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Dog Bites 

Renfrew report; Mercury News; Dot-com junkies; Propositions K and L

Wednesday, Nov 1 2000

Rumor has reached Dog Bites that the Renfrew report is complete -- but that nobody in San Francisco has seen it.

What, you don't remember the Renfrew report? Perhaps you share the sentiments of reader Doug Lloyd, who writes, "Your constant and rather exhausting coverage of the Chronicle/ Examiner fiasco is really quite boring. Admittedly, it's an important facet of San Francisco life, and as a journalist, you clearly have a compelling interest in it. [But] if you're going to cover things like that, why not write about how Al Gore has swung so far to the right, or how the impending Chevron-Texaco merger is going to truly screw the consumer and lead to even higher gas prices, or something like that?"

So, OK, back to the Renfrew report. You may recall that, during Clint Reilly's antitrust suit against the Hearst purchase of the Chronicle, Ex Publisher Tim White testified he'd offered editorial support for Willie Brown's re-election in exchange for Brown's support of the purchase. Hearst promptly suspended White and hired retired federal judge Charles Renfrew to investigate whether White's statement was true, and whether other Ex and Hearst employees were aware of the so-called "horse trade."

Still with us, bored readers? A usually reliable source informed us Renfrew's much-anticipated report -- finished after months of investigation -- is in the hands of Hearst officials in New York. Unfortunately, those officials haven't returned Dog Bites' phone calls. And Judge Renfrew told us, "I'm just not in a position to be able to say anything about it at all. I'm so sorry."

We did, however, speak -- as usual -- with Ex Executive Editor Phil Bronstein, who was present when the alleged horse trading took place, and has said he didn't hear White offer Brown a deal. Bronstein was unequivocal: "The conclusions of the report definitely ought to be made public."

Of course, the three people who are actually reading to the end of this item will be wondering, "If Renfrew has finished his investigation, does this mean Hearst will finally name a publisher for the Chronicle?" Popular wisdom has had it that a publisher couldn't be named until the report was complete. And popular wisdom has also had it that the publisher-elect is John Oppedahl. Oppedahl quit his job at the Arizona Republic on Friday; in his resignation memo he wrote, "I have some other opportunities in the newspaper industry that I'm interested in pursuing." Asked about persistent rumors he's headed to San Francisco, Oppedahl told Republic reporters Jerry Kammer and David Fritze, "I've heard that speculation too."

Naturally, we're dying to talk to Oppedahl, who grew up in Oakland and graduated from UC Berkeley, but he has yet to return any of our calls. The same must be said of Julia Wallace, managing editor and vice president of the Republic. Newsroom gossip -- and if there's a better place for gossip than a newsroom, we'd like to know about it -- in Phoenix has her accompanying Oppedahl to San Francisco. If this is true, nobody knows what her role here might be.

Mercury, Mercury, Rah Rah Rah!

After this most recent excitement over the Chron/Ex staff merger, Dog Bites has suddenly noticed we've been neglecting our friends at the far end of the 280. So it was nice to see they haven't been neglecting themselves. Au contraire! Merc Managing Editor Susan Goldberg's peppy memos critiquing each day's paper are so upbeat we feel positively empowered by them, and we don't even work there. "We had a super-newsy business front. ... What a super job. ... Wonderful!"

We especially liked Goldberg's discussion of coverage of the sunken Russian sub story. "No one had a better lede than we did," she wrote to staffers Friday. Actually, compared with the Merc's lede, everyone else sucked. "L.A. Times: ... This could be the lede on, oh, about 3 million stories. ... NY Times: ... The second-best lede, but too long and weighted down by unnecessary detail. ... Chron: "... Russian naval officials said yesterday'??? Could they do more to kill the drama of the story? Geez."


How About Underworld? Would You Listen to Underworld?

Meanwhile we are truly sorry to learn, via e-mail, that we have caused emotional pain to what is doubtless a large segment of the local population.

"The sarcastic treatment that you gave to "Anonymous,' the dot-com junky from the Guardian, really hurt my feelings," writes one Marcus. "I too am a dot-com junky and think that we should be afforded the same respect given to dot-com alcoholics, dot-com speed freaks, and crack-smoking dot-commers. Why should the heroin addicts get singled out? We're not any worse than anyone else, except that if you read the letters in the Guardian this week, you'd see that "Anonymous' is actually dead.

"Actually, I'm bending the truth a bit; after I was actually nearly fired from my job for shooting up in the bathroom, which they said was "inappropriate behavior,' I had to, like, go to rehab, so technically I'm not on heroin anymore. Does this make my point less valid?

"Finally, your inane point about the Spiritualized CDs really hurt. Any real junky wouldn't be caught dead listening to anything but Nick Cave, preferably while lying on the floor and re-reading Geek Love.

A Junky Filled With Indignation"

Uh, Dog Bites regrets the error.

The Usual Suspects

Walking the couple of blocks from our parked car to our apartment one fragrant evening after it had been raining most of the day, Dog Bites was reminded again of why we've chosen to live in San Francisco. Oh, sure, we could just have been born here -- but how much thought would that have involved?

Some longer-time residents like to insist that no one who isn't from here can understand the place. Dog Bites is on the record as believing this isn't true. And then there's the fact that you probably don't have to understand -- in the academic sense -- something to love it. And if the something is a city, and you're a person of goodwill, you want to do what you can to preserve it, and maybe make it better.

Not that burning down condo projects in SOMA and the Mission qualifies, at least in our opinion, as behavior born of goodwill. Kevin "Nestor Makhno" Keating, who has on more than one occasion been at pains to explain to the somewhat dim Dog Bites why he doesn't believe in electoral politics, was questioned last week by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms -- Arson and Explosives Division -- about the torching of an almost-complete live-work development at Ninth and Mission. "And I've never even been over there since I got back from Greece," Keating claimed.

He said the agents paid a call on him Saturday afternoon -- "I looked out and saw this kind of scruffy-looking guy, so I figured he was an anarchist and let them in" -- but that he doesn't feel at all persecuted; after all, he does have a certain degree of notoriety. "It was all pretty friendly," said Keating. "As they were leaving the one guy turns to me and says, "Yeah, I've been reading some old issues of Dog Bites.' Then he chuckled a kind of jovial fat man chuckle."

Now, Kevin: Do you know anything about the condo arsons? "Of course not," answered Keating, and chuckled a kind of jovial thin man chuckle.

Dog Bites, who is enough of a pathetic dupe of the system to believe in voting and so forth, set out Wednesday night fully intending to sit through the round-table discussion of Propositions K and L, the latter of which would put new limits on live-work loft construction. But -- well, neither proposition is too appealing, and then you had Emilio Cruz and Jim Chappell on the side of Willie and the developers, and Dennis Antenore and Brad Paul on the side of the neighborhoods, and it quickly became evident that the mayor knows Prop. K isn't going to pass, and now is hoping both propositions will fail -- and we decided it was too early in the evening and in the week and in the millennium to feel that depressed about the way the city is going, so we ducked out and met up with some friends who are almost always a bad influence, but in a good way, so there you go.

Actually, it's odd how a club full of loud music can empty one's head of dismal thoughts, even when -- or maybe especially when -- it's packed. The club, not our head; heaven knows we never have that much on our mind. "You know how superheroes all have their powers?" asked this guy with black-framed glasses and bleached hair. "If I were a superhero, I'd want my power to be to always have room to dance."

We danced despite the lack of room, even though some guy in front of us said sarcastically, "Excuse me," and glared when we bumped him a little bit; we just smiled at him, and he suddenly gave up on his attitude and smiled back. And then later on this other guy asked us, "Are you Dutch?" We said no and wondered why he'd asked. "Because Dutch people like orange," he said. And everybody kept handing us beer we hadn't paid for, though we had no idea why, and couldn't possibly drink it all because we hadn't even eaten, and later still another guy we know didn't recognize us, and e-mailed us the next day to say it was because our aura had completely changed.

By the time we left it was raining again, but our car was still in the alley where we'd parked it somewhat illegally, and after we dropped friends off we drove home thinking about how when you love a place you never want it to change. When those of us from elsewhere go -- well, not home, because San Francisco is home, but back -- for visits, we often find that although disorienting alterations of entire blocks and entire neighborhoods are being made, people seem resigned to them, to feel it's not really worth the trouble to protest or come up with different or better plans.

Here in San Francisco, you can't put up a shed without holding several hearings. And yes, this is inefficient; we would hardly be the first to point out that democracy itself isn't the most expedient form of government. But there's a reason we're like that here: People actually care about the place -- which, now that we think about it, may be part of the reason we do too.

Dog Bites recommends: Voting, yes. Arson, no.

About The Author

Laurel Wellman


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