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Update: Bee finally covers political extremism, sort of

Two weeks ago, this publication’s main news feature was “Why did Sacto media cover an extremist rally without mentioning the extremism?” It critiqued news coverage by the Sacramento Bee and two TV stations of an Aug. 1 political rally on the steps of the state capitol.

Giving the event coverage was not the issue. Rather, it was how it was covered. The outlets presented the rally as standard political fare with no mention of its extremist participants, connections and steady diet of disturbing rhetoric. This included a featured speaker with white supremacist symbols on his home page, dire warnings that Democrats were leading America toward an Auschwitz-style furnace, and at least one call for Democrats to die.

Rally coverage also made no mention of the event’s local co-organizer Buzz Patterson. He is the GOP-endorsed Congressional candidate running in Sacramento County’s 7th Congressional District who has connections to QAnon and other extremist individuals and groups that have strangely gone unreported locally. Prior to publishing, I reached out to Bee leadership by phone and email multiple times for comment but received no response.

Then Sept. 28 this week, the Bee published a 1,500-word story from its Capitol Bureau titled “The California Republican Party endorsed three candidates who say QAnon theories should be heard.” You could imagine my interest. Perhaps this article would finally inform Sacramento area readers about Patterson and his QAnon connections ahead of mail-in voting beginning next week.

Alas. Although the Bee’s story quoted or mentioned four different California Republican Congressional candidates with QAnon associations, it never mentioned Patterson, the one endorsed candidate with a QAnon connection within the Bee’s circulation territory. This despite the Washington Post, Newsweek, Forbes and Axios all having written about Patterson’s online affirmation of QAnon in April, which he only recently deleted and now denies ever making.

The Bee’s Sept 28 article also only briefly mentioned the violence and threats associated with QAnon conspiracy theories. Most glaring, this included no mention of the recent QAnon-related death threats against State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Fran) and his family for his writing SB 145.

The Bee’s combination of silence at times and then soft-selling the threat from extremist influences like QAnon comes at a time when President Donald Trump’s words and actions are viewed by many to have emboldened such groups. So for a daily newspaper to not clearly highlight the growing local appearance of such extremism only serves to perpetuate the silent vacuum that promotes ever greater boldness.

So why would the Bee invest the time and effort needed to report a long article about QAnon but omit recent death threats and the most locally relevant candidate? I contacted the Bee’s managing editor multiple times for comment, but again no response was provided.

The Sept. 28 article did note “in 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said the group posed a potential domestic terrorism threat.” But as serious as this sounds, the article did not specify any examples to make this clear to readers. The reporter apparently also did not ask any of the three Republican candidates quoted for comment on this most concerning aspect of QAnon.

Reinforcing the Bee’s light treatment of QAnon threats, the article paraphrased Democratic political consultant Steven Maviglio as believing QAnon “conspiracy theories don’t pose a threat to state Democrats.” This was a surprising comment given the recent death threats against Senator Wiener.

When reached by The Sacto Politico, Maviglio said he couldn’t remember exactly when the Bee interviewed him but it was “well before” they published their Sept. 28 article and before he became aware of the death threats against Wiener. The consultant said “I, of course, condemn” the attacks, and he clarified that his comment about QAnon conspiracy theories posing no threat to Democrats was meant only in the political sense.

This means the Bee’s Capitol Bureau was either unaware of the death threats reported by its competitors (including locally on Fox 40’s Inside CA Politics), or it was aware but did not follow standard journalistic practice to re-contact sources like Maviglio to confirm their comments in light of related new events. This negligence would apply not just to the reporter but to all editors who had guided and reviewed the piece prior to publication.

One explanation is just poor research and editorial oversight. For example, one section about L.A.-area Republican Congressional candidate and QAnon supporter Mike Cargile stated “it’s unclear why Mike Cargile... is not endorsed by the party.” However, some basic Internet research would have revealed Cargile actually had been endorsed by the California GOP (CAGOP) until his name disappeared in late June from the party’s web page of endorsed Congressional candidates.

And why this happened isn’t completely “unclear” as it coincided with reporting by L.A. Magazine and Media Matters that Cargile’s social media accounts included a variety of “racist diatribes and offensive memes targeted at Black people, immigrants, Muslims, and LGBTQ people.”

But even without the Bee properly discovering this, the fact Cargile wasn’t in good standing with a state party with such a low endorsement bar should have rung warning bells. It should have prompted the Bee to dig further before deciding whether or not to quote Cargile in print and how to properly present him to readers.

So a pattern has emerged about the Bee. Whether covering QAnon or the Aug. 1 rally, the Bee regularly fails to inform Sacramento readers about local candidates like Patterson with open extremist connections. The paper has also failed to fully inform readers about the most extreme aspects of the fringe groups, candidates and events they chose to cover.

Why? That’s anyone’s guess because the Bee isn’t talking.

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