Censorship -- or something else? - Page 4

Why did two Bay Area newsrooms dismiss Peter Byrne's story about conflicts of interest in UC investment deals?

A few days later, Stevens contacted me again. She wanted to write about my story for the Bay Citizen's section in The Sunday New York Times. Not being gifted with second sight, I did not know if the Chronicle would ever run the story, but they damn sure had let it get rigor mortis. So, I gave Stevens the email trail. I warned her that she might run into a similar problem at the Bay Citizen, which was founded by Wall Street financier Warren Hellman. It turns out that Hellman sits on the Board of Directors of the Berkeley Endowment Management Company, which controls half a billion dollars in UC Berkeley Foundation investments. Public records show that Hellman's investment bank is partnered with the same two private equity funds that count both UC and Blum Capital as limited partners. And one of the Founding Patrons of Bay Citizen is the Blum Family Foundation. And one of the board members of the nonprofit Bay Citizen is Jeffery Ubben, a former managing partner of Blum Capital. But I digress.

[Editor's Note: The Bay Citizen's newsroom is run independently of its board members, and journalists there say none of the funders have influenced the selection or editing of news stories.]

A week later, Stevens informed me that the story was being pushed to the following week. And then she went on a month-long vacation and the story died. Go figure.

But Stevens did alert the Chronicle staff to my complaints, and the fact that I had provided her with emails and documentation to back up my claim that the Chronicle had bowed to Blum's threat.

On August 8, Asimov emailed a UC instructor, Kathryn Klar, who had inquired about the status of my story. Asimov recounted, "I worked for nearly a year to get Peter Byrne's—frankly awful—story in good enough shape to run in the Chronicle. It was poorly written and confusing. He will tell you how hard I worked to get that thing ready for publication. ... By the end of July, the story was in great shape and the lawyers were taking a final look.

"And then Peter did the unthinkable. He forwarded a year's worth of my private correspondence to another journalistic organization—not a newspaper—who then contacted me and others at the paper threatening to write a story about how the Chronicle had suppressed Peter's story. ... They behaved like blackmailers. Of course they had no story to write, and they didn't. Needless to say, Peter's story will not run in the Chronicle now. But it was his actions, not ours, that led to its death. We, my editors included, liked the story and were pleased that it was finally in great shape. Even the lawyers agreed.

"Its such a shame."

Editors note: We asked Chronicle Managing Editor Steve Proctor for his response. He told us:

"The decision not to publish the story was made by the paper's two top editors, me and Ward Bushee. After reviewing Mr. Byrne's previously published articles and his interactions with the Chronicle, we decided that we were not comfortable publishing his work.

"The story was brought to the Chronicle after having been previously published on a journalism web site. The editors here who worked with Mr. Byrne decided that his reporting would need to be double-checked if the piece were to appear in some form in the Chronicle. This was done intermittently, over a period of time, as there was no urgency to publish given that a version of the story had already appeared.