The late Neil Morgan, San Diego’s famed newsman and author, was fired at the Union-Tribune in 2004 and never knew exactly why.
But an eye-opening new memoir by one of his reporters, Preston Turegano, posits three scenarios.
First: The “iconic columnist of superstar status” shared gossip with newspaper execs about David Copley, the publisher’s son, needing a heart transplant after two cardiacs. Second: The 80-year-old Morgan was accused of leaking inside info to Reader columnist Don Bauder via regular phone calls (which Morgan denied).
And third: “Notable city power players who had been targeted by Morgan complained to Chuck Patrick, then-Copley corporate Chief Operating Officer, who apparently had the power to eliminate Morgan’s position.”
Among them: the name of David Copley’s heart donor.
It was 20-year-old Geoff Bjork, a student at Sonoma State University who died June 19, 2005, after a nighttime skateboarding accident. His Scripps Ranch parents were told a prominent San Diego businessman had been given his heart.
“After calling Lifeshare many times, we did get a thank-you letter from a ‘Dave,’” the mother told Turegano. “So he never wanted to divulge his name, but it was clear to us (David Copley) was the recipient.”
The clincher was the signature. The “Dave” in the handwritten note to the Bjorks was a “spot-on match” to two David Copley signatures in the author’s possession.
Bitchy, funny and unsettling, the 260-page paperback chronicles how Turegano, a Vietnam veteran and the first openly gay staffer in the company, fought bruising battles with his Navy bosses and San Diego employer. He dishes on dozens of former colleagues, many of them dead. He tells salaries and sex secrets.
“The Union-Tribune I knew was a mother lode of amusing, alarming, salacious, bizarre, disturbing, outrageous, shocking, incisive or inane gossip,” he writes. “To the best of my ability, this book is a no-holds-barred, warts-and-all recollection of things I heard, read, saw or was informed of while at the U-T and afterwards.”
He outs four late colleagues as gay — a classical music critic, copy editor, wire editor and photographer.
He recounts how then-Union managing editor Karin Winner and reporter Lorie Hearn were hurt in a crash south of Tijuana.
“Back in Mission Valley, many members of the Union staff — under the direction of then-Editor-in-Chief Jerry Warren — went into crisis mode to come to the aid of their injured colleagues in Tijuana,” Turegano writes. “Some staffers said Warren phoned the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City to assist.”
Some Union staffers were urged to go to ATM machines and pull as much cash as possible for la mordita, the “little bite/bribery” of Mexican authorities, says the reporter known at the paper as “Gossip Central.”
Some Names Concealed
Turegano, 75, who eventually moved back to his native San Antonio, Texas, with his travel-agent spouse, conceals many names of still-living ex-colleagues in his “mem.”
On the 50th anniversary of his hiring, Turegano submitted a note for posting to the U-T alumni email newsletter:
“I went to work for the U-T 50 years ago today (Nov 2, 1970 and am one day late to tell all of you) as a 23-year-old copy boy and later a Tribune GA, and eventually an arts reporter, TV, and radio writer and back to arts and entertainment. Anyway, my UT years were mostly rewarding, and fun. I miss many of my former co-workers. Some, don’t ask (me about them). I hope they’re in nursing homes pooping in their pants and drooling at the mouth.”
The newsletter editor rejected the note, telling Turegano via email: “Preston: Don’t expect me to be a conduit for your venom. Isn’t there a statute of limitations covering all the terrible things that were done to you? (at the U-T).”
But Turegano doesn’t spare himself.
Balboa Park Arrest
He details his December 1974 arrest by undercover police in Balboa Park, ostensibly for soliciting a lewd act (after some friendly but suggestive banter).
A self-described “nobody Night City Desk Clerk/editorial assistant,” Turegano was fired. But with the help of his local Newspaper Guild and reporter Kay Jarvis, he was reinstated within 13 workdays. “Most likely fearing the possibility of a wrongful termination lawsuit, the U-T buckled,” he writes.
(The day after he was fired, and unknown to him, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office dropped charges against him and others.)
Turegano — whose name is of Spanish derivation originally pronounced Too-RAY-guh-no — also lists some reportorial adventures and achievements, including his years as an arts reporter and columnist after the morning Union and afternoon Tribune merged in 1992.
In 1995, he uncovered lavish and questionable spending at the San Diego Museum of Art, especially by leader Steve Brezzo, “at $175,000 a year, the highest paid arts administrator in San Diego County.” His museum exposé won Best of Show honors from the San Diego Press Club. (Brezzo got the boot.)
He also won the Sol Price Award from the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists, “awarded for a story that is pursued and published despite strong opposition, stonewalling or threats made to the reporter.”
Three years earlier, a fellow reporter’s scoop got short shrift, Turegano writes.
“IMO, a truly egregious snub from top newsroom management — headed by then-U-T Editor-in-Chief Jerry Warren — occurred in 1992 when the U-T’s then-Military Affairs Writer, Gregory Vistica, was not nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the 1991 Navy Tailhook sex and indecency scandal,” he writes.
“When it came to recognition of exceptional journalistic achievement, U-T newsroom politics could get in the way of right over wrong. After all, San Diego was a ‘Navy Town’ and a jingoistic Union-Tribune was not going to seek a Pulitzer Prize for exposing a beloved, yet corrupt, institution like the U. S. Navy.”
Turegano says about a dozen publishers rejected his book.
So why did SDSU Press agree to accept it?
‘This Singular Memoir’
William A. Nericcio, director of the SDSU Press, who calls himself “largely to blame (or laud) for the appearance of this sassy book,” says: “We wanted to publish this singular memoir as it sprang organically from San Diego…. It is with specific regard to the San Diego area — its cultures and histories — that we aim to increase our focus in future publications.”
Also an English and comparative literature professor, Nericcio was asked if SDSU Press put its stamp of approval on the book — with an initial press run of 250 copies and price of $27.95.
“It is not the role of a publisher to censor a book,” he told Times of San Diego, “and the editing chores on this particular manuscript were minimal. … Preston Turegano has stories to share that are of interest to researchers and writers in multiple fields.”
Nericcio said that if anything is “explosive” about this book, “it is with regard to its author’s skills as a writer. When all is said and done, that is what is most important about this project.”
“The Associated Preston” will be marketed via social media and distributed to libraries internationally through EBSCO and Midwest Books.
Nericcio pushed back against a question about Turegano’s book being the first memoir published by SDSU Press.
“Is it a memoir? The question itself is limiting as the book is also a cultural history of a newspaper, a history of San Diego, a journalistic insider view on the workings of mass media, and so much more,” Nericcio said. “We have published other books largely given over to the author’s life history. So I would say we publish a few memoirs, but they are not our bread and butter.”
Has SDSU Press published any other books seen as controversial?
“All our books are controversial to the extent that they do not come into the world to make a buck — we are known for first-rate scholarship on the European Avant garde, Latin American Literature and Culture, Border Studies, and more,” the press chief said. “Books don’t need to be defended — they need to be read.
‘Kind of Electric’
“We see to it that our eclectic, growing catalogue or over 200 books contributes to what might broadly be called ‘knowledge.’ We leave controversy to scalawag journalists like yourself, macabre agents of the daily fishwrap.”
In an email, Nericcio concluded: “The book is a page-turner and kind of electric. Turegano’s prose is always engaging and his revelations and discovering about San Diegans and California figures in the newspaper (and behind its production) are compelling, evocative and utterly diverting.”
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity:
TIMES OF SAN DIEGO: Very few mentions of your spouse, Bob Pavon. Why so little on Bob — and lots on former lovers?
PRESTON TUREGANO: Bob is reluctant to be out and open with some people, especially his travel clients — actual or potential. But for the record, I met him at the Ralphs grocery in Hillcrest. I followed him around with my shopping cart and finally blocked him in an aisle and asked, ‘OK; are you married, single or divorced?’ He said neither.
I then introduced myself and exchanged phone numbers. Writing them down at a checkstand. It was 1994 and most people did not yet own mobile phones. About a week later he called me. He moved in with me about three weeks later. He’s still as cute as when we met 29 years ago come January. We married in 2008.
Besides Cheryl Clark, Dave Hasemyer, Lisa Petrillo and Bob Hawkins, who among your old U-T colleagues spoke to you in preparing book?
Other UTers I spoke with, or traded email with them, on the record: Margie Craig Farnsworth, Bernard Hunt, Welton Jones, Steve Kelley (for permission to use a cartoon he drew in 1995), Michael Kinsman, Alan Miller, Mike Richmond, Denise Romero and her journalist son, Dennis, Floyd and Yolanda Thomas, and Elizabeth Wong.
Did any former editors’ secretaries share stories for book?
No, in fact I left out a funny story about one, Diana Mortenson, a confidential secretary. One morning when we were reporting to our desks, she told me in an elevator something gossipy, but benign and of no consequence. By the time I reached my desk, she called me and begged me not to spread the gossip because it could be traced to her. I told not to worry, “Your secret’s safe with me.” To this day, I still can’t recall what it was about.
When did you first start working on the book? How did it evolve in different writings or edits?
I saved memos, reports and other documents and photos. About eight moving boxes full. A preface I use [in the book] was among the first anonymously written things I encountered: “A newspaper or a magazine is not the place to go see people actually earning a living.” I saved it for almost 40 years and along with all the other stuff, I used to think: “Maybe I can use some of it for a book about the U-T.”
Well, as you can see, the U-T is a big part of the mem because of 36 years there. I started writing “The Associated Preston” in 2008 when David Copley sold the U-T to Platinum Equity. Worked on it on and off again. It really took off after Art Salm prodded me to finish it when [Doug] Manchester bought the U-T in 2011.
Will the book have an index — making it easier for people to look themselves up?
No. That would harm some sales. The curious would simply look up their name and put it back after they checked it for their name. Not all mems have indexes.
Is the book libel-proof? Do you have libel insurance?
Not libel proof. If I am sued, SDSU Press has lawyers I can contact.
You cite 46 people “in memory of,” including Helen Copley. But not David Copley. Why is he left out?
I contacted him via email and voice message about wanting to write a swan-song last column [in 2006]. He never replied to either message. Then-Arts Editor Jim Chute said Karin [Winner] also said no.
Are any U-T “casting couch” victims or perps still alive? Any chance any of them could face justice?
Not that I know of, no.
How many sordid tales did you leave out of the book — either from your military or U-T careers? What led you to leave them out?
Several. Perhaps a half dozen.
How did you find a publisher? Why SDSU Press?
Anne-Marie Welsh told me about SDSU Press. She has known its editor, William “Bill” Nericccio, for years. Yes, other possible publishers turned it down, maybe a dozen. Said it was not for them. I suspected age discrimination or that fact I am a nobody.
How did you decide when to name living ex-colleagues or leave their names out?
I left out some names because I thought, depending on narrative, they did not deserve to be sullied, but others very much (were) deservingly identified.
Will your book include any footnotes or citations to other sources? Will it include any photos of key figures? What photo have YOU chosen for author credit or book jacket?
No footnotes. Hate them. Yes, photos of all the suspects. Yes, I had input about cover photos. I like Queen Elizabeth II in her nautical drag the day she arrived in San Diego in 1983 aboard her yacht Britannia And divas Beverly Sills and Joan Sutherland. I even allowed pictures of me.
Any chance your book would interest Hollywood? Have you shopped it for options?
No. I haven’t a clue.
Ken Stone, a former U-T colleague of Turegano, is listed in his book’s acknowledgments and in a chapter noting the newspaper’s declining print circulation.