I-Team

Local newspaper publisher makes deal with singer

Friday, June 28, 2013
, Chief Investigative Reporter
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The Huffington Post calls Todd Vogt "arguably the most powerful figure in the world of San Francisco media." He owns three of the city's major newspapers and is about to buy a large share of a fourth. But he's facing questions about journalistic ethics.

The questions surround a deal Vogt cut with controversial folk singer Michelle Shocked. If she bought a full-page ad, he would give her a cover story and more. That violates basic standards of journalism.

Three months ago the crowd at Yoshi's in San Francisco enjoyed most of the Shocked's concert. But, the encore brought some surprising comments from the singer/songwriter.

"Once preachers are held at gunpoint, and forced to marry the homosexuals. I'm pretty sure that will be the signal for Jesus to come on back," Shocked told the stunned audience.

Shocked became popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a substantial LGBT following. She sometimes discussed her own bi-sexuality. Then, she joined a Pentecostal Christian church in West Los Angeles.

"If someone would be so gracious as to please tweet out, 'Michelle Shocked just said from stage, 'God hates f___s'" (laughter). Would you do it now? (laughter)," she said during her show at Yoshi's.

When the ABC 7 News I-Team requested an interview, Shocked invited us to her penthouse loft in Downtown Los Angeles.

"All I was trying to do in San Francisco was try to get two sides that aren't talking to each other and are demonizing each other to realize they have a lot more in common than they have to fear. They're demonizing each other and it needs to stop," Shocked told the ABC 7 News I-Team.

Shocked would not say directly whether the comments at Yoshi's reflect her personal beliefs, even though she was asked repeatedly.

Noyes: "I'm asking a very simple question, were those your feelings? Do you feel that way personally? That's really a yes or no, Michelle."
Shocked: "In your business, it is a yes or no. In my business, it's about an album's worth."

But it didn't matter for the fans who took to social media. After a torrent of negative comments, the rest of Shocked's tour got canceled. She did a silent protest outside one club in Santa Cruz.

Enter an advertising rep for the San Francisco Examiner. Three days after Shocked's appearance at Yoshi's, he emails her, "I read that you apologized today and thought this would be an excellent opportunity. ... I can give you a full page in the examiner and a full page in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. ... price combo package $2,500."

The negotiations continue over the weeks, until owner/publisher Todd Vogt wraps up the deal to include a free concert by Shocked this Sunday, at the end of the LGBT Pride Celebration.

Vogt writes:

  • "You will place an ad in the 'pride' guide being produced by my newspapers"

  • "I will arrange a cover feature story in SF Weekly"

  • "You will have an option to write an op/ed piece up to 1000 words for the San Francisco Examiner"

  • "I will pimp the hell out of the show in all 3 papers"

Yumi Wilson: "This would be a case study in ethical, any journalism ethics class."
Noyes: "A case study of what's wrong."
Wilson: "What not to do."

Wilson reported for the San Francisco Chronicle for 11 years. She's now a journalism professor at San Francisco State with a specialty in ethics. She says all newspapers, including the Examiner, Bay Guardian and SF Weekly owned by Todd Vogt, build their circulation based on objectivity.

Wilson: "And then all of a sudden, behind the scenes, you're directing editorial coverage based on a dollar amount, then you're no longer objective."
Noyes: "It's a matter of trust for the readers."
Wilson: "Absolutely."

Wilson believes Shocked expected a soft pitch from Vogt's reporter, because of the deal to buy an ad. Shocked describes it another way.

"It's called extortion. You pull the plug, you censor someone, you take away their voice and then you tell them, you want to speak? Give me little bite and I'll make sure you got a voice. That's extortion," according to Shocked.

It all blew up when Vogt tweeted out, "Yup, its true! We are 'shocked' to be presenting Michelle Shocked live in a free concert in SF on June 30!"

Just four days later, after an intense uproar from the LGBT community, Vogt canceled the show.

Noyes: "He turned around pretty quickly though and canceled the concert, do you give him any credit for that?"
Audrey Joseph: "No, no, it was a no win situation, he was going to have a concert without -- he was going to be the only person in the audience."

Joseph is an independent producer who's booking the main stage at pride weekend. She says it's surprising Vogt would try to bring Shocked to San Francisco during the pride celebration, especially because he's in the middle of a deal to buy 49-percent of the Bay Area Reporter, the city's leading LGBT. newspaper.

"That is shocking to me that he would do that and I had to think what is behind this? I just think he's a media whore and he wants the attention," says Joseph.

The ABC 7 News I-Team was not able to reach Todd Vogt for this story, even though we emailed him several times, called his office, his cell and his assistant. We even visited his office on Bush Street.

Noyes: "Is he here? Is he in town?"
Vogt employee: "He, I believe, is in town. I don't know his whereabouts. I'll be happy to let him know you called."

Vogt did tweet: "I deserve all the anger & outrage be directed solely at me. I am sorry. Intended this to be healing but only caused more grief. My apologies." He told another media outlet, it was Michelle Shocked who came to him for an ad.

Noyes: "whose idea was that ad?"
Shocked: "That ad was not my idea."

The email chain bears that out. It was the Examiner's salesman who first contacted Shocked.

Even though it's not in the emails, Vogt claimed he initially turned down her attempt to buy an advertisement.

Noyes: "Todd said, 'For all the money in the world, we weren't going to take some hate-mongering homophobic ad.' What do you think about him saying that?"
Shocked: "I think he threw me under the bus."

But watch what happens when Dan Noyes tells Michelle Shocked her LGBT fans believe "she" threw them under the bus. Dan asks about the contradiction between her public image and her comments at Yoshi's.

Noyes: "Why is it difficult?"
Shocked: "When I want to out myself, you think."
Noyes: "Careful, careful."
Shocked threw down the microphone and said, "Do you think someone as outspoken as me. Do you think someone as outspoken as me would have been in the closet all these years?"

Even though her show has been canceled for Sunday, shocked tells me she's coming to the pride celebration wearing this burka, made out of the American flag.

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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