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Incongruities in SF Columnist's Valedictory Piece

David Lazarus has been, in general, an excellent business columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s taken consumer protection more seriously than just about any journalist in California, and perhaps the nation. Now he’s moving to the Los Angeles Times, where I hope he’ll thrive.

I hope his editors there are as tough-minded as the ones at the Chronicle. In final Chronicle piece, Lazarus appropriately lauds editors who’ve stood behind his pro-consumer writings.

But I have to note two surprising lapses in today’s column, in which Lazarus interviews Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate turned politician, “to look at the state of consumer advocacy in the United States.” The piece points out that consumers, in a time of government abandonment of consumer protection, are largely on their own, and urges more media activism in this space.

Bloggers and other upstart media have taken on much of what’s missing from government and (most) traditional media. Take a look at the merciless consumer reporting at the Consumerist for a stark example. Moreover, people are talking about companies in forums, mail lists and other sites that tend to be unnoticed by Big Media but which serve a terrific purpose.

Nader’s work in the 1960s and 1970s was indeed pathbreaking. But his more recent work helped create the very problems the columnist describes.

How could Lazarus ignore an absolutely essential fact? Namely: Nader’s presidential campaign in 2000 is one of the key reasons that the current administration — which has systematically gutted consumer protection — won power in the first place. Isn’t this relevant?

A small nit: Lazarus notes, coyly, that he’s moving to “another well-known newspaper that’s beefing up its consumer coverage.” Why not just name the LA Times? The failure to spell it out is a vestige of what should be a long-past era when journalists mentioned the competition only under extreme duress. And the Times only competes with the Chronicle online, if at all.

In any event, the Bay Area will miss his work. Luckily, we’ll be able to find it online.

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