Last week, I was one of three editors on "Editors Roundtable," the Friday installment of KPBS' These Days radio program. My participation was despite the noisy protestation of one of the show's regular guest pundits, Bob Kittle, editorial page editor of the Union-Tribune . Those of you who have seen the show when it has aired on TV know Kittle as the rather conservative fellow with the Bart Simpson-style spiky haircut and the quaint bowtie.
I had been a guest editor on the show two times before-ironically, filling in for Kittle himself while he was on vacation-and since I hadn't embarrassed myself to any irreparable extent, they asked me back last week to fill in for another of the show's regulars, John Warren, editor of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint .
Told that someone from CityBeat would be appearing on the program with him and Tim McClain, editor of Metropolitan magazine, Kittle was suspicious. In an e-mail to a These Days producer he claimed never to have heard of the paper. What sort of publication is this CityBeat , he wanted to know. He'd heard it was some sort of "freebie," like the "Penny Saver," he said. Who owns it? Does it have some nefarious political agenda?
Kittle was directed to CityBeat' s website, which, for him, turned out to be a most unpleasant place. Judging from his next correspondence with These Days, Kittle affixed his eyeballs on a couple of pieces by one of our columnists, Ms. Beak. He blew a gasket and fired off an e-mail to Pam Hardy, These Days ' senior producer.
The full text of Kittle's letter is reprinted in our "Letters to the Editor" section. He cc'd the e-mail to me, so I figure it's OK to show it to you. I've titled the letter "Bob's Tantrum"-go check it out and then come back here.
OK, assuming you've read it... Yikes! You think Bob's bowtie's a bit tight? Holy cow.
Look, publishing Kittle's letter isn't a tactic to embarrass the guy. I just think it's important to show how this firmly entrenched mouthpiece for the conservative San Diego establishment attempted to bully KPBS into dropping CityBeat from the program.
Only Kittle knows the real motivation behind his e-mail to KPBS. Since his stated problem was that his overly sensitive eyes fell upon some of the provocative, colorful language in CityBeat , and it offended his overly fragile sensibilities, let's address that:
CityBeat launched last August as a progressive alternative to both the conservative U-T and the venerable San Diego Reader. Taking liberties with language is one of the ways we stand out in the crowd. Our columnists, the Bukowski-esque bartender-philospher Edwin Decker and the political satirist/media critic Ms. Beak-both of whom CityBeat inherited when we bought SLAMM magazine-at times dispense their social and political commentary with humor and extreme language.
Every now and then I have to reel them in a bit, but their function is to be provocative. In a way, we send them out purposely to cross the line so they can come back and tell us exactly where that line lies and what it looks like.
And we're not going to pretend profanity isn't a staple of American language. It's tricky-it can harm credibility in the eyes of some readers, like it did in Kittle's case. But sometimes it's necessary to drive a point home. We like to think CityBeat is like a Quentin Tarantino movie-beneath the off-color language lay intelligent storytelling. Beneath Ms. Beak's use of the words "cornholed" and "weenie crap" was a compelling perspective on improprieties in San Diego State University's athletic department.
Certainly, Kittle has a right to his opinion. If the paper's style offends him, he can choose not to pick it up, a right he apparently exercised for the first 10 months of CityBeat 's existence.
But where Kittle crossed the line was in trying to strong-arm KPBS into banning me from the show, and, in effect, censoring CityBeat . Complaints about nasty language notwithstanding, we think that's what his letter was all about. His was an effort to limit the range of debate, which has been too narrow in this town for too long-just the way the Bob Kittles of the world like it.
Excuse my language, Bob, but that's chickenshit.
In his letter-which he sent to KPBS general manager Doug Myrland, "Roundtable" host Gloria Penner, media relations manager Judith Morgan Jennings and vice president of programming Dan Novak of Cox Communications (Cox airs "Roundtable" on TV) and even San Diego State President Stephen Weber (KPBS is on the SDSU campus)-Kittle said CityBeat isn't journalism; it's "trash."
Mr. Kittle might be surprised to learn that CityBeat 's editorial staff has won numerous regional, state and national awards in health care, business, education and environmental and land-use coverage and in breaking news and investigative reporting. And that's even not including awards won by the very columnist who so upset Kittle.
San Diego Magazine recently called CityBeat the "best new political voice" in town. KPBS, too, has recognized our value-they've had associate editor Kelly Davis or me appear on three of their radio and TV shows. Even conservative Fox 6 News finds us interesting enough to have us on its morning show every Wednesday to discuss what's in the new issue.
If I didn't know any better, I might wonder if Kittle feels a wee bit threatened. After all, one of the subjects of discussion during the "Roundtable" was the danger in confidential sources in journalism, which the U-T has used quite liberally lately. Another subject was the state's budget quandary, a topic on which CityBeat 's Jill Stewart has been doing this city's most interesting work.
In the end, Kittle is your garden-variety reactionary. He assumes everyone else shares his values-or at least thinks everyone should. He shoots first and asks questions later. He doesn't know CityBeat . He doesn't know many of his own paper's writers have become regular readers. Hell, he obviously didn't know the U-T has published two stories about us.
Thankfully, the folks at KPBS did what was probably not easy to do. They stood up to a prominent member of San Diego society and told him that, while they respected his opinion and his right to withdraw from participating in last week's program, they stood behind their decision to include CityBeat .
I hope they didn't regret their decision. I think the show went pretty well. Kittle stood by his decision to boycott and was replaced on short notice by KPBS journalist Russell Lewis, who was knowledgeable and interesting in Kittle's absence. The hour was informative and thought provoking. I wonder if Kittle was listening.