The 2022 primary season has quickly turned into a losing referendum on the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board.
Two weeks ago, three major GOP campaigns rejected Bee invitations for an endorsement interview. This included two Congressional candidates and one State Assembly hopeful citing what they called the Bee’s penchant for name-calling, mischaracterizations, and ambush tactics. The Bee Editorial Board soon responded with not one, but three, opinion pieces that punched back using terms such as “cowardly,” “afraid” and “snowflake.”
Now a fourth major GOP primary campaign has criticized the Bee. This is the campaign of State Assembly candidate Josh Hoover (AD-7), who is running against incumbent Democrat Ken Cooley in Sacramento County’s eastern suburbs. Unlike the three other GOP candidates, Hoover accepted the Bee’s endorsement-interview invitation, but midway through his Q&A session, he was asked about an unsubstantiated neo-Nazi issue not related to him or his race.
Hoover campaign consultant Andre Levesque told the SactoPolitico.com, “It’s a shame that the Sacramento Bee didn’t use the interview process to discuss the issues that matter to the voters of the 7th Assembly District and Ken Cooley’s long voting record that doesn’t represent the values of this new district.”
The Bee’s unusual question came as part of a hourlong interview with both Hoover and Cooley. The Q&A was published Wednesday and featured mostly policy-based questions asked of both candidates. But Bee opinion assistant Hannah Holzer asked this question of Hoover alone:
The Sacramento Bee: Josh, your boss, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, has posted a photo with neo-Nazi [deleted], who’s an administrator of a neo-Nazi Telegram channel. He also agreed to serve as a featured speaker at a March 2021 rally co-organized by Cordie Williams, who, two months before, publicly called on Americans to arm for civil war. Could you address the fact that you’re willing to denounce the Proud Boys, yet, meanwhile, your boss has posed with neo-Nazis?
(Note: Sacto Politico is not identifying the alleged neo-Nazi. While the Bee has previously reported on this individual, we’ve been unable to reach her for confirmation or comment.)
As background, Hoover is currently chief of staff for Kiley (R-Rocklin), who represents State Assembly District 6. Kiley is also running for Congress in California’s new 3rd Congressional District that includes Folsom, Orangevale, Placer County and parts of eight other counties stretching from Plumas County in the north to Death Valley in Inyo County.
In the Congressional race, Kiley’s Democratic opponent Dr. Kermit Jones in January called on Kiley to explain his “radical associations,” particularly Kiley speaking at the March 2021 rally. This was exclusively reported by Sacto Politico, as well as that the rally featured multiple speakers with ties to a large hate group, militias and QAnon. State GOP Chair Jessica Milan Patterson also spoke at the rally, but the Bee had not previously reported on any of this.
To the Bee’s question, Hoover responded:
Hoover: I don’t know the background on any of that, but I can tell you right now that elected officials take photos with a lot of people. I think Democrats and Republicans on both sides throughout the state can admit that they don’t always know who they’re taking photos with. So I can’t really comment beyond that because I don’t know any of the other information.
This episode raises a number of questions. This includes whether it was fair for the Bee to invite Hoover to a discussion about his Assembly race and then publish a question and answer about an explosive topic not related to him or his race. Also instead of pressing Hoover on Kiley’s joining the March 2021 rally, why didn’t the Bee first question Kiley and report on this in a separate article? The Bee did interview Kiley for its March 2 article on the primary race, but didn’t raise the issue then.
Further, the Bee did not substantiate multiple assertions contained in their question. For instance, Holzer claimed Kiley posted a photo online of himself with the alleged neo-Nazi, but the Bee shared no image, link or other details to substantiate this claim. The Sacto Politico’s review of Kiley’s online accounts and sites has not found such a photo, and a source very familiar with Kiley on this subject also could not verify such a posting by Kiley.
But Sacto Politico did find one photo online of Kiley posing with the individual (right). However, this was posted to a site administered by the individual, which is not the same thing as Kiley posting the photo as claimed by Holzer.
She also asserted Kiley “has posed with neo-Nazis.” That’s in the plural, but again the Bee provided no further details or images to substantiate this. Plus, merely posing with someone for a photo does not prove awareness or endorsement of the other’s politics. (This is different from Kiley speaking at the March 2021 rally, as this publication notified Kiley and his office multiple times beforehand with details on the extremist backgrounds of the co-organizer and other speakers.)
For answers, the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board was contacted multiple times this and last week, but they did not return any calls or emails. (Kiley’s campaign was also contacted. They also provided no comment.)
The Bee’s silence is extra-notable given how strongly the Bee opinion team railed against Kiley and two other Republicans as “cowardly” and “afraid” for declining endorsement interviews. The other two candidates were Kiley’s Congressional primary opponent Sheriff Scott Jones and Assembly District 5 candidate Joe Patterson.
Take Robin Epley’s piece on April 24. Its headline calls out “Cowardly Republicans” for – as stated later in the article – avoiding Bee questions and failing “to provide transparency to voters.” But each candidate who declined the Bee’s invitation gave specific complaints about the Bee, but neither Epley nor the other two opinion pieces addressed these. This gives an ironic twist to Epley’s mocking the GOP trio for sticking “your fingers in your ears and sing[ing] ‘LA LA LA!’ whenever someone questions your job performance.”
Bee Editorial Page Editor Marcos Breton likewise called the Republicans cowardly in his April 22 piece with no response to the candidates’ specific criticisms. This piece also featured another double standard. He first chided Sheriff Jones for choosing to go public on Twitter versus having “simply left it between us and him,” but then five paragraphs later, Breton broke this just-stated rule of etiquette by publishing part of the Kiley campaign’s privately conveyed criticisms.
Interestingly, part of what Breton published quoted a Kiley campaign representative explaining, “We see no utility in participating in a political ambush masquerading as an editorial board meeting.” And an “ambush” is what Hoover experienced by accepting the Bee’s interview invitation.
Of course, some journalistic ambushes are deserved. This would seem so in Kiley’s case, as he does appear to be avoiding situations that might require him to answer questions on the March 2021 rally. Kiley also did not attend last Monday evening’s debate forum at William Jessup University sponsored by the Placer Business Alliance. (Kiley emailed supporters Friday about how all-consuming state legislative matters have lately been.)
In fact, the only news outlet other than this one that is known to have directly asked Kiley about these issues was the school paper of Kiley’s alma mater, Granite Bay High School. The student reporter was also the first to get Kiley to respond on the record, though Kiley dodged giving a direct answer:
“I don’t think anyone who actually makes that sort of allegation is a serious person – they’re some fringe types, who will say anything to try to discredit you,” Kiley told the paper. “My constituents know, and have seen over the course of my five years in the legislature, that I’m fighting for a better quality of life, for the people of our area, in our state.”
So why hasn’t the Bee just sent a reporter unannounced to a Kiley campaign event or to an Assembly committee meeting to ask Kiley their questions instead of ambushing Hoover?
A good question, and in a primary season filled with evasions, this remains one the Bee Editorial Board has yet to explain itself.