Mercury News Editor Tried to Push Keegan out of Water Board Race

Count Barbara Keegan among those most flabbergasted with her landslide victory last week for a seat on the Santa Clara Valley Water District board. But if it were up to the opinion editor at our local daily, Keegan would have pulled out of the race months ago. That would have allowed David Ginsborg, deputy to the county’s tax assessor, to easily claim retiring Joe Judge’s board seat. Barbara Marshman, the Mercury News’ editorial writer and decider of all things good and natural, emailed Keegan in early August to try and cajole her into dropping out of the race. The message not only came of as threatening but also included a quid pro quo. “If you plan to drop out, I will be thrilled to write an editorial of lavish praise for both you and Scott (who also would have been terrific on the board, I’ve known him for 20 years) for putting the best interests of the district first,” Marshman wrote, referring to Scott Knies, the San Jose Downtown Association’s executive director, who bowed out of the race at the end of July. Keegan says she couldn’t understand why Marshman—who didn’t respond to requests for comment—was hellbent on pressing a qualified female candidate to bow out, let alone why she would be so foolhardy to put such an offer in writing. Marshman admits earlier in her email to Keegan that, “While I only know you by reputation, I don’t doubt that you’d be a fine water board member. But I’m writing an editorial asking you to pull out of the race, so that there’s a chance of unseating Joe Judge. With three names on the ballot, Joe will win, once Zoe and the rest of the crowd amp up the campaign. David Ginsborg has I think a good chance of winning, but not if there’s a third name there.” As it turned out, Judge dropped out of the race a week after the email, his friend and U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren stayed out of the race and Keegan destroyed Ginsborg, beating him by 24 percentage points. If someone like Cindy Chavez, CEO of the South Bay Labor Council, had tried to orchestrate such a scheme, the Merc would have publicly eviscerated her. Keegan says Chavez told her as much. But in this Bay Area media crock pot, where only a handful of independent newspapers survive, the temptation to call shots with impunity must have been too irresistible for Marshman. Now eat your vegetables and drink lots of water.

The Fly is the valley’s longest running political column, written by Metro Silicon Valley staff, to provide a behind-the-scenes look at local politics. Fly accepts anonymous tips.


  1. Congratulations to Barbara Keegan for winning.  And thanks to SJI for yet another good article with information that residents here should have.  I voted for Ms. Keegan because from her ballot statement she was clearly the most qualified candidate.  The Merc needs to understand that the Water District deals with….wait for it….**water**.  It is in the best interests of SCVWD residents to vote for people to serve on the water board who actually understand what the water district does.  Ms. Keegan is a Civil Engineer – which is why she got my vote.  She is also not trying to climb to higher elected office which is what David Ginsborg appears to be trying to do, get elected to something while he bides his time waiting to run for his bosses’ office.

    The Merc behaved badly during this last election, endorsing and trying to install the candidates they wanted on many boards and councils, and showing a lack of understanding of what is going on in various communities and what voters are looking for in the process.  The editorials written by the Merc were in general mean-spirited and lacking in substance.  Read the school board endorsement editorials – how many editorials dealt with what voters care about most, improving student achievement? The Merc seemed far more interested in writing salacious details about candidates’ personalities.  And coverage was not fairly distributed – some races were completely ignored.

    The voters showed that, in general, endorsements by the Merc don’t mean anything.  That’s really good news.  It shows that voters are doing their own research.  I know a couple of people who canceled their long time Merc subscriptions during this election season because they were so disgusted with the election articles written by the Merc.

    Again, great job SJI and congrats to Ms. Keegan.

    • I forgot to thank Barbara Keegan for stepping forward.  It’s not like there’re no downside to telling her story.

      She has a pair, in the gender-less sense of that phrase. smile

  2. Not that there was ever a doubt, but this story makes it appalling clear that the MN shapes its reporting and editorializing to advance its own agenda and is completely lacking in journalistic integrity.  Marshman should resign in disgrace.  The Freedom of the Press carries with it, or at least should, the responsibility of fairness.  When a newspaper’s editorial opinion is, in essence, “for sale”, it has abandoned any pretense of fairness.  Publishing an editorial opinion is one thing.  Bartering the content of that opinion to attempt to influence an election is disgusting.  If the Internet does eventually kill the newspaper, I won’t be sorry to see the MN go.

  3. Our household canceled its decades long paid subscription to the Merc a few years ago.  We got tired of paying more for an ever shrinking paper – getting rid of the Perspective section was the last straw for me – and we got tired of the biased reporting and editorials.  This past election season’s coverage by the Merc just reinforced for me that the Merc will never, ever get one more dime from our household.

  4. Big shock…the Mercury News Editorial Board editor is unethical!

    The email she sent to, a qualified and eventual winner, Barbara Keegan is so cavalier, so threatening, that Marshman ought to be ashamed of herself.  Marshman operates with impunity and this is not her first attempt at “orchestrating” back room deals to shape an election to her liking.  Who exactly is this woman and how did she gain so much power?

    The implication was that if Keegan did not drop out, then the lavish praise would have been lots of ridicule…Shame on the Mercury News and shame on Marshman.

    The journalistic lines that were crossed in this episode are just the tip of the iceberg, I am sure there is more emails and threats circulating and I wonder if reporters and columnists from the Mercury News perform this type of extortion?

  5. Marshman’s conduct was not just unethical, it appears to be criminal.  DA Rosen should file a prosecution against Marshman, just as he should do against the corporate ownership of the Mercury News for any role in a conspiracy to steal & store property (costly newspaper racks) from other companies.

    The evidence shows that Marshman was offering to exchange something of high value to Keegan for Keegan’s abandoning her political campaign.

    While the faux journalism we enjoy here in San Jose has managed to get itself off the list of contributions-in-kind that candidates & donors need to report, in fact, “an editorial of lavish praise” for Keegan would be extremely valuable in any future Keegan campaign.  The money value for pro & con editorials has a value of many dollars…thus an offer of a bribe in this context.

    Marshman’s conduct appears to violate laws against bribe offers, attempted bribery, corruption of the public’s Constitutional right to know, and attempted conspiracy to illegally violate the election laws.

    And the offer itself has to be the result of a larger conspiracy within the Merc itself…it is unimaginable that the Marshman offer to corrupt local politics wasn’t approved by a majority of her peers on the editorial board.

    Marshman may have believed that the lies she may freely write about candidates are exempt from reporting rules for contributions-in-kind, but neither she nor the Mere are exempt from obeying the state criminal laws.

    Let’s see what DA Rosen does with this bold conspiracy by Marshman.

    • Dale,

      That is a bit of a stretch.  While one can opine all they want on Ms. Marshman’s tactics.  There is a difference between the editorial section of the Mercury News and the news section.

      Moreover, the Merc has an interest in the outcome of elections and has never been shy about their views as an institution. 

      Finally, all media has bias—some more than others.  But the difference is in the journalistic standards maintained by the newspaper.  The Merc is currently under-staffed in terms of reporters.  Many of its best and brightest have left.  But it still maintains a degree of integrity among the professionals it employs.

      The core of those who remain at the newspaper, including Ms. Marshman, do have integrity and standards—and while I have disagreed with some their editorial positions in the past—I would not, as some critics have done, question their integrity as individuals.

      Specifically, Ms. Marshman has been a leader in our community for many years.  She cares deeply about this community—and you can disagree with her on issues and tactics, but one cannot deny her influence and support for this region, state and nation has been positive for our valley in the macro.

    • Rich, let’s try an analogy.  Consider that a powerful & connected lobbyist contacted a candidate for office and promised the candidate that, if they would drop out of a political race, the lobbyist would pay for an ad in the Mercury News equal to one-fourth of a page and furthermore would be signed by someone with “integrity and standards” with the content suitable for quoting in future campaigns.

      Might that be a cluster of criminal acts that don’t get for given any possible prior good deeds?

      • Dale,

        There is a difference between a political deal and bribery.  The same mistake was made by a previous DA regarding the indictment of Ron Gonzalez. 

        There are all kinds of legal deals.  “I won’t run against you, if you support me for x.”  Even “I’ll help raise money and pay off your campaign debt if you get out of the race.”—not illegal. 

        There are distinctions and running an editorial is not a bribe.

  6. It was also clear from some of the Merc endorsement editorials that they allowed outside forces to lobby the Merc to endorse particular people for particular offices.  This was clear from the level of unfairness (or what some of my friends called ‘dirtiness’) in the Merc editorial endorsement writeups, such as writing about elected official endorsements of some candidates without mentioning elected official endorsements of other candidates in the same article.  It was also clear from ideas expressed in the Merc editorials which could only have come from outside forces lobbying the Merc.

    I didn’t think the Merc could ever stoop so low as to be equal with the editorials written for the Santa Clara Weekly, but this past election season proved that Merc = Weekly.  Our community deserves better reporting and better opinion pieces.

    I have watched over the years as good reporters left the Merc to be replaced by reporters who seem to not have the appropriate background for what they’re writing.  How qualified are the reporters who write the Merc editorials?  How well do they know the needs of the communities for which the Merc is making endorsements? Could this be one reason why the Merc was so far off the mark in terms of who the voters actually chose in many races?

  7. Illegal?  Probably not. Unethical?  No doubt.  Even worse, the MN’s efforts to shape politics are not limited to the editorial page.  It’s one sided reporting, most recently with regard to Measure B, also blatantly attempts to control the political debate by distorting the truth.

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