Bridge to Bias: In 1989, S.F. Bridge Collapse After Earthquake Blamed on Conservatives

If anyone in the media blames the Minnesota bridge collapse on "cheap Republicans" who like tax cuts, it would not be the first time. In 1989, after a memorable San Francisco earthquake, an interstate highway bridge collapsed and killed hundreds. Media figures demanded new taxes, and some even suggested the Proposition 13 ballot initiative may have caused unnecessary deaths. We reported in the November 1989 MediaWatch:

As aftershocks rumbled through the San Francisco Bay area, media figures began calling for more taxes. On the October 18 Nightline, Ted Koppel asked an agreeable Democratic politician from California: "We all remember a few years ago Proposition 13 which rolled back taxes. And at the same time the point was made you roll back the taxes, that's fine, but that means there are going to be fewer funds available for necessary projects. Any instances where the money that was not spent because of the rollback of Proposition 13 where money would have made a difference?"

The Wall Street Journal took time to study the facts. An October 24 editorial noted: "California's roads and bridges aren't funded by property taxes but by state and federal gasoline taxes. Both have been raised at least 30 percent in recent years, even while the price of gasoline has fallen. Dragging Prop. 13 into this story is a pretty long stretch."

Insomniacs watching Nightwatch on CBS were treated to Jack Nelson, Washington Bureau Chief of the Los Angeles Times, in the wee hours of October 24: "One of the things it definitely means politically is that you're going to have to do something in California about Prop. 13, which put a cap on real estate taxes, and you're going to have to do something about the Gann limit that put a limit on spending in California. There's no question but you're going to have to do that. And I think you're going to have to do something about taxes. My guess is...that you're going to have a real momentum now for a gasoline tax increase, and maybe not just in California, but I would think at the federal level."

CBS had beaten the drum over the weekend with an October 22 Evening News salvo from reporter Norman Robinson. "The Democrats say what they have already learned about the damage is enough to warrant tacking on a user tax to shore up the nation's roads and bridges, a large number of them said to be in serious disrepair." Robinson wrapped up the CBS story: "The administration today stressed that the President can find the money to pay for damages from existing revenue, and that he can keep his promise of no new taxes. Democrats are warning that in the face of a mounting deficit problem, that may not be realistic."

Then there was this exchange on CNN's Crossfire from the October 30 edition of Notable Quotables:

Michael Kinsley: "If they had spent the money, which they are now planning to spend to fix the Bay Bridge, beforehand, which they didn't, in part because of Proposition 13 and other Republican budget-cutting programs, that bridge wouldn't have collapsed, there would be people alive today."
Pat Buchanan: "The California budget is about two and a half times what it was in 1978. What are you talking about?...Why don't you blame it on Reagan? That would be consistent."
Kinsley: "I'm blaming it on Reagan, you, and all the other cheap Republicans who don't understand the good things government does."
-- Exchange on CNN's Crossfire, October 18, 1989.

Blaming conservatives for natural disasters? It seems like an ancient version of the old Hurricane Katrina spin, that Bush caused the hurricane deaths. Heckuva job, Kinsley.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis