Turning a San Francisco Recall into a Rout for Police Reform

“Chesa Boudin (right) wearing a The Future is Female shirt at 2019 Women’s march San Francisco (photo by Steve Rhodes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.)

(This article appeared first in FAIR.org, the media criticism web site)


San Francisco voted on June 7 to recall its district attorney, Chesa Boudin, a reformer who had challenged the traditional “lock ’em up” policies of big-city prosecutors. The margin was initially reported as a lopsided  61%–39% landslide, in what major news media across the country reported as a blow to progressive Democrats.

As New York Times reporter Thomas Fuller, in an article published the day after the election (6/8/22), put it, under a headline declaring “Voters in San Francisco Topple the City’s Progressive District Attorney, Chesa Boudin”:

Voters in San Francisco on Tuesday put an end to one of the country’s most pioneering experiments in criminal justice reform, ousting a district attorney who eliminated cash bail, vowed to hold police accountable and worked to reduce the number of people sent to prison.

Chesa Boudin, the progressive district attorney, was removed after two and a half years in office, according to the Associated Press, in a vote that is set to reverberate through Democratic politics nationwide as the party fine-tunes its messaging on crime before midterm elections that threaten to strip Democratic control over Congress.

‘Decisively to the right’

The Times wasn’t alone in portraying San Francisco’s successful DA recall as a watershed moment for the United States, with progressive voters allegedly turning against police and prosecutor reforms in favor of “tough on crime” policies.

Yahoo News White House correspondent Alexander Nazaryan (6/8/22) termed the recall a “decisive” defeat, predicting that it was “sure to reverberate nationwide.” Nazaryan wrote that the recall election result represented

a reprise of February’s successful effort by San Franciscans to recall three school board members who were seen as engaging in progressive cultural issues while doing little to open schools that had been closed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Citing that earlier recall, as well as the latest LA Democratic mayoral primary that sent billionaire realtor Rick Caruso, a former Republican, into a runoff against progressive Rep. Karen Bass, he wrote,  “In both cases, Left Coast voters moved decisively to the right.” He then quoted (without naming him) Democratic strategist Garry South, who has also represented the real estate and telecom industries: “People are not in a good mood, and they have reason not to be in a good mood. It’s not just the crime issue. It’s the homelessness. It’s the high price of gasoline.”

Wait a minute, though. District attorneys aren’t responsible for dealing with homelessness, nor do they have anything to do with gasoline prices!  Does this even qualify as political analysis?

Jumping the gun

Like many news organizations ready to find meaning in Boudin’s recall, the New York Times and Yahoo News were so excited by the result they jumped the gun in saying that he had suffered a rout. Once all the absentee and mail-in ballots were counted a few days later, Boudin had actually lost not by a 22-point margin but by a less overwhelming 10 percentage points—a 55%–45% vote.

Since Boudin only won election in 2019 in a 50.8%–49.2% runoff, he hadn’t actually lost that much support over his almost three years in office…

For the rest of this article by DAVE LINDORFF, which appears in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), please go to:  https://fair.org/home/turning-a-san-francisco-recall-into-rout-for-police-reform/