Philip Anschutz's reimagined Examiner newspapers are like Melissa Gira Grant's escort friends: The status-conscious feign ignorance and contempt, then pick one up when no one's looking. Anschutz is a billionaire Republican and a devout Christian, but up until now he's proven more interested in making money in a post-Craigslist local ad market than in trying to save San Francisco from pot-smoking gay abortionists. That's why today's cover, which endorses the GOP's John McCain and Sarah Palin ticket the day after McCain's "huh-what?" suspension of his campaign, seems to be a classic case of election emotions spun out of control. It's like Hollywood celebs who vow to leave the country — except with consequences.Slate media critic Jack Shafer, who used to edit the SF Weekly, has obsessed over the Examiner's "mash-up of short local stories by staffers, brief wire pieces, and abridged articles from the New York Times and other newspapers" into a daily 20-minute read for an Internet-fed world. "Tabloid format. Not tabloid journalism" the Ex claimed in one of its ads. I usually wait until partygoers have a few drinks before conducting an ad hoc poll: Invariably, more middle-class technorati confess to reading the Examiner than the San Francisco Chronicle or San Jose Mercury News. Not because of the glossy online edition, or the built-in Digg and Fark buttons on every story, they say, but because the lightweight, free newspaper is easier to pick up and hard to put down. The Examiner's politics have pushed nothing near a far-right agenda. Instead of a David Brooks or Michael Savage on the opinion page, we get right-of-center everyman Ken Garcia, rescued from the soft-sinking Chronicle. He's kind of hard on Gavin Newsom, but nowhere near Bush-team material. After all this careful seduction of local readers, today's front-page endorsements in both the San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Examiner seem clumsy and pointless. Is anyone going to change their vote because of the paper? Endorsing candidates on the front page is a relic of the time when newspapers were the dominant voice on the street. It's a throwback to The Examiner's original owner, William Randolph Hearst. I expected that by now, the editorial and marketing minds who've convinced me to openly read The Examiner in front of the New York Times-toting snobs at Whole Foods would come up with something smarter than plastering their partisan politics across my front page. And yes, I'd feel nearly as stupid carrying around a front-page endorsement of Obama.
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