Veteran music critic Scott Mervis of the Post-Gazette and music entrepreneur Jeff Betten of Misra Records have exchanged words and are seemingly willing to throw punches, according to social media posts. While it’s no Musk vs. Zuckerberg, for the Pittsburgh Music Scene, the result might be the same: all talk and no show.
Before sunrise, our newsroom lit up with tips. Jeff Betten stated he will file a police report against prominent music critic Scott Mervis. Betten posted on Facebook, “So… Scott Mervis threatened me with bodily harm last night. I have screenshots and will file a police report.” While it’s typical for journalists to receive threats, this seemed to be a case of the Uno Reverse Card.
Betten is the Owner of Misra Records, Chief Operating Officer at Wild Kindness Records, and Founder of the newly minted Hellbender Vinyl. His business and passion are music in all its forms. His social media profile reads, “Mayor of the Pittsburgh Music Scene.” His friends argue it’s well-deserved, while others say the election wasn’t held, or even worse – stolen. Regardless, Betten has been a vocal proponent for musicians over the last decade.
Cool story, but over the last year, Betten has attacked longtime music critic Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for, among many things, scabbing. Recently, Betten registered the domain ScottMervis.com, which redirects to The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh’s list of journalists who have crossed their picket line. Mervis makes the list.
Tensions rose, and according to social media receipts, the ultimatum was thrown down. “Schenley Overlook at 7 pm.” The screenshot goes on… “No weapons. No backup.” The city lights would be the backdrop to the confrontation. Apologies or fists. One way or another, the offer was there to work it out. Betten didn’t show.
A Union Divided
However, scabbing in this strike is not so clear-cut. In 2020, Payday Report and The New York Times shone light on the fact that then-union leader Michael Fuoco was widely considered Pittsburgh’s Harvey Weinstein. He used coercion to hide his sexual misconduct involving union members and others. Fuoco resigned following the report. The delay in handling Fuoco’s misconduct split the union in two.
When The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents Post-Gazette workers, voted to go on strike on October 18th, 2022, it was by a slim margin. They walked out and started their own newsroom, The Pittsburgh Union Progress. Many members viewed the new leadership as enacting Fuoco’s previous plans and didn’t want any part of it. Politicians were quick to virtue signal, posing for union photo ops that may have filled your social media streams. It was a nicety, but they failed to grasp the intricacies of a divided union.
That’s how the term ‘scab’ became a highly personal insult in regards to the ongoing strike.
Mervis has not publicly stated his reasons for not participating in the strike.
The Critics vs the Entrepreneur
In an open letter tweeted on September 22, 2023, Betten attacked Mervis for his stance on the Post-Gazette Strike. In the letter, Betten called Mervis’s career irrelevant and stated, “I’ll meet you for drinks and call you a coward to your face.” Whether intentional or not, this coincided with Mervis attending his mother’s funeral.
It became personal.
There’s only one bigger nuisance than the guy that wants to keep something out of the paper, and that’s the one that wants to get something in.Dope O’Reno, The Neveda State Journal (1910).
Scott Mervis’ title as the Pop Music Critic at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hints at why he may not have extensively covered Betten’s projects. Misra/Wild Kindness/Hellbender’s music is not as popular as the stadium rock of Taylor Swift and Iron Maiden, both of whom Mervis has covered in the past. He plays to his editors and the paper’s wide audience. Ultimately, Mervis has the mic.
Jeff Betten wants Mervis’ microphone unplugged. He’s ramped up personal attacks against Mervis since the September letter. He’s made it clear to the catalogue of artists he manages that speaking to Mervis is the same as crossing a picket line. That list includes over 70 artists on the Misra Records website alone.
Then, New Years brought fireworks.
“I gave this POS (who took out a web domain in my name) a time and place to meet, face to face. He didn’t show up…” he tweeted. Scott Mervis is not afraid of weight class differences. Much like the Musk vs. Zuckerberg cage match, the 7:00 PM New Year’s Rumble was a bust.
At 9:00 PM, Betten acknowledged he had received texts to settle things. By 11:00 PM, he clarified the statement, saying he did not receive them because he had blocked Mervis’s number. At the time of publication, over 10,000 nebby neighbors have read the posts on Twitter alone.
Betten has stated he’s retained legal counsel who advised not to comment further.
Fans of both Betten and Mervis have shared their support on social media for caged combat or a spirited debate between the two. By morning, artists have claimed Betten’s title of Mayor, while another had appointed themselves Governor of the Pennsylvania Music Scene. It’s a race to the top, as the title of Music Scene Emperor may be announced later today.
But for now, we await the announcement of a time and place.