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Posts Tagged ‘California Watch’



Ironic Potheads, Obama Mojo MIA, EJ in the Zone

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Pot post-mortem: Who knew the most interesting, intriguing and ironic question of the entire election would turn out to be: WTF did North Coast potheads vote against Proposition 19?

Calbuzz kudos to Bob Salladay of California Watch for breaking it down in a nice piece that reports how the dope legalization measure lost big in weed-rich Humboldt and Mendocino counties, which mirrored the statewide vote of 53-to-46 against, while Trinity County smoked Prop. 19 in a 60-40 landslide.

Prop. 19 undoubtedly failed because some of the state’s largest counties voted against it, not sparsely populated areas in Northern California. But that’s not stopping supporters of the initiative from lashing out at pot producers in the so-called Golden Triangle. Here’s one comment that has been getting attention:

“Lets grab machetes and head up to Humboldt… Humboldt, your little community just pissed off a ton of people who are sick of paying your inflated crop prices!”

The arguments against Prop. 19 centered in part around the layers of regulatory oversight imposed by the initiative. Some worried about a provision restricting growing to a 25-square-foot plot of land, even though the initiative allowed for larger cultivation amounts approved by local authorities….

Many felt that asking pot growers to vote for Prop. 19 was like asking bootleggers to overturn Prohibition: Why would they give up such enormous, tax-free profits?

Bottom line: the free spirits who’ve built the market in California don’t want the damn government hassling them with taxes and regulations. In other words, they’re Republicans, as Calbuzzer cartoonist Tom Meyer aptly demonstrates today.

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P.S. Also check out John Hoeffel’s look-ahead political analysis which seems to point to the inevitability of legalization, perhaps as soon as 2012.

What ever happened to the guy we elected? As Democrats across the nation, at least those without the good sense to live in California, descend ever-further into a pit of political despair following the Republican wipeout, perhaps the most depressing development has been the total weenie act being performed by a self-pitying Barack Obama.

After a sulky, day-after press conference in which he more resembled a spoiled teenager stuck in detention than what you call your Leader of the Free World, Obama sunk to new depths in a sad sack appearance on “60 minutes.”

As Huffpost blogger and business executive coach Kathleen Reardon excellently reported:

I waited last night for the confident Democratic President of the United States to appear on 60 Minutes but he never quite arrived. In fact, the president who did arrive said when asked by Steve Kroft about his promise to change Washington:

“That’s one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you’re campaigning, you, I think you’re liberated to say things without thinking about, ‘Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this.’”

What? Nah! He didn’t say that, did he?

Washpost columnist Gene Robinson took a broader and politically more  trenchant look at the president’s woe-is-me session with Kroft.

Obama was reasonable, analytical, professorial – but also uninspired and uninspiring. I’m just being honest, if not generous; when Kroft asked whatever happened to Obama’s “mojo,” the president gave the impression that he’s been wondering the same thing.

“Do you get discouraged? Are you discouraged now?” Kroft asked.

“I do get discouraged,” Obama replied, according to the transcript of the full interview. “I thought that the economy would have gotten better by now. You know, one of the things I think you understand – as president you’re held responsible for everything. But you don’t always have control of everything, right? And especially an economy this big. There are limited tools to encourage the kind of job growth that we need. But I have fundamental confidence in this country. I am constantly reminded that we have been through worse times than these, and we’ve always come out on top. And I’m positive that the same thing is going to happen this time. You know, there are going to be setbacks, and we may take two steps forward and one step back, but the trajectory of this country is always positive.”

Well, it may be unfair, but presidents aren’t allowed to be discouraged. They aren’t allowed to talk about the limitations of the job, or the fact that they are held accountable for everything from inclement weather to the lack of a championship playoff system in college football. Presidents are not permitted to acknowledge familiarity with the concept of “one step back.” And good things aren’t “going to happen,” in the presidential lexicon. They’re already happening.

We keep wondering when the Democrats will get serious about pointing out that the Republicans who went before them — like George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger — have left behind them a path of utter devastation, from the national economy to a $25 billion California deficit. Wonder if Jerry Brown is studying what a weak-ass job President Obama has done making it clear that he’s had to clean up a pile of doggie doo left on his doorstep?

Meanwhile, truly masochistic erstwhile Obama fans won’t want to miss Politico’s take out on the president’s political perils (warning: do not attempt to read this if you are a Democrat taking Cymbalta, Effexor, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Zoloft or suffer from suicidal ideation), although Jason Linkins helpfully lightens things a bit with a nice takedown of the piece’s extraordinary Beltway-centric perspective.

E.J to the rescue: Our old friend E.J. Dionne, who long ago set down the theoretical framework for Bill Clinton’s Third Way centrist politics, appears to have been taking an extra helping of progressive pills in recent weeks, as he’s been on a real roll with columns urging Democrats to stop whining and stiffen their spines.

After his world scooplet interview with Never Say Die Nancy Pelosi, his  smackdown of the post-election instant conventional wisdom industry and his lead-the-way analysis of some of the actual factual reasons behind the GOP House takeover, our boy outdid himself on Thursday with a terrific piece in which he picked the docile and doleful Dems up by the scruffs of their necks and tried to shake some sense into them.

Funny that when progressives win, they are told to moderate their hopes, but when conservatives win, progressives are told to retreat.

Worse, Democrats tend to internalize the views of their opponents. Already, some moderate Democrats are claiming that all would have been well if Obama had not tried to reform health care or “overreached” in other ways. Never mind that Obama’s biggest single mistake (beyond the administration’s projection that unemployment would peak around 8 percent) was giving in to Senate moderates and not demanding the much bigger stimulus plan a weak economy plainly needed.

In fact, moderate Democrats would do better calling attention to how extreme and out of touch the conservative program actually is. Moderates should be more offended than anyone that the GOP’s ideological obsessions (health-care repeal, tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation) have little connection to solving the country’s problems, particularly the economic difficulties in the electorally pivotal Midwest..

Give Republicans credit for this: They don’t chase the center, they try to move it. Democrats can play a loser’s game of scrambling after a center being pushed ever rightward. Or they can stand their ground and show how far their opponents are from moderate, problem-solving governance..

A working class hero is something to be: If, like us, you’ve been too busy with the Odyssey of eMeg to have caught The Onion’s recent series lampooning Joe Biden, NYT biz writer Jeremy Peters is on the spot, explaining the nuances of the counter-intuitive humor behind these very funny pieces, and pointing to the best examples.

eMeg’s Hefty Bag & Fun with Stocks and Money

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Team Whitman, trying desperately to dig eMeg out of the hole she carved into her campaign with her handling of Nicky Diaz, her undocumented housekeeper for nine years, sought to change the subject Wednesday by quoting ex-Republican congressman Michael Oxley of Ohio as saying he’s “outraged”  that Jerry Brown used his name in an anti-Whitman TV ad.

But (as you’ll read below) Oxley called “corrupt” the practice of “stock-spinning” that Whitman engaged in when she was CEO at eBay and he included her in his attack on the practice. So the effort to shift the conversation away from eMeg’s character deficit, as raised by her handling of her illegal housekeeper, fell flat.

Which leaves loud-mouth attorney Gloria Allred with the last word — for now, anyway — on the hiring and firing of her client, Diaz. Who says eMeg treated her “like garbage” — a comment Calbuzz editorial cartoonist Tom Meyer could not resist vamping on.

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The generations of Cesar: Not willing to let go of Whitman’s handling of Diaz or the immigration issue just yet, Brown’s labor cronies in the Service Employees International Union put together a spot, as part of their $5 million independent expenditure drive, featuring Dr. Christina Chavez, grand-niece of Cesar Chavez.

“When Jerry Brown was governor, he fought alongside my uncle Cesar Chavez to garner fair wages for workers,” Dr. Chavez says in Spanish. “And help open the doors for a generation of Latinos to gain access to education and be successful.

“I know because I am one of them. Now Republican Meg Whitman wants to ban undocumented students from attending college, taking away their opportunity to succeed. That’s why we need to vote for Jerry Brown for Governor, to make sure everyone has a right to a good education and better future.”

Whitman teed up the issue of keeping undocumented Latinos out of state colleges and universities herself at the Univision debate on Saturday. She responded to a question from an honors student and — being true to her platform –bravely told the young woman she was taking up a spot in a state school that rightfully belonged to a legal California citizen.

What did he say and when did he say it: Rising to the defense of eMeg, retired Congressman Oxley on Wednesday said:

I am outraged that Jerry Brown would stoop so low as to use my name and comments to attack Meg Whitman . . . My comments were taken out of context and never directed at Meg or any other individual . . . Jerry Brown has desperately resorted to using lies, distortions and distractions to prevent a real discussion of the issues facing California.

Wow, strong stuff. Except, here’s the problem: In a wide-ranging investigation, involving five minutes using the Google, Calbuzz found numerous MSM stories, including articles from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, where, as the investigative journalism group California Watch, summarized:

Then-Rep. Michael Oxley, an Ohio Republican who investigated the spinning scandal as chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said in 2002 that it was obvious that Goldman was “making IPO shares available to those with investment banking business to offer.” He said Whitman and 20 other corporate executives, including Kenneth Lay of Enron, received IPOs as “an inducement or reward for investment banking business.”

Oxley called the practice “corrupt.” Months later, it was banned by the SEC.

The Wall Street Journal even published this handy little chart, put together by Oxley’s committee.

We’re just sayin’.

Fun with numbers: New campaign finance reports show that Whitman has picked up the pace of her round-the-clock spending rate since her last filing and has now lavished a 24/7 average of nearly $10,000 an hour since announcing her candidacy in February 2009.

eMeg’s total of $140 million through September 30 works out to $234,113 per day, for each of the 598 days she’s been campaigning (Memo to Meg from Griff: Should we have set aside some to pay Nicky’s mileage?), or $9,754.70 per hour; for those keeping score at home, this is a considerably brisker clip than she was maintaining in the earlier report, when she was only spending $203,767 per day, or $8,490.29 an hour.

But Our Meg is going to have to hustle between now and election day to break the magic $10K per hour barrier, which will require her to spend $303,030 a day – $12,626 an hour – to hit her number.

And you know the best thing about it? She’s doing it all for us, because she just won’t let California fail.

Add Meg money: Interesting take by Michael Mishak and Patrick McGreevy of the By God Los Angeles Times , who report that despite the unprecedented $119 million eMeg has forked out of her own pocket, she’s actually outraised Krusty in outside contributions, $10.7 to $9.5 million.

The several millions of Whitman’s outside fundraising from “donors with business before the state and corporate leaders,” the Timesmen smartly note, are “potentially undercutting her claim that her personal fortune makes her uniquely free of special-interest entanglements.”

Krusty meanwhile has so far spent about $11 million to date, a mere $40,393 a day – $1,683 an hour – if you date the start of his campaign to the beginning of this year.

He has about $22 million in the bank, compared to Meg’s $9.2 million, which would be a considerable advantage in any other year, but which doesn’t mean squat when Herself can just hit the drive-through ATM to pick up a couple of  large any old time she runs low on pocket change.

With her public image sagging (even in her own, best case poll, Meg’s favorables are only even with her unfavorables) Team Whitman has rolled out a new positive ad that’s pretty good: “They say California can’t be governed anymore,” Whitman says, full face to the camera, “I say baloney.”

It’s one of the few ads in which she’s looked animated and authentic and, in the wake of the housekeeper, it’s a damn fine idea to be putting it out there; of course, we have no way of knowing how much it’s running in rotation with her negative spots, including a new attack on Gandalf, which is just another iteration of the big spending liberal line of attack the Armies of eMeg have been pushing for months, to little obvious effect.

Don’t take it from us: even the venerable Republican analyst Tony Quinn thinks Meg’s arguing the wrong case on economics. In a strong but little-noticed piece on Fox and Hounds a few weeks ago, Quinn wrote:

Meg Whitman is getting it wrong.  Her attacks on Jerry Brown are sporadic, unfocused and in many cases just downright untrue.  She is trying to define him as a traditional tax and spend liberal, but that dog won’t hunt…

In fact, Brown hoarded his big surplus and refused to spend it on property tax relief.  This set off the 1978 tax revolt culminating in Proposition 13.  But he also refused to spend it on roads, water projects, better schools – or anything associated with California’s population growth.

Whitman is in danger of missing the bigger picture of Jerry Brown’s years as governor, for it is Brown that began California’s long decline into the economic basket case we are today….

Small is beautiful, lower your expectations replaced the dream of a better life.  Well, now we know, small is not beautiful, small is small.  Expectations are certainly lowered for the millions who cannot find a job in a state that once led the world in economic growth…

Instead of mounting that more sophisticated and historically accurate case against Brown, however, eMeg’s Empire keeps playing the same old, generic Republican one-note symphony, in between puffing up with overdone outrage about every feature story about Brown that comes along.

Can it possibly be that the candidate is running her own campaign?

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.

Jerry, eMeg and the Goldman Sachs Connection

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Moments after Jerry Brown finished a press conference at the California Democratic Convention, where he had just challenged his Republican rivals to join him in a set of pre-primary debates, Calbuzz accosted him as he strode down the hall to his next event, trying to squeeze in one extra question.

“How about Goldman Sachs?” we asked him. “How important to the campaign is Meg Whitman’s connection?”

Brown’s eyes flashed red, smoke blew from his nostrils and fire flew off his tongue, but before he could answer, campaign manager Steve Glazer rushed up to protest: “We’re not giving not any walking interviews!”

And just like that, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor thought better of his impulse, smiled slightly and said, “If I answer that, you won’t write about the debates.”

Brown, with Glazer keeping tabs

The hallway scene at the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Saturday morning spoke volumes about two important elements of Brown’s campaign for governor:

On one level it was a tribute to the indefatigable efforts of Glazer to work the impossible: keeping the famously undisciplined Brown from flapping his gums and straying from his appointed message.

It was also testament to Brown’s obvious desire to open a line of full-throated populist attack on GOP front-runner Whitman — portraying her as a tribune of corporate excess and Wall Street greed and using her multiple links to Goldman Sachs as Exhibit A in making the case.

With the Securities and Exchange Commission formally charging the huge investment bank with fraud last Friday, Brown’s campaign has been handed a fresh opportunity, not only to disrupt the Whitman campaign narrative that her executive business experience splendidly qualifies her for governor, but also to perform political jujitsu on the exorbitant campaign spending eMeg is fronting with her personal fortune.

At a time when public resentment runs high against Wall Street banks, and the obscene taxpayer bailouts they’ve received, the SEC’s fraud case against Goldman Sachs is a clear and high-visibility symbol of the avarice and recklessness that fed the recession-triggering sub-prime mortgage/credit default swap/collateralized debt obligation scandal (for those still trying to cut through the complexities of this, Michael Lewis’s “The Big Short” is a must-read).

No less a source than the Wall Street Journal, which included a sidebar on the governor’s race (subscription required) in its page one, double-truck Monday coverage of the SEC-Goldman case, forecast “the furor…could become a sticky issue” in the California campaign.

“Over the course of this campaign, I think the voters are going to be fully aware of Meg Whitman’s financial dealings at Goldman Sachs and they’ll hold her accountable for them,” Brown spokseman Sterling Clifford, told the Journal.

The esteemed Christian Science Monitor also weighed in with a piece on how the Goldman Sachs case could “roil” the governor’s race.

“Whitman has to demonstrate how she was not one of the black hats at Goldman Sachs. In other words, she’ll have to explain herself – not an enviable position for a candidate,”  Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., told the Monitor.

Calbuzz has previously published a leading expert’s analysis of eMeg’s involvement in the stock “spinning” scandal, perhaps the most problematic aspect of her Goldman Sachs connection, while Lance Williams and Carla Marinucci have reported on others, in a fully detailed primer on the issue  published jointly by California Watch and the Chronicle.

Candidate Meg Whitman touts her experience at eBay, the online auction hous

e that made her rich, but her career and personal fortune are entwined with another company: the Goldman Sachs investment bank, a major player in public finance in the state she wants to lead.

Whitman’s relationship with the giant Wall Street firm — as investor, corporate director and recipient of both insider stock deals and campaign donations — could pose conflicts of interest if the Republican front-runner is elected governor of California, critics say.

Some Whitman boosters, led by Republican blogger Bill Whalen, have been whistling past the graveyard, arguing that because Brown’s sister, former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, is a former Goldman Sachs executive, Jerry Brown will be loathe to gamble on going after Her Megness on the issue.

Putting aside the total false equivalency of the comparison, Calbuzz will be more than happy to take that bet.

Meanwhile, Over in Clovis: KTVU-TV got  eMeg to respond to Brown’s call for three-way debates:  “I think it’s a political stunt to avoid giving specifics. You know,  I have a very specific policy agenda that has been outlined and Jerry has not given a single specific plan on virtually any of the crises that face California.”

Whitman, of course, is right that the debate gambit was a political stunt. But a clever one that gave  the aforementioned Glazer license to reply:

“Perhaps because she has failed to vote for most of her adult life, Ms. Whitman doesn’t understand the voters need for straight talk and honest discussion in an election. Calling an unscripted debate about the serious challenges facing California a ‘political stunt’ shows total disregard for the voters.”

Furthermore, Glazer said,  “From the fake town hall she filmed for her infomercial (coming soon to a station near you) to the 48-page photo album she calls a ‘plan’ and using a business group as a front for attack ads, Meg Whitman has run a campaign wholly based on stunts.”

‘California Watch’ Seeks Dirt on Jerry’s Pardons

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

jerryblackout“California Watch,” the new, foundation-funded project of the Center for Investigative Reporting Journalism, bills itself as “an independent investigative reporting team, [that] exposes injustice, waste, mismanagement, wrongdoing, questionable practices, and corruption so that those responsible can be held to account and so the public can be armed with the information needed to debate solutions and spark change.”

Whew.

Calbuzz is all for that.  And some of the early work produced by California Watch has been pretty good. But the latest offering by money and politics reporter Chase Davis isn’t new journalism at all, but old-fashioned, yellow journalism wrapped in a shiny new online package. It’s an abuse of a  technique called “crowd-sourcing,” threatening the very fine reputation that CIRJ enjoys, and all but guaranteeing its ill-conceived language will be used in a negative TV ad.

Let’s unwind this gnarly tale from the beginning.

On Monday, Calbuzz got an email from one of our sources asking us what we thought of the California Watch posts titled, “Jerry Brown pardoned more than 400 during two terms as governor” from Dec. 29 and another titled “Exclusive: Search more than 400 criminals pardoned by Jerry Brown” from Jan. 11.

When we checked them out – along with the comments from Davis in response to a reader – we were shocked.

“We want you to help us figure out what happened to them,” Davis wrote of the 403 people Brown pardoned.

california watchHere at California Watch, we’ve created a one-of-a-kind database of every pardoned criminal listed in Brown’s annual clemency reports to the state Legislature, which we obtained from the State Archives. You can search the database by the pardonee’s name, crime or county.”

“During his two terms in the governor’s office from 1975 to 1983, Jerry Brown granted clemency (sic) to more than 400 criminals who had been convicted of offenses ranging from petty theft to murder. Now that he is (presumably) running for governor again, we were curious: What happened to the people he set free (sic).

And on Jan. 11 he wrote:

Clemency can be a political minefield for former governors who aspire to higher office – or in Brown’s case, an encore. Just ask Mike Huckabee or Michael Dukakis. Pardons for minor offenses are also excellent ways to help out friends and political allies. Arthur Alarcon, executive clemency secretary under Jerry Brown’s father, former Gov. Pat Brown, and one of Jerry Brown’s judicial appointees, said in a 1988 oral-history interview that he was aware of several extradition cases made by Brown the Younger for political reasons, but did not elaborate.

It looked as if Davis had a theory about how Jerry Brown had operated in office and was asking for people to help him prove it. In addition, it appeared he had conflated pardons and clemency – which are not necessarily the same thing.

The initial evidence of confusion came from the Dec. 29 Davis post on pardons, which conflated clemency and pardons. In California, a pardon is an act of executive clemency. But clemency (as it’s commonly understood) can also include commutation of a current prison sentence or compassionate release from prison – cases where someone is literally “set free.”

All pardons are acts of clemency. But not all acts of clemency are pardons. In California, a pardon requires an ex-convict to be a law-abiding citizen for at least 10 years after being released from prison.

And  we went to the source to read Alarcon’s quote: he was talking about extradition – not pardons or clemency.willie horton

We were particularly disturbed by a comment Davis made in response to a reader who wondered if Davis was trying to, effectively if not willfully, lay the groundwork for another Willie Horton ad.

To which Davis replied, in part:

What I’m personally more interested in are pardons for minor offenses that were granted for political reasons. Cases like that shed light on Jerry Brown the politician, and how he made decisions the last time he was in the governor’s office.

Whoa! That’s some apriori bias, we thought.

Brown senior adviser Steve Glazer minced no words in talking to Calbuzz:

“This turns traditional journalism on its head.,” he said. “If you have a suspicion, you look into it. You don’t put out an unprovable smear and say, ‘Can anybody out there verify any of this stuff?’”

Before we lept to a conclusion, unlike others (we name no names), however, we thought we’d ask Davis to help us understand what he was trying to do. We wrote:

Dear Chase,

I’m kind of an old-school reporter who believes you usually don’t suggest someone might have done something wrong unless you have actual facts to demonstrate that he did something wrong.  But before Calbuzz comments on your Jerry Brown Pardon Database, I wonder if you could explain what your mission is with this project.

You said in one comment: “What I’m personally more interested in are pardons for minor offenses that were granted for political reasons. Cases like that shed light on Jerry Brown the politician, and how he made decisions the last time he was in the governor’s office.”

You also said:  “Pardons for minor offenses are also excellent ways to help out friends and political allies.”

Do you have any evidence to suggest any of this happened? (The oral history you noted referred specifically to extraditions, not clemencies or pardons.) We’d like to publish it, if it’s there. At the moment, however, it looks like by creating the data base and phishing for scandal you suggest there may have been wrongdoing. But do you have any facts to support this suspicion?

PS: I just saw in another place you wrote: “Now that he is (presumably) running for brown 74governor again, we were curious: What happened to the people he set free?” I don’t understand what that’s supposed to mean? People who have been pardoned have been out of prison for at least 10 years. How do they get set free with a pardon? If what you wanted to do was create a text line for a TV ad, you did it: “Center for Investigative Reporting Asks What Happened to the Convicts Jerry Brown Set Free?”

To which Davis replied:

Thanks for the note. First, to answer your question, no — we don’t have hard evidence that Jerry Brown did anything wrong, nor did I intend to suggest that we did. However, I think the nature and history of gubernatorial clemency suggests that the potential for abuse certainly exists. Edwin Edwards and Rod Blagojevich are two governors that immediately come to mind who have purportedly used clemency to help supporters, and I’m sure there are more. Ultimately, we tried to balance those facts in our decision about whether and how to run this project.

Long before we built this application, we discussed these issues at length. Some of our reporters took the same position you did and others took a view closer to mine, which was this: Done right, crowdsourcing can be a valuable journalistic tool. Opening up our these records to the public, and offering some guidance on what to look for, could help us flag interesting cases by allowing us to draw on the experience and institutional memory of the state’s politically engaged. We were conscious of the risks, which is why, for example, we aren’t displaying reader comments on the actual pardonees publicly.

Part of our mission here, as my boss Mark Katches likes to remind us, is to try new ways of doing investigative journalism. In this case, it’s opening up our process a lot sooner than we normally would. Sometimes we’ll succeed, sometimes we’ll bomb. For as controversial as it’s been, this experiment has actually gone pretty well in my view. We’ve gotten some great feedback about both the pardonees and the process from you and others. It’ll help us report a better story and improve projects like this down the line.

I hope that gives you some sense of what our intentions were. If the issue is the wording of my post, I can see your point of view. The idea was to suggest situations that readers might want to look for — not to imply that we had ironclad evidence Jerry Brown was helping his buddies.

But I can understand how someone could read it that way and will be conscious of that in the future. And you’re right about the statement implying that Brown set these people free. I’ve amended it in the application with a hat tip to you.

And he did change one sentence in his post to read: “What happened to the people he pardoned?” (Although it still followed a headline and lead graf conflating pardons and clemency.)

We told Davis that we would “respond in full in another venue, but just one note: If you’re going to write about this subject, get it right whether you’re talking about clemency or pardons. Your confusion suggests you have no clue what you’re doing.”

He replied:

I’m looking forward to seeing your response. The reports we drew from — entitled “Acts of Executive Clemency of California” — contain examples of pardons, commutations of sentence and reprieve. If I mixed those up in the post, that’s my fault. But the reports do contain examples of each, all bundled under the collective umbrella of ‘clemency.’

We didn’t even mention our concern that Davis had given no context to Brown’s pardons: How did they compare to other governors? What’s the process for a pardon? Has anyone ever suggested evidence of wrongdoing?

On Tuesday, after getting smacked around by some readers, Davis backtracked a bit, writing,  “Brown pardoned mostly small-time crooks,” that also noted (STILL conflating clemency and pardons):

“Since 1967, only Ronald Reagan granted clemency to more convicts than Brown, pardoning 575, according to a 2009 report published by the American Bar george-deukmejianAssociation. Brown pardoned 403 and also commuted one sentence. His successor, George Deukmejian, granted 328 pardons. Pete Wilson granted 13. Gray Davis issued none, and as far as we can tell, Arnold granted only three.

“Deukmejian was the last governor elected before Lee Atwater and Willy Horton (sic) famously made the “soft on crime” label more toxic than lead paint, and that culture shift might help explain the stark drop-off in pardons that began with Wilson.”

In their few months of operation, California Watch has produced some nice stuff – the Will Evans piece on the checkered history of some corporations receiving federal stimulus money, for example.

Chase Davis

Chase Davis

But this effort by Davis, a University of Missouri journalism grad who previously worked at The Des Moines Register and the Houston Chronicle, fercrineoutloud, shows a lack of background in recent California history, not to mention a respectful appreciation for the crucial responsibility of investigative reporting in a political campaign. With best wishes to CIRJ, we hope they clean this up fast.