The city of San Diego is investigating an auto museum the city’s largest newspaper is installing inside its offices, following a local reporter’s inquiry.
Earlier this week, reporter Randy Dotinga asked U-T San Diego CEO and part-owner John Lynch via email about the city’s look into whether the museum, and the accompanying entrance ramp and bridge for vehicles, violated local building codes. As Dotinga wrote for the Voice of San Diego news site, Lynch simply responded, “Get a life.”
Dotinga confirmed the email from Lynch to Raw Story on Wednesday.
“It didn’t surprise me,” he said. “He’s known as being a very blunt person, and speaks his mind. It’s just his personality.”
Lynch’s response is the latest episode in an aggressive makeover process for the newspaper, formerly known as The San Diego Union-Tribune, since he and U-T‘s new majority owner and publisher, real-estate mogul Doug Manchester, took over the paper late last year.
Dotinga said some U-T employees have talked to him since his initial report, questioning why Manchester was investing in a car museum when their newspaper was still short-staffed. He also said this raises more questions about the publication’s direction.
“Lynch was annoyed that the city wouldn’t let him put a banner on the U-T building,” Dotinga said. “When you look at that in connection with this, it makes you wonder, what does the paper think about following city rules?”
While it’s not unusual for newspaper owners to have a political view reflected in their paper’s content, Dotinga said, what sets this case apart is how open Manchester and Lynch have been about putting them out there.
“We make no apologies,” Lynch told the New York Times in June. “We are doing what a newspaper ought to do, which is to take positions. We are very consistent — pro-conservative, pro-business, pro-military — and we are trying to make a newspaper that gets people excited about this city and its future.”
In 2008, Manchester was criticized for donating $125,000 in support of Prop. 8, the California law banning same-sex marriage. Manchester told the Times his reasons were religiously-based.
“This really is a free-speech, First Amendment issue,” Manchester said at the time. “While I respect everyone’s choice of partner, my Catholic faith and longtime affiliation with the Catholic Church leads me to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
That faith played out in public early on: on Christmas Day last year, Manchester wrote an op-ed piece saying, “No other individual, before or since, has so influenced mankind as Jesus Christ.” Comments on that article were closed and deleted after it was noted that other religions were being excluded from his holiday greeting.
Meanwhile, Lynch has said he wanted the newspaper to speak up on behalf of a new stadium for the local NFL franchise, the San Diego Chargers, calling people who objected to the plan, “Obstructionists.”
More recently, the paper’s editorial board this month predicted a landslide win for Republican Mitt Romney in this year’s presidential elections, citing the failure of President Barack Obama’s economic policy and “repudiation of his attempt to move the country toward European socialism.”
Dotinga reported that, according to a city official, the paper did not have the proper permits to establish the museum, pending a full two-week investigation. The museum, which Dotinga said would contain some of the owner’s own cars, is part of a series of enhancements done to its Mission Valley offices; U-T also installed a TV studio inside the newsroom for its in-house cable television station and a first-floor restaurant.
In May, another local publication, the San Diego Reader, reported on a series of emails between Lynch and local city council member Kevin Faulconer where Lynch asked for Faulconer’s help getting approval for the installation of an electronic “news ticker” on the building.
“Newspapers in general and the U-T specifically, truly need to expand to multi-media platforms if they are to survive,” Lynch wrote, before referencing Manchester by his preferred nickname. “Papa Doug and I are excited regarding the potential of the U-T.”
During the process, the paper was threatened with a $1,000 fine for an illegal banner on the building, prompting Lynch to write a threatening email to Faulconer’s office.
“If it weren’t for the digital sign pending approval, I would instruct our folks to run a piece on how this is so reflective of this city being anti-business,” Lynch wrote. “We are fighting to keep this business vital and if it were ever to go away, there would be 700 San Diego jobs that go with it.”
[image via U-T reporter Steve Schmidt on Twitter]