Posts Tagged ‘Mercury News’



Obama Pantsed, Lobby Exposed, Calbuzz Menaced

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

With a cast of thousands, it’s hard to decide exactly who’s the biggest loser in the sad and sorry saga of Shirley Sherrod.

For those who’ve been resting on Uranus the last few days, she’s the Department of Agriculture staffer who got briefly fired when the Obama Administration panicked after the vicious right-wing provocateur Andrew Breitbart posted a doctored video clip from a speech she gave to the NAACP.

In the cut up tape, she appeared to say she had given favored treatment to black farmers over whites; in fact, the point of her speech was to describe how an experience many years ago helped her  overcome her own bias and conclude that class, not race, is America’s crucial social marker.

Before that fact became abundantly clear, however, the Breitbart-to-Drudge-to-Fox-to-conservative blogosphere echo chamber succeeded, not only in stampeding most of the MSM into reporting on the phony tape as legitimate but also in intimidating the NAACP and Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture into falsely denouncing Sherrod.  As Calbuzzer Betty Medsger put it Thursday in a post-mortem email:

It’s about the gale force dangerous stupidity and injustice that can result when the mindless news judgment often caused by the 24-hour news cycle is mixed with the tendency of confidence-lacking liberals to fear extreme conservatives to the point of instantly asking how high they should jump.

Our vote for the biggest dumbo in the incident is Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff who was dispensing high fives and attaboys at the staff meeting the morning after the firing, for the fine job of political rapid response they all performed in cynically tossing Sherrod under the bus.

The net effect of the actions of the self-infatuated political geniuses in the White House was a) to add even more weight to the increasingly inescapable conclusion that it’s amateur night on Team Barack and b) to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory by stomping all over the Administration’s story about passing financial reform legislation, the best news they’d had in weeks.

The best commentary churned out about the whole mess that we read came from Young Turk Cenk Uygur, who quite correctly compared Obama to the school kid who gives up his lunch money to the bully, and gets his pants tossed on top of the school bus in the bargain:

As we can all see now, when Fox says jump, the Obama administration asks how high? (Then jumps one inch less and considers it a progressive victory). Is there anyone Obama won’t fire or throw under the bus if Fox asks him to? What if they ask Obama to fire himself? Would he do it? Or would he just fire Biden and say he met them halfway?…

In Washington, Fox News is very important and you get judged by how quickly you handle the media maelstroms they create. That’s viewed as a barometer of how well you handle “bad news cycles.” So, the rest of the Washington press corps judges you by how quickly you drop to your knees to end the “bad news cycle.” Congratulations Obama administration, you’re now professionals!…

The only real damage that Fox can do is if they spread their poison to other news stations. That is why it’s so imperative to label them what they are — a conservative propaganda station (not that there’s anything wrong with that). They’re just not news. And they couldn’t have proved it any better than they did in this case. And what did the Obama administration do with this golden opportunity? They turned it into a massive loss. Who is fucking retarded now?

Here’s a transcript of what Sherrod actually said in her speech, courtesy of Joan Walsh at Slate.

The envelope please: Mega kudos to Karen de Sa of the Mercury News for a superb investigative series demonstrating and measuring the extent to which Sacramento lobbyists have been the biggest beneficiaries of term limits.

Methodically deconstructing the legislative session, de Sa disclosed that over one-third of the bills introduced in the Capitol originate with special interests and presented case-study reporting on how rookie lawmakers get sucked into the cycle of serving the whims of the Third House, then get rewarded with campaign contributions for their trouble.

It’s been an article of faith among pundits (we name no names) that with the 1990 term limits initiative, the lobbying corps supplanted the Legislature as the keeper of expertise and institutional knowledge at the Capitol. Now de Sa has firmly established the notion as fact.

Amid the constant stream of here-today-gone-tomorrow lawmakers obsessed with reaching for the next step of the political ladder, it’s easy to forget bygone days when when legislators  were around long enough – John Vasconcellos on the budget, Gary Hart on education and Peter Behr on the environment come to mind – to master the substance, complexities and nuances of public policy and how to pass it.

Complete with main bars, side bars, data bases and old school, got-the-reporter’s-back editorials, the entire Mercury News series can be accessed here.

Swimming with the sharks: No truth to the rumor being peddled by Flash Fleischman that eMeg finally agreed to meet Calbuzz for dinner if we agreed to swim out to her yacht.

The Latino Vote: Why Brown Crushes Whitman

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

After Meg Whitman’s appearance the other day at the Greater San Jose Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a 30-year-old account executive from Univision told Julia Prodis Sulek of the Mercury News she was “wowed away.” This led to a story suggesting eMeg would be trying to round up votes from Latinos.

Which got the Calbuzz Department of Historic Factoids and Demographic Analysis pretty worked up for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that one of eMeg’s campaign chairmen is former Gov. Pete Wilson (once known on the streets of Mexico City as “Hijo de Puta”) for his pioneering role in using illegal immigration as a wedge issue in California politics.

Although Whitman would eliminate “sanctuary cities” and is opposed to amnesty for undocumented immigrants, she certainly comes across as less antagonistic to immigration than her GOP rival Steve Poizner:  she says she would not have voted for Prop. 187, which sought to deny services to illegal immigrants, and would not deny medical services or education to the children of illegals.

But try as she might to keep anyone from noticing that she is seeking the REPUBLICAN nomination, the chance that she could capture even a quarter of the Latino vote is far from certain.

Even before he has campaigned among Latino voters — who are expected to comprise 15% of the November electorate – Crusty the General is in a lot better shape among Latinos than eMeg is.

In the January Field Poll, Brown’s favorable-unfavorable ratio among Latinos was 43-22% and in March it was 36-22%, By comparison, Meg’s ratio was 17-16% in January and 31-18% in March. And while Brown led Whitman 52-29% in January among Latinos, he was ahead of her 54-25% in March.

In other words, while eMeg picked up some positive ID among Latinos from her TV ads between January and March, Brown’s lead in the vote among Latinos increased from 23 percentage points in January to 29 points in March. And the only thing Brown had done was his announcement media tour.

And that’s before the Brown campaign has made clear a few actual facts about Jerry Brown and Latinos, including:

1. Former Gov. Brown made Cruz Reynoso the first Latino on the California Supreme Court.

2. He named Mario Obledo in his Secretary of Health and Welfare – the first Latino in a modern-day California cabinet.

3. Brown marched with Cesar Chavez in support of the National Farmworkers Association and later the United Farmworkers Union.

4. Brown signed into law the Agricultural Relations Act, giving farm workers the right to unionize and provide state oversight of labor relations in the agricultural industry.

5. He hooked up with Linda Ronstadt.

Case closed.

ABC (Always Believe Calbuzz): The emergence in Brown’s weekend speech to the SEIU of an overtly and aggressive populist tone, as alertly reported by the SacBee’s Jack Chang, fulfills the prediction we made after the surprise election of Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat:

We hear from a lot of conservative circles: It’s the people who work for the people, the firefighters, the nurses, the hospital workers, the janitors, these are the people who caused our problems – not true,” Brown told a gathering at Oakland’s Marriott City Center hotel and hundreds more around the state via a video link.

“The folks of Wall Street who cost the United States over $11 trillion, they’ve created the problem,” he said. “And we are the ones who suffer.

As we reported in January, in a year when Brown, and other incumbent Democrat officeholders, face enormous risk in being portrayed successfully by the GOP as political insiders, the smart play is to position himself as an insurgent scourge of big business greed heads of all types:

In both the Senate and governor’s race, we expect the Democrats to sound a lot like one of the roving 1886 lecturers cited in “The Populist Movement” by Duke historian Larry Goodwyn:

“We have an overproduction of poverty, barefooted women, political thieves and many liars. There is no difference between legalized robbery and highway robbery . . . If you listen to other classes, you will have only three rights . . . to work, to starve and to die.”

Boxer and Brown — we predict — will run against the banks, the corporations and the oil companies — all of which will be lashed to their GOP opponents.  Whether voters will buy it is anyone’s guess.

Commish pounds immigration: Proving that he has little  interest in the Latino vote, Steve Poizner’s campaign plans to unveil a new TV spot today, in which he declares himself the only candidate with “the guts” to stop illegal immigration.

Stepping up the pitch to GOP conservatives he rolled out at the Republican state convention, promises to “stop taxpayer-funded benefits for illegal immigrants,” or to bring a new initiative before voters to do so.

Down but not out in his battle against GOP front-runner Meg Whitman, Poizner ends the ad by doing a superman act with a Buick, representing California, that’s about to fall over a cliff. Preview the ad here.


We’re Just Sayin’: In Newspaper Death Spiral, Save the Reporting

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

By Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts

Here’s some free financial advice for panicked newspaper owners: If you want to save some real money, stop publishing the news altogether.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the direction that many papers are headed. With papers across the nation contracting, collapsing and folding, and reporters and editors seeking safer ground – the bad news in the industry is going to get worse before it gets even worse.

Simply put, American newspapers are in a death spiral.

A handful of national papers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today will hang on, and so probably will some in the category of small-bore, small-impact community papers. But the once-powerful, once profitable big metro papers – the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News come to mind – which combined both the resources and the motivation to serve as public interest watchdogs on school boards, city halls, cop shops, courts, their state legislators and members of congress, all are in big-time decline.

Metros, scandalously slow off the mark in adapting to new technologies, reacted to economic decline by slashing the amount and quality of local news coverage that was the central value proposition in selling the paper to readers. Faced with plummeting circulation, owners and publishers ensured the downward trend would gain momentum, by cutting back on the very product readers were looking for: journalism .

The result: readers found their local newspaper was not something they had to have in their daily lives. So circulation declined even further, leading newspapers to cut back more, leading to further decline in readership and further cutbacks. That’s the death spiral.

BROKEN BUSINESS MODEL: THE DECLINE OF CLASSIFIEDS

The internet upended the traditional model for newspapers – aggregating a mass audience and selling it to advertisers – by fragmenting the very notion of a mass audience. Instead of one-stop shopping for news, weather, sports and comics in the daily paper, consumers now had an almost infinite number of new sources of specialized and in-depth information about specific subjects of interest to them – along with the power to engage in a conversation with those producing that information.

Dumping most of their resources into hanging on by their fingernails to their old franchises, publishers and owners failed to invest adequately – in bodies or in dollars – in exploring in a big enough way how they could use the new technology to build on their greatest strengths: the expertise and intelligence of their reporting staffs.

Suddenly then, the revenue to cover their vast overhead nut started disappearing. Nowhere was this more dramatic, or more damaging, than in the rapid loss of classified advertising.

Yes, once upon a time, BCL (Before Craig’s List), newspapers sold classified advertising. It was like printing money. Every line was a source of revenue. And significantly, classified advertisers really didn’t care how big the home delivery circulation of the paper was because people looking for a job, home, car or repairman bought the paper because they needed the classifieds.

Today, people looking for any of these things – especially jobs – don’t bother with the newspaper. They go online, usually to a site that has no connection to their local newspaper.

When newspapers could no longer rake in cash from classifieds, they became more heavily dependent on display advertising. And display advertisers – from big national chains like Target to local restaurants and shops – do care about the size of circulation. They might pay $10,000 to place an ad in a large circulation newspaper but only $2,000 to place that ad in a paper with smaller circulation. It’s all about paying for eyeballs.

In order to survive, newspapers needed to focus more sharply on their primary business – local news. People interested in what was happening in Uzbekistan didn’t need the L.A. Times to tell them about it – they could go online and find all and more of the information they sought. What people couldn’t find was what was going on in South Central or West Hollywood. That’s not on the Internet, except when it’s aggregated by sites that pick up the work paid for by local newspapers.

But when classifieds dried up, newspaper managers responded by cutting the one thing crucial to saving their business – those who produced the local news that readers could find nowhere else. Less compelling content (and the rise of the Internet and other channels of information) led to declining circulation, which made newspapers less attractive to other advertisers. Stockholders and owners long used to annual profit margins of 20% saw their dividends shrinking so they demanded further cost savings. And the death spiral deepened.

For some papers — like the San Jose Mercury News, for example — where the business model depended on classified advertising for more than half its revenue — the evaporation of classifieds was a devastating blow to the bottom line. But instead of making itself indispensable to readers by increasing resources for local news, the publisher cut the newsroom budget even further. (See “death spiral” above)
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WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

There are only two ways to stop the spiral. And at this point, it’s not clear either will work.

– Newspapers can invest more resources, not less, in local reporting, leaving every national, international news and sports story to the national papers and wire services. They have to concentrate all of their force and fire power on their own communities, making themselves indispensable to local residents. People need to feel that they have to take the local paper to know what’s going on in their hometown. It’s the only way to maintain and grow circulation.
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– Or, a business like Google or Yahoo, which is expert at online advertising – including personalization at the individual user level – can begin to pay reporters in communities to produce content. We’re talking about covering city councils and school boards, writing about local development and utilities, local sports and arts, etc. This might kill local newspapers, but it might save local reporting.

Why can’t local papers themselves do this? Maybe they can – and the Hearst Corp. is trying in Seattle, where they’ve shuttered the venerable Post-Intelligencer but kept a small staff of local reporters on hand to try to do its job online. Freed from the costs of paper, ink, presses, mail rooms, bundlers, delivery trucks, pressmen, racks and real estate, maybe they can find an online business model that works. But it’s clear that news operations that have to carry all those legacy costs can’t make enough on the Internet to sustain themselves.

Why should we care? Because city councils, school boards, water and sewage boards, police departments and more will have no one looking over their shoulder, rummaging through their waste bins, blowing the whistle on bad behavior or commending admirable work. Because democracy works only when there is an informed citizenry. Because corruption loves a vacuum. Because when you turn on the light switch, the cockroaches run for cover. Because we cannot afford to leave politics and policy in the hands of politicians and policy-makers.

Cannon’s Reagan and King Papers Go To UCSB

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

The University of California Santa Barbara has acquired the papers of the prolific and prodigious political reporter Lou Cannon, who has written five books about Ronald Reagan among the nine he has published.

“I wrote my first book, ‘Ronnie and Jesse,’ because I didn’t understand Ronald Reagan or Jess Unruh and thought if I wrote a book I’d understand them better,” said Cannon, who covered politics for the Washington Post for 26 years, at a reception last night announcing the acquisition by the Special Collections department of UCSB’s Davidson Library.

“When Reagan, who usually took little notice of biographers, mentioned to me that he’d heard I was writing a second book about him, I said, ‘Yes, sir, I’m going to continue writing about you until I get it right,” he said. “We both laughed, but I meant it. ‘Good line,’ was Reagan’s response, from him high praise.”

Besides “Ronnie and Jesse,” published in 1969, Cannon also wrote “Reagan” (1982), “Ronald Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime” (1991), and “Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power” (2003). He is also the author of “Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD,” published in 1997. Some 84 boxes of his primary source material for these five books, including interviews, tapes, and other documents, are included in the collection, which will be available to scholars, researchers and journalists as the papers are archived.

The 75-year old Cannon, who was a Sacramento reporter for the San Jose Mercury News early in his career, also wrote “Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio” based on the Reagan Library collection (2001), as well as “The McCloskey Challenge” (1972) and “Reporting: An Inside View” (1977). Last year, he and his journalist son, Carl, co-authored “Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s quest for a presidential legacy.”


Among those on hand for the event were the famed network political reporter Sander Vanocur, and authors Ann Louise Bardach, Gayle Lynds and Kathleen Sharp. Cannon thanked his wife, Mary, who researched and indexed much of the collection, and philanthropists Sara Miller McCune, publisher of Miller-McCune magazine, and Pat Van Every, whose contributions helped support the acquisition.


“My animating goal as a writer,” he said, “was expressed by A.J. Liebling…when he said ‘facts are precious and opinions are cheap.’”