Lee Burdick Wrote It Down, So It Must Be True
By Doug Porter
A document from the Filner administration has surfaced via a public records act request that may be of interest to SD Free Press readers. It consists of notes taken by Filner chief of staff Lee Burdick during a July 20th staff meeting.
Next to the word “Communications” typed on the agenda are notes that include “Surrogate” alongside a list of names that includes myself, Don Harrison (of San Diego Jewish World) and John (sic) Elliot (broadcaster).
We became aware of this document via a comment posted at SDFP, one that I (and others) interpreted as an attempt to denigrate my credibility. The author of said comment denies this was his intent.
A little background is in order…
Earlier this week the SDFP posted a column from Norma Damashek looking back at the Filner era, entitled A Story About Sex…More or Less We love Norma around here; her time with the League of Women Voters and experiences in countless elections gives her exactly the kind of “voice” that we want to publish. She has insights and opinions and is fearless about voicing them.
As anybody who can read a stat counter knows, Bob Filner’s a hot property these days. Sex+Politics sells. (Or in our case, draws eyeballs.)
And people are passionate about any version of the last couple months of San Diego’s sordid saga that gets told.
Filner+Damashek draws reader comments. More than a hundred have already been posted on A Story About Sex as I’m writing this. For the most part, this is a good thing.
We editors have to spend a little extra time weeding out people who don’t want to play nice, but we’re always happy when somebody takes the time to engage with one of our posts.
So on Thursday evening along comes Cory Briggs, the attorney who stood before the press with Donna Frye and Marco Gonzalez and opened the can of worms that ultimately resulted in Mayor Bob Filner’s resignation, with this comment (he’d been debating with others earlier):
I’m curious: How would people who turn to this media outlet–which, for the record, I respect mucho–respond if they knew that Filner’s office was relying on this outlet as a communications “surrogate” back in July when his own media team was refusing to respond to ANY media inquiries? Would it lead you to question the objectivity of the media? Or would you think it’s good that there’s a media outlet willing to report from a progressive perspective?
The suggestion that SDFP was serving as a surrogate for Filner’s office is simply untrue. We had no contact other than press releases with those folks–like everybody else in town we would have loved a little inside info. Nobody associated with the Mayor’s office has ever given us any feedback, pointed us in any direction or reached out to us in any way.
Our reporting was based on what we perceived to be the truth.
Frankly, I believe it’s time to move on. Filner’s gone. But I will say this: come back and look at what we were saying about the Mayor a year from now and compare it to other press accounts from the same time period. That will be the real test of who was fronting for whom in this town.
Cory Briggs responded (my emphasis):
I put “surrogate” in quotes because there is a document written by Lee Burdick in July, after Filner was called on to resign, in which she identifies Doug Porter and two others as “surrogates” in the communications category. (I now realize that the quotes were confusing because I used them to be facetious/sarcastic in a different post. My apologies; bad writing on my part.)
I am not saying that Doug agreed to be the surrogate, and I take him at his word. But even if SDFP did not agree to serve as a surrogate, it still raises some interesting (problematic?) questions for people of all political stripes about the trustworthiness of the media (no aspersions intended toward Doug or anyone else with this point).
One thing I noted in Doug’s post above is this comment: “Our reporting was based on what we perceived to be the truth.” I have no doubt that that’s an accurate statement–not only for the SDFP but for the majority of media outlets. So what makes SDFP’s perception of the truth more trustworthy to its readers than someone else’s perception? I get that people might distrust a source when the source’s credibility is in question. But what about when there’s no serious dispute about credibility? Whose perception do you believe, and why?
I’d never heard of any memo. I asked Briggs for a copy of the document.
Briggs says it was never his attention to cast aspersions on me. He was merely trying to (from an email) …
show the extent to which Filner was trying to play the public instead of being straight up.
It’s obvious to me that these are notes from a brainstorming meeting of Filner’s staff (July 20) where they were casting about for anything that would deflect the criticism they were getting following the Donna Frye, et al, pressers. They were trying to put together a program of positive actions by the Mayor to make him look like he was doing more than worrying about sexual harassment lawsuits. The same conclusion was drawn by others I’ve shown the document to.
This was crisis management, not unlike what any politician or entity in a bad situation would do. I wrote plenty of columns defending the Filner administration in the context of changing “business as usual” here in San Diego. So my name came up in a meeting. End of story, until it gets “revealed” in a document cited by a local attorney with a knack for getting his name in the press.
So if I accept what Briggs says, then he obviously never gave a thought to what this document will look like once it’s posted over at SDRostra or casually mentioned by City Attorney Jan Goldsmith (or other political figure) as a response to commentary I’ve written.
Briggs must be so naive as to not realize many are going to read the “surrogate” part and not the “I take him at his word.”
So thanks for nothing, Cory. This document’s gonna follow me for years. I’ve had my fair share of experiences and anybody really looking for the dirt on me should research the submissions of now-deceased right-wing nut job Congressman Larry McDonald in the Congressional Record.
That’s why I’m writing this story. By ‘outing’ myself now at least I can say I tried to beat the rap.
And no thanks to Lee Burdick for thinking I’m that kind of chump.
The least you could have done was invite me over for a cup of coffee to ask me first before listing me as a ‘surrogate’ on a city document subject to the Public Records Act.