By Andy Van De Voorde
Executive Associate Editor, Village Voice Media
The Bay Guardian’s predatory pricing lawsuit against the Weekly is on hold for Lincoln's birthday, which gives The Snitch a chance to pause and reflect on a few things.
For instance, in a blog post last Friday, Guardian executive editor Ted Redmond noted up front that he was not in court when New Times executive editor Michael Lacey testified, but had posted a story about it under his byline nonetheless.
Odd though this may seem to the average reader, who has grown accustomed to reporters actually showing up at events they are covering, this is a common practice for Redmond, who has written several other articles about the trial through apparent journalistic osmosis.
But after having been dinged by The Snitch in the past for his questionable habit of providing absentee coverage, Redmond felt the need to explain himself.
"If the SF Weekly 's hit man, Andy Van De Voorde, wants to take a swing at me for posting information on the testimony, fine: I'm smiling, Andy," he wrote.
This was before the story even started.
If that wasn't enough squirming from Smiling Tim, there was this: "I'm not the only person in the courtroom from the Guardian who knows what's going on and can take notes."
Left unanswered in the spate of rationalization was the question of why, if other Guardian employees are so highly capable of stenography, they don't just write the stories themselves.
This last point seems especially pertinent given that Guardian chief Bruce Brugmann sent this humble scribe an email after The Snitch posted a story about pre-trial activity last fall. "Next time, why not let Mike write his own story?" inquired the man who refers to himself as B3.
The Snitch resisted the urge to reply. After all, it's already been noted that getting into an e-mail battle with Brugmann is like mud-wrestling a pig -- you get dirty, and the pig just enjoys it. Besides, there was only one possible response: Given that Redmond, not Brugmann, was writing the trial coverage for the Guardian , the question could just have easily been turned around on the person who asked it.
But it now appears Brugmann has finally risen to the challenge. Because one thing that seemed clear last week was just which Guardian employee was "taking notes" for Redmond. The Guardian’s Friday post contained no fewer than five postscripts -- the unmistakable modus operandi of Brugmann, whose apparent inability to finish a story and walk away from it is legendary.
This suggests that after years of Brugmann and Redmond marching in lock-step, the inevitable has finally happened: They have now morphed into "Brugmond." And the creature seems to be taking special exception to the reporting done by your faithful courthouse correspondent. Among other things, Brugmond is now e-mailing dozens of employees at New Times/Village Voice Media papers, saying, "SOS: Mike needs a real reporter and a real editor on Guardian vs. New Times coverage. Can you help?"
Hey -- Brugmond made a funny!
Not so humorous was the fact that Brugmond's e-mail apparently signals a return to the days when the Bruce half of the equation would regularly wage spam campaigns against New Times writers, flooding their inboxes with links to his stories and tacking on petty remarks about Lacey, whom he would savage in print and then gladhand at industry conventions. This from a man who now wants a jury to believe he is an innocent victim who just wants to be left alone to fight the demons of PG&E.
Either way, Brugmond's Friday post didn't even lead with Lacey's testimony. Instead, it focused on the fact that The Snitch made a boo-boo.
As Brugmond gleefully noted, it was former Weekly adult-ad saleswoman Jennifer Lopez, not Redmond, who called Lacey a New Times "mascot" from the stand.
"And jeez, Andy's in court every day," Brugmond crowed.
As much as it stings for The Snitch to be corrected by men who cloak themselves in the mantle of journalistic integrity while demanding that another newspaper fire reporters in order to "live within its means," this bashful blogger must admit he erred. He indeed confused Redmond for Lopez -- not an easy thing to do if you have seen either of them in the flesh.
Perhaps after the steady stream of anti-New Times invective The Snitch has been subjected to for the past three weeks, it all just blurred together and Redmond's gray ponytail somehow appeared on Lopez' dark tresses like a tortured vision from a fever dream. So, true dat: Redmond wasn't the one who said Lacey was a "mascot." He was the one who said Lacey was a dark lord presiding over a newspaper with "no soul."
However, your McAllister bureau chief has no intention of apologizing for the other "mistake" Brugmond so happily sought to indentify in its post. (This, also, before any discussion of what actually happened in court on Friday.) The combined entity's allegation? That The Snitch was wrong when he suggested Guardian attorneys could have subpoenaed New Times CEO Jim Larkin, but instead chose to note ominously to the jury that he was not attending the trial. "As long as Larkin doesn't live here and can't be found within the borders of the state...we can't subpoena him," wrote Brugmond, who must have been feeling just a bit defensive.
But the clone missed The Snitch's point: Larkin has been in and out of California dozens of times since the Guardian filed suit. He owns property in Napa. He spent the last five summers in the Bay Area. He gave a deposition at the Guardian's request. Yet the paper's attorneys have never even tried to serve him.
Any reporter who has ever ducked a process server knows that attorneys who want to get their man can be incredibly persistent. The Guardian’s approach, by contrast, seems the very definition of legal laziness. However, it plays into one of the key themes of this trial: its apparent affection for going after people who aren't there.
This was evident last week when the paper's attorneys chose to spend an entire day reading into the record deposition testimony from two New Times witnesses. Both company chief financial officer Jed Brunst and former Weekly publisher Chris Keating showed up to testify this week for the defense, meaning the Guardian got to cross-examine them (Keating is still on the stand; his testimony will resume Wednesday). Nevertheless, thanks to the tactics of Guardian attorneys, the jury last week was forced to sit through exhausting displays in which Ralph C. Alldredge and Richard P. Hill, neither of whom is in danger of receiving a Tony Award any time soon, took turns portraying Brunst and Keating in the witness box. The practical effect: Brunst and Keating will testify twice in the same trial about the same issues.
By the way, when Brugmond did get around to writing about Lacey's testimony, it missed yet another point, bloviating about how the New Times executive editor "ducked questions" about the paper's ad sales and financial condition. For instance, said Brugmond, their rival had a hard time explaining "why does the Weekly sell its advertising at rates so much lower than the Guardian?"
But Lacey had said from the start he focuses on the editorial side of New Times operations, not the business side -- something that's been true since he started the company.
And, remember, the Guardian didn't subpoena his business-side counterpart, Larkin.
So the question wasn't why Lacey couldn't expertly walk the jury through the Weekly 's financial ledgers. The question was why Alldredge kept asking him about them when Lacey had already explained he doesn't even balance his own checkbook.
The answer appears clear: Because, bereft of any hard evidence of a pricing conspiracy, Alldredge has little left in his bag of tricks but to imply that defense witnesses are not to be trusted.
Indeed, as the trial has progressed, the entirely circumstantial nature of the Guardian’s case has become clear. The paper didn't call a single advertiser as a witness, despite the fact that its lawsuit hinges on its claim that hundreds if not thousands of advertisers fled the Guardian to the Weekly because of the Weekly 's low prices.
So where are those advertisers?
If this were a journalism class, the instructor would already have given the Guardian an "F" for "telling" the jury, and not "showing" it.
Brugmond's paper means to raise doubts in the jury's mind by reminding the members of the panel that the Weekly and the East Bay Express (purchased by New Times in 2001 and sold last year) lost millions of dollars, the implication being that they did so intentionally in an effort to bleed the Guardian.
Never mind the dot-com bust, the events of 9/11, and the widespread meltdown of American print media, which has been described and detailed in scores of articles. Never mind the utter asininity of the suggestion that a company would engage in a 13-year scheme to lose millions of dollars, the idea being that it could somehow recoup its losses by jacking up its prices when it finally achieved a "monopoly" — and all this in a media environment where print newspapers appear to be going the way of the buggy whip.
The dot-com bust and 9/11 "didn't really" have an effect on the Guardian's finances, Brugmann testified last week. Neither did his decision to purchase a $5 million office building at a time he was laying off reporters.
Instead, the Guardian has argued, with the apparent hope that it will receive a sympathetic ear from a San Francisco jury, many of whose members acknowledged during voir dire that they are innately wary of "big media" and "root for the underdog," the blame for the Guardian’s financial woes must be placed at the Weekly 's doorstep.
By the way, testimony already given in the case has explained why Weekly rates have often (not always) been lower than the Guardian’s: Because, since New Times bought the Weekly in 1995, the Guardian , from the start the better-established institution, has had a higher circulation.
The more papers you put on the street, the more you can charge for the ads.
Even so, despite its admitted money troubles, the harder-working, better-written Weekly has increased its market share while raising its ad rates over time.
Perhaps that's what's really got Brugmond's four-legged shorts in a knot.