The day they met, the Voice ran two columns critical of President Bush. Woolley confirms that he called Rabinowitz about the anti-Bush columns but said, "Glenn and I talked about that some of the columnists write more about national affairs, and we are not a national-affairs site." A review of the Voice archives shows it has run pieces by other columnists discussing national politics and even one on Middle East peace issues.
Once Woolley finished bending Rabinowitz's ear, Rabinowitz, according to Birdsall, "offered for me to write a weekly column. After what I had just heard," Birdsall had some concerns. But he said Rabinowitz told him, "You write what you want to write about."
Birdsall's first Monday column appeared on September 12. On September 19, he penned "The School Board: An Eight Month Status Report," an article mildly critical of the Bersin era.
The next day Rabinowitz sent Birdsall this e-mail:
I've gotten some inquiries regarding your qualifications. While I am confident you know what you are writing about, your tagline is really vague. Could you send me a resume or a bio outlining your experience in education?
Birdsall believes that the column probably "sent a shot across the Buzz, et al., bow" and probably led to Woolley and Bersin's supporters saying "he's not one of us. I did not intend it," said Birdsall. "I was just writing as honestly as I could."
Birdsall sent Rabinowitz his lengthy résumé and continued to write his weekly column.
The story that was apparently the last straw for Woolley, "Voters Face Two State Education Ballot Propositions in November Election," was published on October 24. The article bashed California ballot propositions 74 and 76, the two "education reform" measures sponsored by Schwarzenegger. The column also criticized the governor:
"When Californians elected Arnold Schwarzenegger they assumed he shared their hopes and fears. For decades voters identified improved school performance as their top public policy priority. Candidate Schwarzenegger intimated his agreement but Gov. Schwarzenegger ignored the issue."
Three days later, the Voice published two stories written by supporters of Props 74 and 76. But running a response to Birdsall's views was apparently not enough for Woolley. He says he discussed the columnist with Rabinowitz, and Rabinowitz cashiered Birdsall. "I personally spoke to Glenn," said Woolley. Birdsall's articles were "so far below the quality of the other writers. We will have people with a heck of a lot more knowledge." Woolley said he had received "numerous complaints from many education experts" criticizing the "quality and accuracy" of Birdsall's columns. He said the callers told him "how poorly and inaccurately they are written." When asked for names of individuals who could be contacted about their concerns about Birdsall, Woolley said that they would "want to remain anonymous." (Rabinowitz did not respond to requests for comment for this article.)
"I wrote political analysis that did not adhere to the Bersin line," says Birdsall. "The editorial news sources in this town, with only a few exceptions, carried the Bersin line even when it was suspect." Birdsall believes that Woolley's wealth is also a factor in the criticism.
"People who have been wealthy a long time, they are used to people kissing their ass," says Birdsall. "I assume that he [Woolley] has very good motives but that he just assumes his motives and opinions are pure and he's offended by ideas that are different."
When Neil Morgan, a senior editor at the Voice, was asked the reason the Voice had stopped running Birdsall's column, he said, "I think that was a board decision which indicated his quality was not holding up." But Morgan declined to comment on the "quality of a fellow columnist." Besides Morgan and Woolley, the board includes veteran journalist Bob Page and longtime public relations guru Gail Stoorza-Gill.
Was Birdsall's work discussed at a board meeting? "I am not aware of it," Morgan admitted, indicating that his senior-editor title does not mean he has had hands-on involvement with the Voice's content or columnists. "I've had very little input on such things."
UCSD's Erie, who has praised the political reporters of the young online paper, now refers to it as "the not-so-independent Voice of San Diego." Erie said he and another Voice contributor, UC Irvine professor Mike Davis, plan to "resign in protest" over the Birdsall incident.
Will the Voice fulfill its promise of being a venue for a diversity of views, or will the political views of its financial backer dampen this goal? Says Morgan, "We do better when others don't tell us what not to write."