Opinion: Fox News’ epic San Francisco flub

How the cable news network publicized, retracted and then garbled facts about Blue majority cities

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story’’ — Mark Twain

Washington, D.C. — Fox News host Dan Bongino was having a good old time last week, ripping San Francisco and other cities run by “garbage Democrat politicians who don’t give a damn about people.’’

Bongino displayed a map labeled “TOP TEN MOST UNHEALTHY U.S. CITIES,’’ highlighting those identified by WalletHub in a 2021 study. San Francisco was front and center, joined by Portland, Seattle and seven other cities.

“You stand a good chance of dying in one of these inner cities,’’ Bongino said, “far more likely than if you live in areas where they care about people and their health care outcomes.’’

One problem.

The WalletHub study Bongino based his comments on lists San Francisco as the nation’s healthiest city. The 10 cities he claimed to be the nation’s most unhealthy — not one with a Republican mayor — were actually ranked by WalletHub as the nation’s 10 healthiest.

Oops.

The former police-officer-turned-conservative-gadfly admitted the error — which he blamed on his staff — a few days later. Fox News deleted the map from its replays. However, Bongino said the mistake didn’t take away from his larger point that Democrats have destroyed American cities.

Oops again. The real problem had nothing to do with the botched graphic. Like so much infotainment on cable TV, Bongino’s narrative is based on sloppy, biased and agenda-driven thinking.

It is entirely reasonable to debate whether liberal or conservative policies are better suited to address crime, poverty, homelessness and other big-city woes. It is irresponsible to use falsehoods and propaganda to feed a polarizing narrative to boost ratings.

Without the graphic, Bongino’s point comes down to a spurious correlation between the existence of urban problems and Democratic mayors.

It is true there are far more murders, COVID-19 cases and layoffs in America’s big cities. There are also more college graduates, employment opportunities and houses of worship. Are those also Democratic phenomena?

If at showtime the WalletHub survey was seen as valid enough to back Bongino’s s point, wouldn’t the fact that it said exactly the opposite suggest his point was flawed?

WalletHub, a personal financial credit website, is hardly the arbiter of America’s best cities. But if it is to be taken seriously, then Bongino might point out its survey found that 24 of the 25 healthiest cities are run by Democrats.

WalletHub used 44 metrics ranging, including consumption of fruits and vegetables, availability of farmer’s markets and deaths from COVID-19, to determine San Francisco was the nation’s healthiest city, giving it especially high marks for healthy food and green space.

While the study is now a year old, a January 2022 study, ranking the nation’s “Best & Worst Cities for an Active Lifestyle,’’ also placed San Francisco at the top of the list. At the bottom was North Las Vegas, which, by the way, has a Republican mayor.

It is a hallmark of cable news shows and a requirement for successful hosts and guests that they sound authoritative on matters they know little about. Self-confidence and bluster are valued over thoughtfulness and ambiguity.

On another conservative news outlet last week, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, was intent on comparing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection to Nazi Germany.

“We have Nancy Pelosi’s gazpacho police spying on members of Congress,’’ she said with outrage.

Her comment prompted renowned chef José Andrés to respond on Twitter with all the seriousness that the topic deserved.

“Dear @RepMTG,’’ he tweeted. “The Gazpacho police was created by me in 1993 to make sure that no one will add Tabasco or Jalapeno or strange things to my beloved soup!’’

Now that’s a good story.

Marc Sandalow is associate director of the University of California’s Washington Program. He has been writing about Bay Area Politics from Washington for nearly 30 years.

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