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News + PoliticsCrimeThe Bob Lee murder and the media problem

The Bob Lee murder and the media problem

It's not just Fox News and Elon Musk creating a false impression of a crime wave in SF—and there are clear political impacts.

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Toward the end of a mostly pointless press conference today, Police Chief Bill Scott addressed the widespread social-media and mainstream news reports suggesting that the murder of tech executive Bob Lee was a sign of overall lawlessness in San Francisco—and the implication that it must have been a homeless person responsible for the fatal stabbing.

“This is about human nature, not San Francisco,” he said. “They knew each other. Take this out of San Francisco and put it in another city and nothing changes.”

Chief Scott and DA Jenkins offered less information than we already learned from MissionLocal

In other words: The person who allegedly murdered Lee,  Nima Momeni, was also a tech entrepreneur, and someone who had prior connections to Lee.

According to Mission Local, which has done a stunning job of breaking this story and putting it in context:

Lee and Momeni were portrayed by police as being familiar with one another. In the wee hours of April 4, they were purportedly driving together through downtown San Francisco in a car registered to the suspect. 

Some manner of confrontation allegedly commenced while both men were in the vehicle, and potentially continued after Lee exited the car. Police allege that Momeni stabbed Lee multiple times with a knife that was recovered not far from the spot on the 300 block of Main Street to which officers initially responded. 

Now: Joe Eskenazi clearly has inside police sources, because Scott today refused to give any details about the case except to say that Momeni is in custody, charged with murder, and that the two men knew each other. District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said he will be arraigned Friday at 1pm, and we might get a bit more information then.

But the politics of this tragedy are now on clear display: The right wing—and some political groups in San Francisco—have taken advantage of the killing to promote their own, mistaken and sometimes scary, agenda.

And so far, none of them, from Elon Musk on down, have uttered a word of shame or apology.

In fact, Fox News just reported on the arrest, but never even mentioned that the suspect was also in the tech world and that the two knew each other.

The Chron tried today to explain some of the problems with the false media narrative around this killing, but never hinted that the daily paper might have played a role.

The Chron, and other local news media, particularly TV news, have been sensationalizing crime in this city for years, and used this false narrative to stoke the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

The paper has a front-page story today about a survey showing that San Franciscans don’t feel safe. This, at a time when everyone admits that violent crime, including homicide is down, and way lower than the rate in many other major cities.

Why do you suppose that might be?

A new study out of Stanford shows that fewer people checked into misinformation websites in 2020 than 2016—but a lot of people still did:

Misinformation is pernicious, it morphs and mutates quickly, the scholars said.

“While one could interpret our findings as evidence that the problem of online misinformation is improving in some way, they could also be interpreted as evidence that the nature of the problem is changing,” the scholars write in the paper.

The scholars only studied web browsing activity, and misinformation could have been displaced to other social media platforms or encrypted messaging services, such as WhatsApp or Signal. Moreover, a click is not the only metric of fake news consumption; people could have still consumed untrustworthy information passively online through a meme or even just skimming a headline when scrolling through news feeds. All of these factors make it a difficult topic to study.

One of the factors is the way news media immediately jump on a story, particularly one that involves a celebrity or in this case a rich tech exec, and allow it to fit into a pre-existing false narrative.

That gets picked up on social media, the meme expands, and pretty soon everywhere anyone looks we get the same message: Crime is out of control in San Francisco. It’s a scary place. We need more cops. We need a tougher DA. We need to put more people in jail.

Oh, and homeless people are scary, too, and they must be the source of some of this terrifying crime.

The same pattern is now happening with the new Alameda County DA, Pamela Price.

Elon Musk and his pals should absolutely apologize (and jeez, the guy is running like three major companies, when does he have the time to tweet so much)? But the local news media, particularly the Chron and the TV stations, should be doing a bit of self-reflection, too.

Of course, Jenkins and Breed have both tried to distance themselves from the narrative; Jenkins directly went after Musk. But it’s a bit late; they were so determined to get rid of Boudin that they helped create a media monster. And now we are all suffering the impacts.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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