED (Now with Explanation)

Posted By on Tue, Jul 22, 2008 at 11:37 AM

By Benjamin Wachs

UPDATE - Before I hit "publish" on this post this morning, I remember thinking "Am I not taking this seriously enough?" Then decided "Naaaaah!"

But Chuck Nevius just called to make a very serious case that I didn't do due diligence - and he has a point.

He also has what I consider to be a damn good explanation for the discrepancy between his story and Daly's.

Okay, so, as I noted in the post below: while reporters occasionally make things up, and sources sometimes lie about them doing that, these events usually boil down to a well-meaning misunderstanding on somebody's part ... and that appears to be what happened here. But it wasn't Nevius' mistake. Or Daly's.

So here's the timeline:

* Nevius interviews Crowfoot (among others) for his column.

* Nevius publishes his column.

* Daly calls Crowfoot, asks if he told Nevius something. Crowfoot (according to Daly) says no.

* Daly publishes his blog post calling Nevius a liar.

* Nevius calls Crowfoot, says "What the heck are you talking about, telling Daly you didn't tell me that! You did!"

* And Crowfoot (according to Nevius) says "Man, I really need to be better about explaining what's on the record and what's off."

* Nevius, incredulous, says "You didn't say any of that was off the record!"

* And Crowfoot says, "I know. But I MEANT it to be!"


So (in this version of events) the misunderstanding was Crowfoot's: he told Nevius something he meant to be off the record without actually identifying it as such. Then, when a furious Chris Daly calls Crowfoot on what he knows he shouldn't have said in the first place, he denies it because - hey - it was off the record, so it never happened.

Only it wasn't, and it did.

Only Crowfoot can say for sure if this is what happened (and, as the latecomer to the party, I seem to be the only guy who can't reach him) ... but it sounds right to me. Every journalist has had a source tell them something they shouldn't and then backpedal a few days later.

None of which settles any of the surrounding issues - did Newsom really try to reach out to the Supes for once? Did Daly get in the way of a dialog? But these are as much questions of interpretation and whose-side-are-you-on politics as anything else. We can disagree on those 'till the cows come home.

But on the ethical issues - and questions of fact - it doesn't look to me like either Nevius or Daly wrote anything in bad faith: they were both victims of that giant curse of journalism, an unreliable witness.

The original post is below.

Did Chron columnist C.W. Nevius make up quotes and an incident out of thin air? That’s Chris Daly’s shocking accusation.

In Nevius’ Saturday Chron column, he quotes Wade Crowfoot (the mayor’s point man on his close Embarcadero to cars party) as saying that when he tried to talk to Daly about the proposal in advance, Daly just turned around and walked away, never giving Crowfoot a chance.

The problem: Daly says that never happened, and that when he contacted Crowfoot immediately after the column’s publication, Crowfoot denied ever having claimed it did.

Conveniently, Crowfoot is now out of town and unavailable until mid-August – and therefore unable to corroborate either Daly or Nevius’ version of events.

Is it likely Nevius made it up? Well, these things do happen. In my experience they’re much more often a result of miscommunication than outright lying – but they do happen.

But while I wouldn’t claim that Nevius just made-shit-up, I suspect the mistake (if that’s what it was) rests on his shoulders, because frankly a whole lot about that column just didn’t add up. Let’s take the incongruities in no particular order:

1) Nobody but Nevius has claimed that Hizzoner tried to do outreach to the Supes on this one.

2) In fact, when has Newsom EVER done outreach to the Supes on an issue? Newsom’s office trying to keep Daly informed about pending proposals is no more in character than Newsom inviting Daly to his wedding.

3) If Newsom made such a big outreach effort , why are his traditional allies among the Supes (like Sean Elsbernd and Michela Alioto-Pier) among the most outraged at not hearing about it? For all that Elsbernd is a prick he’s a reasonable prick, and it’s not like him to get angry at the Mayor for making a good-faith effort. And for Alioto-Pier to turn on the Mayor? To me that suggests that not only did he not tell her he was looking at closing streets to cars, but that he also shot her puppy.

4) Finally, but no less significantly: Daly’s right when he asks “Why would I oppose closing streets to cars?” When has Daly EVER opposed closing streets to cars? However strange-bedfellows it might be, Daly is Newsom’s natural ally on a proposal like this. A little outreach to Daly (which it would be in character for Daly to welcome on an issue he cares about) might very well have prevented the mess the Mayor finds himself in. Surely, if the Mayor was conducting outreach to the Supes, one of the other Supes who the mayor had kept in the loop would have thought “Hey, Chris likes to get cars off the road – we should bring him in on this!” The fact that it never happened speaks volumes about what else never happened.

None of which, I emphasize, is to impugn Nevius’ journalistic ethics … but it sure looks to me like he got this wrong in a big way.

Curiously, his most recent column hits the same flat note: claiming that the Supes are giving limited support to Newsom’s Community Justice Center because they’ve found “a healthy spirit of compromise that is all too often missing in the board chambers.”

Really? Because the record’s been pretty clear that the reason the Supes weren’t supporting the CJC was EXACTLY the same reason they’re not supporting the street closings: Newsom didn’t bring them in on the planning process. Supes were explicit at the time that, if the Mayor was willing to meet with them to go over how the CJC would fit into the city’s “big picture,” they’d be happy to find funding for it.

They’re supporting it now only to the extent that Newsom doesn’t mess with their budget, figuring that $500K is a small price to pay for him to keep his hands off.

Which leads to the fundamental question about Nevius’ recent columns: If the Mayor’s doing so much outreach to the Supes, how come you’re the only guy who’s noticed?

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Benjamin Wachs


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