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Brugmann's Brain Vomit 

Cleaning up the latest drivel from San Francisco's leading bull-goose loony

Wednesday, Sep 7 2005

Page 4 of 5

Brugmann did not break any of these stories. It is difficult to explain how B3PO could have missed articles that were this much fun. Nor did the Werbe/Werby brothers fade away once all of the criminal hooperocity died down. As owners of the historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel, the venerable Clift Hotel, and the far-flung Grosvenor Properties, the brothers made economic news for years and were regulars in Herb Caen's column.

In the '90s, the brothers' economic underpinnings were rocked with three loan foreclosures, four bankruptcies, and a financial judgment against them in a suit brought by the state of California. More headlines.

If Brugmann did not actually lead the pack in coverage of his billionaire investor, I remain hopeful that he did not skip entirely the opportunity to write about Werby. Although I was unable to locate any Guardian stories on the wayward financier, something may exist that did not yield to a Web search. I e-mailed Brugmann and his longtime editor, Tim Redmond, asking for a list of their Werby articles, but both remain oddly silent.

The point here isn't that Brugmann refused to expose his business partner, Donald Werby. (Hell, isn't there something rather charming about a billionaire real estate tycoon who will purchase the Church of Satan and allow his buddy Anton LaVey to stay there until the devil worshipper's death?)

The point is that Brugmann's raving about local investors versus investment bankers is idle posturing unless you examine the facts. Why is Donald Werby a better financier than an investment banker? As the 18th-century hunchbacked German writer and philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg said, in obvious anticipation of B3PO: "It is not the force of his mind, but the force of wind that has carried that man so far."

In his article about the purported merger, Brugmann is vexed to apoplexy about the prospect of investment bankers like Goldman Sachs sitting in as minority shareholders in a new publishing group. I can't vouch for them personally, but I expect those boys at Goldman can't be any worse than an adviser who's coking up underage hookers. (I could be wrong about that.)

And if I am mistaken, Brugmann's memo from last May makes clear that the new publishing group would be run by Jim Larkin, David Schneiderman, and myself.

Whatever New Times does, it is no threat to Bruce Brugmann. The world is a more compelling place with B3PO publishing his version of reality. We want readers to have a choice. When we came to San Francisco, he bragged that it would be our Afghanistan. Well . . . it is a battleground, and that's how we like it.

One more thing I can tell you for certain. If such a merger was to come to pass, a lot of foolishness would be written about it. You can tell that just from the amount of foolishness that's already been written.

Scatter-mouths are already comparing such a merger to the end of days.

"It's the Gannettization of the alternative press," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. Chester said this to the media columnist for the Boston Phoenix, one of the first altweeklies to acquire several publications, radio stations, and other holdings while, apparently, shedding its sense of irony along the way.

"[It's] not surprising," continued Chester, "given that advertising is the business model."

Chester's got us there. I don't know what trust fund cuts his checks, but advertising pays our bills and the bills of every single alternative newspaper. It also pays New Times writers a living wage and covers the cost of eyeglasses our kids need, medical coverage for domestic partners, paid vacations . . . well, you get the idea.

As for the Gannett comparison, my hometown has a Gannett paper. It reads better than the Bay Guardian.

But other than that, I think critics who compare us with Gannett offer the bitter rant of folks who have memorized speeches from Air America without ever actually reading our newspapers. The presumption is that growth and success -- particularly financial success -- are evil. The reality is that more than half the papers in AAN are part of a larger organization, and these groups generally have more journalism resources than the stand-alones.

At New Times, our writers have a virtual blank check to explore the issues in their communities without the burden of a political agenda (mine or their editor's). As a result, our reporters break stories that later rip through the mainstream media.

The disgrace of the serial rapes at the Air Force Academy in Colorado first saw the light of day in our Denver paper. In Cleveland, we recently published grand jury documents that the daily sat on. In Phoenix, our writers broke the polygamy scandal in the Mormon sect on the Utah/Arizona border, as well as the stories about poor people submitting to unnecessary surgery so that doctors and patients both -- but particularly the doctors -- could swindle insurance companies. You've read about all these stories in national dailies. Bob Norman, one of our writers in Fort Lauderdale, was recently selected as the best in the country by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

We have also pursued law enforcement records through the courts in Phoenix, not for weeks or months, but for years. We have successfully pursued the right to parody the establishment all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. And our writers have pursued their stories to Sakhalin Island, Mexico, Haiti, and Cuba.

Don't confuse our growth with our jones for journalism. I got in this business in 1970 to raise a little hell. I try to stay at it by writing myself, and it usually isn't a tedious screed like this.

Jane Levine, a former publisher of the altweekly Chicago Reader, told the Boston Phoenix media columnist her opinion of New Times: "I think they're committed to uncovering wrongdoing. It is generally accepted that they don't have a political position. But I think it's pretty clear that they're bulldogs about uncovering corporate or government malfeasance. That's alternative. I don't know whether it's Republican or Democrat."

About The Author

Michael Lacey


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