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Clips: Rachel, Jaimee & Kalika Meet Ed Mendel

Dec4

rachel uchitelPersonally, I’d use a lob wedge, Elin: Obsessed with Rachel Uchitel (right), Jaimee Grubbs and Kalika Moquin, the entire staff of the Calbuzz Department of Celebrity Gawking and Guilty Pleasures has been severely reprimanded for spending far too much time hanging out at TMZ, Radar Online and usmagazine.com this week, following every twist, turn and sext message in the Tiger Woods School of Professional Driving saga.

With that in mind, this week’s coveted Little Pulitzer Investigative Punditry award goes to Charles P. Pierce, whose sharp Esquire essay on the situation not only raises some actual intriguing social issues, but also is simply the best thing written about the case.

…when Tiger ran his Escalade over a hydrant and into a tree, and his reputation squarely into a ditch, he then produced a cover story that smacked of implausibility, when it didn’t smack of utter science fiction. Listening to Tiger explain how he’d managed to hit two stationary objects within thirty yards of his driveway — and how his plucky wife pulled him from his non-burning vehicle by smashing the back window with a golf club — was like listening to Peter Lorre telling Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, ‘I certainly wish you would have invented a more reasonable story. I felt distinctly like an idiot repeating it.’

Like virtually every politician in America (Barney Frank comes to mind as a notable exception) Woods has worked tirelessly to construct an idealized image of himself and to control as closely as possible the way he is portrayed in the media. And just like every politician who missteps into scandal, he now is paying a steep price for falling from grace, a cultural narrative that Pierce, who got bashed by Team Tiger when he wrote some unflattering things a decade ago, gets just right:

But the more impenetrable Tiger’s cocoon was, the more fragile it became. It was increasingly vulnerable to anything that happened that was out of the control of the people who built and sustained it, and the events of last week certainly qualify. Now he’s got one of those major Media Things on his hands, and there is nothing that he, nor IMG, nor the clinging sponsors, nor anyone else can do about it. He is going to be everyone’s breakfast for the foreseeable future…And he’s going to be some kind of punch line for the most of the rest of his public career.

Old guycalperss win again: Mega-kudos to our old friend Ed Mendel, who carries off this week’s prize for Investigative Blogging for his recent splendid scoop, disclosing how the California Public Employees Retirement System lost $1 billion in a blind faith purchase of goofy investments which turned out to be backed by subprime mortgages and other risky assets.

Mendel and Calbuzz are both so old that we met when he worked for the Sacramento Union, the first newspaper west of the Mississippi fercrineoutloud. A 30-year veteran foot soldier in the war of words, he’s  reinvented himself online as the state’s most dogged reporter regularly covering CalPERS and CalSTRS, which have two of the world’s biggest investment portfolios, along with 80 other public employee pension funds.

His latest excloo, explaining how fund execs fell for exotic financial instruments called “structured investment vehicles,” is a reminder that California’s  enormous public pension systems have long been inadequately covered, when covered at all; despite the billions at stake, the story’s historically proven just too complicated and filled with too many numbers to hold the interest of your average High-Powered News Executive.

Amid the continuing collapse of California’s finances, however, untangling the system’s byzantine structures and multi-layered scams is not only an increasingly important political yarn but also a terrific example of throwback public interest journalism, making Mendel’s site a must read.

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The future starts here: Media junkies in need of a new doorstop, or with a spare eight or nine hours on their hands, are well advised to check out “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” the 15,766 word opus by Washpost suit Len Downie and journalism egghead Michael Schudson, in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review.

Despite its arid tone, the piece does a swell job of describing and defining the seismically disrupted news and information landscape of today. The yarn  comprehensively catalogues and analyzes virtually every major business model and experimental form of journalistic enterprise swirling in the Wild West new media world, concluding with a list of recommendations to nurture and sustain what the writers dub “accountability journalism.”

What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs. Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know. ‘It’s so simple it sounds stupid at first, but when you think about it, it is our fundamental advantage,’ says Tim McGuire, a former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. ‘We’ve got to tell people stuff they don’t know.’

The CJR piece suffers from one big flaw: a foreshortened, MSM gatekeeper perspective that looks more to the past than the future for solutions, mistaking the map for the territory. Jan Schaffer, director of American University’s Institute for Interactive Journalism, sums the problem up in one of several critiques of the report smartly offered in the same issue:

If we really want to reconstruct American journalism, we need to look at more than the supply side; we need to explore the demand side, too. We need to start paying attention to the trail of clues in the new-media ecosystem and follow those ‘breadcrumbs.’ What ailing industry would look for a fix that only thinks of ‘us,’ the news suppliers, and not ‘them,’ the news consumers? I don’t hear from any of those consumers in this report.

Still, the Downie-Schudson collaboration offers a first-rate overview pulling together all the crucial strands of what’s happening in the post-newspaper, post-network news report world of journalism. You can find it here.

Why toraboraladenRumsfeld is a bigger weenie than you even thought: After Obama’s big speech on Afghanistan the other night, the insufferable Donald Rumsfeld started whining that the president had unfairly trashed him by describing how the former Defense Secretary in December 2001 shined on urgent requests for more troops to help capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, when the U.S. had him cornered in a rugged area of the eastern White Mountains known as Tora Bora.

Thanks to the Chron’s trusty Carolyn Lochhead, who pointed to a just-released Senate Foreign Relations Committee report about the incident,  however, the full scope of the blunder by Rumsfeld and top commander General Tommy Franks becomes clear.

When Gary Berntsen, the senior CIA paramilitary commander on the scene, went to Major General Dell Dailey, commander of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan to plead for the troops, he was flatly turned down “on orders from Franks at U.S. Central Command Headquarters,” according to the report, “Tora Bora revisited: How we failed to get bin Laden and why it matters today.”

Dailey refused to deploy U.S. troops, explaining that he feared alienating Afghan allies.

“I don’t give a damn about offending our allies,” Bernsten shouted. “I only care about eliminating al Qaeda and delivering bin Laden’s head in a box.”

Dailey said that the military’s position was firm and Bernsten replied, “Screw that.”

Whatever you think of Obama’s just-announced policy on the Af-Pak war, the report is a well-written, extraordinary narrative that goes a long way to explaining why we’re still mired in Afghanistan eight years later.

Diane.von.Ferstenberg.2005

Well they’ve got to be at least half right: Our pal Carla Marinucci made us green with envy once again with her blog post reporting all the A-list names – Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg, Kate Capshaw and Stephen Spielberg, Peter Morton, Chet and Janice Pipkin, Rob Reiner, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, David Geffen, Wallis Annenberg, Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco, Stephen Bing, Larry Ellison, Diane Von Furstenberg, yada yada yada – who pitched in big bucks to Jerry Brown’s (shhh) campaign for governor at his big Brentwood fundraiser last month.

But we were kinda’ baffled when she reported in the same piece that the funder had raised Crusty only $700K in November, which seemed rather low. Then came Carla’s Chronicle colleagues (we love the smell of alliteration in the morning), Phil Matier and Andy Ross, who reported a few days later that the AG had raised $1.65 million for the month.  Figuring there’s no one left on the copy desk to reconcile such matters at the paper these days, we did our own actual reporting and came up with $1,577,700, giving the nod to M&R on this one.

Mlingleaholo Fail: The Calbuzz Maui bureau is more than a little miffed at our former colleague Greg Lucas, who spoiled our world exclusive about the budget woes of Hawaii’s state government with his own scoop on this crucial, pressing national story over at California’s Capitol.

Just when we were poised to deduct the total cost of our Napili Bay junket  by cobbling together a quick and dirty post buttressed by a couple of stats  ripped off from the Honolulu Advertiser, here comes Lucas, who gets an actual copy of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle’s budget message, beating us to the punch by writing off his own trip to Kaui a couple weeks earlier.

Mele kalikimaka to you too, bruddah.


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There are 4 comments for this post

  1. avatar pdperry says:

    Ed “Quiet Village” Mendel, a reporter’s reporter!

  2. avatar SezMe says:

    “And he’s going to be some kind of punch line for the most of the rest of his public career.”

    As a dedicated Buzzhead, I feel an obligation to contribute.

    What is the difference between an SUV and a golf ball? Tiger can drive a golf ball 300 yards. Why did Tiger hit a tree AND and fire hydrant. He couldn’t decide whether to use an iron or a wood.

    You’re welcome.

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