Guest commentary

Chronicle: Shilling for militarism

By Richard Knee
Posted Oct. 10, 2005

The Chronicle blesses Fleet Week.

As I write this missive, one or more Navy jets are thundering around and through my neighborhood, at the western foot of San Francisco’s Russian Hill.

I’m irritated. And I’m one of the lucky ones, compared to anyone who’s seen and heard war planes from the business end.

The F-18 Hornet the Blue Angels fly is used to drop bombs and fire rockets at targets in densely populated urban areas in Iraq, killing resistance fighters and nearby civilians alike -- something neither the Chronicle nor the TV reporters mentioned.

Reading the San Francisco Chronicle and watching some of the TV newscasts, you’d think that Fleet Week, with its aerial show of the Blue Angels and other daredevil pilots, was the best thing to happen here since the 49ers’ last Super Bowl victory or Barry Bonds reaching the 700-homer plateau.

"The Blue Angels roared into San Francisco on Wednesday in advance of this weekend’s annual Fleet Week air show, where planes of all kinds will flip, fly upside down and spin to the delight of more than a million spectators," reporter Henry K. Lee wrote in the Chronicle’s Thursday, Oct. 6, edition. "The U.S. Navy’s precision flying team … is a perennial crowd pleaser, Fleet Week organizers say."

Richard Knee

If Lee’s story, as he originally wrote it, included any comments from naysayers, you didn’t see them in the Chronicle’s print edition.

As it appeared therein, the story didn’t point out that the roar of jets so close to ground level terrifies people, especially children, who are from war-torn countries -- Iraq, for instance.

Nor did it discuss the amount of fuel wasted, particularly during a period of apparent shortage, or the cost in tax dollars at a time that the federal budget deficit and the national debt are rocketing.

Nor did it examine the environmental consequences of the jet-engine exhaust or the excessive noise.

Nor did it mention the enormous risks inherent in the aerial stunts.

The next day’s Chronicle was only slightly better. Lee and fellow reporter/columnist Steve Rubenstein managed to find some critics, but their remarks appeared well down in the story, which ran under the headline "Angels we can hear on high/Navy’s magicians of the air swoop and dive above the city."

And the story also carried plenty of verbal applause for the Blue Angels and Fleet Week.

Moreover, it ran on an inside page of the Bay Area section, while roughly a third of the newspaper’s front page was taken up by a color photo of the Blue Angels’ F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets streaking in tight formation just inside the Golden Gate, with the cross-topped spires of St. Peter and Paul’s Church, in North Beach, in the foreground.

How’s that for symbolism?

"What irony of framing these warplanes with the spires of a Christian church while framing Islam as a religion that condones terror," a fellow journalist said to me. "I suspect [that] were an Arab newspaper to celebrate a parade of car bombs, we would consider it biased as well as barbaric."

Indeed! Shilling, regardless of the cause or entity at issue, is ill placed on the news pages.

Richard Knee is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist and a member of the Community Advisory Board.