Unspun

Execrable Behavior
Shame on Jane Ganahl and the editors at the Examiner Sunday magazine for the toe-sucking cover story on former Supe Angela Alioto that ran in the March 30 issue. The occasion for Ganahl's story was the publication of Alioto's execrable, windy, self-serving memoir, which the Ex excerpted in that same issue.

Ganahl's sin exceeds the fawning she indulged in during the setup piece she wrote for a question-and-answer with Alioto and during the Q&A itself, which may have set a North American record for consecutive softball questions. Ganahl didn't just root for her subject in print. The Ex "journalist" decided to outright shill for her "angelic" Angela.

That's right. On the back of Alioto's book, Straight to the Heart: Political Cantos, is a gushing blurb from Ganahl herself, complete with her Ex affiliation.

"No public official has fought harder than Angela Alioto to help society's underdogs," Ganahl tootles on the dust jacket, below similar comments from former Gov. Jerry Brown and (oddly) Born on the Fourth of July author Ron Kovic. "Now she has turned what she's learned into an insightful book so others may benefit from her knowledge and expertise."

Ganahl confirmed in an interview later that she had indeed written the promotional blurb in December, at Alioto's specific request.

The blurb wasn't relevant to the piece she did for the Sunday magazine, Ganahl said, because "the magazine story was an interview about the book. I didn't really get into the merits of the book."

She said her endorsement of Alioto's book reflected her honest views of it, and added, "As someone who has been a political junkie for years, I enjoyed it."

Overall, Ganahl said, she didn't see what ethical problem her endorsement might possibly present. "It must be a slow news week," she said when questioned about the blurb. Asked if she'd told her editors she'd written a blurb for Alioto, she said, "I'm sure they knew about it."

They didn't know, according to Ex Magazine Editor Paul Wilner in an interview Tuesday. "I would have asked Jane not to do the blurb," he said. It was "unfortunate" that she wrote it.

Ganahl seems ignorant of the ethical line reporters are supposed to draw between themselves and the people they write about. In penning that blurb for Alioto's book, Ganahl lent Alioto her name; she went over to Alioto's side by agreeing to help her sell copies of her work. That should automatically disqualify Ganahl from writing about Alioto for the Ex.

Ganahl's setup piece for the Q&A with Alioto is almost as laudatory as the blurb she contributed to the former supe's dust jacket. The book, she wrote in the Sunday magazine piece, is "fascinating reading for those who actually care about the governing process." Or how about this big wet one: "[O]ur Angela is equal parts pain and pleasure. But the term-limited diva is also one of San Francisco's last great larger-than-life political characters."

The interrogation that Ganahl subsequently puts Alioto through is equally rigorous and objective.

A sample of the grilling:
"Why did you decide to write the book?"
"So you took [writing] it very seriously."
"What did you hope to accomplish with the book?"
"Do you think it will have an audience outside the local community?"

Ganahl does slip in one or two mildly unfriendly questions, but they sink in the swamp of congratulation.

It's an odd target for such unctuous flattery: Alioto's is a vapid, windy book.

Under the guise of laying bare the supposedly dirty truth about S.F. machine politics, Alioto indulges in 254 pages of self-congratulatory, whining revisionism and self-promotion. Chronicle Books Editor Patricia Holt got it almost right in her review March 31, noting that the tome suffers from "many occasions where Alioto's hard-hitting style gets murky." In other words, Alioto tends to dodge responsibility for her own actions or present one-sided pictures of events.

The book is sloppy in thinking and execution. ("Millennium" is misspelled in the cover blurb from former Gov. Brown, who's described as "Governor Jerry Brown.")

Alioto can't even seem to keep her private enemies' score card straight. Or she conveniently edits it to suit her purpose of the moment. Kandace Bender is quoted on an opening page, titled "Praise for Angela Alioto," but is identified solely by her outdated affiliation with the Examiner, where she once was the political editor. Now, of course, Bender's the chief flack for Mayor Willie Brown -- one of Alioto's demons. And, under Alioto's own rules of guilt-by-association, that should make Bender a traitor. But internal consistency doesn't seem to be one of Alioto's strengths.

Contrary to Ganahl's assertions, Alioto's book is an insult to anyone who actually cares about the governmental process. Alioto dismisses the female politicians who declined to endorse her against John Burton in last year's state Senate race as puppets of his machine and insists that any woman who doesn't back another woman for political office has betrayed progressive causes and her gender. Alioto rails against the Burton/Brown Democratic machine. It does indeed exist. But Alioto isn't the unconnected outsider she'd have her readers believe. The Alioto name is deeply embedded in the city's power structure; her father was mayor, after all, and her siblings and other family members are active in politics, law, and business.

The analysis is unsophisticated when it isn't just plain silly. It's too bad Ganahl has sullied her name for the sake of such a feeble piece of writing.

Phyllis Orrick can be reached at SF Weekly, Attn: Unspun, 425 Brannan, San Francisco, CA 94107; phone: (415) 536-8139; e-mail: porrick@sfweekly.com.

 
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