Final Deadline

David Burgin is legendary as a rough-and-tumble newspaper editor. But the legend is full of astonishing contradictions, and its last chapter may include the outcome of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by one of his proteges at the Oakland Tribune.

"After reassuring [Burgin], [Lavin] got out of the car to go. Burgin [then] shoved her against the side of the car and repeatedly tried to kiss her. Lavin tried to dissuade [Burgin] from his amorous advances without getting him mad and was finally able to disengage herself from [Burgin's] embrace and leave his home."

In court documents, both Burgin and the ANG issued a blanket denial of all of Lavin's allegations. Burgin's personal attorney, Nancy Pritikin, would only say, "Mr. Burgin will be vindicated."

In any event, Burgin left Houston in 1990 and moved to the top editor spot at the ANG.

Lavin followed after the ANG bought the Tribune in 1992, accepting a position as assistant editor. She says that a company official assured her that she would not have contact with Burgin, professionally or personally.

"I was told that he rarely came to the Oakland office," Lavin says.
During the following two years, Lavin moved up the ranks at the Tribune from assistant editor to city editor to assistant managing editor.

Burgin, she alleges, would comment on her physical appearance, her body, and her personal lifestyle, who Lavin was dating and what her personal sexual relationships were like.

"Burgin remarked to Lavin that she was beautiful and blonde and Burgin advised Lavin to buy new clothes and keep the hems short, saying that Lavin had 'great legs that will knock a room dead,' and Lavin would be 'breaking hearts all over town,' " according to the complaint.

In December 1994, Burgin offered her the position of editor of the Tribune.
In her complaint, Lavin claims that she declined the job at first, citing her lack of experience, but that Burgin repeatedly tried to persuade her to accept.

In March 1995, Lavin accepted the job that would place her under the direct supervision of Burgin.

Two months later, she began a romantic relationship with Oakland City Councilman John Russo, raising an obvious concern about conflict of interest. After all, she edited a newspaper that regularly covers the City Council.

In her complaint, Lavin states that she told Burgin about the relationship after her first date with Russo and that she distanced herself from any stories concerning the Oakland City Council.

She alleges that Burgin approved the relationship, saying that he saw no conflict and that "sex sells." But in August 1995, she alleges, Burgin called her into his office and told her that he had heard that she and Russo were moving in together, which she confirmed.

Her complaint describes the event this way:
"Burgin, in a fit of jealous rage, threw the food he was eating on his desk and screamed 'That is totally unacceptable! You cannot be the editor of this newspaper if you move in with [Russo]. You have 30 seconds to decide. Are you going to live with him or are you going to work for me?' "

Lavin also claims that Burgin told her that she could marry Russo or date him, but that she could not move in with him and continue to work at the Tribune. Later, her complaint alleges, Burgin said she would have to end the relationship to keep her job. Burgin also offered Lavin a position as managing editor of the Tri-Valley Herald, another ANG newspaper, Lavin's suit charges. Lavin says she refused the offer because she considered it a demotion.

"It's not my fault I fell in love," says Lavin.
The ANG, in court documents, denies all of Lavin's allegations and claims that Lavin did not follow company policy -- that is, she did not notify company officials of the alleged sexual harassment. Moreover, the ANG claims that Lavin was not fired, but resigned.

Burgin refused to comment on the specifics of Lavin's allegations, except to say, "It's a huge, shocking disappointment. I saw someone I thought was special. The relationship with Russo made it difficult with all the reporters and made it hard to do decent, honest journalism. The lawsuit is malicious, frivolous, and wrong. I wish she would just get on with her life, and let us get on with ours."

It's not likely. If the case continues, much of the Oakland Tribune newsroom could wind up in the courtroom.

There was a time when a daily newspaper in a major city like Oakland was something other than a financial proposition, one-fifth of an advertising package. When Burgin was learning the news business, newspapers -- many owned by the families who had founded them -- answered primarily to readers, not to Wall Street or the banking industry. American journalism has always been profit-driven, but in C. David Burgin's early years, it was less about making money and more about getting the story and telling it to the readers. Burgin's fixation with Watergate proves that he knows, as well as anyone, that the journalism game has changed dramatically. He seems to have received the fame he's spent a lifetime chasing. It just hasn't been the type of fame he was looking for.

And as he leaves journalism for consulting and who knows what else, he knows newspapering, 1990s-style, is not the type of game he grew up learning to play.

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