Posts Tagged ‘MSM media’



The Poizner Effect: Is Jerry Brown Blowing It?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Four months before the November election, the  Jerry Brown-Meg Whitman race looks like a small band of desperadoes toting six shooters facing off  against a fully staffed division equipped with tanks, stinger missiles and .50 caliber machine guns.

Even so, we have to wonder if Brown doesn’t seem ruinously hellbent on employing the not-so-vaunted Poizner Strategy: keep your powder dry while constantly whining about how nasty and profligate the other side is, then fire everything you’ve got all at once, in a short burst at the end of the campaign.

Worked like a charm for The Commish, eh?

We at Calbuzz don’t pretend to be brilliant campaign strategists, and we freely stipulate that there are certain dynamics in the governor’s race that work strongly in Krusty’s favor. For starters, we hear that eMeg’s favorability is about 4-3 negative and – importantly – voters (especially Democrats and independents who might have been confused) understand after her bruising primary battle against Poizner that she is a Republican politician and a Wall Street insider, not some post-partisan Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

So, instead of being 10 points behind immediately coming out of the primary, which was the worst case for Brown, he came out of it 2-6 points ahead, depending on whose survey you believe. In a state that leans 8-10 points Democratic, Krusty’s not in a terrible position.

But, while he and his plucky little squad insist that eMeg’s multi-faceted, multi-million-dollar attack on him as a “failure” is a sign of weakness (because she first tried and failed to gain ground by running a positive ad), we would hereby like to state  the obvious: She’s on the air and he’s not!

Ergo: What she’s saying is being heard; what he’s saying (and believe us, there’s not much) is not being heard. By anyone.

And what’s Brown doing about this state of affairs? Pissing and moaning; Lord, ain’t life unfair:

The other side, kind of the apostles of darkness and ignorance, are well heeled. They have great political consultants. And they intend to bombard the airwaves. It’s almost like a hostile takeover of the public airwaves and of democracy itself. We gotta’ fight back and you’ve gotta fight back and I need your help.

Hey Krusty, it’s 2010. Your opponent’s a billionaire. Man up. A governor’s race is a no-whine zone.

Another problem: Remember that quaint old idea of a “news cycle,” from, oh, say 1974, when you could get something in the “morning papers” or on what they used to call “the evening news?” Brown seems to think those rules of media engagement still apply.

Memo to Team Krusty: when eMeg puts out an ad attacking you like she did last week, you’re not going to get into the story by putting out your point-by-point response in time for the next “news cycle.”

Because there is no more “news cycle.” It’s all happening now, in real time, on the internets. And you can’t comfort yourself by trying to argue that “nothing appeared in the papers, it was only on the web.” Memo II: Online news is no less penetrating than home-delivered and newsstand newspapers. In fact, the MSMs figure out what to say, in part, by reading the blogs, so your alleged “rapid response” was actually what you might call geezer response. BTW, we’re not the only ones to note this.

As Calbuzz has noted before, Brown’s main argument is that while he’s authentic, Whitman is artificial. As we’ve said, it goes like this:  “He’s the real deal; she’s a brand name. He’s meat and potatoes; she’s Mrs. Potato Head.”

“She’s a marketing creation,” said Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer. “The issues she purports to care so much about today, she never lifted a finger to do anything about in the past.”

True enough, but maybe irrelevant, if Whitman can bury her distant and even her recent past under a mountain of paid propaganda.

One important issue to watch: How she handles AB32. In order not to look too much like a Sierra Club symp in her primary battle against Poizner, Whitman called for suspending the state’s pioneering measure to roll back greenhouse gas emissions.

Now that a ballot measure has qualified to do just that, will Whitman have the stones to back the ballot measure that is backed by a whole host of nasty oil companies?

We asked eMeg’s spokeshuman, the volcanic Sarah Pompei, for the candidate’s position on the November ballot measure to undo AB 32 and got this response:

“Meg is carefully looking at the initiative now that it has qualified for the ballot.  In the meantime, she has proposed her own detailed plan to institute the one-year moratorium allowed by AB 32 to study the statute and ensure it will not lead to further job losses.”

Memo III: Instead of complaining about the inequities of campaign spending, this is  exactly the kind of issue Brown should be hitting on if he has any hope to getting sustained media coverage to counter-balance eMeg’s unrelenting (she was off the air for a total of two days!) advertising.

Why? A March Field Poll found California voters supporting AB32 58-38% and by a 69-29% margin, agreeing that “California can reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and expand jobs and economic prosperity at the same time.”

That’s exactly what eMeg says California cannot do. But if the Brown “campaign” had a big event pressing Meg on this issue, we must have missed it. (Which, of course, is possible, given that we’re just a couple of hacks plagued by early onset senility).

And while eMeg is spending $600,000 a week or so on Spanish-language advertising to try to convince Latinos that she’s not Pete Wilson (even if he is her campaign chairman), Brown’s campaign still has no one on staff in charge of outreach to the Hispanic community, leaving open the question of whether Brown does (as some Latinos believe) take the Latino vote for granted.

What Jerry has going for him is that the Republican brand gets only about 20% favorable among Latinos and the Spanish-language news media – at least what we’ve seen – don’t seem to eager to forgive Whitman’s polarizing talk about illegal immigration during the primary.

Here’s Brown’s dilemma: every day he and his merry band up in Oakland have to decide 1) when to engage, 2) what to say and 3) how much to put behind it. They can absorb a certain amount of negativity that will drive Brown’s favorability downward. But how far down can they afford to go before they change their strategic game plan?

It’s just a fact that Whitman is going to keep coming at Brown every day, in new ways, in different markets. True, the messenger has been somewhat discredited herself, but as the widely quoted Joseph Goebbels (and Morton’s Salt, Crest and Nike) proved, if you say something over and over, even if it’s not true, you can convince a lot of people of just about anything.

The pro-Brown independent expenditure committees are having this effect to some extent: they’re aimed at keeping Whitman from being able to build her favorability, which she desperately needs in order to get past 40-42% level of support in a head-to-head with Brown, who’s in the 46-48% range.

Brown argues that he’s got an outsider’s attitude and the experience to get California working again. Whitman argues that he’s a failure and that she’s got the experience to get California working again.

Bottom line: she’s making her case to millions of people every day and he’s not. It seems clear that it’s time for Brown to start talking concretely about how he would govern and how he would use the government to tweak California’s economy.

Or maybe nobody’s paying attention yet. We seem to recall Steve Poizner saying something to that effect.

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.

Top Ads & the Return of the Calbuzz Election Pool

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Although California’s big statewide races seem headed for what you call your anti-climatic conclusions, there’s still plenty of, um, drama in today’s primary voting.

With our long statewide nightmare almost over, Calbuzz understands that you’re rightfully worried that you’ll fall asleep in front of the TV, drifting off in the recliner and choking yourself blue on a slice of unchewed election night pizza.

Well worry no more. Just enter the Calbuzz Election Pool and you’ll have a rooting interest that will keep you up until every dang vote has been tallied in the classic Dave Jones-Hector De La Torre match up and it’s clear whether Barbara Alby has kept alive her hopes of winning a full term in the Second District of the Board of Eek.

Send us an email (calbuzzer@gmail.com) with your answers to the six questions below before the polls close and contend for Big Prizes:

1st Place – A free 500 word rant on Calbuzz on subject of your choice and two (2) rare edition Calbuzz Guy-With-Finger-In-the-Socket buttons.
2nd Place – Three (3) rare edition Calbuzz-Guy-With-His-Finger-In-the-Socket buttons.
3rd Prize – Free invite to Our Dinner with eMeg (we’ll let you know the date soon!) and four (4) rare edition Calbuzz-Guy-With-His-Finger-In-The-Socket buttons.

Calbuzz Election Pool Questions

1-Who will finish SECOND in the Democratic primary for governor?

2-Who will finish THIRD in the Republican primary for governor?

3-Who will win the nominations for Lieutenant Governor?
a) Democrat
b) Republican

4-Who will win the nominations for Attorney General?
a) Democrat
b) Republican

5-What will be the voter turnout for the primary?

Tiebreaker: How many votes will Birther Leader Orly Taitz win for Secretary of State?

Deadline: 7:59 p.m. (PDT) Tuesday June 8, 2010.

Free speech isn’t free: Calbuzz is not like all these earnest MSM types who feel compelled to express their faux weariness and outrage at the barrage of negative ads that have filled the airwaves for the past two months, while warning voters there’s no end in sight, sigh, sigh.

We LOVE this stuff, and hope that the nominees start tearing each other’s faces off — in a civil, responsible and respectful way, of course –- the day after the primary.

In the meantime, here’s a list of some of our favorite primary ads you may not have seen:

1-Dale Peterson for Alabama Agriculture Commissioner. If you haven’t seen this one yet, you’ve missed the single greatest ad of the season, if not all time. It’s simply beyond comprehension that Dale finished third in the GOP ag commission contest.

2-Nikki Haley for South Carolina Governor (Inner Monologue edition).  State Rep. Nikki Haley, Tea Party toastee and Sarah Palin galpal, was surging in the GOP primary for governor when not one, but two, good ole boy political consultants in Columbia suddenly confessed to having had affairs with her* while, for good measure, a red neck state senator called her a “raghead” because of her Indian ethnic roots. This ad was her response, with some helpful thought balloons courtesy of Slate.com.

3-Sue Lowden for U.S. Senate, Nevada. Former Nevada state party chair Sue Lowden used to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, until she suggested that barter might be a better system for getting medical care than health insurance. This IE spot is one of a host of web and broadcast ads that knocked her out of that position.

4-Sharron Angle for U.S. Senate, Nevada. Not sure what’s in the water in Nevada, but Lowden’s fall in the GOP Senate contest was matched by the rise of former state legislator Angle, who’s running with the enthusiastic backing of the Tea Party, despite her support of an unusual prison rehabilitation program based on the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard.

5-Rick Snyder for Michigan Governor. Far Side adman Fred Davis brought unknown businessman Rick Snyder from nowhere to major contender for the Republican nomination for governor in the Wolverine State in a matter of weeks by turning his weakness into a strength, positioning him as “one tough nerd.”

6-Carly Fiorina for U.S. Senate California. Speaking of Davis, he’s gotten all kinds of notice for the infamous “Demon Sheep” web ad he produced for Fiorina to attack Tom Campbell in the GOP Senate primary, but we feel too much of the attention came at the expense of his auteurship of the much more textured and layered Hidenboxer which came and went so fast it deserves a second look.

7-Linda McMahon for U.S. Senate, Connecticut. This one is still just a little zygote of an ad, but we’re guessing it won’t be long before it’s full-grown. Years before she became the Republican front-runner for the GOP nomination for Senate, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO McMahon toughened herself up by getting tombstoned. After this, Richard Blumenthal is a walk in the park.

8-John McCain for U.S. Senate, Arizona. Facing a Tea Party-backed primary election insurgence from radio talk show host J.D. Hayworth, Big Mac went slightly berserk in presenting his rival as a birther-believing, blood-sucking, dumb-ass champion of man-horse marriage. Love the Lion King stuff.

9-Dwight McKenna for New Orleans Coroner. Longtime New Orleans coroner Frank Minyard’s office was implicated in allegations of illegal sales of body parts a few years back, so it was only natural that challenger Dwight McKenna had little choice politically but to portray the incumbent as a mad scientist waving innards at Igor.

10-Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor (or anything else). Okay, so this one is really a 2008 ad, but if Prince Gavin wins the Democratic nod for Lieutenant Governor, we expect that you’re going to see something very similar to this in the general election. Whether you like it or not.

*L’affaire Nikki, btw, also generated one of our favorite quotes from the primary season, in this Washpost wrap—up of the bizarre contest:

“I don’t know what they served at the annual Silver Elephant Dinner for Republicans,” said Dick Harpootlian, a former state Democratic Party chairman, “but it must’ve been a combination of some hallucinogenic and Viagra in the punch, because they’re rutting like bull elephants.”

General election kickoff: With only 147 days until the Nov. 2 election, here’s a look at the vote reg political landscape the candidates will be navigating.

End Note Prediction: The statement Carly Fiorina will most regret having made: “I absolutely would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade if the opportunity presented itself.” Cited in The New Yorker, 6/7/10.

Don’t forget to vote.

The Secret Ads eMeg & Steve Don’t Want You to See

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

As Meg Whitman lobbed yet another stink bomb at Steve Poizner, Calbuzz rang up our friend Bill Carrick, the noted long distance runner who moonlights as a Democratic media consultant, to ask what he thinks of the escalating air war between eMeg and the Commish.

“I’ve had the alarming revelation that we have two dangerous left-wingers running in the Republican primary for governor,” he said. “I can barely sleep at night.”

With Carrick’s blinding insight fresh in our minds, we contacted sources close to our imagination to discover the secret plans of both campaigns for the final month of the race. Here’s how we see things playing out:

May 14 – Poizner launches a tough new weekend attack on immigration:

There are five million, border busting illegal immigrants in California.
Over half work at Meg Whitman’s house.

eMeg counter-punches hard:

Like goat meat in your tacos?
Then you’ll love Steve Poizner as governor.

May 18 – With three weeks left before the primary, Whitman consultant Mike Murphy rolls out a daring new theme, hammering Meg’s rival with a big swing on cultural values:

Left-winger Steve Poizner: Ever seen him in the same room as Castro?

After a quickly assembled, two-hour emergency focus group, Team Steve media strategist Stuart Stephens pulls an all-nighter producing a new spot to answer the assault:

Meg Whitman: The frappuccino-sucking, NPR-supporting, Bernie Sanders-loving, Lacoste-wearing East Coast elitist who Californians just can’t trust.

May 25 – eMeg’s tracking poll shows Steve still vulnerable on abortion, and her advisers take a huge gamble in airing a positive spot:

Meg Whitman has ALWAYS believed in the Immaculate Conception. The waffling Steve Poizner? Not so much.

Armed with fresh poll data micro-analyzing micro-targeted questions on the pro-life issue, Camp Poizner doubles down on their negative track:

Know what commie Meg Whitman and the Red Chinese have in common?
Just Google “same sex abortion” on your home computer.

June 1 – One week before the election, both candidates return to the bread-and-butter issue of taxes in making their closing arguments, as the Commish unveils a bold Prop. 13 message:

Ever wonder why Meg Whitman won’t tell us who killed Howard Jarvis? Hmmmm

eMeg fires back fiercely:

There’s only one big-spending corrupt Republican insider who wants to drive  old folks from their homes and pick the carrion from the bones of our seniors: Say hello to Steve Poizner, grandma.

I’m Meg Whitman, and I approved this message.

June 9 - Final returns show that Whitman and Poizner win only 12 votes apiece, as most Republicans stay home and those who don’t cast write-in ballots for the late Evelle Younger.

A few hours later, Arnold Schwarzenegger issues an executive order proclaiming himself Governor for Life, announcing the move in a brief statement: “I’m baaack.”

Let Checchi be Checchi: When we saw that former Northwest Airlines co-chairman and 1998 candidate for governor Al Checchi has resurfaced at the San Francisco Chronicle, and read with interest his essay on political reform posted on Carla Marinucci’s blog, we couldn’t resist tweaking Al, who had written:

Only the national media has (sic) the infrastructure and reach to provide a national forum for catalyzing change. There is a unique opportunity for a media outlet to provide that forum, assume a leadership position within and for the industry, and provide a vital service to the American people and the country.

So we asked him: What are you going to do about it? Here’s his reply:

If I were younger, I would buy CNN and repurpose it.

1.  Provide the public a source of comprehensive, independent, and unbiased information about the substance of the critical issues that we face and the range of policy options available to address them.

2.  Employ public polling and new media to gauge public opinion and use the network to amplify the general public’s position on the issues to facilitate the building of national consensus.

3.  Provide similarly unbiased information to the public about the experience, character, qualifications, and positions of the people who stand for public office to improve the calibre of people to whom we cede political power.

In other words, I would get back to the basics of a comprehensive journalism that informs, educates, and provides a vital and constructive service to a Democratic society.

Since I am no longer young, I must content myself with half a loaf and try to develop programming and persuade a major media outlet to broadcast it.

Thanks, Al. No one ever called us “a major media outlet” before.

P.S. Checchi’s best one liner re. Meg Whitman’s business experience as a credential for governor:  She’s just  “a marketing person who ran an electronic auction house.”

With Apologies to TMZ


Goldman Sachs: A Case of False Equivalence

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

One of the more persistently perverse practices of MSM journalism is the “false equivalence fallacy,” a technique too often seen in political stories, when reporters aim for even-handed balance but end up badly misleading readers.

A case study is the L.A. Times Saturday Sunday story, which posed “a phony evenhandedness,” as Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post once described false equivalence, between the connections of Meg Whitman and of Jerry Brown to the scandal-tainted investment bank Goldman Sachs.

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.

In presenting an apples-and-oranges framework about the Goldman Sachs issue in the California governor’s race, the Times recalled political stories from the 2004 presidential race that matched unfounded charges about John Kerry’s record in Vietnam, where he won three Purple Hearts, with still-unanswered documentary questions about the service of George Bush in the National Guard or, more recently, cable TV shows that set up on-the-one-hand-on-the-other “debates” that include whack job “birthers” who charge that Obama was not born in the U.S.

Sometimes, attempts to present “balance” using the thin thread of commonality — e.g. Goldman Sachs — are wholly misleading. There really is an unbalance of connection and/or impropriety. One thing is actually more damning than the other and they cannot and should not be equated. This is a false equivalency.

Whitman’s links to Goldman Sachs are primary connections, which directly benefited her financially, both personally and politically; Brown’s are  secondary, at best, involving his sister’s employment at the firm and a complex policy decision about bond financing interest rates in Oakland, which was made a year before he was elected mayor there, which appears actually to have benefited the city during much of his tenure, and over which he had no direct control anyway.

Yet the Times story – online hed: “Whitman, Brown have ties to Goldman Sachs” – sends a clear message that these are matters of equal political weight, at a time when the bank has been charged with fraud by the SEC. Let’s look at the details:

Whitman’s connections to Goldman have been chronicled in detail by Lance Williams and Carla Marinucci.

1-Spinning. As CEO of eBay she steered millions of her company’s business to Goldman, a period in which she also engaged in “spinning,” a now-illegal insider stock deal in which the investment bank paved the way for her to buy early shares of hot IPOs. She was named in a congressional investigation of the practice and forced to return money she made from the deals to eBay after shareholders sued her. Her explanation: “It wasn’t illegal at the time.”

2-Directorship. Whitman was paid the equivalent of $475,000 in cash and stock options when she sat on Goldman’s board of directors for 15 months in 2001 and 2002. Among other actions, she served on the compensation committee, when it approved huge bonuses for Goldman’s current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, and its previous chief executive, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen, who oversaw the era of credit default swaps and consolidated debt obligations which is now the focus of the SEC fraud suit.

3-Contributions. Whitman has received at least $105,500 in contributions from Goldman executives to her campaign for governor, according to the Williams-Marinucci investigation.

Brown’s connections to Goldman, as set forth by Michael Rothfeld in the LAT:

1-Family. His sister, former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, has worked for the bank since 2003, a family factoid that gains no elaboration, or further traction, in Rothfeld’s story as reflecting critically on Jerry Brown.

2-Oakland. A year before Brown took office as mayor, city officials did a deal with Goldman, known as an “interest rate swap,” in order to “guarantee Oakland stability in its debt payment,” according to Rothfeld. City officials renegotiated it in 2003 (before Kathleen went to work for Goldman BTW), paid off Goldman’s debt in 2005, but left the interest deal in place because canceling it would have cost $15 million, which was then considered a bad deal for the city.

At the time, Brown’s involvement consisted of a) being the non-voting president of the Oakland Joint Powers Financing Authority, which handled the negotiation and b) appointing the administrator in charge of borrowing for the city.  The Times story never even hints that Brown had anything to gain from the deal, even if he had had authority over it, and completely equivocates on the broader issue of whether or not it’s been a good deal for Oakland.

Today, because interest rates plummeted amid the Wall Street meltdown, the deal with Goldman is costing Oakland about $5 million a year, the story notes, but then adds this: “Oakland and Goldman officials say they believe the swap has benefited Oakland overall, though they provided no statistics to show that.”

Uh, so what exactly has Brown got out of his ballyhooed-by-the-Times  “connections” to Goldman Sachs?

Despite the total false equivalence between eMeg and Crusty’s* dealings with the investment bank, Rothfeld gave Whitman flack Tucker Bound a free hand to muddy the waters on an issue that threatens Whitman, allowing him to spin the non-event of Brown’s Goldman ties into the biggest scandal since Teapot Dome: “No matter how you look at it, Jerry and his sister were on both ends of a bad deal for taxpayers, and Goldman Sachs pocketed millions.”

Puh-leeze.

Fortunately for the Times, business columnist Michael Hiltzik presented a clearer-eyed view of the matter in a Sunday same day piece that recaps Whitman’s personal connections to the bank and drills down on the noxious “spinning” issue.

Yet the issue here isn’t anyone’s family connections or routine investments but Whitman’s acceptance of preferential treatment from a firm angling to do business with her employer…

As for her claim that no one ever suggested there was anything untoward about preferential allocations, not so. Financial regulators had been warning brokers for years that it was wrong to hand out hoards of IPO shares “to reward persons who could otherwise direct business to them.” Although that rule was directed at the brokers, not their customers, surely Whitman understood the concept of aiding and abetting. To avoid further confusion, the Securities and Exchange Commission later spelled out the rules: Offering such deals is now illegal.

And thank you for that.

P.S. For further understanding of what’s wrong with “spinning,” see the definitive Calbuzz piece by David Shapiro, a specialist on financial fraud at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

* For the record, Calbuzz recognizes that the Simpsons character Herschel Krustofski, AKA Krusty the Clown and the Maitre d’ of Glee is spelled with a “K.” Our Department of Etymology and Copyright Infringement  is studying whether it would be appropriate to alter the spelling of “Crusty the General.”