“60 Minutes”: DiFi’s Mystery Drone Was A Toy


difidroneSecret Agent Senator:  Not since Dianne Feinstein’s Senate freshman year, when she rhetorically cold cocked Republican Larry “Wide Stance” Craig over gun control, has she won such attention as that prompted by her recent attack on the CIA.

From Rand Paul to Patrick Leahy, and on every broadcast and cable outfit in the land, DiFi earned plaudits for her takedown of Langley spooks for allegedly hacking computers of her intelligence committee staffers, in search of data crucial to the panel’s probe of Bush-era use of torture.

Fair enough, but what about the crucial issue of the mysterious Presidio Terrace drone?

While many media mavens left and right, large and small, gushed over Feinstein’s big spy-vs-spy speech, they looked away from the cuckoo claim by California’s senior Senator that she was snooped upon by a drone while in the considerable comfort of her San Francisco manse.

Not so “60 Minutes.”

At long last, two months after we started yammering about Senator DiFi’s phony fable regarding her imaginary friend the drone, the tick-tick-tick show became the one and only one MSM organization with the guts and grit to throw down the gauntlet on this momentous matter.

Okay, so it was a very soft and teeny gauntlet. But still.

Katie Couric Hosts 18th Annual Broadcasting & Cable Hall Of Fame AwardsMorley Safer, near the end of a pretty interesting piece on commercial drones, interviewed Dianne, who opposes their proliferation. At 10:17 of his report, Difi repeats the yarn she first spun to Senate committee in January, of how she “peeked” out the window during a Code Pink demonstration outside her home to find “there’s a drone facing me.”

Safer serves up a big yuk, quickly followed by footage of the protest against Feinstein’s staunch backing of the NSA’s massive data collection program: “The demonstrators who were protesting government surveillance say it wasn’t a drone, just a toy helicopter,” he says confirming what was first reported by the Atlantic Wire, and which we’ve been droning on about ever since.

Calbuzz get results. Again.

And now, a lighter story: With Feinstein and the CIA hurling accusations of law-breaking at each other, we see by the morning paper that the Justice Department doesn’t want any part of this one. Calbuzz doesn’t look for any charges to be filed anytime soon.

Five other takeaways from her pasting of her erstwhile Agency pals:

1-Those Bezerkeleyites and other libs suddenly hurling huzzahs at secrecy surveillance sweetheart Dianne for apparently changing her spots (mixed metaphor? –ed.) should hold off on the Nobel Peace Prize nomination letters. Despite trashing the CIA, there’s not a hint that she’s changed her mind on the NSA’s total monitoring of phone calls, emails, texts, Facebook postings and brain wave signals of Americans, which she insists are national security necessities, despite howls from what she condescends to call “the privacy people.”

2-Feinstein’s surprise attack comes amid widespread Democratic fears that they will lose the Senate in November; Republican control would cost her the chairmanship of the intelligence committee, and pose the possibility that the long-delayed torture report might never be released.

difi3-Feinstein at key points in her career has tended to use private, sometimes anecdotal experiences to craft policy. Two examples: Dianne has traced her flip-flop on capital punishment to witnessing, while on the state women’s parole board, a female felon’s testimony that she never took a loaded gun into an armed robbery for fear of accidentally killing someone and getting the death penalty. And Dianne routinely explains her support of gun control by recounting the gory details of finding Harvey Milk’s body after his assassination.

Now, suddenly, her transformation from intelligence community shill to fierce CIA critic comes only after her committee’s privacy may have been violated, never mind the feelings of millions of plain folks outraged by government spying on them, a double standard duly noted by critics from Jon Stewart to Edward Snowden.

4-It may be coincidence, but Feinstein turned on the CIA in Washington at a time when her popularity ratings at home are drooping; as Calbuzz has noted, she’s lost 15 points since being re-elected, during a time when she emerged as the most visible champion of government spying in the nation.

5-We should look so good at 80.

carla premium_author_bioScoops and screams:  That blast you heard from Fifth and Mission in S.F. was the sound of Carla Marinucci’s head exploding when she read a piece by John Hrabe at Cal Newsroom asserting that her excloo on the shabby voting record of GOP wannabe governor Neel Kashkari was handed to her wrapped in a big red bow, and insinuating she was unethical for running it without disclosing where she got it.

“SF Chronicle scoop on Kashkari’s voting record came from Kashkari campaign,” Hrabe headlined his piece, published Monday.

Swiftly taking to Facebook, Costco Carla flatly denied it:  ”The reporter never contacted me on this story. If he had, I would have told him it is totally false.” Those comments were quite mild compared to what she had to say later:

“#*@%&*#*!%##@**!!!” she told us, in part.

Let’s be clear on what’s truly important here: the substance of Marinucci’s original story. In seeking an entry level job as the chief executive of the nation’s largest state, Cash comes to the task with a lousy record in performing the most fundamental responsibility of citizenship.

In the interest of full disclosure, we also note that Calbuzz has, at various times over several decades, worked and socialized with Carla. At least half of us was the editor of her college paper, and at least half of the rest hired her into her current position. We know her as a person of integrity and a seasoned reporter who doesn’t cut corners. That said, a couple of observations on the flap that has politics and media types mongering gossip:

–We’re still trying to figure out why Kashkari’s campaign would want to leak his crummy voting record to the Chronicle so Marinucci could get a story in the paper on the day the announces he’s running, as Hrabe claims: “The Kashkari campaign supplied the Chronicle with all the information for its story. And the Chronicle rewarded Kashkari’s openness by dropping it the day of his campaign launch. “ Huh? How is stepping on his announcement story a favor?

— Hrabe claims that if Marinucci had tracked Cash’s voting records herself, there would a document or official notation in every registrar’s office where she looked: “The six registrar of voters cited in the Chronicle story have no records of ever being contacted by the Chronicle, leaving Kashkari as the only person with a full history of his voting record at that time,” he wrote.

hrabe 408b7b2cee508f5216b8b733af0c34b6But anyone who’s covered politics knows it’s not hard to check someone’s voting record without leaving a trail of crumbs, sometimes by strolling into the registrar’s office, or getting a friendly clerk on the phone or working through a data base firm that does public record searches. Hrabe writes that “a form would have been completed,” or “secondary evidence would have existed in the form of internal records about the phone call, e.g. a press officer’s notes” and reports there are documents on requests by other reporters. For an ostensibly conservative journalist, he sure puts a lot of faith in the performance of public employees.

— Marinucci has broken the same story about candidates failing to vote about 50 times, most notably in 2010, when her reporting knocked Meg Whitman off her axis. It wasn’t like anybody had to plant the Kashkari story – she checks out newbie candidates as a matter of routine.

–In defending his very bad decision not to call Marinucci before posting his story, Hrabe says this in an email exchange with our old friend Dan Borenstein, who’s also writing on the subject, that’s posted on Cal Newsroom: “An ace reporter like Carla Marinucci would have beat CalNewsroom.com to publication.” Huh II? Publication of what? A first-person Chronicle story reporting that she was a shill for the Kashkari campaign?

Fleischman— A secondary issue arises from Hrabe wearing at least two journalistic hats in production of his story. First he reported and wrote it; he also apparently edited it (“I am solely responsible for the piece,” he emailed Borenstein) and, finally, he linked to it on the popular conservative website Flashreport, where he works as “senior editor” a couple days a week (Here we recall the newsroom maxim: “Every writer needs an editor”), including last Sunday when Jon Fleischman, the site’s proprietor, was carousing at the Republican convention.

Fleischman pleas that as an aggregator he doesn’t have to vouch for the content of every story he links to. A sensitive soul, however, he’s chewing his liver as he ponders a navel-gazing column. Plenty of free parking.

smith,ron4524-crop-sb10*304Bottom line: A big swing that missed. Having found no documentary trail of Marinucci researching Kashkari’s voting record, Hrabe seems then to have assumed there were no alternative explanations, and unfairly trashed Marinucci. Another newsroom wheeze: “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”

Update March 22: The aforementioned Borenstein has now filed his column on this matter. You can find it here.

Ron Smith, RIP. At press time, we received the sad news that our old friend Ron Smith, one of the more decent, civil and genuine people in the business, has died at 71. Ron worked for a host of California politicians that we covered, including Feinstein, Tom Campbell, Ed Zschau, Pete McCloskey and Becky Morgan, and he was unfailingly honest, gentlemanly and of good cheer. Mark Barabak’s nice obit is here.

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There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar Sideline says:

    I honestly do not recall what phrase we used before Saturday Night Live gave us “Not ready for prime time.” Whatever phrase that was, however, may be applied neatly to Mr. Kashkari.

  2. avatar sqrjn says:

    Diane Feinstein has made an extremely successful career out of self serving exaggeration and emotional appeals. You guys make fun of her for turning a toy helicopter into a surveillance drone, but applaud her for claiming Harvey Milk’s death turned her into a gun expert. Both claims are equally ridiculous and both stem from the same set of character flaws.

    • avatar pjhackenflack says:

      sqrjn – that was kinda our point, which apparently the Department of Editorial Precision and Sewage Line Repair did not clean up and clarify sufficiently.

  3. avatar sqrjn says:

    *embarrassed* take it as a sign that your writing is of such subtle brilliance that even the boneheads who don’t appreciate your irony are brought to honest outrage and total agreement with your intent.

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