Revisiting the Fringe

Mea culpa to the Guardian

This story is bouncing all over town," Bruce Brugmann yelled at me. We were only a few seconds into our phone conversation, but the editor/publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian had already dropped the lovable Lou Grant demeanor. He was pissed.

Brugmann called me at work to chew my ass over an SF Weekly article I wrote for the Aug. 23 issue, "On the Fringes," which chronicled the nominal tribulations of the Fest on the Fault Line, a Labor Day arts fest thrown by the Scottish Cultural and Arts Foundation (SCAF).

In the article, I asserted that pressure from the Guardian forced SCAF to change the name of its event from the Fringe on the Fault Line, an assertion that was based on an interview I conducted with SCAF co-founder Alan Black and his colleague Frank McGuire. Black later denied this assertion in a letter to the SF Weekly, claiming I had misrepresented him.

Brugmann and I went around for a solid half-hour on the phone, occasionally speaking like adults, more often yelling like third-graders with college diplomas.

And as much as it chafes me to admit this, Brugmann did make one point, albeit loudly. He said I didn't do all I could to get the Guardian's side of the story. He was right. When my initial call wasn't immediately returned, I wrote the piece and submitted it the next day. Later that afternoon, I received a voice-mail message from the Guardian returning my call. Feeling the article was in the can, I didn't follow up -- in light of the subsequent imbroglio, a glaring and portentous error.

As it happens, the Guardian has yet another take on the Fringe flap.
According to a saintly and understanding Beth Lisick, entertainment account coordinator in the Guardian's ad department, it was SCAF that first brought up the fact that its festival was embarrassingly synonymous with the Exit Theater's Bay Fringe, not the Guardian.

"I had already designed their ads," she laughs. "I didn't even know we were sponsoring the other Fringe." Lisick says SCAF asked the Guardian's advice about changing the name of its festival to avoid confusion with the Exit Theater's production -- a version of events not mentioned by Black in either our interview or his letter.

As I told Brugmann, I can appreciate the tight spot Black may have found himself in, since both SCAF and his employer, the Edinburgh Castle, advertise with the Guardian. But I cannot disown my article because I feel it faithfully and accurately represented both the tenor and content of the conversations I had with Black and McGuire.

Miscommunication? Possibly. Steamy pile of shit? Full on.

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