Meg Whitman’s shape shifting versions of exactly what happened when she angrily forced a subordinate out of a conference room at eBay in 2007 reflects an increasingly clear and familiar pattern in her bid for governor: she just can’t keep her stories straight.
Time and again, usually on the rare occasions when she ventures outside her costly campaign bubble, eMeg enmeshes herself in thickets of conflicting statements, contradictions and clarifications as she tries and fails to explain not only her position on policy issues but, more troubling, events in her personal history.
The latest example followed the New York Times June 14 disclosure that as eBay’s CEO, Whitman “forcefully pushed” out of an executive conference room communications staffer Young Mi Kim, with whose performance she was unhappy. eBay stockholders later paid for a secret legal settlement in the matter worth about $200,000, according to the story.
Responding to the report, Team Whitman described the incident as a commonplace workplace disagreement: “A verbal dispute in a high-pressure working environment isn’t out of the ordinary,” her press secretary said.
eMeg herself used virtually the same characterization during a radio interview a few days later which, as we reported , challenged the fundamental accuracy of the Times account.
But last week, when Whitman had one of her infrequent question and answer sessions with reporters at a campaign event, she changed her story: from a not “out of the ordinary” conflict, the episode became, in her own words, an “anomaly,” an outlier act at sharp odds with her normal demeanor and behavior. Moreover, after 10 days in which she and her handlers insisted it was a “verbal dispute,” eMeg admitted for the first time that she had “physically escorted” the employee out of the room.
As a practical matter, there’s a big difference between a cranky boss who raises her voice and one who manhandles a staff member, just as there is between a business executive for whom such behavior is typical and an anomaly: say about a $200,000 difference.
Still, as a political matter, eMeg’s multiple explanations for the Young Mi Kim episode might represent little more than a minor blip – except for the fact that it’s one of more than a half-dozen examples of the candidate providing shaded, even kaleidoscopic versions of the truth, which for Whitman at times seems less a factually-based fixed point than an amalgam of easily evolving explanations and excuses.
Routinely hidden behind the extraordinarily expensive marketing campaign that masks her private self and crafts her public image, Whitman to date has paid scant political price for this behavior. But the central meme being pushed by Democratic rival Jerry Brown – his authenticity vs. her artifice – seeks to define the campaign as largely being about trust.
In the effort to frame the contest, look for the Brown camp to point to other examples of eMeg’s veracity-challenged statements and positions:
When did she vote and when did she know it? Whitman’s biggest stumble to date came during a two-week stretch last year when she tried to simply account for, let alone explain, her dismal record of not voting.
The lowlight came during her now-infamous embarrassing performance during a press conference at the Republican state convention and, while the issue has since subsided, Whitman has still not provided satisfactory answers to some lingering questions about the matter.
When did she live here and when did she know it? In her very first campaign ad, Whitman broadcast a glaring factual error about what would seem to be a rather simple fact: how long she has lived in the state she plans now to govern. It wasn’t until the SacBee blew the whistle that her campaign hurriedly changed the text of the spot.
What’s in her ads and when did she know it? In the home stretch of her successful campaign for the Republican nomination, Whitman tried to soft peddle the cynical turn to the right she’d taken on the illegal immigration issue, brazenly and falsely insisting to a Politico reporter that she had never – never! – used an inflammatory image of the fence at the Mexico-U.S. border, when anyone with eyes knew she had.
The dust-up over the ad reflected a broader effort on Whitman’s part to talk out of both sides of her mouth on the immigration issue: she first used Prop. 187 sponsor Pete Wilson to provide cred for being tough in the primary (after she’d earlier voiced support for a path to citizenship for undocumented workers) then completed the triple somersault after the nomination was hers with new ads wooing Latinos by stating her purported opposition to Prop. 187.
Goldman Sachs — The two faces of eMeg: Whitman’s close financial, personal and political connections to the scandal-tainted investment bank Goldman Sachs have been the focus of much dissembling.
Among a series of misleading statements, she repeatedly claimed that she left the Goldman Sachs board – or “fired them,” as she likes to say – because she “didn’t like the culture (and) the management”; in fact, she quit the board the very day the SEC announced a settlement with banks outlawing the conflict of interest practice of stock spinning, from which eMeg reaped rich profits.
Waiting for Godot – and eMeg’s tax returns: Whitman, whose $1 billion personal wealth includes reams of complex investments, including offshore funds, has given a moving target series of statements about when, if and how she would release her personal tax returns.
At the GOP state convention in March, she said she would release 25 years worth, a position she changed a few days later when she said she would only release summaries; not long after that, she said she would only release hers when Brown released his, but after Brown promised to do so in a proposed agreement put forth by the Mercury News, eMeg has produced nothing but excuses for not doing the same.
Drill, baby, drill – or not: As with other matters, Whitman has serially switched her position on drilling for oil off the coast of California. When she stumped for John McCain in the 2008 presidential race, she backed his call for more drilling because advanced technology allegedly made it safe, a stance she repeated in the early months of her campaign for governor; after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, she told Calbuzz she had changed her mind and now opposes offshore drilling, then insisted to other reporters that she has always opposed the policy.
It doesn’t matter what you say about the other guys: Whitman has consistently misrepresented the records of her opponents on spending and tax issues.
During the primary, she frequently accused Poizner of sharply increasing spending at the Department of Insurance, even after the Bee debunked it after examining the claim in depth and detail; in her race against Brown, she routinely accuses him of supporting higher taxes, a charge for which she has produced no evidence, while also accusing Brown of massive tax increases during his first term as governor, a charge shot down by Joe Mathews, among others.
Perhaps the most graphic and revealing incident about Whitman’s relationship to the truth came on March 10, when she staged a Potemkin “Town Hall” meeting which was purportedly an open and public exchange with interested voters, but was in fact a phony set-up featuring planted questions, a pre-screened audience, the exclusion of video cameras and several participants re-asking questions so the candidate could revise her answers, a shameful spectacle that a Poizner press aide accurately described at the time as “the actions of an out-of-touch billionaire trying to buy the election and fool voters.”
As Calbuzz used to say back in the day when we covered races for the Roman Senate: caveat emptor.