The Chronicle's editor, Phil Bronstein, has been on a drive for respect lately, judging by some of his recent pronouncements. The latest issue of Columbia Journalism Review, for example, found Bronstein railing against the East Coast media establishment and referring to the Review's own editors as "sanctimonious, condescending, dismissive New York s.o.b.s."
"Do I sound bitter?" (Well, uh, yes.) "Or angry? Pardon me. I'll just go see my tantric, macrobiotic, vegan, reincarnated, homeopathic therapist and figure it out. It's all about me, after all."
Bronstein continued his jag in an April 26 Q&A with Inside's Seth Mnoonkin, in which he ranted about his paper's standing.
"It's very hard for San Francisco journalism to get respect," he said. "We are absolutely kicking ass on the energy story. ... We've broken every major story. We've made the L.A. Times look foolish by comparison."
Bronstein's brash statements wound up on a popular media gossip Web site and quickly circulated around the Times, where they raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders. "I can't tell if it was tongue-in-cheek or not," said Joel Sappell, who runs the paper's electricity coverage. "He could have been laughing. Who knows what the intonations in his voice were?"
We called Bronstein last week to inquire about his vocal intonations. "I think we've broken most of the major stories," Bronstein said, not laughing. "And I think that David [Lazarus] is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most aggressive, most productive energy reporter in the state."
But didn't he feel a little silly talking trash about the L.A. Times when the Chron had printed two Times stories on its own front page that morning? "Were they energy stories?" he shot back. (No, they weren't.) "I don't think it's unreasonable for us to use the best wire copy." Apparently not, seeing as the paper had run 23 Times bylines in the previous 10 days.
So who's carrying the energy story? There are two ways to find out: We could 1) painstakingly catalog hundreds of stories from the past 10 months and cross-reference them daily to see who had what first, or 2) call someone in the trenches with no incentive to spin.
We called the energy team at the Mercury News, where Bronstein's comments were met with "a combination of outright laughter and outrage," according to one reporter. It was good for "a big hoot," said the staffer. "It's not that the Chronicle has been awful. They're well sourced at PG&E. But if anyone is leading the pack, it's the Times. The Chron actually jumped on this story pretty late."
Back in Los Angeles, they didn't sound threatened.
"Look," Sappell said, "it's important for people to feel good about where they're working. Especially when you're the boss."
Everybody hates energy companies, of course, but now's your chance to exact revenge -- big time. You can not only recoup some of those electric bills you've been paying lately, you can probably retire to your own island in the South Seas. Just check out the following notice, which appeared on the state attorney general's Web site (we put the juicy part in italics):
"The Attorney General is encouraging anyone who has personal information about fraudulent or illegal activity by energy generators, marketers, or utilities to contact his Energy Emergency Task Force. Under California false claims law, any per-son or corporation who defrauds the government or illegally benefits can be held liable to repay as much as three times the actual losses. Anyone who provides information leading to the successful prosecution of a false claim action may be entitled to a share of that award. Since billions of dollars may be recovered, the award to an informant could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. If you have information, you can call (800) 952-5225 from within California; or out-of-state call (916) 322-3360; or, e-mail email@example.com."