The Village Voice, 1953 to October 2005 (the date the New Times purchased the Voice), RIP

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The hitman cometh

There’s a key phrase in this morning’s New York Times account of the Mike Lacey massacre at the Village Voice (“Village Voice Dismisses 8, including Senior Arts Editors, a ‘reconfiguration’ leaves the critic Robert Christgau unemployed”). Click here

It followed the standard boilerplate press release that always accompanies what a former Voice press critic Cynthia Cotts called “the signature New Times bloodbath.” The boilerplate: Village Voice Media/New Times/Mike Lacey described the layoffs as an effort to “reconfigure the editorial department to place an emphasis on writers as opposed to editors.” The company added: “Painful though they may be in the short term, these moves are consistent with long-range efforts to position the Voice as an integral journalistic force in New York City.”

Then comes the standard line that is widely known to all of us who have tried in vain for years to get Lacey, the editor in chief of VVM/NT and the l7 paper chain from Phoenix, Arizona, to respond on the phone or by email to legitimate news issues:

Lacey “did not return calls seeking further comment.”

Lacey is a colorful editor. After New Times purchases a paper, he loves to ride into town and shoot up the saloon
and massacre the staff and the paper. He did this in San Francisco when the New Times bought the SF Weekly and he did it with the Voice in New York. He loves to whack away at me and the Bay Guardian with long screeds (his latest, a 20-pager of high volume vitriol up on the web somewhere, with the head, “Brugmann’s Brain Vomit, cleaning up the latest drivel from San Francisco’s leading bullgoose looney.") It full of marvelous stuff and is one of my prized possessions.

But Mike and the New Times folks have a fatal flaw: They love to hit, run, and hide.

That’s how I started guerrilla blogging awhile back. The local version of Lacey's journalistic ethics, the SF Weekly, would through the years blast away at me and the Guardian and our issues with a distinct pattern: they rarely would call for comment before publication. When they did call, they would get the quote wrong or out of context. And, when we would write a letter to the editor to correct the quote or get our point out, they would refuse to run the letter and would not explain why.

So I started doing some guerrilla blogging and sending my points by email to the SF Weekly/New Times people-and, of course, to Mike safely hunkered down in his foxhole in Phoenix.

The classic was when the SF Weekly/New Times/Lacey gave me a Best of award in 2003 for “Best Local Psychic.” It read: “Move over, Madam Zolta, at least when it comes to predicting the outcome of wars, Bruce-watchers will recall with glee his most recent howler, an April 2 Bay Guardian cover story headlined ‘The New Vietnam.’ The article was accompanies by an all caps heading and a photo of a panic-stricken U.S. serviceman in Iraq, cowering behind a huge fireball. The clear message: Look out, folks; this new war’s gonna be as deep a sinkhole as the old one. Comparing a modern U.S. war to Vietnam-how edgy! How brilliant! How original! And how did the prediction pan out? Let’s see now: More than 50,000 U.S. soldiers got killed in Vietnam vs. about l00 in Iraq. Vietnam lasted more than l0 years; Iraq lasted less than a month (effectively ending about two weeks after the story ran.) Vietnam destroyed a U.S. president, while Iraq turned one into an action hero. Well, you get the picture. Trying to draw analogies between Vietnam and Iraq is as ridiculous as Brugmann’s other pet causes. Scores of reputable publications around the nation opposed the Iraq war, but did so in a thoughtful, intelligent manner. Leave it to the SFBG, our favorite political pamphlet, to help delegitimize yet another liberal cause. Bush, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft send their sincerest thanks, Bruce.”

Three years later, the war drags on, "reputable publications" all over the country are calling it another Vietnam--and Lacey and his Best of writers and editors look like fools and we still don't know what the Lacey/New Times position is on Bush, the war, and the occupation. But this is vintage Lacey and vintage New Times politics distilled into their publication run largely on a centralized format out of Phoenix. The key point: the article was not bylined and I tried, again and again by guerrilla email and phone calls to Lacey and his SF Weekly editors, to get someone to say who conceived, wrote, and edited the item. Nobody would fess up. But I was told reliably that the writer was the cartoonist Dan Siegler and the editor was John Mecklin, then reported to be Lacey’s favorite editor and hand-picked by Lacey to take on the Guardian in San Francisco. I confronted them with emails, asking for confirmation or comment. I have not gotten any to this very day.

Alas, that in a nutshell is the political and journalistic and ethical policies that Lacey and the New Times have imposed on the Voice. No more liberal politics. No more James Ridgeway in Washington. No more Press Critic Syd Schanberg and no more press clips columns. No regular section criticizing the Bush administration and the war. No more editorials and no more endorsements and no more legendary Voice thundering away on the major New York and national issues of the day that cry out for a strong news and editorial voice from the Left.

And, according to the Times story, Voice layoffs and firings that “decimated the senior ranks of its arts staff,” including theater editor Jorge Morales, dance editor Elizabeth Zimmer, senior editor in charge of books Ed Park, art director Minh Uong, and Robert Cristgau, 64, who as a senior editor and longtime pop musit critic “helped put the Voice on the map,” as the Times put it. Cristgau had been with the Voice off and on since l969 and is quite rightly known as the dean of the Voice.

No more Village Voice as we have known it through all these years.

Instead, the Voice has Mike Lacey. I last ran into Mike at the annual business meeting of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) in Little Rock in June.
I held out my hand for a handshake and said, in a friendly way, “Mike, how are you doing?”
He stopped, looked at me, and said, “Bruce, Go fuck yourself.” And he turned and scampered off, never to return to the meeting and never to come near me again.

Mike, get out out of your bunker and give people a chance to ask you some questions. Start a blog.

P.S. We had fun with the Best of issue. We did a counter Best of, a full page ad, titled “Best Premature Ejaculation,” a special award to the editors of the SF Weekly/New Times.
We ended with this note: “Sorry, folks: WE wish the war in Iraq were as neat and tidy as you, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft would like to think it is. But you, um, spoke too soon.”

Our postscripts drove home the points about Lacey’s style of hit and run journalism.
“PS: The real mystery of the city: who wrote the SF Weekly piece? Who assigned it? Who edited it? We’ve been calling, writing, e-mailing, and faxing the local office and corporate headquarters in Phoenix, but nobody will tell us."

“PPS: Gee, what’s the New Times position on the war, anyway. We can’t seem to figure it out.”

And, let me add in retrospect, what was their position on Bush’s reelection? Well, as far as I can tell, the only endorsement published in any New Times paper came at the end of their syndicated sex column by their gay sex columnist Dan Savage just before election day. Dan, bless his heart, came out for Kerry and is now pushing publicly for impeachment. Where's Mike? Mike? Mike? B3

A final PS point: If any one at New Times is still wondering about their pretty little month-long war that turned a president into an action hero, check out This nice item from the NY Times. We're still at war, Mike, and kids are still dying. In case you hadn't noticed.
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