It was a weird year at Calbuzz, a season when politics offered little of interest to vamp on, filled with long stretches when at least half of our highly compensated and far-flung staff masqueraded as hospital patients, working undercover to uncover the socialist plot behind Obamacare, while the rest of us conspired to establish a revolutionary beachhead for our crypto-fascist-communist Muslim-Jewish-Seventh Day Adventist agenda.
We greet the dawn of 2014, however, with clear eyes and open hearts (Go Panthers!), energized by the prospect of an
historic snoozer intriguing California election season, and renewed by the knowledge that pitchers and catchers report in six weeks. In that optimistic spirit, and too mangled by hangovers to do anything else, we offer an exclusive look at the top-secret list of Calbuzz New Year’s Resolutions:
Avoid clichés like the plague. Political writing relies on the incessant use of clichés, with its endless use of horserace (“the front-runner outpaced the field in the sprint to the finish line”) and warfare (“the rival camps exchanged fierce fire in a crucial campaign battle”) metaphors.
So despite operating on a shoestring budget, we intend to take the bull by the horns, taking a back seat to none in deploring the same old song and dance, understanding that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and refusing to accept that the more things change the more they stay the same.
In 2014, we hereby resolve to stop thinking “outside the box” and “doubling down” on anything, let alone analyzing matters with the help of a “political Rorschach Test” or, God forbid, reference to “a national conversation.” Stay tuned.
Build the movement against false equivalence. Ever since the long-ago days of last decade, Calbuzz has led the way in denouncing the democracy-undermining journalistic practice of false equivalence, by which a political reporter badly misleads her readers by striving for even-handedness (or, more formally: “a false equivalence fallacy occurs when someone falsely equates an act by one party as being equally egregious to that of another, without taking into account the underlying differences which may make the comparison patently invalid”).
Today, more than ever, the future of the republic depends on heaping vilification on this technique: Exhibit A in 2013 was the way the national press corps freely and absurdly characterized the flawed roll-out of the Affordable Care Act as “Obama’s Katrina,” equating it to the scandalous performance of President Bush’s White House during Hurricane Katrina.
Because: there can be no doubt that an admittedly mistake-prone effort to provide medical services to 40 million uninsured people, giving Americans the same basic access to health care offered in every other civilized nation, is exactly like thoroughly botching the government response to the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, which killed nearly 2,000 people.
Don’t forget to bitch about the Willie Brown column. Former Mayor/Ayatollah/Speaker for Life/Paragon of Self Interest Willie L. Brown of Mineola, Texas, doesn’t even take a stroll through North Beach without pursuing multiple agendas.
That’s why it’s an ethical scandal, not to mention downright risky, for his Chronicle Sunday column (word on the street: as told to ADD-riddled staff writer Phil Matier) to run in the news pages, as others have eloquently argued in detail, here and here.
Given that “Willie’s World” is more interesting than 90 percent of the stuff in the paper, we understand why high-powered news executives there don’t want to torpedo the column; the easy solution to avoid being embarrassed by it – like, for example, when the Sacto Bee reveals that the Great Man is a paid lobbyist for California cardrooms, the fact of which Chronicle readers remain blissfully ignorant — is simply to move it to the opinion pages. Please.
Offer overdue praise to California colleagues. From time to time, Dr. P.J. Hackenflack and his staff direct a critical word or two at the professional work product of other state journalists who, you know, actually get paid to do this stuff.
While we invariably mean such comments in the nicest possible way, our unstinting efforts to raise the level of the statewide conversation California political coverage sometimes make us overlook notable achievements by those serving as foot soldiers in the political war of words.
So here’s a New Year’s hat tip to Chuck McFadden for his Jerry Brown biography, “Trailblazer,” a useful primer about Gandalf’s life and times; to the Sac Bee’s Capitol Alert – Insider Edition App now available! — the top all-day online news service for Sacto breaking news, no matter how deadly boring; and the irrepressible Lou Cannon, whose regular reports in State Net Capitol Journal provide valuable context from the other 49 states about what’s happening in California.
Offer overdue denunciations to California colleagues. Enough already with Mr. Nice Guy.
As Capitol pack journalism for another year consistently brought us 38 versions of the same incremental process stories, chronicling every subcommittee twist and turn about realignment, delta tunnels and the bullet train, is it a surprise that the big enterprise story of 2013 was broken by Al Jazeera America, which skunked Sacto’s Fourth Estate with its bombshell disclosures about the FBI sting of senator Ron Calderon (memo to press corps: spare us your whining about unfair leaks).
And don’t get us started on our friend Jon Fleischman, proprietor of Flashreport, who is more individually responsible than anyone for the decline of the state Republican Party to marginal, caveman status; seriously, Flash, three pieces flogging Rand Paul’s road map to the GOP winning California?
Hate Politico. Repeat. In “This Town,” the political must-read of 2013, our old friend Mark Leibovich achieved a seemingly impossible feat: he made us despise Washington even more than we already did.
Among the countless Beltway characters whose behavior is enough to make a hog puke –count yourself lucky if you’re fuzzy on the likes of Bob Barnett and, heaven help us, Tammy Haddad – the winner for pure repulsive behavior is Politico and its honchos, Jim Vande Hei, John Harris and the gnomic Mike Allen.
A pack of hustlers who make Chris Matthews look like Walter Lippmann, the Politico crowd revels in speeding the decline in the quality of American politics, from its raison d’etre mission of producing a steady diet of journalistic junk food and practice of selling access in its news columns to advertisers, to its suck-up questions at the White House Correspondents Dinner and packaging as excloos the ripped-off scoops of heartland reporters like Costco Carla Marinucci. Sheesh.
Write strongly worded letters demanding that truly awful people be fired. Is there a less-worthy-of-employment political writer bloviator in America than Michael Barone? Unfortunately, yes.
From Peggy Noonan and Mark Halperin to Thomas Friedman and Richard Cohen, our national conversation political discourse is sotted and polluted with dopey and clueless opinions by out-of-touch, elitist columnists peddling their wares for exorbitant salaries on behalf of the plutocrats who control Washington. Also: bad writers.
For some reason, however, it is Barone, who once upon a time did useful work, whose special brand of prose styling always affects us like fingernails on a chalkboard (see #1); every time this self-important twit starts harrumph-harrumphing about what must be done about the underclass, how market capitalism represents the best way to achieve universal health care or why the poor are poor because they deserve to be, all we can think of are his astonishingly asinine multiple predictions, days before the 2012 election, that Mitt Romney would beat Obama – “handily,” no less – dim-witted forecasts (“fundamentals usually prevail in American politics”) similarly set forth by half-a-dozen of his cohort who also deserve to be sacked.
Follow the money. Too often, the blinding insights and petty rants of Calbuzz go far afield, as our word flow struggles to keep up with our inability to express ourselves in ways more coherent than adolescent stream-of-consciousness.
That said, whatever nonsense we spout this year, please know that the core belief animating our political weltanschaung may be found in this extraordinary bit of reporting by the Sunlight Foundation, a finding that by all lights should appear alongside every political article written in any forum in 2014.
Always remember. Few events in journalism rankled as much in 2013 as the unceremonious canning of Vincent A. Musetto.
Mr. Musetto, as every schoolchild knows, is the author of the most famous and, according to no less an authority than us, greatest headline in the history of American journalism: “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” the slammer the New York Post slapped above a yarn about a decapitation murder committed at a Queens strip club called Herbie’s Bar, on April 13, 1983.
Musetto retired as a staff member two years ago, but continued to work as freelance film critic for the Post — no doubt for massive amounts of cash – a gig from which he was suddenly axed in August via a two-sentence email from his editor, an extremely tone deaf move by some nitwit suit against an actual journalist who had brought much favorable notice to the paper for years.
A small thing, perhaps, but to us emblematic of the countless indignities committed against newspaper persons over the past decade, a sad chapter in the history of American letters that we hereby resolve to mourn by commemorating each April 13 to be Vincent A. Musetto Day here at Calbuzz.
A final word about 2013: Lara Logan, drink swill and go away, please.