For more than three weeks, hordes of politicians, talking heads and armchair pundits have been poring (and snickering) over Mayor Bob Filner’s sexual harassment scandal.

But the truth is often missing in action.

The national media has left a lot to be desired as it parachutes in to cover the scandal. Here are four persistent myths that keep cropping up when people talk about our mayor’s mess.

The Media Was Filner’s Accomplice

Claim: We knew about his abusive habits all along. So says former KUSI-TV reporter Doug Curlee, who’s getting national attention, from conservatives in particular, for his new column about the local media’s supposed failure to pursue what it new about Filner’s behavior. “We never really tried to find out what was behind the near-incessant rumors that always floated around Filner,” Curlee writes.

Reality: The San Diego press investigated rumors about Filner extensively in 2012, when he ran for mayor. While several reports prominently mentioned his abusive personality — a VOSD story led with a quote describing Filner as “the Grand Canyon of assholes” — nobody was able to confirm details about sexual harassment.

U-T San Diego received an anonymous letter making allegations against Filner last September, during the middle of the mayoral campaign. The U-T, which disclosed the existence of the letter two weeks ago, wrote: that “the U-T San Diego and other media … attempted in vain to determine whether there was truth to the claims before Filner was elected mayor.”


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Here at VOSD, reporter Liam Dillon spent two weeks exploring rumors about Filner’s sexual misconduct. He even talked to Ronne Froman, the retired Navy rear admiral who went public last week to describe her own disturbing encounter with Filner, and former legislator Lori Saldaña, who says she warned the Democratic Party about reports of Filner’s harassment of women. But Dillon could not confirm the allegations.

Curlee may have perspective on how reporters treated Filner when he was one of a handful of local House representatives. But he is missing the mark about the press in 2012, when Filner ran for mayor and won.

Could reporters have dug in harder? Yes, although their time and resources aren’t unlimited. But the rumors weren’t ignored. They simply couldn’t be confirmed, and it’s irresponsible to report rumors and hearsay.

The Accusers Are in it for the Money

Claim: Some of Filner’s supporters, as U-T San Diego puts it, “remain suspicious about the motives and allegiances of his accusers.” “Payday on the horizon,” says an anonymous comment on KPBS’s website. “Lawyers are salivating at the expected payoffs,” says another. A KOGO Facebook post says some Filner supporters believe the accusers “are in it for a payday,” and the station noted another online comment warning of financial motives.

Reality: One woman — Irene McCormack Jackson, Filner’s former communications director — is suing him. But at least two of Filner’s other accusers won’t get that chance, at least based on the timing and type of alleged abuse they’ve publicly described.

Consider political fundraising consultant Laura Fink, for example. She claims that Filner humiliated her at a 2005 event while she served as his deputy campaign manager. She complained to Filner and his chief of staff.

But in California, people who wish to pursue a sexual harassment claim must file with a state agency  within a year of the last alleged incident, said Susan Bisom-Rapp, law professor and sexual harassment specialist at San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law. A complaint of battery isn’t an option either, since the statute of limitations requires suits to be filed within two years.

The six other women who have come forward publicly weren’t employees of Filner or independent contractors working for him, meaning they’re not protected by employment laws.

Still, the women “may be able to sue the mayor individually on some other grounds, if they can show that his behavior arose to the level of a tort. For example, assault (threatening harm), battery (touching someone without consent) or intentional infliction of emotional distress (outrageous behavior that is intended to cause emotional harm),” said Jennifer Reisch, legal director at Equal Rights Advocates in San Francisco.

Under state law, however, suits must be filed within a year or two of the incident. That means no lawsuit for Morgan Rose, the school psychologist who claimed the mayor tried to kiss her against her will in 2009. And, depending on what time of the year it occurred, perhaps no lawsuit for Lisa Curtin, who is director of government and military education at San Diego City College, who says she was inappropriately kissed in 2011.

Several of the other accusers allege incidents occurred in 2012 and this year, so they might still be able to sue. But they haven’t sued, and they haven’t suggested they will. So far, all they’ve done is tell their stories.

Even if current or future accusers have standing to sue and go to court — like McCormack — there’s hardly a guarantee that they’ll get major damages. “The gold-digger analysis is really off,” Bisom-Rapp said. “People underestimate how difficult it can be to prove these suits and how many cases settle for small amounts of money. At the end of the day, what people are after is some acknowledgement that a wrong has been committed.”

Felony Conviction Would Boot the Mayor

Claim: “The existing charter … provides two ways for an elected leader who refuses to resign to be forced out: criminal conviction of a felony, or the direct democracy tool of recall,” declared a — U-T San Diego editorial on July 26.

Reality: The words “felony” does not appear in the City Charter in connection with elected officials. In fact, a felony conviction would not necessarily lead to the removal of an elected city official.

There appear to be four ways for an elected official to leave office in the city before his or her term is up. An attorney with the city has also suggested a fifth route (defrauding the city) lurks in the extensive charter.

Here they are: Death. Recall. Resignation. Loss of voter eligibility. Defrauding the city.

Where does a felony conviction fit in? It doesn’t, at least not directly. But state law says voters cannot be in prison, on parole, serving time in a jail on state-level charges or serving under a specific type of post-jail supervision. Also, registered voters cannot have been “found by a court to be mentally incompetent.”

So a felony conviction could lead to the removal of an elected official if he or she then went to prison.

Craven National Media Missed the Story

Claim: “As Predicted: National Media Only Picks Up Filner Story After Democratic Party Officially Asks for His Resignation,” blared a July 25 on the conservative website Breitbart.com.

The writer, who’s anonymous, wrote this: “Mind you, this story has been big for about two weeks. But they refused to cover it earlier — doing so might have cast the party fighting the War on Women in a bad light. Might have made them look like, I don’t know, hypocrites maybe? Opportunists? Soulless cogs in a corporate machine selling Marxism and misery?”

Reality: The Democratic Party called for Filner’s resignation last Thursday, July 25.

The national media, including The New York Times, MSNBC, Washington Post, CNN and more had already covered the Filner scandal extensively before July 25. The U-T published a July 27 roundup of just some of the media coverage; Filner had even been the topic of late-night jokes by Jay Leno and Stephen Colbert.

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    This article relates to: Bob Filner, Government, News, Share

    Written by Randy Dotinga

    Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga

    24 comments
    Eva Vargas
    Eva Vargas

    Has Filner ever seen a doctor for his outbursts, sexual behavior, or other misdeeds? Has the city ever ask Filner if he has ever been diagnosed for anything? Depending on this question being asked, it should be asked now. He may have a personality discorder, and if he does . . . and didn't answer any question asked of him forthrightly well, . . .

    Eva Vargas
    Eva Vargas subscriber

    Has Filner ever seen a doctor for his outbursts, sexual behavior, or other misdeeds? Has the city ever ask Filner if he has ever been diagnosed for anything? Depending on this question being asked, it should be asked now. He may have a personality discorder, and if he does . . . and didn't answer any question asked of him forthrightly well, . . .

    David Hall
    David Hall

    None of these are persistent or myths. They may be wrong, but certainly not myths as the definition goes.

    David Hall
    David Hall subscriber

    None of these are persistent or myths. They may be wrong, but certainly not myths as the definition goes.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood

    "The media was the Mayor's accomplices"? Who ever came up with that myth, other than VOSD? Given the way the local media, including VOSD has been swarming around the mayor 7/24 like sharks smelling blood, the idea that our local media is acting like anything other than a raving irrational mob with tar, feathers, torches and pitchforks is ludicrous.

    Don Wood
    Don Wood subscriber

    "The media was the Mayor's accomplices"? Who ever came up with that myth, other than VOSD? Given the way the local media, including VOSD has been swarming around the mayor 7/24 like sharks smelling blood, the idea that our local media is acting like anything other than a raving irrational mob with tar, feathers, torches and pitchforks is ludicrous.

    ann myers
    ann myers

    Hmmmm. I did a search of the story from 7-15 to 7-24 and got zilch. Can you specifically tell us where and by who in the national media the Filner mess was covered prior to 7-24?

    ann myers
    ann myers subscriber

    Hmmmm. I did a search of the story from 7-15 to 7-24 and got zilch. Can you specifically tell us where and by who in the national media the Filner mess was covered prior to 7-24?

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones

    Sorry, but taking the statement “remain suspicious about the motives and allegiances of his accusers.” from the UT and tying it to a couple comments about a payday hardly support your second assertion. The suspicions about motives tie more into the "why now" aspect, that something else is behind the "outing" of Filner as a crass pass maker today as opposed to any other time in the past couple decades that he could have, and should have been revealed for this behavior. As far as the claim that you looked into it but couldn't prove it, how does that square with VOSD allowing Filner to trash the motives of the United baggage handler here, without getting her side of the story?

    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Sorry, but taking the statement “remain suspicious about the motives and allegiances of his accusers.” from the UT and tying it to a couple comments about a payday hardly support your second assertion. The suspicions about motives tie more into the "why now" aspect, that something else is behind the "outing" of Filner as a crass pass maker today as opposed to any other time in the past couple decades that he could have, and should have been revealed for this behavior. As far as the claim that you looked into it but couldn't prove it, how does that square with VOSD allowing Filner to trash the motives of the United baggage handler here, without getting her side of the story?

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage

    I assume the issue of money came from Marco Gonzalez who stated at the second Press Conference at the City Community Concourse that the sexual harassment lawsuits by his clients will costs the City of San Diego Taxpayers multi-millions in damages, plus legal expenses. The solution to saving taxpayer money included Mayor Filner resigning. Then City Council President Todd Gloria takes on all powers of our Strong Mayor Form of Government. Including the $1 Billion in assets from Tax Increment (TI) property taxes of the former CCDC Redevelopment Agency (RDA). Plus the ongoing new Revenue streams including lease payments, $90 million in unspent bond proceeds, etc. How about some local investigative journalism on Conspiracy between Civic San Diego, City Council, and City Attorney that have violated, and are continuously violating, the Civil Rights of thousands of San Diegans since 1992? How about an proper investigation if RDA TI could have been used for Homeless Emergency Shelter and associated Social Services, and Affordable Housing Citywide? http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/news-ticker/2013/jul/31/no-known-witnesses-yet-in-jackson-lawsuit-says-fil/

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    I assume the issue of money came from Marco Gonzalez who stated at the second Press Conference at the City Community Concourse that the sexual harassment lawsuits by his clients will costs the City of San Diego Taxpayers multi-millions in damages, plus legal expenses. The solution to saving taxpayer money included Mayor Filner resigning. Then City Council President Todd Gloria takes on all powers of our Strong Mayor Form of Government. Including the $1 Billion in assets from Tax Increment (TI) property taxes of the former CCDC Redevelopment Agency (RDA). Plus the ongoing new Revenue streams including lease payments, $90 million in unspent bond proceeds, etc. How about some local investigative journalism on Conspiracy between Civic San Diego, City Council, and City Attorney that have violated, and are continuously violating, the Civil Rights of thousands of San Diegans since 1992? How about an proper investigation if RDA TI could have been used for Homeless Emergency Shelter and associated Social Services, and Affordable Housing Citywide? http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/news-ticker/2013/jul/31/no-known-witnesses-yet-in-jackson-lawsuit-says-fil/

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill

    As much as I want to blame journalism for not discovering Filner's problem earlier, they deserve a partial pass. We learned about micro-culture in high school because there were geeks, jocks, sluts, Goths, stoners...then in college entire colleges had cultures, some entire college cultures were party schools, jock academies, academic havens... Not that the predominant culture was participated in by everyone, but everyone knew what the predominate culture was. Back in the 70s I asked a Drug Counselor about the Poway drug culture, and he said "Poway is more milkshake than marijuana." The political climate in Washington is vastly different from San Diego. Vastly. I was once needy for some Washington action and a friendly Congressman loaned me "Golden Girl," who was trained in Senator Strom Thurmond's office -- an office known to produce beautiful women who would do whatever was necessary. "Golden Girl" was indeed golden. Let's just say the powerful person from whom I needed help said "...whatever you need, you have." It is the Washington political culture. It is obviously not the San Diego political culture. Journalists in Washington see differently through their lens than do journalists in San Diego, and accept a different culture. Comparatively, San Diego is the "milk shake" culture. Thankfully.

    Allen Hemphill
    Allen Hemphill subscribermember

    As much as I want to blame journalism for not discovering Filner's problem earlier, they deserve a partial pass. We learned about micro-culture in high school because there were geeks, jocks, sluts, Goths, stoners...then in college entire colleges had cultures, some entire college cultures were party schools, jock academies, academic havens... Not that the predominant culture was participated in by everyone, but everyone knew what the predominate culture was. Back in the 70s I asked a Drug Counselor about the Poway drug culture, and he said "Poway is more milkshake than marijuana." The political climate in Washington is vastly different from San Diego. Vastly. I was once needy for some Washington action and a friendly Congressman loaned me "Golden Girl," who was trained in Senator Strom Thurmond's office -- an office known to produce beautiful women who would do whatever was necessary. "Golden Girl" was indeed golden. Let's just say the powerful person from whom I needed help said "...whatever you need, you have." It is the Washington political culture. It is obviously not the San Diego political culture. Journalists in Washington see differently through their lens than do journalists in San Diego, and accept a different culture. Comparatively, San Diego is the "milk shake" culture. Thankfully.

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga

    We did not come up with the myth. Did you read my story by chance? It's above if you missed it. I explain that a column by former TV newsman Doug Curlee (which essentially says the local media stood by and didn't investigate Filner) has gotten tremendous attention online, especially among conservatives. They believe it reveals a liberal media that protected Filner. That is, in fact, a myth that both of us can agree upon.

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga memberauthor

    We did not come up with the myth. Did you read my story by chance? It's above if you missed it. I explain that a column by former TV newsman Doug Curlee (which essentially says the local media stood by and didn't investigate Filner) has gotten tremendous attention online, especially among conservatives. They believe it reveals a liberal media that protected Filner. That is, in fact, a myth that both of us can agree upon.

    Eva Vargas
    Eva Vargas

    Now Randy, I asked you the same question on July 16, 2013 by email and you wrote by email, " he hasn't gotten as much attention as you might expect... some TV coverage, I hear, on Today and Good Morning America, but no late-night jokes or anything like that yet. I think we're just too much out in the boonies for it to have sunk in nationally. Maybe later ;)" It's ok Randy, and I do expect that you did the same thing that you're suggesting to Ann Myers.

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga

    It was covered extensively across the national media. Try Google News or the links in the last paragraph.

    Eva Vargas
    Eva Vargas subscriber

    Now Randy, I asked you the same question on July 16, 2013 by email and you wrote by email, " he hasn't gotten as much attention as you might expect... some TV coverage, I hear, on Today and Good Morning America, but no late-night jokes or anything like that yet. I think we're just too much out in the boonies for it to have sunk in nationally. Maybe later ;)" It's ok Randy, and I do expect that you did the same thing that you're suggesting to Ann Myers.

    Randy Dotinga
    Randy Dotinga memberauthor

    It was covered extensively across the national media. Try Google News or the links in the last paragraph.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage

    Hi Eva. This 21 year ongoing fraud and conspiracy issue is separate from the issue of harassment in the work place, that is not tolerated. The issue is myths about money and taxpayer costs. The result of lack of interest and investigative journalism is about the 60+ deaths every year of fellow homeless San Diegans due to fraud and misappropriation of former RDA funds since 1992. The solution is an investigation by the State Attorney General Kamala Harris and getting back the $225 million for the Convention Center, $225 million for Petco Park debt, $144 million in misappropriated Federal HUD funds for the homeless, and $372 million for unmet Affordable Housing required by state RDA laws. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/news-ticker/2013/aug/01/filner-imbroglio-is-all-about-greed/ www.tinyurl.com/20121231 Mayor Filner is fighting for the Civil rights of poor and homeless. San Diego City and County are in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act and HEARTH Act . How about an independent investigation if the $1 Billion in assets (as of June 30, 2012) of the former Civic San Diego, CCDC Redevelopment Agency (RDA) will be unfrozen by the State Department of Finance later this summer 2013? Or why the Successor Agency Non-Housing Due Diligence Report (DDR) was approved by IBA and Civic San Diego Staff and bypass public hearings at both Civic San Diego Board of Directors and City Council approval. Mayor Filner's financial staff promised the Non-Housing DDR approval would be brought back to the City Council for approval by June 2013. No one in the local media or the City discussed the annual @ $200 million in new revenue streams including lease revenue, downtown park district revenue, and over $100 million in unspent Bond Proceeds. Follow the money.

    Eva Vargas
    Eva Vargas

    Oh no you did-n't La Playa Heritage? LoL Con-thipisthsy between whom? Not a chance, but who would want to believe me, I voted for Filner.

    La Playa Heritage
    La Playa Heritage subscribermember

    Hi Eva. This 21 year ongoing fraud and conspiracy issue is separate from the issue of harassment in the work place, that is not tolerated. The issue is myths about money and taxpayer costs. The result of lack of interest and investigative journalism is about the 60+ deaths every year of fellow homeless San Diegans due to fraud and misappropriation of former RDA funds since 1992. The solution is an investigation by the State Attorney General Kamala Harris and getting back the $225 million for the Convention Center, $225 million for Petco Park debt, $144 million in misappropriated Federal HUD funds for the homeless, and $372 million for unmet Affordable Housing required by state RDA laws. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/news-ticker/2013/aug/01/filner-imbroglio-is-all-about-greed/ www.tinyurl.com/20121231 Mayor Filner is fighting for the Civil rights of poor and homeless. San Diego City and County are in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act and HEARTH Act . How about an independent investigation if the $1 Billion in assets (as of June 30, 2012) of the former Civic San Diego, CCDC Redevelopment Agency (RDA) will be unfrozen by the State Department of Finance later this summer 2013? Or why the Successor Agency Non-Housing Due Diligence Report (DDR) was approved by IBA and Civic San Diego Staff and bypass public hearings at both Civic San Diego Board of Directors and City Council approval. Mayor Filner's financial staff promised the Non-Housing DDR approval would be brought back to the City Council for approval by June 2013. No one in the local media or the City discussed the annual @ $200 million in new revenue streams including lease revenue, downtown park district revenue, and over $100 million in unspent Bond Proceeds. Follow the money.

    Eva Vargas
    Eva Vargas subscriber

    Oh no you did-n't La Playa Heritage? LoL Con-thipisthsy between whom? Not a chance, but who would want to believe me, I voted for Filner.