Archive for 2009

Meg Whitman: California’s No.1 Civic Scofflaw

Friday, September 25th, 2009

megregal1It’s hard to say what’s worse about the Meg Whitman non-voting scandal: the fact that she didn’t register to vote until she was over 40,  or the shifting stories and arrogant prevarications she’s used to explain her dodgy civic behavior.

As Whitman heads to the Republican state convention this weekend, her front-running campaign for the party’s nomination for governor is under a political cloud, after a terrific investigative report by the Bee’s Andrew McIntosh  threw a harsh light on her decades-long failure to carry out the most fundamental duty of American citizenship.

After a lifetime of disdain for participating in the democratic electoral process, she now lays claim to one of the nation’s highest and most powerful elected offices.

Unctuously purporting to “take responsibility” for three decades of failure to vote, she treats the Bee’s honest inquiries about her record with a dismissive shiftiness that smacks of entitlement and the unmistakable implication that she was simply too important (i.e. “busy”) to bother casting a ballot.

The most telling part of the McIntosh report comes when he challenges her unsubstantiated and undocumented assertion that she was registered as a Republican by 1998:

“In an interview, Whitman said she was registered as a Republican before coming to California, but declined to say where the public record might be found.

‘Go find it,’ she said.”

“Go find it”? Really? Is that the kind of intransigence and dripping contempt Californians can expect from a Gov. Whitman in the face of legitimate questions of transparency, accountability and integrity?

As to her lame, oh-so-sorry attempt to quickly brush away the story, eMeg  issued a pro forma statement through a flack that carries echoes of countless, lawyered-up, busted celebrities and jocks declaring their intention to do better, use their transgressions as a moral lesson and “put this behind me.”

“Voting is a precious right that all Americans should exercise. I have repeatedly said that my voting record is inexcusable. I failed to register and vote on numerous occasions throughout my life. That is simply wrong and I have taken responsibility for my mistake.”

Wait a minute, Your Royal Megness, what exactly does that mean? You’ve taken responsibility for your mistake? What mistake? Getting caught at not having acted like a citizen most of your adult life? How have you “taken responsibility” for that? By going back and casting post facto ballots for Ronald Reagan, George Bush or for the recall of Gray Davis? Her cookie cutter mea culpa, like most of what Whitman has been peddling for months, is simply fatuous rhetoric.

And then there’s those pesky little details on which eMeg and her handlers just can’t seem to get their stories straight.

Like telling Republicans last year she had not voted “on several occasions” –- which now becomes “numerous occasions,” but only after being caught out by the Bee. Or  major domo Henry Gomez’s handy explanation of why she didn’t become a Republican until 2007 — that she registered “decline to state” because she was new to California and unfamiliar with its candidates; but Whitman herself, after deciding to jump into the governor’s race, told Republicans it was because she wanted to appear nonpartisan in her role as CEO of eBay. McIntosh reported:

“Gomez and (press secretary Sarah) Pompei declined to reconcile the statements.”

In announcing this week that she is “officially” running for governor, Whitman declared with great sanctimony that “Californians want to trust their leaders again -– they want to be told the truth.”

At least she got that part right.

Press Clips: Disco Dies Anew as iCarly Gets Gnarly

Friday, September 25th, 2009

whitmaneMeg’s Groundhog Day: MVF (Most Valuable Flack) honors of the week  to the volcanic Sarah Pompei and a cast of thousands in Meg Whitman’s press shop, for extraordinary work in getting every mainstream media outfit in California to bite on the non-news that eMeg is “officially” running for governor.

Let’s recap: Seven months ago, on Feb. 10, the LAT’s Michael Finnegan filed a story that began: “Former eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman joined the race for governor of California this morning…” Since then, Herself has raised and spent something like $20 million, including several large wads of personal cash, on her campaign for governor, all the while delivering platitude-packed perorations about her campaign for governor to captive Republican audiences across the state.

So why, suddenly,  is it stop-the-press time for every newsroom (including Finnegan’s own) to breathlessly report that Whitman is now “officially” running for governor (not to mention giving the same speech she’s been giving all year)?

This just in: World War I officially over; Paraguay officially located south of U.S.; Disco officially still dead. We’re just sayin’.

johnwayneIf it’s news, it’s news to us: Awaking from a long summer’s nap, meanwhile, the mighty web site of the bygodlatimes  finally figured out what the rest of the blogosphere determined weeks ago – that the Parsky Commission tax reform is DOA in the Legislature.

Timesman Eric Bailey correctly notes that the key stake in the heart for the plan is the damning letter from a group of prominent economists and other chrome domes dismantling Parsky’s pet proposal, the controversial Business Net Receipts Tax. What he doesn’t say is that the letter somehow never made it to the commission’s web site while the panel was actually in session, getting posted only after the final, final (we really mean it this time), final meeting of the group.

jerryCalbuzz gets results: Kudos to Rick Orlov, the Southland’s best political scribe, for doing what no one else had been successful in doing – twisting Jerry Brown’s arm until the General finally ‘fessed up that he’ll soon form an exploratory committee to raise money to run for governor. Brown’s acknowledgement followed by a few days a serious bit of Calbuzz caterwauling about how borrrrrring his endless prevarications were getting.

“They are talking about spending $150 million,” Brown told Orlov, speaking of possble GOP foe eMeg. “They will buy up all the airtime with that kind of money.”


Which is exactly why Brown needs to cut the Zen crap and not only start dialing for dollars but also put together a campaign team that goes beyond him, Anne and the dog in the loft in Oakland. Are you listening, Joe Trippi?

Why North Dakota’s Senior Senator is a twit, Chapter 32: Kent Conrad, who makes Max Baucus look like a single payer socialist, will stop at nothing to trash the notion of a public option in the health care reform debate, including the rankest form of hypocrisy, as firedoglake makes perfectly clear.


Break out the decoder rings: Following our curiouser and curiouser update on Monday about the tangled tale of Hewlett-Packard sales to Iran during Carly Fiorina’s stint as CEO, iCarly flack Beth Miller emailed to  “clarify” an earlier comment she’d made on the matter.

In that piece, we reprised a Miller quote, which first appeared in the blog of conservative writer and radio yakker Eric Hogue, describing would-be  Senator Fiorina as “shocked, upset and totally caught off guard” in regards to the Iran issue; we reported that Miller said that was her candidate’s  reaction to a question Hogue had posed, suggesting that HP may have violated a U.S. trade ban with third party sales to Iran during Hurricane Carly’s reign.

But the day after our post, Miller emailed Calbuzz to state that what she had meant to say earlier was that Fiorina was “shocked,” etc., not by Hogue’s question, but by ithe whole subject being raised in the first place  by Mike Zapler, who broke the HP-Iran story for the Merc.

Miller’s a pro so we take her at her word, and at first her “clarification” seemed like a distinction without a difference – except that Hogue, who is popular among the Republican right wing that Fiorina is courting, had followed up our Monday story with yet another Carly-Iran piece, taking issue with Miller’s portrayal to us of his interview with her, and expressing bafflement at the construction she had put on it.

We recount this angels-on-a-pinhead tale simply because it underscores anew our original point: the Iran connection story represents a  political quicksand pit for Fiorina. In a defensive stance even before her campaign gets started, she ‘s already parsing, recalibrating and clarifying, instead of  stepping up to tackle the fundamental question head-on:  what did she know and when did she know it about HP’s third party sales to Iran?

Greatest web site in the history of the world: HO to Merv “The Swami” Field, for pointing us, in lingeriefootballhis wildly popular Mill Valley Record column, to RunPee.com, a splendid consumer service site that provides in exquisite detail the exact points in first-run movies when you can run to the head and not miss anything important – along with the duration of the bathroom breaks you can safely take. With a memorable branding slogan – “helping your bladder enjoy going to the movies as much as you do” – the site can be found here.

Today’s sign the end of civilization is near: The whacky world of Lingerie Football.

How Cal Profs, Students Are Reinventing Journalism

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

By Cliff henryBarney
Special to Calbuzz

Whether newspapers vanish or morph into flexible multimedia press lords of the 21st Century, grads of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism will be ready.

The school’s required introductory course —  J200: Reporting the News — has been turned into a multimedia training ground whose laboratories are three Bay Area hyperlocal news websites. They are designed to produce a new breed of journalist, a kind of media Army of One, not dependent on the fate of the troubled print journalism industry.

Each of the news sites — MissionLoc@l in San Francisco’s Mission District; Oakland North; and, next month, Richmond Confidential — is edited by a veteran professional from the J-School faculty, and staffed by about one-third of the entering class of 50-plus students. Reporters and multimedia producers in a single skin, students are responsible for a feature every week; instead of being graded and forgotten, these stories are revised, edited and re-edited until they are ready for publication.

“It’s become the core of what we are doing,” says J-School Dean Neil Henry. “We are trying to address the crisis in our industry. Since we are the only journalism school in the UC system, it’s incumbent on us to serve the public interest.”

Across the nation, online hyperlocal news sites have sprung up to supply the kind of local coverage that newspapers used to provide, but increasingly are abandoning because of staff reductions; one quarter of all news jobs have vanished since 2001, and local coverage has been sacrificed in the name of cost savings. Almost none of the hyperlocal sites make money (though a few do), and some don’t even try; they are labors of love and thus subject to the mood swings and lapses common to the blogosphere. Coverage can be spotty or spot-on.

Hyperlocal sites are typically run by single, dedicated editors, both professional and amateur, infatuated with their beat. Some are cold-blooded robots from Web 2.0, crafted to make money in the Link Economy. Some are run by newspapers; some are glorified blogs. They are one of the most popular forms to have developed from web technology.

The Bay Area’s J-School sites are professional newsrooms, though youchavez_lydia wouldn’t think so from a first glance at MissionLoc@l headquarters on 20th Street; it’s a tiny storefront space, half taken up by statuary parked there by the owner. There, former New York Times correspondent Lydia Chavez, who once had all of South America as her beat, is reinventing journalism with a couple of graduate assistants, two media gurus newly hired by the school, and her eager staff of amateurs.

MissionLoc@l teaches basic reporting, and assigns reporters to beats: two on government, another pair on city services, three on education, two on crime, two on the arts, etc. The reporters dig up stories and tell them with a variety of cameras, recorders, and other multimedia tools that their forebearers saw only as toys. Stories are not just assigned –- they are storyboarded. Once reported in various media they may be processed with Garage Band, mashed with Google Maps, and otherwise digitally transmuted.

Chavez still focuses on the news; she brags not about a sensational video, or even about the Webby award the site won this year, but about the mostly-text story of the failing local music business that a student teased out of a remark concerning a canceled live event. “Worthy of a Times page one article,” she says.

Similarly, Chavez’s colleague, former Washington Post correspondent Cynthia Gorney at Oakland North, takes pride in the piece one of her reporters broke on the Labor Day shooting death of a young woman. Like Chavez, Gorney is an old-school reporter who professes ignorance of the deeper intricacies of multimedia. “I worry about multimedia distracting from the essence of what we do, which is report and write good sentences.”

But Gorney appreciates the school’s emphasis on integrating media into the assignment, and using it to tell a story the best way, rather than simply adding video to some text. “I have become a big fan,” she says.

The hyperlocal labs came into existence almost accidentally, out of a multimedia program that has been in development for a decade at the school, in which students learned to blend video, audio, text, graphics, and photography, and from a single hyperlocal site developed for suburban Albany by a J-School student, Linda Fan, as her thesis project. That site was an instant success (though it has faltered since Fan graduated and left town), and the school tried to emulate it with five similar sites last year; these have been telescoped to three with the melding of the multimedia program and hyperlocal web publication in a mandatory course this year.

grabowiczThe program is currently funded by a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, scared up by Henry and Paul Grabowicz, who has run the school’s multimedia program for a decade and has been prodding journalists to get online all the while. Grabowicz says teaching multimedia and news together represents a huge change in the focus and impact of the J-School curriculum. Students now expect to use multimedia as a part of all classes. Most of them like it, he says, and take to it naturally.

“This is the most exciting time I’ve worked in,” says Chavez, who postponed a sabbatical leave for a year in order to get MissionLoc@l up to speed. “These kids are young and hungry; they aren’t looking for nonexistent jobs, they have a more entrepreneurial view [of their careers]. They will define what journalism is for the next 50 years.”

A Calbuzz Footnote: The folks at the not-so-hyper local site voiceofsandiego.org are showing how it’s possible to put out a wholly online local newsreport if you’ve got philanthropic backing.

How ABC Gave Newsom a Big Fat Spin Bounce

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

teddydavisWhen the Gavin Newsom campaign put out the notice  that former President Bill Clinton was endorsing the Prince of Prides for governor, it appeared our old friend Teddy Davis, deputy political director at ABC News, was first to break the news on abcnews.go.com.

Which was a smart play by the Newsom campaign because the story got a big, national bounce and it was cast exactly the way Newsom’s campaign Rasputin, Garry South, wanted it framed.

Why? Well it didn’t hurt that the story was written by Teddy, who cut his teeth in big-time politics as South’s personal right-hand man during Gray Davis’s (no relation) 1998 campaign for governor.

Surely the smart, honest and honorable Teddy –- who has since crossed over to neutral territory as an ABC news maven — did not set out to write a propaganda piece for the Newsom campaign. But that’s the practical effect of his article. And because of our astonishing seismic impact in shaping the story for national reporters and others looking in from outside California, Calbuzz feels an obligation to explain why this piece of reporting was all spin. (Our own analysis is available here.)

1. The first and crucial quote that frames the ABC story comes from Ben Tulchin, another old friend, who is cast as “a California-based pollster who is unaligned in the 2010 governor’s race.”

That may be technically true, but the estimable Tulchin is also very close to South: when Teddy Davis was South’s right-hand man, Tulchin served in the same capacity for Paul Maslin, who was Gray Davis’s pollster in the ’98 race. In addition, anyone following the race knows that Tulchin has been arguing for months that Newsom is the stronger candidate for governor and that voters will see Attorney General Jerry Brown as over-the-hill.

Tulchin’s second-graph quote: “This is huge. It’s a potential game-changer.” On this, the story hangs.

Mark DiCamillo of the Field Poll or Mark Baldassare at PPIC would have been what you might call “neutral” polling sources. Tulchin is not.

2. To bolster the argument that Clinton can help Newsom expand his appeal to Latinos – especially now that LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has dropped out of the race – who did ABC quote but state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles, who happens to be chairman of Newsom’s campaign!

3. To further burnish the value of the Clinton endorsement, ABC turned to another Calbuzz friend, Chris Lehane, who joined Mark Fabiani (now his business partner), in the Clinton White House in 1995 as part of a rapid response team developed to deal with the growing number of investigations into bimbo eruptions, lying and indiscretions.

During the Gray Davis administration, Lehane and Fabiani were hired at $30,000 a month – the kind of expense Davis did not make without consulting Garry South — to run communications during the energy crisis. Until the controller refused to pay them because of a conflict of interest: they were already working as consultants to Southern California Edison which was negotiating with the state to avert bankruptcy.

Lehane, who is both brilliant and quick, also later helped South during the 2002 re-election campaign – playing the part of GOP opponent Bill Simon during debate preparation. He also worked against the Gray Davis recall the following year.

Whether Teddy Davis knows that Newsom often seeks Lehane’s counsel and that his press secretary, Peter Ragone, is a Lehane protégé, Calbuzz is not sure. But Joe Garofoli wrote about it in detail in the SF Chron back in 2004. He also noted that Lehane’s wife, Andrea Evans, was a Newsom appointee to the Commission on the Status of Women.

So using Lehane as a neutral political commentator on this story is bogus.

4. Calbuzz found it curious that in discussing the impact of Clinton’s endorsements on various races, ABC neglected to mention the most obvious one: the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign – Terry McAuliffe – who got waxed in the Virginia governor’s race this year, despite big-time support from Bill and Hillary.

002-2355. There’s no argument by or even a response from anyone in the Brown camp about the effect of the endorsement. Nor is there any serious description of the 1992 campaign in which Jerry Brown attacked Clinton relentlessly – right up into the New York convention – creating tremendous bad blood between the Clintons and Brown.

As if to acknowledge this failure of reporting and balance, Teddy twice mentions 1992 – without explaining the background or what actually happened – only to swat it down.

“If the Brown campaign portrays the Clinton endorsement as lingering sour grapes over the 1992 campaign, Lehane said he thinks it could backfire.

“Bill Clinton is one of the most popular Democrats in California,” Lehane said. “The last thing in the world you would want to do is inject some conflict into this endorsement, because it would just get it out there in a bigger way.”

Also, ABC reported: “… the Brown camp may try to dismiss Clinton’s endorsement as simply the latest obligatory stop on the former president’s ‘payback tour.’  Tulchin said, however, that the Clinton endorsement cannot be dismissed so easily. ‘Clinton could have easily taken a pass,’ Tulchin said. ‘The fact that he is coming out now is a bold move.’”

Instead of serious argument, ABC created reportorial straw men, which were then destroyed with quotes from Lehane and Tulchin.

Calbuzz tried to talk to Teddy  about the story but was informed by Ms. Emily Lenzer of ABC News Media Relations that, “it is ABC News policy for media relations to approve and/or handle all media requests.”

So Calbuzz sent an email outlining our critique and Emily replied with Teddy’s responses (summarized here):

— Tulchin is not polling for any of the current gubernatorial candidates and besides, Calbuzz quoted him as a “nonaligned Democratic pollster” back in March. (That’s true, Calbuzz did quote Tulchin — in a story about why Dianne Feinstein would not run for governor. So what?)

— Lehane was identified as a “former Clinton adviser,” and  is quoted as saying: “Jerry Brown is still very much the candidate to beat and has run a great campaign to date.” (We didn’t say he wasn’t identified.)

— The ABC News story refers to the major 2010 races in which Bill Clinton has already made an endorsement. (But not the McAuliffe 2009 race.)

— Brown’s identity as a “1992 rival” of former President Clinton is reported throughout the story starting with the headline. (But who knows what that really means?)

—  If an allegation is made about someone, ABC News makes a point of including reaction from the person or entity criticized. By contrast, this Clinton endorsement story does not include any criticism about Brown or his record. (ABC said the endorsement is a potential game changer that could upend the race. No one, from anywhere, argued otherwise.)

“ABC News stands by Teddy Davis’ reporting of this story,” said Lenzer. We’re glad that his employer is standing by our friend Teddy who, after all, worked for at least half of us back in the Davis administration.

Shooting the Wounded: Crusty, Chickens, Oil & eMeg

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Jerrykrustycollage and Ralph Redux: Our High Minded Journalistic Standards and Ethics Schmethics Department has sent down a memo instructing us to recap a prickly issue from the Calbuzz Weekend Edition, for those who may have missed it because of doing something weird, like going outside.

In an early version of our post about the battle for the Democratic nomination for governor, we misstated the year that Crusty the General Brown voted for Ralph Nader for president; it’s a significant matter because some regular Democrats (including at least one Calbuzzbabe), who saw Nader’s vanity candidacy in 2000 as the key reason Al Gore eventually lost the presidency to W, would view such a move by Jerry as disqualifying in deciding their vote for the 2010 governor’s race.

The spread of the erroneous claim that Brown went for Nader in 2000 is a good  example of how a false factoid that gets published in the MSM metastasizes through the bloodstream of the internets and quickly becomes received wisdom So for the record:

1. Jerry Brown did not back Ralph Nader in 2000, he endorsed Al Gore.
2. Jerry Brown did back Nader in 1996, and refused to support Bill Clinton for re-election.


Crusty disclosed his 1996 vote for Nader during the March 25, 1998 broadcast of “Crossfire,” the prototypical, political food fight crosstalk show, then co-hosted by onetime Brown aide Bill Press (“from the left”) and the late conservative columnist Bob Novak (“from the right”), which has since been cancelled by CNN.

At the time, Brown was running for mayor of Oakland and, in full-throated populist reformer mode, had recently switched his voter registration from Democrat to decline-to-state; Clinton was in the full throes of stained-blue-dress Lewinskyism. Here’s the key section of “Crossfire”:

NOVAbluedressK: But Jerry, I’m going to ask you a question the Democrats will not answer. They won’t even go on this show, most of them, because they’re afraid I’ll ask the question, and, but you’re not a Democrat anymore. Now, I want you to give your opinion of the morality of Bill Clinton, the personal morality.

BROWN: Well, I don’t feel I’m in a position to judge his personal morality. I can tell you this, I think as a, as someone who’s supposed to be directing the Democratic Party in the direction of caring for the common man, like Truman or Roosevelt, it’s not there. The Democratic Party has been taken over by a confederacy of corruption, campaign consultants and lobbyists and Bill Clinton has led the way and I don’t approve of it.

NOVAK: The allegations about his personal life don’t bother you?

BROWN: First of all, they’re not proven and secondly I think that the policy failures are so overwhelming that I’m not going to marginalize them by giving dignity to these allegations that have yet to be tried in a court of law.

NOVAK: Did you vote for him for reelection?

BROWN: No, I voted for Ralph Nader.

A final tidbit: at one point in the show, Press replays the famous 1992 confrontation in which Brown for the first time raises what later became known as the Whitewater scandal, during a debate with Clinton in Chicago. Here’s the exchange coming out of the clip:

PRESS: So there you are. I mean, you’re not attacking the candidate, you’re attacking…

NOVAK: Sounds good to me.

PRESS: You’re attacking his wife, in fact, the negative campaigning and you’re the one that started this whole Rose law firm Whitewater business, aren’t you?

BROWN: You know, guess what? The agriculture, the chicken industry, the secretary of agriculture is now indicted because of favors being done to the chicken industry. So it isn’t just fecal matter, it’s actual corruption.

NOVAK: Jerry Brown, I’m going to ask you a – in the first place, I think you were…

BROWN: So I was dead on, dead right on.

NOVAK: You were prophetic.

ahabMoby Dick in state waters: Assemblyman Pedro Nava has been true to his word in not letting up in his attacks on PXP, the oil company seeking that controversial lease to drill in state waters off the coast of Santa Barbara.

The company a few weeks ago released the alleged findings of a professional poll that purported to find that a majority of Californians support the project, known as Tranquillon Ridge, in which the company would slant drill from an existing platform it uses in federal waters, more than three miles offshore.

Nava immediately cried foul, demanded that PXP release the complete poll results, and began issuing a near-daily press release posing a series of suggested survey questions worded from an anti-offshore drilling perspective. The Captain Ahab of California oil politics, Nava at press time had sent out about 10 releases (latest: “Nava to PXP: ‘Did the PXP Poll inform Californians that it would increase global warming pollution and that according to the State Lands Commission report these emissions ‘are not likely to be mitigated any time in the near future, if ever’?” to the sound of resounding silence from the oil company.

PXP did respond to a Calbuzz request to see the poll, in a sorta, kinda’ way; Rachel Pitts, a very pleasant marketing consultant in the Aaron Read shop, emailed us two of the questions and the results they elicited. Without seeing the entire survey, the wording and order of questions, however, there’s no way to tell how legit the findings are.

Pitts told us she couldn’t release the complete, secret poll to us, for  “proprietary reasons.”

Calbuzz gets results: Under a constant barrage of criticism (we name no names) for her Rose Garden strategy for governor, GOP front-runner Meg Whitman is tip-toeing closer to participating in an actual debate with her rivals. On Saturday, eMeg finally showed up at an event where Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell were also appearing; although not a real debate, it was at least a baby step into the world of political combat for Her Megness: C’mon girlfriend, you can do it.

Let’s put on a show: Frustrated with eMeg’s refusal to stand for third-party debates, Poizner has produced one of his own, putting up a You Tube clip that juxtaposes some of her recent comments on taxes with his own pitch for sweeping tax cuts, along with a few gushy words for the Comish from Larry Kudlow, who hosted both of them on CNBC last week. You can find it all here.