This San Francisco Newspaper’s Front Page Is a Dangerous Blunder

To put a literal bullseye on an openly Jewish elected official in San Francisco is not only an insensitive decision — but an outright dangerous one, too.

Kanye West is no longer a billionaire. The rapper-turned-fashion-mogul lost his partnerships with both Gap and Adidas for his clothing and footwear line Yeezy after making an uncountable amount of anti-Semitic comments. West’s anti-Semitic remarks delegitimized the millions of European Jews killed by Nazi Germany during The Holocaust, made a mockery of Hanukkah, and were organized around language that aimed to dehumanize Jewish people as sentient beings — a key factor to any genocide in human history.

Instagram temporarily banned him. Twitter permanently removed him from its platform. Over a dozen brands have formerly severed ties with West as a result of his anti-Semitic rants.

West’s public regurgitation of hatred comes amid an increase in hate crimes against Jewish people in America; anti-Semitic incidents hit an all-time high in 2021

Yesterday, The San Francisco Examiner published cover art for a front-page story on its recent Wednesday print and online issue that fanned embers of hostility.

According to the local newspapers, GrowSF — a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has acted as a conservative funnel for both fund and Republican rhetoric, having poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into recalling SF District Attorney Chesa Boudin earlier this year; they also supported a number of moderate candidates this year, including Brooke Jenkins — has turned its Sauran-like gaze to District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston. The CTA is simple: “Dump Dean.”

The coalition recently started a new exertion, forming a new political action committee to fund it, per the Examiner. However, the filing for the committee is far less the slightly less eloquent title “Coalition to Grow San Francisco — GrowSF PAC Opposing Preston for Supervisor 2024.”

“Usually PACs and organizations will take a break, but we’re so focused on getting what’s best for San Francisco that we couldn’t wait to start this effort against Dean,” Steven Buss, GrowSF’s director, told the Examiner. 

When Buss was asked about why the effort is targeted toward Preston, who’s the only card-carrying Democratic Socialist on the SF Board of Supervisors, and, say, not Connie Chan, it came down to his character — “he’s unable to engage in politics in a good faith manner with a modicum of respect.” Buss later added in his commentary to the newspaper that Preston “is so out of touch with what San Franciscans want,” which is a sentiment the Jewish District 5 Supervisor couldn’t agree less with.

Preston noted in a released statement about the campaign that he isn’t bothered by the political threats served by GrowSF. His reasoning is straightforward: “[Those threats] are out of touch with the needs of our district, and every time they have opposed the initiatives the voters have sided decisively with us.”

“What does concern me is their toxic rhetoric and clumsy attempts to intimidate, bully and silence political voices they disagree with,” Preston also added. “Toxic politics are not the way forward for San Francisco.”

The irony of the SF Examiner publishing the latter sentence in its cover story that placed a literal bullseye on the Jewish City supervisor in this current moment in time is unignorable.

It’s a dangerous blunder; it’s a damaging addition to the rhetoric around our elected leaders in local government. To inlay a target on Preston, especially in this current moment in culture, transposes the greater social issue at hand onto a hyperlocal background.

This production element from the SF Examiner isn’t an outright anti-Semitic remark, nor is it a benign component of the present print and e-edition. The bullseye over Preston’s face — his mouth a jar, finger pointed toward the reader as if to massage confrontation — sits in that dangerous gray space of discussion. By the very nature of its fickle subjectivity, the SF Examiner’s cover story art invites anti-Semitic interpretation where readers can confabulate their own conclusions.

These hateful judgments are inherently baseless but can be wielded as ammunition in circles where such language is already rife. Though a cliche, the sentiment is resonant: The SF Examiner’s use of a design element connoted violence and only adds fuel to the fire for local anti-Semitic individuals

I’ve articulated this now more times in the past three years: every genocide begins with language, specifically language that dehumanizes a specific population. By using vocabulary and communication styles that establish a community as less-than, it moves its members outside the realms of humankind. 

It’s a slow, insidious process; it’s unhurried cancer. Hate becomes normalized. Justified. Actionable. Eventually, a tipping point is reached, and this process of alienation dominates the common culture. As was the case with The Holocaust — a twelve-year-long genocide that began with Hitlers’s first radio address as Chancellor of Germany: “May Almighty God favor our work, shape our will in the right way, bless our vision and bless us with the trust of our people” — it culminated in the near-eradication European Jews.

Hate sits on a knife edge. The slightest application of pressure can reveal open flesh.

In the wake of the mobile controversy, both Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and  Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club condemned the Examiner’s cover art for its November 16th issue.

“At a time of rising political violence, including the assassination attempt against Speaker Pelosi just weeks ago, [The San Francisco Examiner’s] decision to put a literal bullseye on [Dean Preston] and running it on their front page is deeply irresponsible and contemptible,” the latter-mentioned organization wrote in a Tweet. In a similar denouncement, the JCRC also called for the local newspaper to “remove this graphic suggestive of violence immediately” on the same social media platform.

The Examiner yesterday released a tepid apology statement in regards to the image, though made no mention of the criticism presented by the aforenoted organizations; the apology was only issued after “several readers” raised concerns over the image.

“The Examiner was contacted by several readers about a bull’s-eye image used for today’s front-page story about the efforts of GrowSF, a political action committee, to oust Supervisor Dean Preston, a Democratic Socialist who represents District 5,” reads a part of the short tweeted apology, which comes off more like an act of saving face rather than a moral obligation.” We apologize for that image.”

The newspaper later added that it didn’t intend to “connote or invoke violence against Dean Preston or any other political leader.” Alas, it did exactly just that — regardless of the art’s initial intent. And it now exists as controversial fodder for anti-Semitic groups, on and off the internet.

Clint Reilly Communications — the self-dubbed “Monarch of the Dailies” by then-owner William Randolph Hearst, and flagship of the Hearst Corporation chain — purchased the Examiner in 2020, hoping to keep the legacy brand alive through a mix of partnerships and sponsored advertisements. 

You’d think the company wouldn’t be so callous around such a culpable mistake that could cause brands, sponsors, and readers to leave en masse. There’s an example of this unfolding right before our very eyes.

Feature image: Screentshot via The San Francisco Examiner, edits conducted by author, Matt Charnock

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