Press Clips: Mammoths, Mittens and Morain


Back in the days when wooly mammoths were denying the theory of climate change, doctors endorsed Lucky Strikes, and a news cycle lasted 12 hours, the late great columnist Arthur Hoppe devised a surefire method for dealing with complaints from readers.

“I’m very sorry ma’am,” Old Chronicler Hoppe would mellifluously intone, the moment he heard a caller start to caterwaul about something he’d written. “We’re going to have to cancel your subscription.” Click.

The time when journalists could scornfully disdain their audience has long since passed, of course, in a century when the Wild West, worldwide web makes everyone her or his own news hen or hound, and the consumer, not the producer, has the upper hand in the information exchange game.

Yet those underpaid working stiffs still laboring for wages in the barren vineyards of daily journalism (and whose news organizations lack the kind of erudite and eloquent readership commentariat to be found at Calbuzz) must be forgiven for thinking longingly of Hoppesque halcyon days each time they have to bite their tongues as ignorant derision, foul-mouthed abuse and other crudities of the online mob greet a well-wrought and reasoned piece of their professional prose.

And so today, in honor of the day-in-day-out self-discipline exercised by members of the ever-shrinking MSM in an ever-expanding non-MSM universe, our prestigious Little Pulitzer Committee presents the Art Hoppe “Tell Me If This Sounds Like a Phone Hanging Up” Award for Saintly Patience and Professional Forbearance to Dan Morain, ace op-edder and editorial writer for the SacBee.

Morain and the Bilderberg Group: Morain has been repeatedly, sometimes savagely, flamed in recent weeks, subjected to a series of coarse, cloddish, lowbred and loutish attacks in response to his opinion pages Actual Reporting.

Most recently, it was a profile of Steve Schmidt, dramatic foil of Sarah Palin in the HBO docudrama “Game Change.” that drew the ire of the flat earth crowd, many of them brain surgeons and rocket scientists who frequent Conservatives4Palin, which had posted several thuggish attacks (“Steve, you’re quite the punk”) against the Sacto-based consultant that Morain cited in his piece.

“I guess the gay community supports one another – strongly,” one scholar commented on his piece, capturing the overall clever tone of several hundred responders. “The only other addition to your article would have been a bold ‘BARF ALERT’ in the header.”

Days before, Morain editorials on childhood vaccinations and L.A. Mayor Tony V. drew similar yahoo throngs perfecting the craft of web-based projectile vomiting; it was a column last month, about a proposed initiative to require labeling of genetically modified foods that is sponsored by an Illinois snake oil salesman “osteopath and entrepreneur,” which generated the greatest outpouring of bellowing and braying, however. So great was the bedlam that his boss, Stuart Leavenworth, took to print to recount the affair and stand up for his guy:

The Organic Consumers Association – a Minnesota-based group whose political arm has given $95,000 to the initiative – put Morain’s photo on its website and labeled him as a “minion of Monsanto,” a leading manufacturer of GMOs. The Web page then urged followers to inundate The Bee with responses, which they did.

Some of the messages were reasoned and impassioned rebuttals to Morain’s column, which we welcome. Many others simply echoed the talking points of the OCA – that Morain had been bought off by the biotech industry and should be fired or silenced. Others were even worse.

“I hope you get cancer you corporate sellout scumbag,” wrote one Mercola supporter, named Dan.

“You will be punished in many ways, by eating, writing, and lack of knowledge of the Bilderberg Group who wants to kill all of us including you,” wrote another person, named Carol.

Sheesh. Confirming the wisdom of the judges who honored him with The Hoppe, Morain delivered a characteristically short and stolid acceptance speech:

“Part of the deal, I guess.”

Sketchy etchings: Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the 48-hour Etch-a-Sketch feeding frenzy triggered by Mitt Romney’s chief nitwit spokesman is that the question of who actually invented the damn thing remains an unsettled issue. (Our money’s on the Italian guy).

Beyond that, what seems most striking is how many among the rarefied pundit class are basically missing the point.

Sure, comparing your candidate to an Etch a Sketch calls attention to his political record as a serial flip-flopper and right-wing poseur. But that brand of analysis, while displaying a tremendous instinct for the obvious, simply skims the surface: The whole Hall of Fame for Toys flapdoodle resonates for existential reasons that are far more fundamental, and far more dangerous for Mittens. To wit:

1-The guy’s got no base. Besides Ann and the kids, his 1% buy-out pals and the Mormon church (more below), who is really invested in Romney’s presidential effort, or has any connection that goes beyond the operational?

Think of any other presidential-level politician who faced a media firestorm in recent years – Clinton with Gennifer, Bush with the DUI,  McCain with his lobbyist love interest, Palin with her entire life, Clinton with the draft, Kerry with the Swiftboaters, Obama with Rev. Wright, Clinton with Monica – and every one had a chorus of hardcore boosters and lifers who pushed back in the press. Not our Mittens, as First Read correctly notes:

This is what happens when you don’t have a solid base of support that can serve as a cocoon of protection during the toughest of times. Successful presidential candidates had grassroots supporters rushing to their defense, even in the toughest of political times. Romney — right now — doesn’t have this. In fact, it was notable during yesterday’s “Etch A Sketch” controversy that we didn’t see many prominent conservatives railing against media bias or unfairness. Instead, they were either standing on the sidelines or piling on. And that’s a problem for Romney.

2-The guy has no guts. To us, the most telling anecdote about what kind of person Romney is comes from “The Real Romney,” the biography by Boston Globers Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. At one point, they describe the events that led to the creation of Bain Capital, the company where Mitt got the experience he assures us is all he needs to fix the economy in a jiffy. At the time, his boss, Bill Bain, wanted him to leave his comfy consulting gig and boldly branch out on behalf of the team:

And so Bain made his pitch: Up to that point, Bain & Company could watch its clients prosper only from a distance, taking handsome fees but not directly sharing in profits. Bain’s epiphany was that he would create a new enterprise that would invest in companies and share in their growth, rather than just advise them.

Starting almost immediately, Bain proposed, Romney would become the head of a new company to be called Bain Capital. With seed money from Bill Bain and other partners at the consulting firm, Bain Capital would raise tens of millions of dollars, invest in start-ups and troubled businesses, apply Bain’s brand of management advice, and then resell the revitalized companies or sell their shares to the public at a profit. It sounded exciting, daring, new. It would be Romney’s first chance to run his own firm and, potentially, to make a killing. It was an offer few young men in a hurry could refuse.

Yet Romney stunned his boss by doing just that. He explained to Bain that he didn’t want to risk his position, earnings, and reputation on an experiment. He found the offer appealing but didn’t want to make the decision in a “light or flippant manner.” So Bain sweetened the pot. He guaranteed that if the experiment failed Romney would get his old job and salary back, plus any raises he would have earned during his absence. Still, Romney worried about the impact on his reputation if he proved unable to do the job. Again the pot was sweetened. Bain promised that, if necessary, he would craft a cover story saying that Romney’s return to Bain & Company was needed due to his value as a consultant. “So,” Bain explained, “there was no professional or financial risk.” This time Romney said yes.

There you have it. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Mitt wants – no, demands – that life forever after be delivered on a silver platter, and pronto – no risk, no worry, no chance of failure, no sleepless nights. Just like, you know, the rest of us.

3-The guy’s afraid of who he is. Besides money and his family, the most important thing in Romney’s life is the Mormon Church, but he’s in the closet about it. In his failed 2008 bid, Romney gave one speech about his religion, a pile of platitudes that used the word “Mormon” once and shed exactly no light on the implications of what he believes and why.

Mormonism has been at the center of his life, from his grandfather’s historic role in the church to his own multimillion dollar tithings. Putting aside the fact that his wife’s family was not allowed to attend the couple’s wedding ceremony in the church, along with all the secret and secretive practices of LDS, the crucial fact is that voters have no information about how being Mormon informs and shapes his views on contemporary public policy issues, from Prop. 8 to race relations. From Frank Rich’s terrific piece on this:

In Romneyland, Mormonism is the religion that dare not speak its name. Which leaves him unable to talk about the very subject he seems to care about most, a lifelong source of spiritual, familial, and intellectual sustenance. We’re used to politicians who camouflage their real views about issues, or who practice fraud in their backroom financial and political deal-making, but this is something else. Romney’s very public persona feels like a hoax because it has been so elaborately contrived to keep his core identity under wraps.

The questions are not theological. Nor are they about polygamy, the scandalous credo that earlier Romneys practiced even after the church banned it in 1890. Rather, the questions are about the Mormon church’s political actions during Mitt Romney’s lifetime—and about what role Romney, as both a leader and major donor, might have played or is still playing in those actions. To ask these questions is not to be a religious bigot but to vet a candidate for the nation’s highest job. Given how often Romney himself cites his faith as a defining force in his life, voters have a right to know what role he played when his faith intersected with the secular lives of his fellow citizens.

Next up: Mitt looks in the mirror and sees no reflection.

Reading list: For those who’ve been vacationing on Saturn since January, here’s everything you need to know about the GOP race in five easy-to-read graphics.

Timm Herdt is the big dog on California’s most interesting congressional race.

God bless George Skelton.

The Bee’s got the political equivalent of the Final Four tourney bracket.

Chief Wahoo Club special: How can you lose when Carlos Baerga endorses you?

Read of the week: How Russia’s Paris Hilton became a working class hero:

During the first years of Mr. Putin’s presidency, Ms. Sobchak made herself into an avatar of Moscow’s over-the-top, oil-fueled high life. She dated millionaires, posed topless for Playboy and lustily embraced the materialism of the age, making no attempt to hide her distaste for the poverty of ordinary Russians…

At some point last year, that changed. In October, she turned a video camera on Vasily G. Yakemenko, the minister of youth affairs, in an exorbitantly expensive Moscow restaurant, noting in her starlet’s purr that while socialites were expected to drink Champagne at $45 a glass, government officials were a different story.

The video became a sensation. Mr. Yakemenko’s spokeswoman called Ms. Sobchak a “cheap prostitute,” and she began to clash with television executives over her desire to interview opposition figures like the blogger Aleksei Navalny.

Complications ensue.

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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    Yeah, it’s ironic, penning these negative thoughts about posted comments, but I don’t leave comments elsewhere, and only do so here because the CalBuzz thinking attracts intelligent readers. This is unlike the mass of pieces with attracts masses from the masses who merely want to see their names in print. What else explains people thinking they should add their mindlessness to literally thousands of other comments. It’s like talk radio, where 99.99% of the people call up to hear themselves on the air. Anyway, thanks for the good work, gentlemen. You are among the tragically few who present honest and important journalism.

  2. avatar Wayne Dequer says:

    A comment on Mitt Romney and Etch-a-Sketch Comment by staff member:

    See, Mitt Romney can indeed create more jobs. 😉

  3. avatar coltakashi says:

    You seem to be fixated on Romney. Have you discussed this with your therapist?

    Everyone who has paid attention knows Romney is Mormon and the role that has played in his life. There were two cover stories about Romney the Mormon in Newsweek. There long bio articles in the NY Times, LA Times, at CNN.com, and an entire issue of Parade Magazine, written by David Gergen. Romney has not held even a local leadership position since 1994 in his church. He is just a tank and file former bishop and former stake president, just like several of the Mormons in Congress. He diesn’t run the Church, and the Church doesn’t tell him how to run his campaign, just like it does not tell Democrat Harry Reid how to lead his party. The onlybreason you want Romney to get into more detail about his Church is so you will have an excuse to attack him for being Mormon. There are six million Mormons in the US and only two ran for president this year. If you want to know how Romney makes decisions, and whether he is smart and trustworthy, you have years of real world success to look to. Romney is not running to benefit his Church, which became the fourth largest church in the US when Bill Clinton was president!

    The Etch-a-Sketch comment by his aide was describing the simple reality of marketing in a two-phase presidential campaign. It was honest and has nothing to do with the underlying integrity of the candidate. Exactly how could a presidential candidate change his substantive positions after every word during the primaries has been pounced on and analyzed to death?

    Romney’s negotiation with Bain over taking the presidency of the spinoff company shows how he outfoxed his boss. He addressed issues of real risk. Every business negotiation is about allocating risk and benefit. Additionally, Romney got a better idea of how much his boss valued his skills, and by investing more into Romney, Bain was committing himself to help Romney succeed. This not a sign of fear, it is a sign if a business savvy guy. A number of years later, Bain asked Romney to come back and rescue the consulting group, which was in financial trouble. At that point, Bain Capital was successful enough that Romney coyld take a one year leave of absence and take over at the consulting company for NO PAY so it was clear he was not making decisions for his
    own benefit. He made Bain consulting profitable again, and went back to Bain Capital. Bain had shown that Romney was smarter than himself, and that the smartest thing he had done was to trust Romney with his businesses. Romney took on the high risk job of rescuing the 2002 Olympics, takn

  4. avatar coltakashi says:

    (Continued) Romney was asked by Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to rescue the scandal-ridden Salt Lake Olympics, which was hemorroghaing financially, and just a few months before the games in Feb 2002, the 9/11/2001 attacks occurred. Romney was able to get Federal security support to guard against a Muslum terrorist attack (remember the attack at the 1976 Munich Olympics) and made sure it was not only a success, butnactually made a profit that endowed the venues so they could be used at little cost by the people of Utah. Only then did Romney accept financial compensation, after he had ensured a profit. Romney not a risk taker? Baloney. The presidential campaigns have been enormous risks, and he has bet his own money on them to buy ads. Romney controls risk by marshaling resources and deploying them with intelligence. And he is winning the primaries and delegate count, by two to one over Santorum. You are just envious that he is smarter and richer and more famous than you.

  5. avatar GeoHagop says:

    It feels like the script was written long ago: Romney will be the nominee so he can take the fall and Repugs can all say,”see, we’re a big tent: we go for women and weird religions, too,” and at the same time their caucus (see banksters, warmongers, oil magnates and privateers) get everything they want from Mr. O.

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