"I think Bren really does think of himself as an artist painting this vast mural that is the Irvine Ranch," Agran told OC Metro. "He is a very good planner and sets very high standards. He has a good eye; just look around Irvine at the built environment."

The real Larry Agran would have gagged on the words. It struck me then that Agran had been body snatched.

MONKEY MEAT

Agran's transformation brought him into the cross hairs of one of Orange County's most intrepid reporters—the aforementioned R. Scott Moxley. Moxley works for me.

The first thing you feel when your best investigative reporter draws a bead on a target is a sense of inevitability. It's like that moment in a nature film when the people of the Yagua tribe aim their blowguns at the forest canopy: you know that what follows is a dinner of manioc and monkey meat. I've felt that sense of inevitability before, and I can tell you that it does nothing to make me feel good when Moxley—or Nick Schou or Gustavo Arellano or any of the other skilled journalists I've worked with—finds yet more evidence of man's fallenness. There is no thrill of the chase, no sense that we're reliving All the President's Men, just a kind of glum recognition that politicians, even little ones, are often as jacked-up as the rest of us. Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle once told me that among his most painful insights while serving in the California State Assembly was the recognition that the bell curve is as consistent in its rise and fall from stupid to average to brilliant in Sacramento as it is in the bleachers of your local high school football game. And so it is with ethics at city hall.

So I've been editing the Weekly long enough to know that when our reporters go after someone, it's because they smell blood. And I've been at it long enough to know what follows: the howl of protest from the subject of the investigation that we're wrong, followed quickly by a savage counterattack about our laziness, sensationalism, immorality, stupidity, our use of the f-word, our ads for penis enlargements and breast enhancements, our free distribution, the troubling fact that ink from our pages gets on one's fingers, our ostensible politics, our religion or lack of it, our race, gender and ethnicity—about everything but the charges.

I heard the protests when Moxley uncovered the real military and domestic-violence records of bitter, defeated ex-Congressman Bob Dornan and helped drive the SOB from office in 1996; Dornan said we were "Satan's instrument" and accused us of "spreading infected bodily fluids" around the county. I think he meant it metaphorically. And I heard it when Moxley dug into the dark background of Newport Beach swindler Eddie Allen to discover that, for years, Eddie had embezzled more than a million dollars from close friends and friends of friends, leveraging their belief in God, America and his wife's affiliation with the Orange County Republican Party to steal what was often their life's savings ("Neither truth nor accuracy are of concern to the Weekly," his wife wrote).

I could go on, but you get the picture—revelation, outrage, counterattack. It's like Simba's Great Circle of Life, but more circular and less great. It's so terrifying to the guilty and invariable to the rest of us that my colleague Steve Lowery recently advised politicians thusly in his column, Diary of a Mad County: "I sincerely suggest you not mess with our news dudes—Arellano, Moxley and Schou. Bob Dornan did, and now he's doing kids' birthday parties and first communions. Larry Agran is getting a little something-something right now . . . I would sincerely consider sending these boys a muffin basket, you know, and hope the Angel of Death passes you over . . ."

Revelation, outrage, counterattack; as natural as apples falling at Newton's feet. But I was still surprised when I heard the same line of defense from Agran and those who remain loyal to the man no matter what. Just a few years ago he called our reporting "the best, most incisive and uncompromising" in the county. He told Orange Coast (in that magazine's 1997 profile of me), "Will's not afraid of a fight. He's great to have around."

But now that the uncompromising and incisive reporting was aimed at him, the paper was a joke. Speaking at a Sept. 13, 2004, City Council meeting sparked by Moxley's investigation into the spreading Great Park scandal, Agran said you can't take the Weekly seriously because our stories appear "in between penis- and breast-enlargement ads."

My mentor Larry Agran went to war with the Weekly, and all I got was this flaccid dick joke?

IT'S A WEIRD DAY IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD

With Agran's few remaining allies—and his new, wealthier friends in the GOP—firing off penis and teat jokes, things have been a little weird around the neighborhood. I still live in Irvine, so it's common to run into people who feel strongly about Moxley's revelations. Most people sadly acknowledge that Larry isn't the man they thought he was, but a few think it's the Weekly that's changed. At the grocery store, one old friend told me I'd lost my mind—and then called me "a sick, sad fuck." My 5-year-old was with me and turned to ask, right there among the shoppers checking out broccoli and grapefruit, "'Fuck' is a bad word, right, Dad? We don't say 'fuck.' Because 'fuck' is a bad word. Maybe the most baddest. So that's why we don't say 'fuck.'" Another longtime friend called me at home one night to ask how much I'd been paid. "Paid?" I asked. "Paid to attack Larry," he said. Similarly, another Agran supporter told me it was clear we were investigating the man in order "to sell papers." A man who was once among my best friends warned me that all of my sources on the Agran investigation were drunks or crazy people, that all incriminating documents are open to interpretation, and that my refusal to see this was part of the Weekly's slow slide into "the worst kind of yellow journalism."

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