Sting like a Bee

Zero tolerance: “All journalists should realize that standards in this industry have never been static,” insisted Sacramento Bee ombudsman Tony Marcano on Sunday, “and that there have always been protestations that it’s unfair to hold someone accountable today for what was acceptable yesterday.”

The preceding is what’s known as an unattributed quote. It’s unattributed in that the reporter—in this case, Bites—has not fully disclosed its sources. Obviously, we know the words came from Marcano, but what’s left out is how Bites happened upon them.

In the case of the aforementioned quote, it comes from Marcano’s column in The Sacramento Bee. But without that attribution, readers likely would assume that Marcano had said it directly to the set of disembodied teeth currently known as Bites.

Marcano—a former New York Times editor who used to go drinking with subsequently dishonored reporter Jayson Blair—has found himself in the unenviable position of invoking that reporter’s scandal to help explain what’s going on now at The Sacramento Bee. Specifically, he is expounding on the departure of Bee sportswriter Jim Van Vliet, whom the Bee is accusing of using unattributed quotes and filing a story about a Giants game that he actually watched on TV instead of at the ballpark.

Is Van Vliet, who’d been at the Bee for 34 years, the victim of changing standards? Reached late last week, Van Vliet would not comment on the specifics of the case at this point. But he did convey a sense of dismay over the rush to judgment on the part of the media.

“The thing that absolutely amazes me is that you watch the news, and Kobe Bryant gets an ‘allegedly,’” said Van Vliet from his home, in a telephone call to Bites, who, at the time, was seated in a chair in the SN&R office at 1015 20th Street in Sacramento. “To me, reporting is making an attempt to see both sides or at least making an effort to say, ‘You know what? This is what they say. I wonder what they say over here.’ But at some point, it becomes, ‘Well, fuck, if it’s in the Bee, my God, it must be true.’ So, you turn on Channel 10, and there’s Dale Schornack saying, ‘This is what happened.’ And then it’s like, ‘Well, OK, it must be true.’ And then, in Channel 10’s closed caption, they spelled my name wrong. And that really pissed me off. If you’re gonna run the guy’s name, then fucking spell it right.”

Still, Van Vliet figures the people who love him will know better. In fact, even a person he says hates him came to his defense last week. “I have an ex-wife who I would have sworn on Monday would have cared less if she had seen my corpse float by upside down, bloated, black, unable to be identified without looking at the teeth,” mused Van Vliet. “But she sat down and wrote the most vitriolic e-mail to Armando [Acuña, sports editor] and Rick [Rodriguez, executive editor], and I’m surprised it didn’t set the computer on fire. So, even this woman who wants me dead did that. If you’ve got someone who hates you, and they’re convinced that you got fucked, then I guess that’s the ultimate backing.”

Any additional comments for Bites?

“Well,” said Van Vliet, “bite me. How’s that?”

Fair unbalanced: Bites is still weighing the chances of the Bitesmobile being attacked by a plague of locusts during Thursday’s Neville Brothers appearance at Cal Expo. Ever since the California State Fair’s 150-year celebration opened, it’s been beset by strange occurrences: The first week got under way with an out-of-control grassfire that came within warming distance of a fair parking lot. Then, last Friday, another fair parking lot that was being used by exhibitors was immersed in a massive sewage flood. KCRA led its news report Friday night with footage of huge trailers, trucks and vans sunk, window deep, in some really foul-looking sludge. Strangely, as of Monday, the Bee still hadn’t covered that last story. That whole thing about not writing stories off the television must be slowing things down over there.