Since San Francisco elected Chesa Boudin as its district attorney in 2019, right-wing media have pushed for his removal. Tuesday night’s successful recall vote shows how misleading narratives about lawlessness and crime in liberal cities can undermine progressive reforms in the criminal justice system.
Right-wing media’s cartoonish portrayal of San Francisco evokes the fictional crime-ridden Gotham City more than it reflects the realities on the ground. Headlines from the New York Post like “How looting turned the most upscale part of San Francisco into a ghost town” and “Thieves now mock the rule of law in ‘progressive’ cities like San Francisco” have portrayed a city in decline under Boudin’s tenure, but the data reveals a different picture.
Compared to 2018 — before Boudin was elected — San Francisco’s crime rate is largely down or back to pre-pandemic levels, while violent crime remains at historic lows. While the city’s homicide rate has risen during that time, San Francisco is not an outlier among similarly sized American cities, and still has one of the lowest homicide rates within that group.
Instead of including context on these wider trends, right-wing media coverage isolated and amplified stories about crime in San Francisco, even though California’s Republican-controlled areas actually have more violent crime than Democratic counties. Homicide rates are rising nationally, yet the attacks blamed progressive policies and a supposedly permissive approach to crime. This right-wing line of attack — which is often parroted by mainstream news — ignores the fact that most of the cities that have seen the sharpest upticks in homicides are Republican-led and -leaning cities.
Boudin's policies helped to reduce the incarcerated population in San Francisco and to keep it lowered. While conservatives claim this means Boudin was not enforcing the law, the reality is more complicated. Although Boudin charged 10% fewer crimes in 2020 than his predecessor, George Gascon, did the previous year, in 2021 Boudin filed charges on 54% of the cases brought to his office. “In 2019, when DA George Gascon was in office, the overall filing rate was 49 percent,” according to Mission Local.
Now that Boudin has been recalled, right-wing pundits are taking their victory lap. Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner heralded, “Woke San Francisco waking up to a new day after voters kicked out their progressive district attorney. Their decision has national implications, putting liberal prosecutors and defund-the-police Democrats on notice.”
Fox host Steve Doocy boasted that the recall would be a precedent for future progressive DAs: “There are a bunch of woke DAs across the country that are waking up today going, ‘You know the crime really stinks in my town, too. I wonder if I'm next.’”
Leading up to the recall, right-wing media have painted a picture of urban decay to attack meaningful criminal justice reform and municipal Democratic leadership. Using anecdotes, cherry-picked pundits, and isolated statistics, right-wing media played a significant part in promoting the recall against Chesa Boudin.
- In the first two days after Boudin took office in 2020, Fox News star Tucker Carlson subjected the new DA to smears and ridicule while falsely claiming Boudin was part of a movement turning San Francisco into an “American dystopia.” According to Carlson, supposedly “disastrous” progressive approaches to crime and homelessness had already “destroyed” the city and Boudin promised to make all of those issues worse. Carlson concluded his two-day tirade by warning viewers “what's happening there could be happening in your neighborhood,” and declared “the only way to stop” leaders like Boudin was to “shine a light on what they're doing.”
- In June 2021, Fox News Primetime guest host Tammy Bruce painted Boudin as a menace: “Out in California, far-left DAs in San Francisco and Los Angeles are outright gutting the city's ability to combat crime and to put public safety first. For example, San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin continues to handcuff cops, refuses to prosecute crimes like property damage, and puts violent offenders back on the streets.”
- During an August 2021 special edition of The Ingraham Angle filmed in San Francisco, Fox News host Laura Ingraham claimed the “city's decline” was due to the “destructive policies of the DA Chesa Boudin.” She added, “You don't have to go to Afghanistan to see the bad conditions.”
- Later in that same program, Ingraham interviewed a venture capitalist who was arguing for Boudin to be recalled after her home was burglarized. Introducing the guest, Ingraham said, “And it's beyond clear, more than ever that the DA Chesa Boudin needs to go. He is a menace, he is making criminals' lives easier, and the lives of San Franciscans more dangerous by the day.”
- On an October 2021 edition of Hannity, Fox legal analyst Gregg Jarrett told Fox News host Sean Hannity that Boudin “only cares about helping criminals,” adding, “He has been setting killers free, setting career criminals free so they can commit more crimes. Some of them violent, some including murder. It should surprise nobody. You know, Boudin’s parents were murderers and domestic terrorists in the radical underground. … They murdered two police officers and a security guard, and Boudin the DA has spent most of his time in office in San Francisco lobbying to get his dad out of prison.”
- In November 2021, investment banker John Chachas appeared on Fox & Friends to claim “The city center is a disaster. And the mayor should be embarrassed, frankly. I think Chesa Boudin, the district attorney, better start prosecuting people as opposed to just talking about it and the governor of California better get involved.”
- In December 2021, again on Fox News Primetime, Bruce and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) attacked Boudin as a “Soros prosecutor.” Cotton said, “Soros prosecutors and the farther left puts ideology before people. And what happens is you get a wake of destruction and death. Look in San Francisco where you have one of the most notorious Soros prosecutors, Chesa Boudin — the city is virtually unlivable.”
- In January, America’s Newsroom hosted a former San Francisco police officer to attack Boudin. The officer complained that the DA was putting an officer on trial for excessive force, asking, “How do you expect officers to come to the San Francisco police department or stay with the San Francisco police department if they don't feel as if they are being backed by the people who are supposed to be our voice?”
- In April, Fox anchor Dana Perino hosted the head of the Recall Chesa Boudin Committee, Richie Greenberg, who blamed crime on “Chesa Boudin and his radical ideology,” adding, “There is no safety here. It doesn't matter where you are from. It doesn't matter your age, it doesn’t matter young or old, your political leanings — everyone is a potential victim.”
- The Daily Mail criticized Boudin’s sympathy for shoplifters, saying, “Woke San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin DEFENDS shoplifter in infamous Walgreens video and says he was 'desperate', then blames the drugstore's security guard amid city robbery explosion.”
- FoxNews.com gave the recall a platform in an article titled “Left-wing San Francisco DA faces recall petition amid crime spike.”
- Another FoxNews.com suggested Boudin was responsible for crimes committed by an individual released from prison on parole, writing, “San Francisco's left-wing DA on defense after parolee accused of killing 2 women.”
- Another FoxNews.com article used police to criticize Boudin, saying, “DAs backed by Soros, other liberal activists join fray in clash with police.”
- The Daily Wire: “Woke San Francisco DA Offers Excuses For Infamous Walgreens Shoplifter.”
- The Daily Wire: “California D.A.s Challenge New Rule That Could Make 76,000 Inmates Eligible For Early Release.”
- The Daily Wire: “San Francisco DA Celebrates His Terrorist Dad Getting Vaccine In Prison; Sparks Strong Blowback.”
- The Daily Wire: “S.F. Police Union Slams New Progressive D.A., Says ‘It’s Open Season’ On Cops.”
- The Daily Wire: “SHOCKER: San Francisco Elects Radical D.A. Whose Parents Were American Terrorists.”