Fun with Brickbats

Chronicle's Barbaro and Statesman's Bridges go at it in our forums

Annoyed that you always miss the good stuff at SXSW? Always turning up at the wrong venue to see the second-best band, or the mediocre film? Here's your chance for a front-row seat at the Statesman vs. Chronicle Battle of the Titans! The issue is the Statesman's sloppy, tendentious reporting on SXSW and city "fee waivers."

The donnybrook began with the Statesman's credulous reporting and sensational editorializing on the city's costs in supporting "special events." The daily took at face value the city's listing of "fee waivers" for specific purposes (e.g., free public concerts sponsored by SXSW at Auditorium Shores) and standard city expenses (e.g., police protection for Downtown crowds during SXSW), but unlike the city, called the total "fee waivers." The editors therefore concluded that SXSW (and a host of others) are unfairly costing the city millions, supposedly without recompense.

Addlng falsehood to confusion, on Wednesday, the Statesman editors falsely reported that SXSW made no charitable donations from 2009-2013, contrasting that alleged malfeasance with the supposed beneficence of Austin City Limits. Apparently, to use Statesman managing editor John Bridges' phrase, "No one bothered to give [SXSW] a call" to verify that false (by $1.05 million) assertion. (Friday's editorial page provides a correction, without acknowledging the tendentious context.)

Fireworks ensued. In Friday's Chronicle (on the the streets Thursday), Chronicle publisher Nick Barbaro hammered the daily for its "two ludicrous pieces," pointing out both the "egregious errors" and the general blaming of the SXSW Festival for everything that goes wrong (or some people just don't like) during spring break in Austin. (In "'Statesman' Demagoguery on SXSW and Special Events," Barbaro also attempted to correct common public misunderstandings, widely believed, about "fee waivers" and "city costs" in general; Newsdesk wishes him good luck with that.)

ME Bridges soon responded online, acknowledging the mistake about charitable donations but otherwise defending the daily's reporting, insisting that a "clarifying sentence" explained the difference between "fee waivers" and total city expenses for special events. Responded Barbaro: "Bullshit."

You can read the whole exchange here – with any luck for those of us in the peanut gallery, there will be more. (We'd link to the Statesman story and editorial as well, but they're behind a paywall; you'll have to hunt them down on your own.)

Meanwhile, the confusion generated by the Stateman's sloppy reporting on "fee waivers" – thereby juicing the already confounded public reaction – is concisely expressed by an email comment of Chronicle editor Louis Black: "He [Bridges] seems to be saying that since he said that by fee waivers he was including a lot of spending that was, in point of fact, not fee waivers, it was okay, because he said so, to include hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending that were not fee waivers as fee waivers because he said he was including them as fee waivers. Huh?"

All too often, that's precisely how we feel when we read the daily, daily.

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