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The Truth About Bruce

The Truth About Bruce Brugmann

For years, the Bay Guardian's erratic owner has twisted the facts.
Here's how.

Since Village Voice Media and its predecessor, New Times, began publishing the SF Weekly in 1995, our employees have grown accustomed to constant and unwelcome contact from Bruce Brugmann, the publisher and co-owner of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

It is by now common knowledge that Brugmann sued SF Weekly and VVM in 2002, accusing us of selling advertising below cost in an effort to drive him out of business. After a six-week trial last year in which he portrayed his larger, more profitable newspaper as the hapless victim of a rapacious chain, Brugmann received a $15.6 million judgment, despite not calling a single advertiser to the stand to testify on his behalf. That case is now on appeal.

And Brugmann's shake-down lawsuit was only his most recent assault on the Weekly.

In their earliest stages, Brugmann's attacks came in the form of mass emails that were blasted across the New Times chain and occasioned much head-scratching from writers in places like Miami and Denver who couldn't figure out why this strange man in San Francisco kept messaging them asking for dirt on their bosses. Much like the letters journalists routinely receive from readers residing in mental wards, these single-spaced missives arrived punctuated with multiple exclamation points and seemingly endless post-scripts. More >>

The Road to Bombast: A Reader's Guide to Bruce Brugmann

In June 2007, Village Voice Media filed a motion for summary judgment in response to Brugmann's lawsuit. In that motion, VVM asked San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer to dismiss the suit, arguing among other things that the Bay Guardian simply hadn't provided evidence of wrongdoing. SF Weekly managing editor Will Harper covered the filing with a story that made clear just how ragged Brugmann's case really was.

Read day-by-day coverage of the trial

Click the following links for relevant motions filed:

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On March 6, 2002, Guardian editor Tim Redmond, using prose worthy of a battlefield correspondent, intoned that the Guardian "had launched the first stage of a legal offensive" against the Weekly. Following the familiar Guardian pattern of building news stories by chasing its own tail, the only sources quoted in the story were an earlier lawsuit filed against New Times by the Guardian itself, a letter from the Guardian's attorney to New Times, two earlier stories the Guardian had printed attacking New Times, and Brugmann himself. In other words, the Guardian managed to quote itself in four different ways.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the complete absence of reporting or evidence in Redmond's story, then-SF Weekly editor John Mecklin had little trouble picking apart Redmond's claims. In "It's the Journalism, Bruce," Mecklin cited specific inaccuracies in Redmond's story and suggested to readers that, if the Guardian was having financial troubles, it likely had more to do with the paper's tedious prose style and affection for pet political projects than it did with the Weekly's business practices.

On October 27, 2004, a week after Brugmann filed suit against SF Weekly and New Times, Mecklin responded with a column which pointed out that the lawsuit essentially regurgitated the same claims already disproven by Mecklin two years earlier. (The Guardian coverage is the second item in the column.)

In February 2005, Mecklin wrote a story skewering Brugmann's claim that the Weekly was illegally selling ads below costs --- and laying out a case that, in fact, it was the Guardian that was guilty of offering ads at less than it cost to produce them. Mecklin also revealed that Brugmann had made an ill-fated foray into the high-stakes world of San Francisco real estate, a venture that no doubt crimped his bottom line. Further, Mecklin put the lie to Brugmann's description of the Guardian as a "family owned" paper fighting against a corporate monolith --- a conceit that perhaps reflected Brugmann's nostalgic memories of the family store his father and grandfather ran back in Rock Rapids. In fact, Mecklin noted, the Guardian's 2002 statement of ownership listed thirteen people as owning at least 1 percent of the paper --- and only three of those appeared to be family members. In an ironic twist given Brugmann's habit of casting New Times and VVM as a metaphorical Great Satan, one of his own investors proved to be a man who once purchased the Church of Satan as a favor to his friend, Satanist Anton LaVey -- and who had pled guilty to four charges involving teenage prostitutes.

In August 2005, peeved that his paper hadn't won any awards from theEast Bay Press Club, Brugmann launched a full frontal assault on theorganization. Brugmann was particularly upset that the East Bay Express, a NewTimes/VVM paper, won twelve first-place awards to Brugmann's goose egg.And, true to his nature, Brugmann saw a complex conspiracy behind itall.

In the summer of 2005, Brugmann ran a series of ads railing against thefact that the Weekly had run advertising from the Clear Channel company,which booked music events in San Francisco. Among other things, Brugmannclaimed, "Clear Channel equals monopoly media ... Clear Channel equalsBush." Yet Brugmann himself had ahistory of running Clear Channel ads, and only seemed to recognize thecompany's inherent evil when it did business with his competition.

For years now, Brugmann has pontificated about the ownership structureat New Times and VVM, noting, among other things, that venturecapitalists have invested in the company. This somewhat mundane factseems to offend his sense of moral propriety. But in an article written prior to New Times' merger with Village Voice, New Times' investors looked squeaky clean compared to one of Brugmann's co-owners, an old man with a thing for crack cocaine and underagegirls.

A sterling example of Brugmann's hypocrisy on labor issues is his long-time habit of employing legions of unpaid interns in apparent violation of the state labor code. In "Must Work for Free," published in February 2007, SF Weekly staff writer Martin Kuz pointed out how the Guardian and other Bay Area publications routinely take advantage of impressionable would-be journalists.

In July 2002, Weekly staff writer Peter Byrne revealed that Brugmann had repeatedly violated open-meeting rules after being named to a city task force --- whose job, ironically enough, was to enforce the state's open-meeting laws. Brugmann later claimed the violations were unintentional, despite the fact that in one case he privately encouraged members of the committee to support a lawsuit filed against the city by a securities broker whose case he was championing in the Guardian.

In October 2002, Weekly news columnist Matt Smith wrote a story about the double standards of wealthy San Franciscans who were opposing a ballot measure that would have allowed thousands of renters to buy their own apartments. Guess who was living in a $600,000 hillside home while using his newspaper to fight against the measure?

Brugmann had long railed in the Guardian against business or individuals who were violating the city's rule that only working artists could live in so-called "live-work" buildings. But, as Byrne revealed in June 2001, the Guardian was using one of those industrial lofts as an office.

One of Brugmann's favorite pastimes is running elections guides each year in which he instructs San Franciscans on how to vote. What those readers often don't know is the extent to which Brugmann has behind-the-scenes connections to the issues or the candidates. In 2001, as an experiment, Byrne analyzed Brugmann's endorsements, and discovered that they were rife with conflicts of interest and hidden interests -- a perfect example, in fact, of how Brugmann's thirst for political pull makes it impossible for him to report honestly on San Francisco politics.

That same obsession with becoming a powerbroker surfaced in April 2001, when the Weekly's Mecklin and Byrne reported on how Brugmann had funneled tens of thousands of dollars to a campaign committee pushing a ballot measure that would require the city to create a municipal utility district. This district would seize power from the Guardian's longtime nemesis, Pacific Gas & Electric, thus completing Brugmann's quest for his own Holy Grail. But as Mecklin noted, Brugmann's paper routinely lavished praise on the MUD without stopping to remind readers it was the principal financial backer of the campaign measure. And as Byrne reported, most experts believed the ballot measure was a quixotic, idealogically driven idea that was likely to backfire in the real world of electrical generation and distribution.

Byrne's feature:
Mecklin's column:

My Voice Nation Help

Thugmann has always been an egomaniac. He has made MILLIONS off of his schtick. Never enough for Brucie. $$$$$$ sure does not equal happiness

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