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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Balz’



Press Clips: Another Huge Award for Calbuzz

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Now that the Pulitzer Prize committee has finally decided to join the 21st century by opening their competition to all conceivable forms of digital reporting, it’s only a matter of time before Calbuzz captures the Big Enchilada for our Special Brand of Journalism.

In the meantime, we’ve copped yet another top honor from our peers to put on the mantle right next to our already impressive collection:  we learned this week that we’ve won the silver medal in the prestigious “Crunks” competition, which ranks the best of the best in the “Year in Media Errors and Corrections.”

The list is compiled by Columbia Journalism Review columnist Craig Silverman, the world’s leading authority on news industry screw-ups, who honored us for our May 11 item setting the record straight on a conversation with California Democratic Party chairman John Burton a few days before:

In our Saturday post about the California Democratic Party’s ad attacking Meg Whitman but masquerading as an “issues ad,” we described the abrupt ending to our conversation with CDP Chairman John Burton. Through his spokesman, Burton on Monday complained that he had been misquoted. Burton says he didn’t say “Fuck you.” His actual words were, “Go fuck yourself.” Calbuzz regrets the error.

Silverman had earlier written a piece examining the weighty journalistic issues at stake in our extremely responsible effort, if we do say so ourselves, to ensure the record of history is clear about Burton’s statement; although we were disappointed not to win first place, we had to admit that the top finishing Ottawa Citizen did some outstanding work with its entry:

The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our initial regrets were unacceptable and we apologize to Mr. Steyn for any distress caused by our previous apology.

“On behalf of the thousands of employees in the Calbuzz global family who work indefatigably every day to live up to our corporate motto – ‘Shooting the Wounded Since March 2009,’” our executive committee said in a press statement, “we accept this award with gratitude and, of course, deep humility.”

Perspective perspectives: Amid the madness of non-stop bloviation and serious heavy breathing generated by the knuckleheads who drive the 24/7 news cycle, it’s nice to know that there are some level-headed political reporters who still value the importance of context and perspective.

Case in point: the excellent assemblage of data by Talking Points Memo illustrating that, despite the opinions-every-second proclivities of Beltway geniuses, President Obama’s standing among voters is not much different at this point in his administration than that of all other presidents since JFK.

Ditto the New York Times, which took a step back from the firestorm of what-it-all-means political speculation about Obama’s tax deal with Republicans to examine its likely impact on the economy, concluding that it’s worth about 3 million new jobs.

And a tip o’ the hat also to Slate, for digging out the numbers that show that it is the red states, whose representatives are constantly whining about excessive spending, that benefit the most from federal largesse, at the expense of taxpayers in places like, oh say, California. Also to Dan Walters for reminding us that, despite the intractable economic and political problems wrapped up in the state’s chronic deficits, it’s a piddling amount viewed in the context of the size and scope of the California economy.

Presidential follies: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week reignited speculation about running for president as an independent by giving a high-profile speech decrying partisanship and proclaiming the need for pragmatic centrist politicians. Then he promptly tried to tamp it down by telling Katie Couric he isn’t planning to run.

But the Washpost’s estimable Dan Balz isn’t so sure, and has a nice scooplet reporting exactly what data points Team Bloomberg privately considers to be crucial in its calculations.

As we’ve noted previously, a serious Bloomberg candidacy raises the nightmare specter of a Sarah Palin presidency. Assuming she wins the GOP nomination, the electoral college could splinter in a three-way race, leaving the selection of the nation’s chief executive in the hands of the right-wing Republican House of Representatives. Shudder.

Wiki Laughs: While everyone else in the world seems to have a firm opinion about the out-on-the-edge ethical and journalistic issues raised by the Wikileaks dump of State Department documents, Calbuzz is still mulling the meaning and morals of the incident, although we’re totally with Naomi Wolf on the absurdity of at least one part of  l’affaire Assange.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: There’s actually a person who’s even more repulsive than Sarah Palin.

God, Man & Jerry Brown’s Ignatian Indifference

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Our friend Dan Balz did a nice job after he scored a sit-down interview with Jerry Brown, in advance of Crusty’s formal annunciation that he’s running for governor. We were especially intrigued when we read this:

If she wins the GOP nomination, Whitman will have a sizable financial advantage over Brown. She has already put $39 million of her money into the race and could spend $150 million or more by the election in November. Brown can’t compete with that kind of money, but he said of Whitman, “Her money is not kryptonite.”

Asked how he will prepare for that, he offered a lesson from St. Ignatius. He would summon all the “Ignatian indifference” that he could. That is, he added, the idea of eschewing attachments to wealth or glory and preparing “to do the will of God, however it manifests.”

“Here we have the will of the people,” Brown said, “and how it turns out will be fine for me.”

Huh? Wussup with that ?

Was Jerry really saying he’s preparing “to do the will of God?” And if so, how come Balz didn’t make that the lede of his piece? Because if that’s what Jerry is saying – that he is bracing for Meg’s onslaught by preparing “to do the will of God” — then by golly, he’s right in there with Pat Robertson and Rick Warren, isn’t he?

So we called Jerry’s office for some clarification. Brown wouldn’t come to the phone for a quick theological discussion, but spokesman, Sterling Clifford (who sat in on the Balz interview but who was raised Mormon, not Catholic and certainly not Jesuit) said Jerry was trying to explain “Ignatian indifference” as an acceptance of God’s will, which he distinguished from the election, which is a matter of the peoples’ will.

We weren’t convinced.

Wasn’t Jerry saying that in preparing to accept eMeg’s multi-million-dollar attacks, he would be doing God’s will? “Jerry was not saying that,” Clifford said. “He was saying he’s making an effort not to take the personal attacks too seriously.”

When we checked with Balz, he agreed that Brown wasn’t saying he’s preparing to do the will of God but, “That the will of the people is in this case like the will of God — that is, whatever the voters decide he will accept.”

OK, but flashback to 1998. We were there when former Attorney General Dan Lungren got in some trouble talking about the role of God in public life as he launched his campaign for governor.

Is Brown on the verge of doing the same thing? It’s a fair question because Brown’s theology is deeply embedded. He took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Los Gatos in 1958 where, according to biographer Roger Rapoport, “It seemed to Jerry there was no limit to what you might accomplish if you let go of your personal ambitions and committed your life to the greater glory of God, as his instrument.”

Of course, Brown was released from those vows two years later, when he left the seminary. By then, however, he was ingrained with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which were designed by the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to help “conquer oneself and regulate one’s life and avoid coming to a determination through any inordinate affection.”

Though not a Jesuit priest, as he might have become, Brown has never cast off the doctrine of contemplatio ad amorem – with its belief that the spirit of God can be found everywhere – in chaos and order, intelligence and ignorance, fame and obscurity — and that contemplation and action go hand in hand because being is active.

The same clash of concepts, unity of opposites, battling dualities (think: against Prop 13 and for it, for example) has been a hallmark of Brown’s theology, ontology – not to mention politics — throughout his life, as suggested in his comment to Balz that he would do the will of God and the will of the people at the same time.

It was no accident that the young Jerry was fascinated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist and phenomenologist. About the time Brown was in the seminary, Teilhard was silenced by the Jesuit hierarchy for his attempts to synthesize theology and evolutionary biology. As Brown biographer Richard Rappoport described Teilhard’s theories, he sought “to reconcile humanism and grace, nature and the Cross, prudence and heroism, freedom and obedience.”

It’s not hard to understand why Brown would – then and now — be attracted to a priest who wrote: “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

In Jerry time, it was a mere nanosecond from the study of Teilhard to the Tassajara Hot Springs, the Carmel Valley Zen retreat that Brown and his one-time aide de camp Jacques Barzaghi used to visit; to E.F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” and onward to C.K. Chesterton, who was labeled “The Apostle of Common Sense,” in a book by Dale Ahlquist, published by (drum roll here) Ignatius Press.

It wasn’t coincidence that in his first interview heading toward this election – with Calbuzz back in April of last year — Brown said he is planning to be an “apostle of common sense.” We saw then, an echo of his 1992 Winter Soldier presidential campaign in which he autographed copies of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.”

But the phrase – actually the title of Ahlquist’s 2003 book — pays homage to Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), the 300-pound, cigar-smoking English writer, journalist and Catholic convert who labeled common sense “that extinct branch of psychology” and who wrote: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies, probably because they are generally the same people.”

Chesterton, who attacked both socialism and capitalism, who defended the Catholic faith and the common man is just another in the line of thinkers whose ideas seem woven into Brown’s  rhetoric.

His thinking seems little changed from the window into his psyche he offered in the 1975 commencement at the University of Santa Clara – the Jesuit school he had attended for a year before joining the seminary. In part of that speech, Brown reached back to the Father Teilhard de Chardin who, he said:

“…saw that there was an evolution of the mind as well as the body. The evolution of the spirit was bringing the divergence of this planet together, not only the nuclear problems, the problem of learning to live with people who are very different, the problem of one generation accepting the different lifestyle, of accepting one another. I think we can very well think of the philosophy that all diversity is being converged toward a greater unit. That’s the way I see things and it won’t be done unless each one of us can do this for ourselves so that together we can do what none of us can do separately.”

His spokespeople can deny it, but Jerry Brown has always seemed to see himself as an instrument of God’s will and an instrument of the people’s will, simultaneously. He has never had any interest in imposing his religious beliefs on others but to assert that he is not shaped and driven by his Jesuitical ontology is to deny the obvious.

Brown’s first guru was not Baba Ram Dass, who published “Be Here Now” in 1971, but his forerunner — Ignatius — who told Jerry and all the other would-be keepers of the flame and sword from the 16th Century onward: “Age quod agis” – “Do what you are doing.”

Press Clips: Balz, Hearst Shine; eMeg Still Ducks

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Postman delivers: For political reporters, the most memorable scene in “The Boys on the Bus,” Tim Crouse’s classic chronicle of campaign coverage of the 1972 presidential race, comes at the close of a dreary candidate debate in California: “Walter, Walter, what’s our lead?” one of the reporting pack shouts at the great Walter Mears, of the Associated Press.

The now-retired Mears is known as one of the best ever at performing what Crouse described as “the parlor trick” of instantly finding the lede of a political story – recognizing and honing in on the most important, precisely correct point with which to begin a clear, concise and rational account of what is often a sprawling, complicated and uncertain event.

Amid the countless trees killed in the service of covering President Obama’s first State of the Union this week, the Washpost’s Dan Balz proved anew why he’s the premier political scribe among the Beltway Wise Men, by nailing a Mears-like lede in his thumb sucker on the speech, one of the toughest deadline stories on the beat.

After the theatrics and the rhetoric and the canned responses, two questions remain from President Obama’s first State of the Union address: Did he succeed in persuading nervous Democrats not to cut and run on his presidency; and will he succeed in making Republicans think twice about their united opposition to almost all things Obama?

Our old friend Dan next pulled out and featured, high up in his yarn, the key money quotes from Obama’s hour-plus oratory, focusing on the president’s effort at shaming congressional GOPers into doing something beyond trying to trash and de-legitimize his presidency:

After last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, a super-majority, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.

Unfortunately for Obama, the answers to the questions Balz raised in his lede are:

a) most likely not
b) NFW.

Limbering up for punditry: While Balz won top Calbuzz honors for Instant Analysis, Richard Dunham of the Hearst Washington Bureau captured the award for print’s Best Pre-Game Show, posting a series of Harper’s Index-style, by-the-numbers measures on Obama’s first-year as president.

Put up on the Chron’s “Politics Blog,” Dunham’s report was a terrific, value-added, online element that provided advance perspective on the speech, on everything from Afghanistan to the anger of voters, as measured by official stats and top-rank national polls.

There was great sadness in the newsrooms of the Chron, and of other Hearst papers, when the mother ship folded local Washington bureaus into a consolidated D.C. operation, but Dunham’s good work on the SOTU offers a case study of how journalistic efficiencies of scale can sometimes work.

eMeg speaks – but not to you! In her unstinting effort to be elected Governor of the United States, Meg Whitman hit her talking points sat for interviews with three national outlets on her big book tour this week, once again stiffing the media organizations that actually cover the California governor’s race.

Breathlessly gushing about her appearances with Today’s Matt Lauer , Neil Cavuto on Fox and NPR’s Morning Edition, her press shop offered this dreck –

Meg has been doing a series of interviews over the past few days, and doing a great job explaining how she will be a different kind of leader for California

– apparently utterly oblivious to the irony that she’s explaining what a swell leader she’d be to REPORTERS WHO ARE NOT IN CALIFORNIA.

Breaking news: 150 days and counting since Calbuzz extended its dinner invite to eMeg.

What difference does it make what he says? Ben Smith at Politico got into an interesting beef with Senator John Cornyn, who accused the journo of being “blatantly unethical” after Smith posted a press release the Texas Republican put out commenting on Obama’s speech – hours before it was given.

I understand why Cornyn and his office are unhappy about the item and that they intended the early release as a convenience. I respectfully disagree on both the news value and the ethics. My blog item didn’t suggest that the mild deception in which his office was asking reporters to participate was some kind of major crime. It was just an opportunity to lift the curtain on a bit of Washington artifice and cast a little light on the way the parties actually interact.

And traditional ground rules, which I’ve been clear about in the past, are that you can’t put something off the record or under embargo without a reporter’s consent.

Amen, brother.

Hurricane anticipation: Cornyn wasn’t the only one to engage in a little crystal ball gazing about the speech. Carly Fiorina opined that Obama was offering “gimmicks, not real solutions” in the speech nearly seven hours before Obama started talking.

“Carly on anticipated SOTU content,” read a release eblasted by her campaign at 11:07 a.m (PDT), recounting her interview with some radio windbag from San Diego. A mere eight hours and 34 minutes later, iCarly shared her thoughts on the actual speech on You Tube.

She said that Obama had offered “gimmicks, not real solutions.”

(Memo to Carly handlers: You really should let her know not to keep looking down at the script when she’s on camera, which makes her look, um, kinda shifty. Also: that buzz cut is looking a little poofy around the ears, no? We’re just sayin’).

This just in: Sarah Palin has arrived to help with the relief effort in Tahiti.