Few had heard of Benefit magazine until January 31st, when staff reporter Ruby Rippey-Tourk confessed to her husband that she had an affair with Mayor Gavin Newsom. After leaving the Mayor’s Office last year, Rippey-Tourk went to work for Benefit – a glossy periodical about charitable giving by San Francisco’s cultural elite. Edited by Newsom ally Tim Gaskin, the magazine was founded a year before his re-election – with the apparent purpose to give him positive press coverage and jobs for his ex-girlfriends. The first issue of Benefit had a front-page puff piece on Newsom (calling him the “Charity Kid”), while Rippey-Tourk and Newsom’s 20-year-old ex-girlfriend Brittanie Mountz have both secured employment at the magazine. The magazine has also promoted the public image of CitiApartments, the notorious San Francisco landlord currently being sued by the City Attorney over its legal violations against tenants…
The first issue of Benefit (published in October-November 2006) had a front-page article called “Why Gavin Gives,” describing the Mayor in glowing terms his long life of charitable giving. Just to get a flavor of the article, take a look at its first two paragraphs:
His political aspirations and all-American good looks, not to mention his family’s Getty affiliation, make it easy for anyone who doesn’t know Gavin Newsom personally to question his motives.
Many ultra-liberals have dismissed Newsom’s do-gooder efforts as contrived ploys to fast-track his political career. Conservatives have accused San Francisco’s 42nd mayor of attempting to fashion a larger-than-life legacy that will outshine and outlast those of his 41 quickly forgotten predecessors, whose austere portraits hang outside Newsom’s office at City Hall.
Besides being a back-handed insult to his predecessors — does anyone seriously believe Willie Brown will be quickly forgotten? — the article goes on to describe Newsom’s philanthropic exploits, from living with foster kids, removing graffiti in the Excelsior, and donating photography to Friends of the River. “Newsom jokes that he practically grew up at meetings of the Sierra Club,” it says, which does not gel with the fact that the Sierra Club gave Newsom a “D” when he was on the Board of Supervisors.
Ironically, the article went on to quote Rippey-Tourk’s husband, Alex Tourk, although she was probably working for the magazine at the time. While it is not improper for a publication to interview relatives and spouses of staff, journalistic protocol requires such a conflict-of-interest to be disclosed at the end of the article. For example, when Alix Rosenthal ran for District 8 Supervisor last year, the Bay Guardian noted in every article they wrote about that race that City Editor Steve Jones was Rosenthal’s partner.
But Rippey-Tourk is not the only Benefit employee who has been romantically involved with Newsom. A January 7th society column for the Chronicle noted that Brittanie Mountz – the Mayor’s 20-year-old ex-girlfriend – was now writing for Benefit as a student intern. Mountz generated much controversy in Matier & Ross last year when she was caught drinking with the Mayor in public – and for the record, she still claims to be 26 on her Myspace profile.
I called Benefit yesterday and spoke to Editor-in-Chief Tim Gaskin. Although he confirmed that Mountz wrote for the magazine last month, he told me that she is no longer writing for them because she is back at school. “But she still models for us in our fashion section,” he said, and referred me to their most recent issue.
On pages 116-117 of the January/February 2007 issue of Benefit, there are two glossy photos of Mountz modeling fancy attire. Why a magazine about philanthropy would have a “fashion section” is beyond me. Ironically, in one photo she’s holding a champagne bottle — and in the other she’s holding a champagne glass.
But Benefit is not just committed to spinning positive press for Newsom and getting jobs for his ex-girlfriends. Last December, Gaskin convinced notorious landlord Skyline Realty (a.k.a. CitiApartments) to rent out two of their apartments to a homeless family, just in time for the Christmas season. “Using the largest landlord in San Francisco,” said Gaskin, “we can create a model with him and get some of his friends who are very large landlords themselves, we could over three years grow 60 units of housing the homeless in San Francisco — better than City government.”
While it’s nice that Skyline housed a homeless family, the fact that the City has sued them for intimidating tenants and violating the city’s rent control laws may have played a factor in their blatant PR stunt. As Skyline’s David Raynal admitted, they always have a lot of vacancies.
Skyline has a well-documented history of intimidating long-term tenants after they buy a building, in the hopes that the tenants will leave and they can gentrify the property. Setting aside a few apartments for homeless people is no skin off their backs. For Benefitto help their public relations efforts against the city’s lawsuit raises serious questions about the magazine’s true agenda.
It’s good to have friends – with Benefit – there to help you when you need it. When Gavin Newsom needs some positive press coverage to gear up for his re-election, Benefit is there to write a puff piece about his philanthropy. When the Mayor’s ex-girlfriends need a job, Benefit is there to help them too.
And when the City’s most notorious landlord is under assault for blatantly violating the city’s rent control laws, their friends at Benefit can be counted on to portray them as good-hearted philanthropists – just in time for the Christmas season.
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