In a 2011 article exploring the ethical terrain of “Willie’s World,” a veteran Chronicle journalist boiled the negative critique of Brown’s column down to a single pithy question: “Should the newspaper be in the business of helping an influence peddler peddle?” With its editorial last week, the Chronicle raised two others: What is the proper response to a newspaper that publishes a column by Willie Brown and offers advice on transparency in government? And does it have to include laughter?

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John Mecklin is the California and Nevada correspondent for the United States Project, CJR's politics and policy desk. He is the deputy editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Follow him on Twitter @meckdevil.