It’s been a heady two weeks and there is a lot to unpack about the tragic murder of Bob Lee and how the media, readers and public officials responded. All of this will be on the agenda for Joe Eskenazi’s first monthly conversation at Manny’s. Demian Bulwa, director of news at the San Francisco Chronicle and Julie Makinen, editor-in-chief at the San Francisco Standard, will join Eskenazi for the evening.
A Conversation at Manny’s with Joe Eskenazi: Tuesday, April 25th – 6 p.m. – Manny’s at 16th and Valencia Streets.
In the meantime, I thought you might want to hear from Joe about why he first questioned the alignment of Lee’s murder with mayhem in San Francisco and how he broke the story of the arrest of another tech executive, Nima Momeni.
LC: Joe, what prompted your April 7 column Bob Lee deserved better than to be killed — and then co-opted in death? It went against the grain of San Francisco reporting that elevated the tech voices conflating Lee’s murder with a view of San Francisco as a city with out-of-control crime?
JE: When you’re writing a column like this, I find it’s good to self-apply a three-part process from the Scots comedian Craig Ferguson:
- Does this need to be said?
- Does this need to be said — by me?
- Does this need to be said — by me, now?
I feel bad for people who abruptly and violently lost a friend or loved one or family member in Bob Lee. But the reaction to his death soon began to resemble the conclusion of Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle — but as if the powerful land barons began attempting to politically exploit a death, not the put-upon migrant workers.
We don’t have time here to go into the local ramifications of wealthy and powerful people amplifying a narrative of out-of-control violent crime — a narrative that persists despite having no statistical basis of fact. Using Lee’s still-warm body for this purpose struck me as crass and misguided, as does commingling the overt misery, drug use, and property crime San Francisco does have with the violent crime it, blessedly, has far less of.
This struck me as something that needed to be said. By me. Now.
LC: Different outlets tried to mitigate the erroneous view of rampant crime with data showing clearly that this was not the case. Did these stories come too late or was the other emotional storyline about rampant crime simply too alluring?
JE: To be frank, it felt like a lot of news outlets were at war with themselves. The problem with writing eight to 10 stories about an incident — with some clearly providing statistics on overarching trends and others quoting people who are conflating anecdotes or even a single incident with overarching trends — is that readers can choose the one that comports with their worldview. We can also talk about why this killing spawned so many stories and the other 11 recorded homicides in San Francisco this year received a paucity of coverage.
LC: Sometimes, when I first read one of your columns, I feel like you’re starting from a visceral reaction – prompted by anger at what you see and a gut empathy with the victim? Is that at all the case?
JE: Ideally, you don’t dump a bucket of mash over someone’s head but instead distill it into something drinkable. But it does start with those ingredients.
LC: You followed the column with an incredible scoop – Arrest made in SF killing of Bob Lee — tech exec’s alleged killer also worked in tech. How did you get that and how long was it brewing?
JE: Remember the 1999 movie Election? Remember how the Matthew Broderick character is caught rigging a high-school election by a janitor who found the ballots he tossed in the garbage?
It helps to talk to the janitor.
From the beginning, my sources were adamant that this was not a random attack nor a robbery but a targeted killing. Everything I was told has been corroborated by DA’s motion to detain.
It’s clear that the police had their suspect in focus very quickly and then methodically put their ducks in a line, got their warrant, and made their move.