The Campaign Against the Daily Planet

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday June 04, 2009 - 07:17:00 AM
<b>The Campaign Against the Daily Planet</b>
            A few East Bay individuals are threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions.
Justin DeFreitas
The Campaign Against the Daily Planet A few East Bay individuals are threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions.
	To gauge the relative emphasis given Israel by the newspaper’s readers, letters to the editor columns and commentaries for 36 issues were examined for the first issue of each month between June 2,2006, and May 7, 2009.
            	The paper published a total of 652 letters and 217 commentaries.
            	Of 869 submissions included in the issues, the lion’s share, 500, focused on local political issues, matters that could be decided by East Bay voters or their local city or county government agencies.
            	The second most-dominant theme was national politics, with most of the letters critical of the George W. Bush administration and its policies—including the war in Iraq—accounting for 147 submissions.
            	The next largest category, “other,” included 102 contributions on non-political issues, ranging from comments on civility to critiques of the paper itself.
            	Letters and commentaries about state government and state-level ballot measures accounted for 51 pieces.
            	Israel came next with 49 reader writings, 34 offering criticism and 15 praising the Israeli government—a ratio of two to one.
            	Finally, foreign issues other than Israel accounted for 23 contributions.
To gauge the relative emphasis given Israel by the newspaper’s readers, letters to the editor columns and commentaries for 36 issues were examined for the first issue of each month between June 2,2006, and May 7, 2009. The paper published a total of 652 letters and 217 commentaries. Of 869 submissions included in the issues, the lion’s share, 500, focused on local political issues, matters that could be decided by East Bay voters or their local city or county government agencies. The second most-dominant theme was national politics, with most of the letters critical of the George W. Bush administration and its policies—including the war in Iraq—accounting for 147 submissions. The next largest category, “other,” included 102 contributions on non-political issues, ranging from comments on civility to critiques of the paper itself. Letters and commentaries about state government and state-level ballot measures accounted for 51 pieces. Israel came next with 49 reader writings, 34 offering criticism and 15 praising the Israeli government—a ratio of two to one. Finally, foreign issues other than Israel accounted for 23 contributions.

A few East Bay individuals are threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions—opinions and ideas they brand “anti-Semitic.” 

Some of them have been contacting the paper’s advertisers, urging them to cancel their contracts. One has created a website dedicated to attacks on the paper. 

The expressed goal, in the words of an April 21 e-mail from one of them to the Planet’s executive editor, is to make the Daily Planet “reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business or die broke.” 

In today’s economic climate, small businesses have enough trouble surviving and promoting their wares without threats from political partisans. And with the media climate every bit as dire, attempts to intimidate advertisers can seriously imperil an independent community newspaper’s existence.  

Some Daily Planet advertisers, incensed at the threats, have renewed their contracts. Others have fled, at least one prompted by the loss of paying clients. 

These partisans even tar fellow Jews with the same broad brush of anti-Semitism if they criticize Israel’s policies, or more specifically, the goals of the kind of hard-line Israeli militants frequently identified with the Likud party. 

One of these individuals, Jim Sinkinson, has been waging a sophisticated war of letters targeting Daily Planet advertisers, complete with a form to be sent to the paper to cancel ads. He’s a professional publicist, and also a director of a well-financed pro-Israel advocacy group, Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME). 

The backer of the anti-Planet website—and the only one who agreed to be interviewed for this story—is John Gertz, an affable and prominent member of the Berkeley Jewish community who makes his living selling all things Zorro, an inherited brand created by a long-dead writer. He describes himself as “a left-wing Zionist.” 

A third figure, Dan Spitzer, is more elusive. Planet advertisers report that he has been calling and visiting their businesses, urging them to drop their contracts with the newspaper. He describes himself as a journalist, yet his recent output seems to consist almost entirely of letters to the editors of newspapers, written in support of Israel and condemning those who criticize it.  

What links them all is support for the hard-line policies of conservative Israeli politicians towards Palestinians and other Islamic peoples. They might be dubbed Zio-Cons, since they often connect militant ultra-Zionism with the neoconservatives who drove foreign policy during the George W. Bush administration. 

(Traditionally Zionism has been a much more inclusive term and embraced a wider range of beliefs.) 

Business owners who maintain their ads have reported intimidating visits and abusive calls, but the campaign has gone beyond targeting the newspaper’s revenue. 

The attacks focus primarily on reader submissions and one paid columnist. 

One elderly reader who wrote a commentary for the Planet’s opinion pages critical of Israel made a police report about a threatening message delivered to her home after the op-ed was published. The writer, still troubled about the incident, declined an interview for this article, but expressed the belief that the incident resulted from the printed submission. 


Opinion policy 

The Daily Planet publishes reader contributions in two formats, placed according to length. Shorter pieces run in the letters-to-the-editor column, which begins on the editorial page, while more detailed expositions appear as commentaries, which begin opposite the editorial page, where newspapers have traditionally run opinion pieces, said Becky O’Malley, the paper’s executive editor and co-proprietor with her spouse, publisher Michael O’Malley. 

The Daily Planet runs most submissions it receives, said the executive editor. The paper avoids printing so-called astroturf submissions, a name given by journalists to form-letters designed by organized campaigns to be submitted under local signatures. 

“We look to local origin, or for submissions on subjects of local interest. Sometimes we’ve declared a moratorium when a subject gets played out or when the discussions boil down to reiterations sent by two small groups who’ve already said everything they had to say,” Becky O’Malley said. 

One moratorium temporarily terminated a repetitious debate over AC Transit’s Bus Rapid Transit system, while another, imposed at least twice, involved Israel, she said.  

The Daily Planet prints a far larger share than most papers of the letters and extended commentaries readers submit, and the paper’s page count is often expanded to accommodate them. Reader opinions are not censored for content, except that personal attacks on private individuals are not published in order to avoid libel suits. Local writers are prioritized when space is tight. 

The most frequent topics for discussion in the letters and commentary pages are local issues—city government, schools, transportation, development, etc.—but the paper publishes readers’ views on national and international topics as well.  

However, Israel-Palestine is the most frequent international topic, not counting the Iraq war. Most letters and commentaries about Israel-Palestine received from Berkeley readers are critical of Israeli policies towards Palestinians, according to Justin DeFreitas, the paper’s managing editor. (See chart at left.) 

The paper itself does not take a stance on Israel-Palestine, and O’Malley, in her signed editorials, has rarely mentioned the subject. 


The campaign 

To date, Jim Sinkinson has mailed at least two signed letters to most of the Daily Planet’s advertisers, warning that customers and clients might object to their support of a paper, “one of whose main purposes seems to be the defamation of Jews and the State of Israel.” 

His first letter, sent March 7, begins, “I recently became aware of a shocking pattern of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing in the Berkeley Daily Planet that you might not be aware of.” 

Jews, he claimed in his letter to advertisers, account for 20 percent of the city’s population and 40 percent of the residents of North Berkeley. They and other customers who know the Daily Planet, Sinkinson said, “are logically justified in believing that you support its hateful views.” 

Sinkinson compared the newspaper to a publication that “dwells on the perceived shortcomings of African-Americans ... or a publication that praises the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan ideology.” 

He conveniently included in his March 7 missive a “NOTICE OF CANCELLATION” form, personally addressed to Daily Planet Executive Editor Becky O’Malley, and directing her to immediately cancel all the signer’s ads. 

A second letter, sent March 31, warned advertisers that “many members—likely the vast majority—of the Jewish community find the Daily Planet offensive.” 

While acknowledging that the paper publishes many Jewish writers, he cited Israeli politician and former Soviet dissident Nathan Sharansky’s definition of anti-Semitism to buttress Sinkinson’s allegation that the newspaper was guilty of that moral crime. 

“It’s anti-Semitic, he said, if it a) Demonizes Israel, b) Delegitimizes Israel, or c) applies Double standards to Israel,” Sinkinson wrote. 

One advertiser, who, like several others, asked not to be identified in print, said that she was initially frightened when a man who refused to give his name walked into her business, handed her a sheet of paper and declared, “I think it’s best that you don’t advertise in the Daily Planet.” 

Later, she said, “I thought about it, and I decided their purpose was to get us to call [the Daily Planet.] Now I think it’s best just to ignore them.” 

Houishi Ghaderi, owner of the Vault Café in South Berkeley, said he was approached at his restaurant by an angry man calling himself “Dan Patterson,” who thrust a piece of paper at Ghaderi and waved it in his face. 

Apparently an unsigned section of an e-mail printout, it read in part (including grammatical errors):  

Dear Berkeley Daily Planet advertisers: 

You have been requested to cease advertising in this publication whose owner/editor is obsessed with demonizing Israel. Because your ads continue to appear in the paper, you are likely to lose business as about 20% of Berkeley/Rockridge residents are Jewish and most are putoff [sic] by the Daily Planet’s continually [sic] attacks upon Israel. 

The newsletter listed below is e-mailed to much of the East Bay’s Jewish community and it will keep notifying its readers of businesses which continue to advertise in the Daily Planet.  

(See sidebar, “Sanne DeWitt and the Israel Action Committee of the East Bay.”)  

The visitor told Ghaderi to stop advertising in the paper. “If I didn’t,” Ghaderi said, “he told me I’d be put on a blacklist. He told me, ‘You’ve been warned.’” 

Ghaderi said he’d been receiving similar phone calls for more than a year, demanding he stop his ads with the paper: 

“They go after your family and your livelihood and make intimidating phone calls. Just because you have a First Amendment right to speak doesn’t give you the right to threaten people.” 

A native of Tehran, Ghaderi came to Berkeley in his teens to attend the university, and after working in another restaurant for several years, opened a cafe on Shattuck Avenue before moving to his current location. 

“I went to Jewish school in Tehran,” he said, though he isn’t Jewish himself. “Many of my customers are Jewish.” 

Another advertiser who has been questioned by potential customers is Matt Cantor, a home-improvement columnist for the Daily Planet and owner of Cantor Inspections, a home inspection service. 

“Any claim that Becky O’Malley is anti-Semitic is ridiculous,” said Cantor. “Becky may be many things, but anti-Semitic isn’t one of them. And I think I can say that because I’m Jewish.” 

Matt Cantor cited just one submission three years ago that he himself considered clearly anti-Semitic, an Aug. 8, 2006, reader-submitted commentary that has been repeatedly cited by the paper’s three critics in their attacks. 

Written by an Iranian student, Kurosh Arianpour, a former East Bay resident then living in India, the essay blamed anti-Semitism on the Jews and “their racist attitude that they are the ‘Chosen People.’” 

“Becky published it because she believes in free speech,” Cantor said. 

(For more information, see sidebar, “The Arianpour Affiar, and Other Controversies.”

Bruce Caplan, a former partner in Looking Glass Photo on Telegraph Avenue, said he was contacted shortly after the publication of the Arianpour commentary, by someone who said he was Dan Spitzer, who “told me I should boycott the Planet because it was anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.” 

In addition to Spitzer, Caplan said he was also “put in contact with Hal Feiger,” a real estate broker with Realty Advocates of Oakland, who tried to convince many of his professional colleagues to cancel their ads in the paper. 

“They appealed to me, I think, partly because I have a Jewish-sounding name. But I thought that even if the paper has a political bias, that didn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that it offered an opportunity for a vigorous political discussion,” Caplan, who describes himself as Jewish, said. 

“I am in favor of the State of Israel and its way of life,” he said. “But just as there are things going on here that I might not like, so there are things happening there I might not like.”  

“How many community papers are there where we can have discussions like this? That’s more important than any single issue.  

“What bothers me is that this is censorship. You’re not going to get a vigorous discussion of Berkeley and East Bay issues in the [San Francisco] Chronicle or elsewhere. If people are really concerned about what they’re reading, they can write their own letters. It’s an open community forum. Sometimes the opinions can be pretty obnoxious, but it’s a forum, and that’s what’s important.” 

The Daily Planet responded to the threats to advertisers in a March 19 editorial. 


Jim Sinkinson 

Jim Sinkinson makes a comfortable living running Oakland-based Infocom Group, a PR company that uses newsletters, recordings and seminars to advise corporations and interest groups how to influence the media to convey their messages. 

His connections with the media run deep, as is reflected in the list of speakers for his “Media Relations Summit 2009,” a May 17-19 New York conference for the public relations industry sponsored by Infocom Group’s newsletter, the Bulldog Reporter. 

Among the speakers listed on the agenda for the annual event were former CBS news anchor Dan Rather, NBC News legal affairs editor Dan Abrams, two editors from the New York Times and editors from the Associated Press, Dow Jones News Service, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Time magazine, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Family Circle, Self, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, O (the Oprah magazine), Playboy, Forbes, Fortune, Men’s Journal, Men’s Vogue, Details, Popular Mechanics, Crain’s New York Business and Seventeen magazines, the New York Daily News, Village Voice, MarketWatch, CBS Radio, WOR-AM Radio and and WCBS-AM. 

But as an advocate for militant ultra- Zionism, Sinkinson also serves as the director of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), a well-funded nonprofit that courts Christian fundamentalists and advertises extensively in both liberal and conservative media. 

Sinkinson runs FLAME’s website from his corporate offices in West Oakland. 

While Sinkinson blasts the Daily Planet for having allowed an intemperate reader’s opinion about Judaism to be published in the newspaper, FLAME’s own website carries many extremely disparaging comments about Islam and its followers, which the organization does not disclaim.  

Outrageous as it was, the Arianpour commentary had much in common with—and was, in some ways milder than—comments by FLAME’s favorite fundamentalist, John Hagee, a Texas minister initially courted by John McCain in his 2008 presidential run, then spurned after bloggers revealed some of the clergyman’s controversial views about Jews. 

In his book Jerusalem Countdown, the Texas reverend, like Arianpour, blamed the Jews for creating anti-Semitism, according to Hagee because of their failure “to serve only the one true God, Jehovah.” Their rebellion, he said, “birthed the seed of anti-Semitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come.” 

The same book contained Hagee’s description of Hitler as a divinely dispatched “hunter” sent to drive Europe’s Jews to Israel in preparation for the apocalypse and the Second Coming of Jesus. (For more on Hagee and FLAME, see sidebar, “Strange Bedfellows.” 

Sinkinson himself, in a March 17 e-mail to FLAME’s supporters, claimed credit for blocking Charles Freeman’s appointment by President Barack Obama to be head of the National Intelligence Council.  

“Yes!” read the headline on the e-mail. “We were successful in ousting him!” Sinkinson told FLAME supporters. The same e-mail alerted FLAME members to “another enemy of Israel,” Amnesty International.  

While Sinkinson is listed as FLAME’s director on the organization’s website and in its e-mails, the director identified on the group’s federal tax returns is Daniel Pipes. Though nothing on his own website (www.danielpipes.org) identifies his connection with FLAME, Pipes is internationally known as a harsh foe of academics critical of Israel. 

In September 2003, Pipes and Martin Kramer created Campus Watch, an organization which posts online dossiers on faculty deemed hostile to U.S. and Israeli policies. 

While it is Sinkinson who has taken the lead role as the public face of FLAME, it is Pipes who has been a lightning rod of criticism in Berkeley. His appearance at the UC Berkeley campus in 2004 provoked a heated national-headline-grabbing confrontation between his supporters and members of the school’s Muslim Student Alliance. Sinkinson, Gertz and Spitzer quickly fired off letters attacking the protesters. 

When Pipes returned to the campus last October, the event drew a smaller turnout and no protests. 

In his campaign against the Daily Planet, Sinkinson employs a classic corporate PR strategy, claiming he writes as a representative of a previously unknown group, “East Bay Citizens for Journalistic Responsibility.” He makes no mention of other members, nor his profession, describing himself only as a “businessman.” 

Sinkinson makes no mention of FLAME in his letter, but directs its recipients to a website, dpwatchdog.com. 


John Gertz 

The publisher of dpwatchdog.com is John Gertz, owner of Zorro Productions, named for the brand he owns. Zorro, an iconic figure of American fiction, is a Spanish Californio don whom Gertz insists is really a closeted Jew, a Marrano whose ancestors had faked conversion to Catholicism to avoid the Inquisition.  

His anti-Planet website is run by a separate corporate entity owned by yet another company, John Gertz Productions, Gertz said in an interview. The operations share the same staff with his Zorro firm, which operates from offices on University Avenue in the Berkeley Marina. 

Gertz has taken the most public position of the Daily Planet’s critics, launching his website Feb. 23. 

His goal, as expressed in an e-mail to Becky O’Malley, is that she and the paper “reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business or die broke.” 

While Sinkinson targets Daily Planet advertisers through the mail, Gertz uses his website, posting a list of all the paper’s advertisers along with their addresses and telephone number. 

He calls on supporters to contact the advertisers and offers three reasons for canceling their ads: 

• The paper’s “core demographic, aging radicals, is of minimal interest to potential advertisers.”  

• Advertisers “may not wish to be associated with a newspaper that publishes anti-Semitic canards and rabid anti-Israelism.” 

• Advertisers “do not wish to be associated with a newspaper whose views are so clearly harmful to business in Berkeley.” 

His site equates any columns and reader-submitted commentaries critical of Israel’s policies with anti-Semitism. 

(For more information, see sidebar, “Red Scare: Conn Hallinan.”)  

Gertz said he may have met Sinkinson socially and had run across FLAME ads. But now, he said, setting up a meeting with the public relations guru “is on my list.” 

The most civically engaged of the paper’s critics, Gertz has served on many nonprofit boards, is a past president of the Berkeley East Bay Jewish Community Center, vice chair of the board of the SETI Institute, an international organization devoted to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and has contributed to the political campaigns of Israel supporters in both the Democratic and Republican parties. 

His biography on the SETI website says he received a bachelor’s degree in comparative mythology and religion from UCLA and Prescott College and an M.A. in psychophysiology from Haifa University in Israel. 

Gertz inherited Zorro from his father, Mitchell Gertz, a Hollywood talent agent who had purchased the rights to the character first created in 1919 by pulp fiction scribe and former Police Gazette reporter Johnston McCulley. 

The caped masked-man caught the fancy of the public from the start, and McCulley penned a series of novels, big-screen serials (including one starring Clayton Moore, later television’s legendary Lone Ranger) and feature films starring Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power. 

McCulley sold his rights to the character to Mitchell Gertz in 1950. Five years after Gertz licensed the character to Walt Disney in 1952, the character became the subject of a popular children’s series that ran for two years on ABC. 

The elder Gertz died in 1961. 

His son now runs Zorro Productions, Inc., from a Berkeley office at 125 University Ave., on the Berkeley Marina, overseeing an entertainment empire that includes novels (including a Zorro prequel by Isabel Allende), films, comic books, a comic strip, plays, a video game, swords and more films—including features starring Alain Delon, Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins. 

A lavish Zorro stage musical produced with Allende recently closed in London and is scheduled for an October opening in Paris at the Folies Bergère. 

In addition to his role as proprietor of the Zorro empire, Gertz is one of the East Bay’s most militant Zionists and, like Spitzer, a frequent writer of letters and placer of phone calls to local newspapers whenever he perceives coverage he construes as inimical to Israel. 

Gertz’s passion even carries over into his perception of the character he inherited from his father. During the July 5, 1999, Oakland premier of the feature film The Mask of Zorro, he told an intern for J, the Jewish news weekly, that the fictional Spaniard created by a writer with a distinctively Scots-Irish name was in fact secretly not a Catholic. 

“It’s quite obvious Zorro is very Jewish,” Gertz told Joshua Schuster. 

“His family has escaped to the far reaches of the Spanish empire in California. He is interested in matters of justice. He has a hidden identity. He is clearly a Marrano. He is definitely Jewish and ready to come out of the closet at our premiere.” 

Marranos were Jews who had ostensibly converted to Christianity to save themselves from persecution. 

And just as Gertz is able to find hidden Jews in a pulp fiction work by a Canadian-born writer, he’s also able to find anti-Semitism in an equally peculiar place, the writings of Jews who send their commentaries and letters to the Berkeley Daily Planet. 

He contends that only religiously observant Jews should have any say about Israel. 

In an interview at his office, Gertz said he would like to see a crucial change in the law that grants automatic Israeli citizenship to seculars with Jewish mothers. 

Gertz described the Planet as “a font of anti-Semitism,” with criticism of Israel serving as a stand-in for the more traditional forms of anti-Jewish prejudice. Once he realized that, he said, “I began to realize the Daily Planet has serious other deficiencies and malfeasances.” 

Gertz, who said he has never read a book about the Nazi Holocaust, said he hadn’t even considered that anti-Semitism existed in California until he read the Daily Planet. Soon the paper had become one of “the three pillars of sin in Berkeley,” Gertz said, along with the city’s Peace and Justice Commission and KPFA radio.  

During the interview, Gertz repeatedly accused Becky O’Malley of publishing “hate speech,” all of it directed, until recently, at Israel. 

“Until recently, hate speech was only applied to Jews and Israel,” but not “gays, blacks and Muslims. Only recently has it been directed against another group, against police officers.”  

Two advertisers said anonymous callers also told them that the newspaper “advocates the murder of Oakland police officers.” 

A search of the paper’s archives finds no call for killing police in Oakland or anywhere else, though one recent reader submission did express the opinion that many black and brown residents didn’t mourn the killing of four Oakland officers because of their long, troubled relationship with the police. (For more information, see sidebar, “‘Kill the Cops, Kill the Jews,’ and Other Fabricated Quotes.”

Gertz said he has been working with Dan Spitzer, whom he called “a fantastic source of information on the radical left. He used to move in that crowd until he went from the radical left to the reasonable far left. He’s my go-to guy when it comes to figuring out who someone is. I really don’t believe he would lie to me. I’ve never found him to be dishonest.” 

But Spitzer is, he concedes, “an angry guy.” 

In an e-mail sent to Becky O’Malley before launching his website, Gertz asked O’Malley to review his material (she declined) “before we launch our PR and marketing campaign, which we believe will largely increase our readership.” 

Gertz said that while he hopes the Daily Planet reforms, it’s something he sees as only a remote chance as long as Becky O’Malley heads the paper.  

But there’s another possibility on the horizon, he said. A wealthy member of Berkeley’s Jewish community is talking about starting an online-only news source. Just who, Gertz wouldn’t say. 


Dan Spitzer 

Dan Spitzer (or as he also signs his letters to editors, “Daniel Spitzer,” “Daniel C. Spitzer,” and “Daniel C. Spitzer, Ph.D.”) is the most enigmatic of the Daily Planet’s critics. 

Though he describes himself as a journalist, the only works that show up under his name on Internet searches are a series of travel books, none of recent vintage—though many articles published in magazines and newspapers before the launch of the Internet are not listed in online databases. 

Spitzer’s recent output seems to consist almost entirely of letters to the editors of newspapers written in support of Israel and condemning those who criticize it.  

(To be fair, Spitzer also wrote other letters —at least one critical of a baseball player and another urging that the government give mandatory contraceptive shots to all teenage schoolgirls to “relieve taxpayers from the expense of supporting their children.” Both were published in the San Francisco Chronicle.)  

A search of the Amazon.com and Alibris websites reveals that he has written travel books, but none recently and the earliest in the 1970s. Most appear to be out of print. 

Spitzer has also written that he had taught journalism at two Bay Area community colleges.  

In answer to an East Bay Express reader’s challenge to his journalism credentials, Spitzer replied by saying “it’s been a while since I’ve written pieces.” He said that “in my later years” he has written or coauthored nine travel books, explaining his e-mail handle “danguide.” 

But like Sinkinson and Gertz, Spitzer is quick to pounce on anything appearing in print that criticizes Israeli policies, especially those submissions concerning violence towards Palestinians and other Middle Eastern nations. 

Spitzer’s letters are frequently sharp ad hominem attacks, often scurrilous, O’Malley said, leading her to ban him from the editorial pages. 

In one missive to the Daily Planet’s executive editor, he called the publication “a very bad joke ... a tiring succession of anti-development and anti-Semitic editorials, op-eds and letters from your Stalinist, Jewish hating pals.” O’Malley herself, he wrote, “is as dumb as the proverbial post.” 

His attacks go further, much further than his claim that she is “an anti-Semitic bigot.” 

Consider the following, contained in an e-mail of May 18, 2007, which begins with the salutation “Becky Bumpkin.” From there it rapidly descends into a final crescendo of vituperation: 

“Having seen you, I won’t say ‘fat’ does your corpulence justice. If you ever ran a centerfold spread of yourself in the BDP (now that’s truly a disgusting thought) it would surely spread over the paper’s pages. 

“BTW, I saw you swimming in the Delta the other day. It will surprise no one that you are, par usual, ‘lost.’ And I must say that your spout is truly prodigious.” 

That reference was one of several where insults to her person are intermixed with his references to the Daily Planet, which he described in another missive sent last month as “such a bigoted, moronically biased piece of ass-wipe paper.” 

Not content with writing, Spitzer has called O’Malley repeatedly, leaving mocking messages which she has played back for the paper’s staff. 

Spitzer refused to be interviewed for this story. (See sidebar, “Two Refusals.”

Spitzer has taken a leading role in calling the newspaper’s advertisers, one of whom said she had been “terrified by the call,” though she eventually decided to continue placing her organization’s advertisements in the paper. 

Spitzer has left little by way of a recent paper trail in the public record, save for a 2004 Chapter 7 bankruptcy action filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. 

Berkeley activist Art Goldberg said he knew Spitzer for several years, ending about nine years ago. 

“He seemed like a guy who didn’t have much to do,” Goldberg said. “We used to go to ball games together, and he’d get very worked up about whatever it was that he was talking about.” 

Goldberg, who grew up in New York in a Jewish family, said he had little sympathy for the critics. “To me, it’s a free speech issue, intimidation by people who put a foreign government’s line ahead of what’s best for the U.S.,” he said. 

The irony, he said, is that “you’ll find articles in Haaretz , an Israeli paper, that if you published them in the Daily Planet, these guys would go through the roof.” 


No end in sight 

The O’Malleys’ goal for the Daily Planet has always been to merely break even. They haven’t yet, and the economy isn’t helping; many other newspapers are suffering these days. And though the current advertising boycott isn’t much help either, the O’Malleys say it hasn’t had much effect, if any. In fact, revenue has increased slightly since the campaign against the paper began.  

One of the paper’s most faithful advertisers, real estate broker Gloria Polanski, said she will continue to support the publication. 

Polanski said she had met only one of the paper’s critics, John Gertz, when he screened a 1998 premiere of his first Zorro film at a Jack London Square benefit for Jewish charities, including Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay. “I served on the committee,” Polanski said, and in that capacity met Gertz and his wife. 

“They seemed very nice,” she said. 

She hasn’t met Spitzer or Sinkinson, though she did receive Sinkinson’s letters. 

Polanski said she will continue to support the newspaper, “because we need it for the local news. It’s so useful to the community. There is no one else who is covering the City Council, the Planning Commission and other civic bodies. 

“We need it for its investigations of local developers, local ordinances and other institutions. It’s an important watchdog for local politics, and an important public service. That’s why I support it,” she said. 

That said, however, Polanski added, “While there should be an open forum for free speech, maybe it’s time for a moratorium on the Middle East.” 



The Arianpour Affair and Other Controversies 

Strange Bedfellows 

Red Scare: Conn Hallinan