Letters

Guardian for One of Its Own
SF Weekly sure has to dig deep for its press criticism these days. Just look at its Sept. 11 "Unspun" item, titled "Scoopless," which is inaccurate, unfair, and utterly devoid of any real journalistic point.

The item leads me to wonder if the Weekly's press critics, Phyllis Orrick and Susan Rasky, even bother to read the stories they trash.

It also raises a disturbing question: With all of the horrible problems in the news media these days -- all the cutbacks in news departments, all the superficial coverage of major issues, all the bottom-line-dominated monopoly publishers -- why is the Weekly attacking good, aggressive investigative reporting?

Orrick and Rasky's snide little commentary starts with a blast at Nina Siegal's Aug. 28 Bay Guardian story on book dumping at the San Francisco Public Library. "We don't know where the intrepid BG obtained its figures on library throwaways," they write, "but the rest of us got them in a press release mailed out Aug. 2 -- by the library itself."

Actually, if the intrepid critics had gone past the first six paragraphs, they would have discovered exactly where Siegal got her facts: from a computer file obtained under the California Public Records Act and the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance by novelist Nicholson Baker, who had to threaten legal action against the library to get it.

The next -- and even more disturbing -- smear job involves Belinda Griswold's dramatic Aug. 14 Guardian story on the abuse of mental patients at East Bay Hospital. Orrick and Rasky suggest that somehow Griswold stole the story from the Oakland homeless paper Street Spirit, and its editor, Terry Messman.

Nonsense.
Messman is an activist. His stories in Street Spirit on East Bay Hospital were powerful stuff. But Street Spirit has limited circulation and limited resources. So Messman has been trying for months to interest other, bigger media in the issue. He went to the East Bay Express (the source of the Weekly's "tip" on Griswold's story) long before he came to the Guardian, but the Express, for whatever reason, dropped the ball.

Messman shared his leads with Griswold, and gave her plenty of tips and suggestions. After talking to him, Griswold did what no other East Bay reporter would do: She took his allegations seriously, talked to the sources he gave her, then did her own, two-month-long investigation, digging through more than 700 pages of records and turning up amazing new material that had never seen the light of day. That was the basis of our story.

Our story had plenty of impact. Check out the Sept. 12 Chronicle, which reports that the Alameda County supervisors may stop referring patients to East Bay Hospital, a step Contra Costa County is also considering. Of course, the Chron gave not even passing credit to anybody -- not the Guardian, not Messman, not Street Spirit -- for breaking this story. That's standard practice at the local dailies, and has been for years.

But that's not how the Guardian operates. In fact, we gave Messman and Street Spirit full credit for their work (we even offered him a chance to co-author our story, and share the byline; he declined). We actually ran a story about Messman's newspaper and its campaign on behalf of mental patients several weeks before our own investigative report on East Bay Hospital ran.

I talked to Messman the day after the Guardian story appeared, and he told me he was thrilled about it. I even asked him to write an op-ed piece for us the next week, to give his policy recommendations yet another platform. He knows, and I know, that we're on the same side. We respect his work; he respects ours.

And although I've known Belinda Griswold for less than a year, I can assure you she's one of the best young investigative reporters I've ever seen in my journalistic career. She reported the scandal at East Bay Hospital -- and probably helped save dozens of lives -- in the time-honored fashion of all the great muckrakers: She pursued the truth.

Tim Redmond, Executive Editor
San Francisco Bay Guardian

The Editors Respond: We stand behind the commentary. Interested readers may obtain a copy of the library press release by calling 557-4277 and of the Street Spirit stories by calling Terry Messman at (510) 238-8080.

Moore Man
Phyllis Orrick and Susan Rasky appear to have a problem with Michael Moore's recent speech at the Commonwealth Club on Oct. 4 ("Unspun," Oct. 9). They refer to him as "the purported working stiff's spokesman," that he distorts reality(!), panders, snubs friends, and is prejudiced.

The speech I listened to must have been different from the one they purport to have heard. I'm sure Moore is not perfect. But does he deserve the hatchet job? Lighten up, ladies! We know who the enemy of the working class is, and it isn't Moore.

John Flaherty
Richmond

Dizzy Praise
Thanks for Michael Sragow's nicely comprehensive treatment of Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo ("Vertigo," Oct. 9). Viewing the restored Picnic, in which Kim Novak earlier starred, I noticed an interesting cinematic conceit. Picnic ends with Novak following William Holden west from Salina, Kansas, Picnic's small-town setting. In Vertigo, Novak-as-Judy tells Jimmy Stewart of coming to S.F. from Salina after being left behind.

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