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Press Clips: Hardnose vs Brown Nose Reporting

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

If the emperor has no clothes – simply avert your eyes: In a week when Michael Hastings reminded everyone what tough, hard nose reporting looks like, here comes David Brooks to offer a perfect glimpse of its polar opposite: brown-nose reporting.

As the world now knows, Hastings’ long-form piece in Rolling Stone not only uncovered a culture of arrogance, disrespect, and trash-talking of civilian leadership in the inner circle of General Stanley McChrystal, but also disclosed a festering conflict at the highest levels over U.S. policy in Afghanistan between and among senior military and government leaders.

But to Brooks, the mealy-mouthed moderate conservative columnist for the NYT, Hastings is simply a gossip-mongering ruffian without the refined sensibilities and fine feelings needed to appreciate and understand that matters such as a general’s actual candid words are never to be reported.

“The most interesting part of my job is that I get to observe powerful people at close quarters,” Brooks began (gag).

General McChrystal was excellent at his job. He had outstanding relations with the White House and entirely proper relationships with his various civilian partners in the State Department and beyond. He set up a superb decision-making apparatus that deftly used military and civilian expertise.

But McChrystal, like everyone else, kvetched. And having apparently missed the last 50 years of cultural history, he did so on the record, in front of a reporter. And this reporter, being a product of the culture of exposure, made the kvetching the center of his magazine profile.

By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him.

Imagine – Hastings put it in the magazine. We can only imagine how much inside stuff Brooks gets to see and hear in the course of his days, but never bothers to share with his readers because then…he wouldn’t get to “observe powerful people at close quarters.”

This just in: Hastings fires back at Brooks:

More on McChrystal media: The pink-shirted, purple-tied Brooks wasn’t the only journo whose nose was put out of joint by the Hastings report. Jon Stewart’s crew put together a nice mash-up of Beltway MSM types tut-tutting about the bombshell piece.

When the camera cut back to him after the video clips, Stewart had donned a pair of black horn rims which he removed to solemnly announce, in best Cronkite-doing-JFK-assassination style: “At approximately 11:04 Eastern Standard Time, the American news media finally realized they kind of sucked.”

Politico also enmeshed itself in the thorny issue of journalistic ethical relativism, with a long report on the Rolling Stone piece that included this intriguing paragraph:

McChrystal, an expert on counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks. (emph. ours)

In other words, a beat reporter would never be so craven as Hastings and actually report the truth – it might affect his access!

It’s instructive that a few hours after the piece was posted, Politico substituted a new version, with that very telling paragraph excised.  Jay Rosen had a swell time dissecting that move over at Press Think.

The Brooks/Politico journalism thought police were joined in their pecksniffian pronouncements by the Washington Post, which weighed in with a yarn quoting anonymous military sources accusing Rolling Stone of having violated rules of attribution in getting their scoop.

McChrystal was betrayed when the journalist quoted banter among the general and his staff, much of which they thought was off the record.

Hastings and his editor both vehemently deny this, but you can be sure that it’s only a matter of time before that view becomes received Beltway wisdom about the Rolling Stone piece. After all, if the story was worth reporting, surely someone worth knowing would have reported it.

Huh? Wuddhe say? Kudos to California Watch for their terrific new feature “Politics Verbatim” which provides horse’s mouth statements and speech excerpts from candidates in the 2010 campaigns. It’s a great resource because, with apologies to Joe Mathews, it really does matter what politicians say.

Because Calwatch is focused on the importance of language in politics, however, we were surprised to find this construction in their recent piece on Meg’s hypocritical new ad on immigration:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman set to work courting support among Latinos last week after a brutal GOP primary battle that forced her to take a loud and hard stance against immigration issues.

Forced her? Really?

Actually eMeg chose to follow Steve Poizner down the shameful road of immigrant bashing in the primary because she was far more worried about her own skin than in standing up and taking a principled position on the issue. And why not – she knew she could then just turn around and spend a couple million more trying to fool people into thinking that’s what she’d done all along. Forced? C’mon.

On the other hand, Joe: Hat tip to Joe Matthews for exposing some of the falsehoods in eMeg’s snappy 60-second, golden-oldies hit on Krusty the General. Under the Calbuzzworthy headline “Shocker! In New Ad Meg Whitman comes Out Against Prop 13″ Joe writes:

Should we feel sorry for Brown? Not in the least. By failing to level with voters about Prop 13 and the need to change the budget system it helped launch, Brown created this opening for Meg’s mischief. But Whitman is doing a disservice to the state and its voters (particularly those who don’t know or don’t remember the history) by misrepresenting a very important and relevant part of our state’s.

She should pull the ad. In the meantime, California TV stations, which have an obligation to serve the public, could honor that obligation by refusing to run it.

Say Cheez: The truth isn’t the only thing eMeg is doing violence to with her new ad:  Cheezburger Network, host of a batch of popular sites including FAIL blog, is crying rip-off. Cheezburger founder Ben Huh has issued an angry statement assailing the Whitman campaign for appropriating the look and feel of their “fail” schtick for the anti-Brown ad:

We want to make it VERY clear that FAIL Blog nor the Cheezburger Network had any involvement or knowledge of the Whitman campaign use of a screenshot of FAIL Blog. In fact, the screenshot portrayed in the video never existed because the Whitman campaign faked the content within the screenshot. FAIL Blog or the Cheezburger Network has never been involved in any endorsement of any candidate or political party and do not plan to do so….

We demand a written apology from the Whitman campaign and the removal of the video.

No response from Team eMeg on the demand.

No news is, eh, no news: Calbuzz, FlashReport and Calitics have received no word from Jerry Brown or Meg Whitman in response to our invitation for a Sept. 13 debate between them — with us as questioners.

The hall is booked at San Jose State; the university, the college of Social Sciences and Commonwealth Club of Silicon Valley all have agreed to sponsor. But the candidates seem: 1) too scared of this group of questioners to step up; 2) sure it’s a bad idea to respond before knowing if the other camp is too chicken to respond; 3) not entirely happy with Calbuzz for all our, um, irreverence about them; 4) all of the above. No worries, we have Plan B up our sleeves. Stay tuned.

Redeem this, buster: Just what do you have to do to disqualify yourself for a job in the fancy-pants world of network and big-time cable news? Judging from CNN’s embrace of disgraced NY Gov. Eliot Spitzer, it seems like the Road to Redemption is getting shorter by the minute. It took Marv Albert two full years! (as if that was enough) before NBC put him back on the air calling NBA games after he plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery when, during his felony trial for forcible sodomy, DNA tests proved that bite marks on the victim’s back were his. Now CNN will give Spitzer a show with convenient conservative columnist Kathleen Parker (formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, btw) after the whoring former gov blogged for Slate and analyzed for MSNBC. Sheesh.

Budget Debate: Cuts and Taxes Versus Cuts Alone

Friday, June 25th, 2010

By Jean Ross
Special to Calbuzz

As the state slouches toward the start of the new fiscal year, there’s been little progress toward reconciling the three vastly different spending plans offered up by the Senate and Assembly majorities and the Governor.

The Senate and Assembly plans offer a balanced mix of spending reductions and additional tax revenues, while the Governor relies on spending cuts alone. All three plans assume continued federal aid to the states, which may be dead as a newly deficit-obsessed Congress appears ready to risk throwing the nation back into recession in the near-term to avoid increasing long-term federal deficits by a fraction of one percent.

The Assembly Democrats’ “Jobs Budget” largely relied on borrowing $8.7 billion against future Beverage Recycling Fund collections, a debt that would in essence be repaid through a complicated shift of revenues between the state and local governments along with a new oil severance tax. Press reports suggest that this plan will be scaled back to $4 billion of borrowing in response to legal concerns raised by the Attorney General’s office and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats released a plan that would shift financial responsibility for public safety, drug and alcohol treatment, and welfare programs from the state to county governments along with dedicated revenues. This proposal would not reduce costs in the short term, but is aimed at encouraging counties to find ways to coordinate services and invest in preventive services so as to reduce long-term costs.

How do the plans stack up?

Assembly: Uncertain Borrowing Plan The strongest selling point for the Assembly’s proposal may be the recognition that the state faces a budget problem that may well be too large to be addressed in a single year through any fiscally responsible or politically viable combination of spending reductions and revenue increases.

The plan’s initial spending target would spare many critical, but already battered programs, from the budget-cutting axe. That said, the Attorney General has raised serious concerns about the borrowing scheme at the heart of the proposal that exemplify the unintended consequences of well-meaning ballot measures that promise to put the state on the road to fiscal solvency.

Proposition 58, approved by the voters in March 2004, allowed the state to debt-finance a prior budget shortfall but either closed the door on or greatly complicated – depending on one’s reading of the law – future efforts to use debt to address a budget gap.

Senate: Shift Burden to Locals There’s a lot to like in the Senate’s “realignment” proposal. It would give counties new program responsibilities along with hard cash to pay for them. I share the sentiment of many long-time budget-watchers who argue that the 1991 shift of program responsibility and money to county governments is, perhaps, the best example of a public policy driven by the need to close a budget gap to emerge from recent decades’ chronic budget woes.

As with any complex proposal, however, the devil is in the details. We question whether some of the revenues – such as assumed savings attributable to the new federal health reform law – and some of the shift of responsibility – primarily for state-supported child care programs – is feasible, but the overall concept and structure is meritorious.

Governor: “Terrible Cuts” There’s not much to say about the Governor’s plan other than the fact that it delivered – in spades – upon the promise of “absolutely terrible cuts” that would leave California ill prepared to face an increasingly competitive and more globalized economy and would leave the state’s families adrift in the toughest labor market in decades without a safety net.

What happens next and when does it happen? Just weeks ago “Capitol insiders” predicted a quick – at least by California standards – resolution to the budget debate. However, moods seem to be shifting. The fact that California is the only state in the nation with a “double supermajority” requirement – for passage of a budget and any tax increase – is always worth repeating and greatly complicates any effort to reach agreement on a spending plan. The size of the problem and the limited options available to deal with it increase the odds of a long, hot summer of budget talks.

Jean Ross is the executive director of the California Budget Project, a Sacramento-based nonprofit policy research group. A comparison of the three main budget plans is available on the organization’s website.

Meyer on Hair, Hitler; the Mysterious Boothby is MIA

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

It’s been a couple days since a California candidate stepped in muck or stuffed a foot in his mouth, but the indefatigable Tom Meyer won’t let that hamper the free exercise of his constitutional rights to vicious mockery of politicians.

The far-famed, well-coiffed and handsomely recompensed political cartoonist and Calbuzzer has spent his quiet time memorializing the best gaffes from the starting line of the 2010 general election races.

Today we present Meyer’s uniquely twisted take on Hurricane Carly’s Mean Girls complex, Krusty Brown’s Third Reich fetish and the all-star Houdini act of California’s voters.

P.S. If you’d like a full-color print of one of Meyer’s cartoons to frame and hang on your wall – just in time for the holidays! – send us a note at calbuzzer@gmail.com and we’ll fix you up in a jiffy.



Paging Ron Ziegler: General Stanley McChrystal had to perform career seppuku for the brain-dead comments he and his Animal House entourage made to Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings – but at least Canned Stan can blame his indiscretions on having been snot-flying drunk at the time.

But what about the press guy – what’s his excuse?

The big brain behind giving Hastings unlimited access to McChrystal and his guys is a somewhat shadowy figure with a limey accent named Duncan Boothby (a phony name if there ever was one), who’s described in news accounts as a “civilian senior adviser” to the general, and who previously worked in the region for Lt. General William Caldwell.

Caldwell became a proponent of using “new media” to communicate with targeted audiences, and he began collecting civilian public affairs specialists, including Boothby, to expand the work of the military’s rigid public affairs system and to maximize the “strategic impact of new media” through a program call CAC Stratcomms. “He wanted to use media as a weapon,” one officer explained.

How’s that workin’ out for you general?

Boothby (if that is in fact his name) got fired about 12 seconds after the Rolling Stone piece made its way onto the web, and appears to have escaped Afghanistan one step ahead of the posse.

But seriously, does being forced to leave Afghanistan strike you as sufficient sanction for such a felony stupid move? Shouldn’t Duncan have to answer for this bloody mess and explain, you know, WTF WERE YOU THINKING MAN?!?

Great news, sir! I’ve arranged for a Rolling Stone reporter to hang out with you and the gang for a month!

Rolling Stone? Isn’t that where Hunter Thompson worked?

No worries, sir. Completely different publication today. Plus, my sources tell me Lady GaGa and her machine-gun tatas will be the cover so no one will even read your story anyway.

But will the boys still be able to kick back when they’re off duty?

Absolutely, sir. No problem at all.

While an anxious nation awaits the big book contract and inevitable surfacing of the alleged Boothby, perhaps as a military affairs analyst for the Rachel Maddow show, we propose that the Public Relations Society of America endow an annual prize, called The Duncan, to be presented each year to the flack who screws up his boss’s career in the most hideous way.

If no one’s performance meets the Boothby standard of excellence, the association can present the award for outstanding historic work (What about the unnamed genius who put Michael Dukakis in the tank? Who thought it was a great idea to have Sarah Palin interviewed in front of turkeys being slaughtered? Or who told BP’s CEO, “no sweat, Tony, just relax and enjoy the yacht race”?) – or even posthumously:

“Nonsense, Mr. President, you and Mrs. Lincoln deserve a fun night out. You just have a great time at the theater.”

Next 10 California Budget Challenge: The California Budget Challenge is an online simulation that lets users make the same choices that legislators face, including issues ranging from education spending to corporate taxes. The latest edition of the Budget Challenge features the most up-to-date figures from Governor Schwarzenegger’s May Revise. Once you’re finished there’s the option to send the budget to your legislator and let them know how you think the state should be run. It’s a great way to educate readers and keep them engaged in the political process here in California.

Calbuzz Video Premiere: Silicon Valley and Politics

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Today our Department of  Internets Digital Storytelling & Multi-Platform Cool Stuff is delighted to present the first Calbuzz News Channel report, written and produced by our new multimedia journalist,  Jennifer Fey.

A graduate student in Multimedia Communications at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Jennifer has previously reported for NRI Achievers Magazine and India West News. She has also worked for Google, Sapient and Worldcom, as well as The Anti-Defamation League and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, where she earned a master’s degree at the Divinity School after graduating from Macalester College in Minnesota (Walter Mondale ’50, Kofi Anan ’61).

Yeah, we can’t figure out why she’d want to hang out with us either.

Her first piece — a kind of warm-up pitch — focuses on the shifting political landscape of Silicon Valley, and looks at how wannabe governors Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown may, or may not, appeal to its economic interests, culture and values.

An interesting Silicon Valley sidebar:  posted by Newsweek: Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has rounded up financial support from a batch of Silicon Valley executives, including Cisco Systems Inc.’s John Chambers, Oracle Corp.’s Larry Ellison, Netflix Inc.’s Reed Hastings, and John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Tough luck for former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina — a real man bites dog story, kinda like when Bill Clinton won the support of John Young (then CEO of HP), John Scully (then CEO of Apple) and other SV bigwigs in 1992.

Another Sponsor for the First Ever All Blogosphere Debate: San Jose State University itself has signed on as a sponsor for the proposed Sept. 13 debate (at San Jose State) between the aforementioned Whitman and Brown featuring questioners from Calbuzz, FlashReport and Calitics — the three leading original content political web sites covering California politics.

We’re still waiting for a formal responses from the Whitman and Brown campaigns. But having SJSU as a sponsor adds to the glamor (dontja think?). Other sponsors: the Commonwealth Club Silicon Valley and the College of Social Sciences at the university.

Did we say we promise to be really really nice? We promise.

BTW: That’s our new custom campaign logo draw for us by our new graphic artist, Ali Spagnola.

eMeg to Calbuzz: Get Your Own Damn Mailing List

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

As loyal readers know, our Department of Political Entertainments and Gemutlich Joie de Vivre has been pining by the phone for more than nine months now, eagerly awaiting Meg Whitman’s call in response to our courteous invitation for dinner.

We’ve been patient long enough.

Knowing that Team eMeg recently sent a letter to the California Nurses Association asking for their mailing list so that their candidate could have “a free and unfettered dialogue” with the group’s members, Calbuzz on Monday morning sent a similar request to the campaign’s communications shop, seeking their help so we can let her backers know what a raw deal we’re getting on the whole dinner thing:

“We’d like to get a copy of the Whitman campaign mailing list so we can communicate directly with your supporters,” about our invite, we wrote. “Please let us know when we may expect receipt.”

To our surprise, we hadn’t heard back by 2:30 p.m. and so sent a follow-up note:

“Did you send the mailing list yet?” we said. “Think it might have gone into spam.”

Still nothing.

So we finally bestirred ourselves to pick up the phone and call a high-powered, highly-placed campaign source to find out what the hold-up with the list was.

“I’m quite busy today,” the source said unhelpfully, if not volcanically, requesting anonymity on the grounds she didn’t want her name used. Besides, the source added, eMeg’s mailing list is taken entirely from the rolls of registered voters: “It’s all publicly available information.”

So we calculated the cost of mailing a letter complaining about the Whitman campaign’s lack of responsiveness to our dinner invitation to all of California’s registered voters, at 44 cents a pop: $7,469,893.64.

Sheesh. Couch cushion change for the Whitman campaign maybe, but almost a whole month’s worth of advertising revenue for Calbuzz.

Well, at least now we understand how frustrated eMeg must feel at the nurses’ totally unreasonable refusal to turn over their members’ personal information to her (not to mention that whole Queen Meg thing).

Believe it or not, the nurses group actually thinks a candidate for governor should show up at an event to address them in person. Maybe they should just invite her to dinner.

Update: The indefatigable Jack Chang reports over at Capitol Alert that the Whitman camp has now escalated its fight with the nurses union by launching a new web site attacking the organization’s leaders for spending money attacking eMeg.

The mouth that roars: Back when Jerry Brown was governor the first time, before indoor plumbing was installed at the Capitol, it wasn’t unusual to see him wander into one of Sacramento’s finer saloons, where he’d nurse a glass of white wine and hold forth to whatever collection of pols, hacks and press corps types happened to be assembled in good fellowship.

That image of Brown came to mind in recent days, when he got burned by one of his characteristically wide-ranging monologues, after talking to a radio reporter whom he happened to run into one morning shortly before the primary, while both were working out in the Oakland Hills.

Brown’s comparison of the Whitman media campaign to the Big Lie techniques of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels  went viral as soon as eMeg’s minions discovered it on the blog of KCBS reporter Doug Sovern, and her army of spinners did an excellent job of keeping the story alive for days after.

Putting aside the widely-known political rule that whoever makes a Nazi reference always, deservedly, gets in trouble , the most intriguing question about the flap is how an old-school candidate like Brown, who’s open, accessible, ironic, candid and seat-of-the-pants will match up in a long, internets age campaign against a closed, secretive, humorless and obsessively controlled and controlling corporate marketing machine like Team eMeg’s.

“There are many lessons to be learned here,” Sovern wrote in his blog, a few days after his 15-minutes had ended.

If you’re running for public office in the 21st century – watch every word you say, and where you say it. Just as the rest of us should assume that any email or text we send could end up being viewed by just about anyone, politicians should always assume that anything they say could be recorded or reported…Jerry Brown isn’t the first to learn this the hard way; he’s just lucky no one happened to whip out an iPhone or Flip camera and video our exchange, so the world could see him say those words, the way I reported them.

Seema Mehta cut to the heart of the conundrum in a good LAT piece examining the contrast between how Brown handled his snafu and the way Whitman disposed of a potentially damaging NYT story reporting on how Herself got angry, then got physical with an aide back in her days as CEO of eBay.

Whitman did no interviews after the reports appeared about the physical altercation. Her spokesman Tucker Bounds dismissed that as “coincidental.”

“Meg has public events planned in the near term, and I’m confident you’ll be speaking with her soon,” he said.

By contrast, Brown has barely stopped talking since his comparison of Whitman’s campaign tactics to those of Joseph Goebbels surfaced on a news blog June 10.

The comments have continued to make headlines in part because of the Whitman campaign’s efforts. Her large staff, which include veterans of presidential campaigns and teams of opposition researchers and communications specialists, has trumpeted Brown’s remarks, blasting out seven e-mails over eight days with the latest developments.

But Brown kept the matter in the spotlight himself simply by answering questions, a response that seemed reasonable but served to regularly give the story new oxygen.

Brown’s own small, Bad News Bears team of media advisers shrugged off the Goebbels matter as a no-big-deal example of Jerry Being Jerry.

They argue that, in the end, Brown’s greatest strength will be his authenticity, which they believe will match up favorably for voters against the zillion dollar artifice of Meg-a-branding.

Maybe. But there’s a difference between being a provocative, iconoclastic public intellectual and acting like crazy Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a fine line that Brown would be well served not to cross.

PS: We note that eMeg DID take a question from radio yakker and Whitman sycophant Eric Hogue in which she blithely dismissed the New York Times story about her physically shoving an eBay employee as a “misunderstanding” and a “verbal dispute,” thereby basically calling the New York Times report a lie. Wonder if the Gray Lady is gonna stand by and let eMeg smack her around (kinda like they reported she did to Young Mi Kim back in June of 2007).