Brugmann's Brain Vomit

Cleaning up the latest drivel from San Francisco's leading bull-goose loony

While I don't actually lie awake at night worrying about what investors Brugmann protects, my questions about his paper's financiers are only partly rhetorical.

For example, one of his investors was Donald Werby, described in business publications as a billionaire real estate tycoon in San Francisco. Werby, who passed away in 2002, was a friend and patron of Anton LaVey. Werby underwrote LaVey's efforts at the Church of Satan (no, really). In 1989, Werby was indicted on 21 counts of having sex with underage prostitutes and paying for it with cocaine. One 13-year-old told the grand jury about smoking crack with the 63-year-old Werby.

I missed the Bay Guardian's coverage of its investor's indictment on child prostitution charges.

Of course, any publisher, even Brugmann, misses a story now and then.

But Werby made headlines for years in everyone's newspaper but Brugmann's.

The city's district attorney revealed that Werby and his brother tried to pressure his office into dropping the investigation because Donald Werby and his brother Robert Werbe (they spell their last name differently) were big campaign contributors. More headlines.

Three weeks after his initial arrest, Werby was arrested again, this time for trying to bribe a witness, a pregnant 17-year-old. More headlines.

Facing 15 years in prison on the sex charges alone, Werby pleaded guilty to a mere four misdemeanor counts and paid a fine. He served no jail time. More headlines.

The light sentence became the first major issue in the California attorney general's race in 1990 when the San Francisco prosecutor, Arlo Smith, was challenged for the state office by former Congressman Dan Lungren.

Lungren accused Smith of going into the tank and giving Werby a sweetheart plea agreement because the billionaire investor was a major contributor to the prosecutor's election coffers. The accusation was not lost in the election shuffle; in fact, the two candidates ended up in a physical confrontation over Werby. More headlines.

Brugmann did not break any of these stories. It is difficult to explain how B3PO could have missed articles that were this much fun. Nor did the Werbe/Werby brothers fade away once all of the criminal hooperocity died down. As owners of the historic Sir Francis Drake Hotel, the venerable Clift Hotel, and the far-flung Grosvenor Properties, the brothers made economic news for years and were regulars in Herb Caen's column.

In the '90s, the brothers' economic underpinnings were rocked with three loan foreclosures, four bankruptcies, and a financial judgment against them in a suit brought by the state of California. More headlines.

If Brugmann did not actually lead the pack in coverage of his billionaire investor, I remain hopeful that he did not skip entirely the opportunity to write about Werby. Although I was unable to locate any Guardian stories on the wayward financier, something may exist that did not yield to a Web search. I e-mailed Brugmann and his longtime editor, Tim Redmond, asking for a list of their Werby articles, but both remain oddly silent.

The point here isn't that Brugmann refused to expose his business partner, Donald Werby. (Hell, isn't there something rather charming about a billionaire real estate tycoon who will purchase the Church of Satan and allow his buddy Anton LaVey to stay there until the devil worshipper's death?)

The point is that Brugmann's raving about local investors versus investment bankers is idle posturing unless you examine the facts. Why is Donald Werby a better financier than an investment banker? As the 18th-century hunchbacked German writer and philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg said, in obvious anticipation of B3PO: "It is not the force of his mind, but the force of wind that has carried that man so far."

In his article about the purported merger, Brugmann is vexed to apoplexy about the prospect of investment bankers like Goldman Sachs sitting in as minority shareholders in a new publishing group. I can't vouch for them personally, but I expect those boys at Goldman can't be any worse than an adviser who's coking up underage hookers. (I could be wrong about that.)

And if I am mistaken, Brugmann's memo from last May makes clear that the new publishing group would be run by Jim Larkin, David Schneiderman, and myself.

Whatever New Times does, it is no threat to Bruce Brugmann. The world is a more compelling place with B3PO publishing his version of reality. We want readers to have a choice. When we came to San Francisco, he bragged that it would be our Afghanistan. Well . . . it is a battleground, and that's how we like it.

One more thing I can tell you for certain. If such a merger was to come to pass, a lot of foolishness would be written about it. You can tell that just from the amount of foolishness that's already been written.

Scatter-mouths are already comparing such a merger to the end of days.

"It's the Gannettization of the alternative press," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. Chester said this to the media columnist for the Boston Phoenix, one of the first altweeklies to acquire several publications, radio stations, and other holdings while, apparently, shedding its sense of irony along the way.

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