“We’ll Give You the Liberal Media”

Jan 29, 2011 No Comments

An Interview with Paul Hogarth, Co-Founder of The Smart Ass

By Anaïs LaVoie and Zoe Kornberg

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of the Bay Area political blog, Beyond Chron. In addition to being a founding member of this magazine and an active member of Cal Berkeley Democrats during his time here at Cal, he served on the Berkeley Rent Board.  A devoted advocate for the progressive movement and an accomplished attorney, we are proud to call him one of our founding alums.

Anaïs and Zoe: Who founded The Smart Ass?

Paul Hogarth: There had been a discussion within Cal Dems for a while, before I came, about starting a newsletter. In 1996, in the fall semester, our club Secretary at the time was a woman called Kasey Pffaff, and she really wanted us to start a newsletter. With the Presidential election, we were all extremely busy with campaign stuff. We didn’t really have time to do anything, but once the election was over, around November, December, we started having a few meetings about doing a newsletter. At the same time it was the ’96 election in which the Daily Cal endorsed Prop 209, and we were all pretty upset about that. In fact we used to call it the Daily Conservative. That was when the By Any Means Necessary people stole 30,000 copies of the Daily Cal on election day and dumped them in the Sproul fountain. I wouldn’t necessarily condone that, but we felt like, not only do we want a CalDems newsletter, but we want a liberal newspaper for a liberal campus.

We tried to think of different names for it, it was this girl Aneesha Vyas, she was the one who came up with the name The Smart Ass, and it kind of stuck. I was the one with little tagline that we started having the first year, “For those of you who thought that mainstream media was liberal—we’ll give you the liberal media.”

A and Z: Was there involvement of people outside of CalDems or was it more by CalDems, for CalDems?

PH: It was always for CalDems, by CalDems. As long as I was still there, it was always identified as the CalDems publication.

A and Z: Could you tell us a bit about Prop 209, and do you know how much Prop 209 has affected what our student body looks like today compared to when you went to Cal?

PH: It was definitely a much more diverse student body back then and people felt really threatened by the end of affirmative action. We did a lot of canvassing and campaigning against 209 at the time. The problem was that you had the crazies at By Any Means Necessary giving our whole side a bad name and it pissed off the neutral or uninterested, apolitical students. The reason the Daily Cal endorsed 209 was really the editorial board. It was a vote of 6 to 5.

I don’t come to campus a lot anymore, I come by occasionally, but my understanding is it’s a very different student body. We had always felt strongly that a diverse student body from different backgrounds was very important for us and for our educational experience. We’re supposed to be a public university that serves everybody. Prop 209 was a big threat.

A and Z: We’re in a time when student involvement is really important, because of the budget cuts. Do you think that there was more or less of an effort around Prop 209 than we’re doing now?

PH: Much less. Much less. I go to campus today, I think it’s a much more political campus than it was back then. I think that a lot of it is the Obama influence, more young people are now involved in politics. Voter turnout among college-age students is a lot higher than it was back then. In the mid-90’s, people were a little bit disengaged.

A and Z: Tell us about the topics of the articles in the first issues of the Smart Ass.

PH: In 1996, Bill Clinton got reelected President, but only after the Republicans took over Congress, and he completely betrayed everything the Democratic Party stands for. He signed the Welfare Bill, he signed the Marriage Act. He did a lot of really awful, awful things later on as President that made a lot of us feel betrayed and upset. And we were like, “Wow, this is the guy we were too young to vote for the first time he ran. Then we’re finally old enough to vote for him, the second time, and yet we feel like chumps.” He was just co-opting Bob Dole and the Republicans on everything. We wanted the Democratic Party to stand up for progressive principles, we didn’t want to just echo what the Republicans said, and be Republican Light. We were proud to be Democrats, and we wanted to convey a proud progressive message…I remember at one point, Jenn said to me, “Boy, it seems like we’ve bashed Clinton in every issue.”

A and Z: What do you think liberal journalism’s role is today?

PH: Fox News has distorted everything to the point that even though CNN or The New York Times are not flat out conservative, they end up having to respond and react to the right wing talking points that get repeated through the ring wing media. The problem, of course, is that media is controlled by private interest. Groups like the Tea Party get so much more attention than a lot of the progressive activism that we see in the country today, such as students on campus protesting budget cuts. It’s really important for liberal or alternative media to hold the so-called objective media people accountable.

People really woke up after the war in Iraq started. They suddenly realized that the New York Times and other mainstream media sources didn’t ask the tough questions and that the Bush administration was lying its way to war. The proliferation of blogs through the DailyKos has been incredibly exciting. By using the internet, now anyone can be a journalist. Anyone can basically have a voice in the political discourse. That’s really exciting.

A and Z: How did The Smart Ass lay the foundation for your career and what advice do you have for some of our writers and editors?

PH: I’m the managing editor of Beyond Chron, which is a political blog focused on San Francisco politics, but we also write about national and state stuff too, in which our goal—our name—is to go beyond the San Francisco Chronicle, because it really sucks.

The Smart Ass had everything to do with where I’m at today. By giving an outlet to articulate your viewpoints and criticize politicians and criticize the media, the power—it’s a great venue to do it. I would not be able to do what I do at Beyond Chron today and constantly be reporting on and covering the media and national politics if I hadn’t gotten the training ground at The Smart Ass. Mt advice to folks, to Cal Dems of today, is to use The Smart Ass to fine tune and hone your skills, your writing skills.

Before The Smart Ass and before the blogs, when student activists really wanted to get their message out they had to incite the media to cover their event. That can be very frustrating, because you send out your press release and you have your press conference, half the people you asked show up and they might write something, but it might not be favorable. Now you can create your own media and then rather than send out a press release, you write your own article, because the press will read what you write. That will help influence and shape what they report. They’re pretty sensitive to criticism as well, so when I go after the Chronicle on something, you better believe they read it.

A and Z: What type of media do you read?

PH: DailyKos, Huffington Post, AMERICAblog, Open Left. And Calitics, because it’s so hard to find good coverage of California politics. People just don’t care that much what happens up in Sacramento the way they do about Washington.

Fall 2010

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