Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dreary, dumpy & dank: Steve Friess insults Los Angeles architecture in reheated cover story for LA Weekly

Guess who wound up with an LA Weekly cover story? Las Vegas blogger, New York Times stringer, Gay Vegas author, concert promoter and comp queen Steve Friess, that's who, with an article on the death of Mike Penner, the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who went public in a column as a transsexual and returned to work as Christine Daniels in 2007, changed his mind about the process and resumed his original name in 2008, and allegedly committed suicide in 2009. The article and its cover placement are confusing in that Friess's work is little more than a reheating of and elaboration of a number of previously published pieces on the subject, including a well-publicised article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in March.

On his own blog, Friess describes his LA Weekly work as "one of the finer pieces of journalism, with the space and time truly needed, I've had a chance to do." Yet, his contribution to the Penner/Daniels saga appears to be a GLBT activist slant which points blame at Penner's co-worker wife, a competing journalist who wrote that Penner as Daniels resembled a man in drag, and even respected journalist Evan Wright (Friess challenges Wright's claim that he'd put the brakes on a Vanity Fair article because of Daniels' fragile mental state). And although he promises revelations from Penner's wife and Penner himself ("Dillman has never spoken on the record about her husband's transition, and Penner never answered the media's questions about their relationship..."), those teases do not pay off.

For all his alleged research (phoning people who had already appeared in other articles), Friess insinuates that he never even read, nor ventured to find the LA Times blog Penner wrote during his transition and which the Times has removed from its site and archives ("...Daniels also never wrote of it in her blog on transgenderism, according to those who read it when it was available online.").

The Las Vegas public figure who came to our attention after he attacked Tabloid Baby online and in print for asking questions about the Las Vegas media's lax coverage of the death of local superstar Danny Gans, is most egregiously ungrateful in his use of the forum to toss off lazy, disputable and easily fact-checked insulting of various Los Angeles locations, all of which seem to have been cooked up at the kitchenette table of his Las Vegas apartment:

"a dreary apartment building on Sepulveda just north of National..."

"...a small shop of roughly 1,000 square feet nestled in a dumpy Studio City strip mall..."

"...a circuitous and dank hallway in L.A.'s fortress-like, nondescript Westwood Villa Apartments..."


J.A. Heenan said...

As a Las Vegas transgender activist who consulted with Steve on this piece, I just wanted to disagree respectfully with these conclusions. I see where you might be coming from, but I hope you'll appreciate a little more insight.

The Chris Goffard LA Times piece (there was just one, not a "series") was misleading in a lot of ways and did serious damage to Christine's memory as well as to the public's understanding of transgenderism. I don't believe that Steve was blaming Lisa, but it is an undeniable fact that Christine's main grief was not over whether she was really a woman but why Lisa wouldn't even talk to her. There's even a quote in this piece from transgender friends of Christine's noting that his expectations of Lisa were unreasonable.

Only Steve's story went beyond the notion that Christine was just really confused about her gender. If you spent 10 minutes with either Christine or Mike, you'd know better. If that's a transgender line, I don't know what else to tell you. I'm trying to be honest here and give you a better understanding because I can tell you really care about this topic and that's a good thing.

I can assure you, too, that Steve was working on this before the LA Times piece appeared, that many of his interviews took place before Goffard's but then Steve said he had some personal issues with his family and got distracted for a few months. He has a history on this story, too. He did a USA Today story in 2009 on "transgender regret" that I helped him out with, and that piece created source relationships for him with many of Christine's friends. I don't know if Steve ever met or talked to Mike or Christine, though.

One thing I'm surprised by is that you are so skeptical of Steve's work but then so willing to accept a very flawed and self-serving account provided by the newspaper where both Christine and Lisa work/worked. Even if you have something against Steve, does that automatically mean that you lay down your skepticism of any articles that competes with his?

As for Steve's description of various buildings, I know he went there in person and saw what he saw. To suggest that Countessa's Closet, where I've shopped many times, is some sort of "architecture" is kind of funny. It's a rundown shopping center like so many all over the nation. And the depressing nature of Christine's apartment building was something SHE observed in emails to friends that only Steve had access to, so it clearly contributed to her state of mind.

Anyhow, I know many of the sources interviewed for Steve's piece. There were a lot of them, many more than he actually quoted. He says that's not unusual in stories like this; some are disappointed not to be used but many were happy just to listened to. Three of the people I know said Steve spent a lot more time, asked better questions and was far more careful than the LA Times writer.

I hope this note adds something to this discussion. I'm happy your readers get the chance to see this story and decide for themselves and I thank you if you choose to allow this to be posted.

tabloidbaby said...

Thanks for your comments and insight, JA.

And of course your comment is posted.

Unlike your pal Friess, we at Tabloid Baby don't prescreen comments and censor the ones that disagree or criticize.

Anonymous said...

Now, now, tabloidbaby, isn't it true that only your comments are prohibited from being posted at Steve's blog. (Other comments that violate Steve's terms are removed after the fact, similar to how some comments here are removed, yes?) And much of the reporting I've seen on Christine/Mike lines up with Steve's story, not the near-hagiographic reporting written by Christine's coworkers (see Deadspin and NYT, for example). I'd have to say that you're just predisposed to find fault with anything that Friess writes.

PS - Friess has serious issues with just about every editorial decision the LJ makes -- do you really want to be on the same side of any issue as Steve?

Anonymous said...

Keep an eye on LA Weekly. Apparently there are some heavy corrections coming from the shoddy version of "journalism" Stevie did on Penner.