Imagine being the father or mother of a beautiful child who you’ve worked hard over the years to raise into adulthood. And then you find that, as an adult, your baby has engaged in repulsive and disgusting behavior that leaves you embarrassed to be known as its parent.
That is me. And that child is WEHOville.com, the hyperlocal news site that I launched in 2012.
As I have told many friends, I never in my life worked harder and made less money than I did in publishing WEHOville. But while much of my savings was lost, what I gained was a deep sense of satisfaction as a journalist who told the truth, the whole truth, without fear or favor, on a platform where the residents of the City of West Hollywood could learn what was going on in their city and discuss it. A real platform for democracy and civic engagement. I have always told myself that on my deathbed I would rather know that I’ve done something for the good of others than that I had $1 million sitting in my savings account.
Now, when it comes to WEHOville.com, I will have neither.
That is because I sold WEHOville.com in November 2020 to two men who were convinced they could keep it alive and thriving. I made the sale because more than eight years of endless reporting and editing (and managing the business affairs) had left me exhausted. What they paid me was a fraction of what I had invested in WEHOville. But I was proud to know that my byline would remain on the thousands of stories I had written and published, leaving me with somewhat of a legacy.
Then, six months later, the buyers flipped WEHOville.com and sold it to Larry Block, a gay man in his senior years who bragged about operating what he called “The Gayest Store on Earth” (Block Party) and who was a regular complainer at City Council meetings.
Under Block’s management, WEHOville has become a platform for hate speech — both on the site itself and its Facebook page. The anger voiced by Block, the site’s anonymous commenters, and authors of opinion pieces has focused heavily on younger people — particularly women and those who aren’t white. Major subjects of attack are Lindsey Horvath, a former Council member who now is a member of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and Sepi Shyne, a recently elected Council member who proudly identifies as a lesbian of Persian descent (Block came in 4,606 votes behind Shyne in the 2020 City Council election).
Another Council member who is a subject of attacks is Chelsea Byers, a woman who has been attacked on WEHOville as an anti-Semite for her opposition to what Amnesty International calls “Israel’s continuing oppressive and discriminatory system of governing Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) …”. Byers’s position is one shared by many progressive Jews, including those living in Israel.
Also a target is Nika Soon-Shiong, the daughter of Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire of Asian descent who is owner of the Los Angeles Times. Nika Soon-Shiong’s push to re-examine the city’s $20 million plus spending on public safety led to false claims that she wanted to “defund” the Sheriff’s Department, which provides services to West Hollywood on a contract basis (with some WEHOville commenters questioning whether Soon-Shiong actually lived in West Hollywood, which brought to mind Donald Trump’s doubts that Barack Obama was born in the United States).
Actually, Soon-Shiong, a (now former) member of the city’s Public Safety Commission, wanted to “re-fund” public safety. That meant taking some of the money spent on Sheriff’s deputies who just ride around in cars in tiny West Hollywood and using it to hire more trained men and women who ride bicycles through the city to really watch what’s going on and quickly report possible crimes, and whose presence would likely intimidate those thinking of breaking into a car or bashing a store window. They call it “feet on the street” in more progressive cities. In West Hollywood, the focus has been “feet on the gas pedal.” Research published in WEHOville in 2018 under my watch actually documented the positive impact on crime of such bike patrols. The attacks on Soon-Shiong, for which WEHOville was a major platform, were condemned by Lindsey Horvath as racist, which Block and others denied.
WEHOville also became a platform for vicious attacks on Shea Gibson, a Black man who was a manager of the city’s Block by Block bicycle watch program, who it reported had been convicted in 1997 and served eight years in a Georgia prison for voluntary manslaughter in association with a robbery. A friend of his described Gibson’s transition from prison to a career helping to prevent crime as a wonderful example that prison could actually be about correction and redemption, not just punishment. Almost all of the 136 commenters on the story condemned the city for letting Gibson run the bicycle watch program. “No idea why people are so surprised,” wrote one commenter. “Leftists and Progressives etc. (which is what 21st century Democrats are today)–have ALWAYS sided with criminals or criminal sympathizers.” When Tod Hallman, a Black man who chairs the city’s Public Safety Commission, described the attacks on Gibson as racist, a story about that sparked more than 100 comments, with some commenters accusing others of racism and personally attacking Hallman.
The comments on Shea Gibson aren’t the only racist ones on WEHOville. A commenter on a recent story about ending the cash bail program, said “why should a young Black man who stole a sweater have his freedom constricted because he cannot afford to make bail?” That drew a racist response from another commenter who wrote: “Young black men don’t steal one sweater, they take the whole rack!”
Under my management, three prominent Black community members wrote op-eds that identified some degree of racism they had experienced in West Hollywood. That claim was (privately) denounced by Block and other older gay residents. There were nasty comments submitted to WEHOville, but they weren’t published because I actually moderated comments to block any racist, sexist, ageist, or ad hominem attacks. The most fascinating denial of racism came from Larry Block: “The woman I loved most in my life was Black,” he has said. “She was my nanny. We let her sleep in the basement!”
The rapid decline of WEHOville.com has been chronicled by other journalists. “Under Block’s aegis, the blog has been transformed into the Pravda of WeHo’s old guard, full of bile and gossip about the interlopers,” wrote Jake Flanagin in “There Goes the Gayborhood,” a story for Los Angeles Magazine. https://lamag.com/news/there-goes-the-gayborhood.
Recently, Mark Misoshink, in an article for the investigative news site Left Coast / Right Watch, https://leftcoastrightwatch.org/articles/this-west-hollywood-news-site-platformed-a-right-wing-provocateur/, called out WEHOville for publishing “Unmasking Antifa: The real person behind the attacks,” an opinion piece by West Seegmiller, a Covid vaccine denier, that falsely identified a right-wing protester of a “drag story hour” event at the West Hollywood Public Library as Jairo Marquez. The man who got into a fight with supporters of the drag story hour event actually was Jairo Rodriguez, who was attempting to film the children’s reading event from outside the library, without their permission. Misoshink revealed Rodriguez as the operator of the Rightnowviews.com, a website that has published stories critical of the LA Unified School District’s decision to educate elementary school students on LGBTQ rights issues, a story criticizing the FBI for arresting last December a Sherman Oaks resident for his association with the Jan. 6 riot. and multiple stories promoting the lie that the Covid 19 vaccination might kill you. Rodriguez “is well-known in activist circles for filming and sometimes participating alongside other violent bigots in street brawls,” Misoshink writes.
“Seegmiller, however, completely fails to mention Rodriguez’s promotion of right wing events, misgendering and misidentifying trans people, targeting leftist activists, anti-vaccine stances, spreading anti-homeless rhetoric.”
Misoshink said Larry Block told him: “There is nothing to retract, he’s entitled to his thoughts,” and then admitted he “didn’t really read his whole thing.”
“Block also confirmed WeHoVille does not fact check opinion pieces, despite their ethics policy saying their ‘reporting will be truthful and transparent, with the facts accurate, complete and fairly presented’, Misoshink wrote. “When LCRW told Block that community members expressed concern over Rodriguez being able to lie about his activity, our reporter was threatened with legal action and accused of ‘looking for drama and attention’.”
The ethics policy cited in the LCRW story was developed by me, and clearly not executed under the current ownership. Its failure to moderate comments under those standards on WEHOville and its Facebook page was never more obvious to me than when I saw a Facebook post on the WEHOville page about then-Councilmember Lindsey Horvath written by Ken Howard, an older gay man who is a psychotherapist living in West Hollywood. He referred to Horvath as “Lindsey ‘Whore Who Needs a Bath’.” Howard also is one of the gay Boomers who occasionally post angry comments about the “breeders” (aka heterosexual people) that they see overtaking the city.
As sad as I am about the death of the legitimate and honest news site that I created, I also am saddened by the willingness of so many West Hollywood residents to still embrace it. Steve Martin, a lawyer and former City Council member, still writes opinion pieces for the site, as does Carleton Cronin, a resident in his 80s who is still active in civic life. Alan Strasburg, a long-time resident, is a fierce critic of Sepi Shyne and other progressive young Council members. David Wood, a local insurance agent active on the Chamber of Commerce, and Nick Remidio, a hotel manager who has served as chair of the Chamber of Commerce, eventually announced they would step away from their public roles as members of the board of Boystown Media, the entity Block created to own the company (although it’s not clear whether they still have an ownership stakes). But they haven’t spoken out about the issues I have called out here. And neither they nor many other community leaders have publicly reacted to an email to me from Block, which I shared, in which he described me as “a sad old man” dying of AIDS.
My baby is dying. But then so is West Hollywood’s reputation as a progressive city. More to mourn.