Feb. 6, 2012 | The San Leandro Times, the hamlet's weekly free newspaper offered column space this week for a resident to convey vile homophobic statements and it's not the first time the paper has printed similar hate speech.
In a letter to the editor, Leo T. West of San Leandro opposed Mayor Stephen Cassidy's involvement a week earlier with a group of mayors pushing to legalize gay marriage. In the letter, West, an apparent supporter of Proposition 8, said, "The working class will always reject the degenerations of nature that threaten humanity."
Allowing such comments is nothing new for the managing editor of the paper, Jim Knowles. In 2010, he opened his opinion page to a similarly outrageous screed by another elderly San Leandran.
Dorothy Allen was given the platform to bash illegal immigrants. "As far as I am concerned, all the illegals of all kinds should be rounded up and escorted out of the country."
At the time, I asked various San Leandro council members about the Times publishing the statement. During a council meeting shortly after, members Joyce Starosciak and Ursula Reed did not condemn the statement, but instead colored their argument on the basis of free speech--for the author.
West's horrible words and those of Allen are ridiculous examples of ignorance that only enhance old stereotypes of San Leandro as a backwater for rednecks and white supremacists over the spry multi-ethnic enclave its is quickly becoming.
The criticism lies not with the rants, but with the community newspaper printing their words. Citizens undeniably have a right to free speech, but they have absolutely no right to have their words printed in the newspaper.
It is in the newspapers civic and financial interest not to print these off-the-wall ideas--you would think. Why would a business like a free newspaper, whose profitiablilty is based upon advertisers, give a platform to hate likely to alienate a good chunk of the city?
The answer is not clear, but you can infer that by allowing Mr. West to call gays "degenerates" and Ms. Allen to round up minorities and send them elsewhere, it likely represents the belief of the paper's owner, Fred Zehnder.
Some in the city believe the editor is merely attempting to titillate its readership. It's not clear for what reason since it does not possess a working Web site and has shown no inclination to use its content to increase its base of reader, many of them who are also featured in the paper's obituary page.
Others subscribe to the idea, Knowles is just filling empty space with any letters sent to its offices. While that could be true, it also shows the incredibly shrinking importance of the paper within the discourse of San Leandro residents.
As earlier as two years ago, a local politician's words were uniquely amplified by appearing in the paper. Today with news sites like the East Bay Citizen and San Leandro Patch, the Times did nothing to change and now only interests residents who either do not have an Internet connection or oddly prefer their news 7-10 days after it happens.
Maybe it would be better if the San Leandro Times just died off. Like other media groups, its absence would hardly be noticed. Besides, a reporter from the San Leandro Times has not been seen a public meeting for nearly a year. If that's the kind of news you need, then wait for it tightly-rolled and on your driveway deeply-tucked under your Buick LaSabre.
Monday, February 6, 2012