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Friday, February 29, 2008

Besieged by The Brute!

Posted By on Fri, Feb 29, 2008 at 11:16 AM

The Snitch survives courthouse encounter, awaits further thrashing.

By Andy Van De Voorde

While covering the Guardian’s lawsuit against the Weekly, your faithful courthouse correspondent has noticed a pattern:

Though Bruce Brugmann’s paper enjoys slagging people in print — take, for instance, its hysterical 2005 stories blasting the Clear Channel concert promotion firm as “evil” because the company had the audacity to take its business to the Weekly — the publication gets a mite snippy when subjected to scrutiny itself.

Take, for instance, The Snitch’s post from this past Monday, which noted that the Weekly isn’t the first local publication Guardian publisher Brugmann has lashed out at because it allegedly interfered with his God-given right to dominate the local advertising market.

Not only did Brugmann sue the San Francisco dailies back during the Nixon administration, Monday’s post noted, but in 1979 he did battle with a student magazine at San Francisco State University that had the audacity to run a story quoting former employees as saying his paper had lied about its circulation, inflated its readership numbers, and occasionally bounced checks.

The story that appeared in the SFSU publication feed/back reported that Brugmann blasted back by asking the two female student-journalist authors whether they slept with their teachers or held orgies at their houses — figurative rhetorical devices intended to convey the inappropriate nature of their own pesky queries.

According to the article, Brugmann also advised the young scribes that “you girls are really dense.”

The story by Penny Parker and Caroline Young also told readers that Brugmann “demanded the publication stop asking past and present Guardian employees about ‘bounced checks and other business matters.’”

The Snitch found the old story interesting, in part because Brugmann also reportedly claimed that feed/back had “impugned the Guardian’s financial capability and its business integrity.”

They were allegations that suggested The Brute has a history of blaming other local media organizations for his troubles.

Nary a peep was heard on the subject from Brugmann or his top lieutenant, Tim Redmond, until late Wednesday, when an e-mail arrived in the Snitch’s inbox.

It was from Puffy himself.

(Redmond has also lately become known as this blogger’s archnemesis in what a correspondent for Editor & Publisher has described as an Internet battle worthy of the “great newspaper feuds of yesteryear.”)

Penned Puffy: “I know that when you're covering a trial, you typically listen to the testimony and just report on it without doing any other work.”

To which the Snitch says: Speak for yourself.

Continued Redmond:

“But when you veer off into a 30-year-old story about Bruce, two young journalism students, and a professor who sued a paper for libel, it would seem to be normal journalistic standards and ethics to call the other side for comment.”

And this:

“For the record, then: Why did you not bother to seek comment on a story that portrayed us in a critical light? Does that not violate VVM's own standards for journalistic practice?”

Wait.

There are rules here?

(Sound of The Snitch swallowing hard.)

After being slimed with spam e-mails from Brugmann, chided by The Brute for alleged journalistic incompetence and dubbed an “out of town hit man” with a mean streak a mile wide in one of Redmond’s more memorable broadsides, the Snitch mistakenly assumed Marquis of Queensberry rules wouldn’t apply.

Yet Puffy, presumably a card-carrying member of many official journalism organizations just like his boss, was in a snit, enraged at the thought of a breach of ethics here in the Guardian’s hometown.

As your McAllister Street bureau chief was strolling into the courtroom on Thursday, ready to take his reserved seat in the press box, Redmond appeared as if out of nowhere and latched on like a small dog might attack a stray leg.

“Did you get my e-mail?” demanded Redmond, who by the way, has switched to leather vests since being outed as a puffy-jacket wearer.

“Write whatever you’re going to write,” answered The Snitch. “I’ll write what I’ll write.”

“So you’re not going to answer my question?” continued Redmond, referring again to his “standards of journalistic practice” inquiry.

Convinced he heard his mama calling, the Snitch wheeled into the courtroom, leaving Puffy alone with his moral indignance.

But this wasn’t just Puffy’s fight, apparently.

When The Snitch exited the courtroom later during a break, he found himself caught behind Brugmann, who was moving at the pace of an arthritic elephant, leading your correspondent to pass him on the left and make a beeline for the water fountain.

Not so fast.

“Hey, it’s The Snitch,” remarked The Brute.

(Cue the snickering from the jackals of the Guardian entourage.)

Brugmann then asked the same question Redmond had: Why hadn’t your humble correspondent called him for comment about his dustup with SFSU?

Wasn’t it true that this blogger had committed a blatant violation of journalistic ethics?

J’accuse!

“I’m not going to take lessons on journalistic ethics from you,” replied The Snitch, who learned a thing or two about bullies while growing up as a jockey-sized runt in a world of giants.

The Brute moved so close that The Snitch could feel his hot breath.

The 6-foot-5 Brugmann’s pawlike hands hung suspended at roughly the level of The Snitch’s forehead, raising the possibility that at any moment the Brute might reach out and pop this correspondent’s head like a Styrofoam packing peanut.

Brugmann repeated his question.

“So you’re the journalistic gold standard now, eh?” said The Snitch.

Yes, said The Brute without a trace of irony.

At that moment your loyal scribe saw a blur in his peripheral vision and then heard a voice pipe up: “He’s a corporate flack!”

And then, again: “He’s a corporate flack!”

It was none other than Guardian city editor Steve Jones.

The Snitch took a second to consider what he had just heard.

“Corporate flack?”

He never dreamed he would achieve such status while growing up a literal unknown in the federal witness protection program. Back in those days, The Snitch would have been happy just to get a job that came with a name badge.

His heart swelled.

But then The Brute ruined the moment.

“There’s going to be an article,” vowed Brugmann. “You’re going to be very embarrassed.”

Apparently the dubious reporting habits of a lowly “hit man” are now important enough to take up man-hours at the Guardian in the midst of a trial that, according to the paper’s own lawyers, is a fight for its very survival.

“Write whatever you’re going to write,” said The Snitch, before Puffy appeared again as if from a dream and inserted himself between The Snitch and The Brute, breaking up what he apparently was afraid might turn into a melee.

Having been amply warned that the Guardian is writing a story with the stated intent of causing maximum embarrassment, The Snitch stayed up all night polishing his sense of shame so it can be put on public display for the vicarious enjoyment of Brugmann and Company.

And your correspondent isn’t surprised, having already heard from reliable sources that Brugmann and Redmond are going behind The Snitch on the SFSU story, contacting those quoted and probing for dirt not about the issues described in the article but about the humble Internet alter ego who penned it.

So for now The Snitch will stand by, eagerly awaiting not just a jury verdict in the Guardian’s predatory pricing case against the Weekly, but yet another beating at the hands of The Brute.

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Tom Walsh

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