Our first reaction upon seeing Jerry Brown’s new 15-second ad-lets was to have our attorneys, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, draft a sharply worded cease and desist letter complaining about his rip-off of our Pinocchi-Meg icon:
Dear Attorney General Brown,
We are the proprietors of all copyright in an artistic work entitled “Calbuzz” and have reserved all rights in said work. It has come to our attention that your work entitled “15 second campaign ad” is substantially similar to our copyrighted work. Permission was neither asked nor granted to reproduce our work and your work therefore constitutes infringement of our rights.
Before paying our shysters the eight-hundred-twenty-five bucks they wanted for writing the thing, however, we conducted a wide-ranging, 10-minute investigation of the internets which revealed we weren’t exactly the first to come up with this whole nasal erection thing.
The use of Pinocchio in political ads dates back at least to the 1988 New Jersey governor’s race, when both candidates put up an ad morphing the other into the little wooden boy, and it’s been put to considerable use since then in races from Georgia to Wisconsin and all points in between (not to mention serving as the visual premise for the WaPo fact checker feature, online sales of Bill Clinton watches and Irish bread and the subject of at least one very nasty corporate lawsuit).
At the moment, however, Brown is much less interested in whether his new ads are terribly original (one fresh touch: the little hat flying onto eMeg’s head) than in whether they do the job for which they’re intended: stop the bleeding, some of it self-inflicted, he suffered in the first major media clash of the governor’s race.
Brown went up on Labor Day with a pretty mediocre positive spot idealizing his record in his first turn as governor. Whatever else it did, the ad left eMeg a big opening for a counter-punch, which she delivered in the form of the now famous Bubba-disses-Jerry 30-second spot that’s been the sole focus of the campaign since last Friday.
Having now secured Clinton’s endorsement (if only after his empty-both-barrels-into-the-feet weekend performance) Brown with his bookend spots now seeks to a) contain whatever residual damage was caused by Meg’s most recent attack, and b) move voters’ attention off his centuries-long record and back to examining eMeg’s integrity and bona fides for the job.
As a political matter, it’s the right play but a strictly tactical move. The larger problem for Brown remains two-fold.
First, the campaign needs to position him as a future-oriented candidate who’s living, more or less, in the here and now, instead of some historic geezer who exists in grainy old black and white footage from the days when Walter Mondale was a strapping youth.
So far, voters have mostly heard about what Brown did back in the Jimmy Carter era, this at a time when half of California’s population wasn’t even born until the end of Reagan’s second term.
Second, Brown needs to find a sustained way of making Whitman seem too threatening to voters who are shopping for change at a time when recession grips California and the state’s government is utterly dysfunctional.
So far Whitman has done a better job of portraying Brown as tired-old more-of-the-same labor hack than he has done of painting her as a corporate tool who wants to go to Sacramento to screw the middle class and benefit her cronies in the board room. These are the competing narratives that define the ground on which the election will be won or lost.
What was he thinking, Chapter II: Amid all the coverage in recent days of Brown’s Lewinsky meltdown, Steve Harmon reported some interesting stuff that no one else had.
Harmon interviewed Calbuzzer cowboy libertarian Patrick Dorinson, who used to work for Brown back in the day, when Gandalf was chairman of the state Democratic party, and who offered some personal insights about why Krusty decided to indulge his logorrhea with some nitwit one-liners about Clinton.
Brown, he said, “starts to get that flow of consciousness going, which can be good in that you get what he wants to tell you. The problem is he doesn’t know when to stop.”
Dorinson said he thought Brown’s line — “I did not have taxes with this state” — was “clever. It was a very interesting twist of a phrase if you look at it from a satirist’s or blogger’s point of view. But you’re not running for chief blogger. Once you make a mistake like that, it’s hard to pull back.
“Sometimes he thinks what he says is funny to him and the circle he’s with. But you’re in the middle of a battle when people’s opinions are being formed.”
That sounds pretty close to it.
Media Cowardice: Let’s assume, for the moment, that the California Teachers Association ad that says Meg Whitman would cut education funding by $7 billion is wrong. It’s a made-up number the CTA cooked, based on comments Whitman has made about how much she’d cut the budget.
It’s a matter of conjecture, really. But one that cuts so sharply into voters’ perceptions that Whitman has pulled out all the stops to get the ad off the air – threatening to sue stations for libel and slander. “The spot is a lie,” wrote Whitman campaign attorney Thomas W. Hiltachk. “As you know, your station can be held liable for slanderous or libelous statements made by a non-candidate sponsor of political advertising.”
This is ridiculous. Whitman is a public figure so libeling or slandering her is really difficult and last time we checked, even the CTA has the right to buy an ad broadcasting its opinion, even if it defames Whitman.
Of course, Whitman’s ad saying Jerry Brown raised taxes is just as “demonstrably false” (to use the Whitman campaign’s words) as they believe the CTA ad is. Are they pulling down their ad? No way.
What’s outrageous is that, according to the LA Times, “Time Warner and Comcast cable, and broadcast stations (LA), KNTV(SF), KABC (LA), KTTV (LA) have pulled the ads from the air. A number of other stations are also considering pulling the ads.”
What gutless, two-faced, chicken-livered yellow bellies. If all you have to do is assert that an ad is “demonstrably false,” half the political ads in America would never be allowed to air.
Apparently Meg will push around anybody she can, and her eagerness to use her millions to bully news organizations with the best lawyers money can buy seems like just the latest glimpse of a troublesome personality that thinks shoving underlings around her office is business as usual.
Next move: Watch for Brown’s lawyers to threaten to sue broadcast stations that carry any ad that says he raised taxes. The California Department of Finance has proved this is not true, so why not use eMeg’s tactics?