Self-Censorship 

Online humor columnist Mark Morford is back from an involuntary holiday after some edgy remarks got him in trouble with SF Gate management.

It seems a little hinky that after all the truly audacious things online humor columnist Mark Morford has ever written that he'd get into trouble with his bosses for something as prosaic as using the f-word. And by f-word, I mean "fuck." Or, in its gerund form, "fucking." Yes, we in the alternative press can make gratuitous use of naughty words like those. That's because we assume the people who read this paper and hire the escorts who advertise in the back of it are adults, albeit ones with piercings, tattoos, and intimacy issues. But Morford isn't so lucky. The award-winning columnist may write for an Internet site, SFGate.com, but it's the Web site of the Hearst-owned family newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle.

Morford returned to work this week after a monthlong "forced hiatus," as he puts it. The Newspaper Guild, which represents SF Gate employees, helped negotiate his return. He'll continue to write his twice-weekly Notes & Errata column and, eventually, his more provocative e-mail newsletter, the Morning Fix. But first he and his editors are going to establish clearer standards and editing procedures suitable for the post-Wardrobe Malfunction world.

The Morning Fix is unapologetically irreverent, tasteless, and sex-obsessed. Which is what makes it so fun. It begins with something called "The Media Skew," Morford's riffing and ripping on current events, and ends with his Kerouackoff stream-of-consciousness rants in the "footer" sections. Which is where he offended his higher-ups. In the March 8 edition -- the last since his forced hiatus -- Morford used the word "fucking" twice in the Subscribe/Unsubscribe section near the end of the newsletter.

Here's a condensed version: "Is this the way you thought it would all turn out because if it's not and if you're right now saying holy Jesus on a well-greased pogo stick no fucking way in hell is this the way I thought things would go ... so you'd better feel no I mean really fucking feel the hot breath of the divine on your neck ...?"

The amazing thing about all this is how tame that passage was by the standards of Morford's column. Consider his crack in the March 5 Fix at parents who freaked out about the Girl Scouts endorsing a Planned Parenthood sex-ed program that covers topics such as masturbation: "[I]f you don't trust Planned Parenthood to give safe, good info about masturbation, where do you think you're [sic] daughter is going to get it, dear? That's right, lesbians. Hardcore fisting-fetishist dykes." (Apparently, "fisting-fetishist" doesn't count as an f-word.) Another recent column contained this gem of a headline: "My sweet little girl doesn't have a vagina goddammit."

It's not as if Morford hadn't been down this road before. A few years back he was suspended for a week for some intemperate observations regarding a thirteen-year-old boy who received some extracurricular oral activity from one of his female teachers. Morford had observed that, for many teenaged boys, far worse things could happen than to have an older woman perform a sex act upon them.

The issue this time around was whether Morford was guilty of insubordination. Did he purposely break the rules by sneaking in the f-word instead of the prescribed "f---ing"? Not at all, he says. The standards for his Fix column have always been loose, he argues. While someone edits the "Media Skew" portion, Morford says she scans it for libel, not f-words. But he says no one ever edited his rants in the "Disclaimer" or "Subscription" sections, which he considered effluvia. Besides, he adds, because the Fix is available only by subscription it's allowed to be more naughty -- similar to why Tony Soprano can cuss and gawk at naked boobies at the Bada Bing on HBO. As for the future of the Fix, Morford says he expects it to return to e-mail inboxes next week, although he's not sure if it will still come out three times a week.

Exactly who in the Hearst food chain choked on the fucking transgression is a mystery, Morford says. But there's definitely a shake-up happening at SF Gate. Last week Robert Cauthorn, veep of digital media for the Chronicle, abruptly left the company. A newspaper-union source whispers that Hearst execs want SF Gate to be a better representation of the Chronicle, and not so snide-and-snarky. But what's so fucking wrong with snide-and-snarky?

Richmond: Money Out and Money In

The Contra Costa County civil grand jury "invited" Richmond City Councilmembers Maria Viramontes and Gary Bell to meet with the investigative body for a little chat last week in the midst of the city's $35 million fiscal crisis. The two councilors say they were asked because they are the current and former chairs of the council's finance committee. Of course, getting an "invitation" from the grand jury is akin to getting an "invitation" from an IRS auditor to discuss your tax return. The civil grand jury's job is to investigate government waste and fraud. Viramontes tells Feeder that jurors haven't formally launched an investigation of the city -- yet. "They haven't decided what they're doing," she says. As for exactly what grand jurors asked them, both Viramontes and Bell said they couldn't say.

Meanwhile, diligent Richmond city officials are contemplating clever ways to plug up the $35 million budget shortfall. One modest money-spig being considered: Tens of thousands of uncollected court judgments. Among those debts is a $4,000 judgment against City Councilman Tom Butt. But Butt says he has no intention paying it off. In his mind, he got tagged with the judgment doing what amounted to a public service. In the mid-1990s he sued the city to gain access to records he believed would show Richmond was giving Chevron an unfair break on the utility users' tax. A judge later ordered Butt to pay the city's legal fees because he had asked for too much information. City officials never bothered to collect, but acting City Attorney Everett Jenkins says he might now. Jenkins says the city has ten years to collect a judgment -- meaning Butt is still on the hook, though time is running out. "If it was a traffic ticket, I'd pay it in a heartbeat," Butt reasons. "But this is about the principle."

Fresh Air America

So it turns out that Air America, the new liberal talk-radio network, will indeed be carried on KVTO 1400 AM, a small thousand-watt station that currently broadcasts Chinese and Korean programming. But here's a little-known factoid not on the company press release: The network's radio transmitter is located on the south end of Aquatic Park, a well-known local gay cruising spot. So while Al Franken tells the Bay Area to screw the Bushies, just a heavy pant from the transmission tower there will be men screwing in the bushies. And the Bushies on the FCC will be powerless to stop it.

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