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Hugh Hewitt - Principal Contributor

Mr. Hewitt is senior member of the editorial board.

Media Recall Crackup ...
The rise of the blogs...
[Hugh Hewitt] 09/01/03

The California papers are full of horse-race stories, Bustamante profiles, MEChA-mongering, and unsolicited advice for AS (AS = Arnold Schwarzenegger). The blogs continue to outperform print and electronic media, with Kausfiles and Dan Weintraub having set a standard of relevance and timeliness that the dinosaurs can't begin to hope to match. Incredibly, the Los Angeles Times still doesn't have a blog on the recall --perhaps because they have no reporter capable of running such an effort? PrestoPundit, Tacitus, LA Observed, Priorities & Frivolities, The California Republic, CalBlog and SoCalLawBlog provide everything the interested reader needs to know, and do so hours if not days before AM catches up. (AM = Ancient Media.)

The blogging of the recall is a preview of the effect of the new media on the presidential race, and smart papers will be watching the Weintraub/Kausfiles success for a model on how to proceed. Short answer: Arm your three best correspondents with blogs and turn them loose to post. Weintraub, like Kaus, is the rare journalist about whom it can be said that fairness permeates their work. This might be the precondition of a successful campaign coverage blog, but not necessarily. If a lefty reporter gets a blog and runs it to the advantage of one candidate, that could hurt a paper's credibility, but only if the reporter's bias was undisclosed or unbalanced by a righty getting his or her own blog.

But now the criticism: The underlying story of the recall remains largely unexplored by all media, new and old. That story turns on these questions: Is the California legislature churning out a large number of new and very radical statutes, judging by the standards at work in the other 49 states? Does the California legislature appear to have even a minimal grasp on economics, or does it seem to act as though there is no such thing as a business climate? Do special interests dominate Sacramento to an extent unparalleled in other state legislatures, with the result that enormously unbalanced legislation is arriving on Gray's desk (and has been for five years) without the ordinary moderations enforced by two-party rule? These and similar questions should be the foundation upon which all recall reporting is done, but no serious look at them has occurred in any of the state's major media.

I think any serious look at the legislative actions in Sacramento over the past five years, up to and including the bills currently moving rapidly towards Gray's desk because of his desperate need for allies, are far and away the most radical set of legislative actions of any state in the last two generations, and perhaps since Reconstruction. The decisions to vastly expand leave provisions for employees, to confer domestic partnership upon same sex couples, to vest land use authority over "sacred sites" in California's Tribes and to expand and legitimize casino gambling throughout the state, to reorder the power distribution system in response to shortages that were foreseeable due to a lack of plant capacity, etc, etc while refusing to act to control the costs of worker's comp and while allowing taxes to spike even as high-earning professionals and business-owners become frustrated with a collapsing education system, sky-high house prices, and ever expanding worker entitlements --does this pattern of governance seem even remotely responsible to anyone? Does the award of a huge hike in pay to the prison guard union or the gift of the colossally ill-advised Oracle contract reflect isolated misjudgments and a rare political pay-off, or a pervasive Sacramento culture of get-in-and-get-yours while no one is looking?

The national news media that is parachuting in to cover the rumpus has no idea of this background, and there is a huge incentive for the California media to ignore it: To suddenly discover ignorance, indifference, and corruption in Sacramento will position the California media, and especially the Los Angeles Times, in much the same pose as Captain Louis Renault when he discovers gambling in Rick's Place.

So the Golden State's scribblers are focusing on everything but the Sacramento mess that is fueling the outrage. Tripling the car tax --an illegal, and deeply resented move by a governor and legislature that literally lacks the brainpower to do anything other than keep spending-- ignited the explosion in popular disgust. The response of the Sacramento gang is to try and trick the voters into replacing Gray with Cruz, as though dividing by zero is possible in politics though not in math. AS considers the downside of a race --he knows everything that can and will be said about him-- and decides to run the gauntlet of wreckers that pass for political consultants in California, and he campaigns on cleaning up Sacramento. The stage is thus set for a very significant campaign about the future of the state.

To which the chattering class responds with focus on the Oui interview and on AS's positions on abortion. Captain Renault knows what is required of him.

A perfect example of this refusal to focus on the Sacramento disease is in Sunday morning's Los Angeles Times op-ed by Peter King. Understand that Peter King is the best the Times' has --their top shelf brand, a first-rank writer in love with the state and blessed with the ability to push noun against verb that matches up well with anyone in the column writing business.

What King turns in today is the most conventional rewrite of the week's news going, and it ends this way:

"Schwarzenegger did give a terrific, albeit brief, speech in Fresno Thursday, exhorting an enthusiastic crowd to rise up against the "system," to announce to Sacramento that "we aren't going to take it anymore." In short, he either was the perfect image of a populist leader -- or an actor delivering the perfect image of the populist leader. We have five weeks to figure out which."

Just like almost every other mainstream media writer, King dodges the central questions listed above. It is like writing about an anti-Tammany candidate without mentioning Tammany, and it is lousy journalism.

Mickey Kaus has repeatedly assured me and his blog audience that the Los Angeles Times is changing for the better. I wonder if Mickey is reconsidering given the coverage of the past month. The Times --and the Chron and the Bee and the Union-Tribune and the Register and the Mercury-News, etc-- have all helped create the collapse in Sacramento by refusing every step of the way to write about it with extended vigor. To do so might have helped those rascals the Republicans somehow take away abortion rights or enforce the Pledge of Allegiance or some such atrocity. The result is that the left has run amok up north, and hard-working, productive people got stuck with sharply higher taxes, schools that don't work, and a shrinking job base as employers move east. Now they are sick and tired of listening to John Burton and Herb Wesson plan a barrel ride over the fiscal falls as Gray phones for dollars, and a recall is underway. And the very best big-paper writer in the state uses his space to wonder if AS is for real.

The failure of journalism in California is one of the most interesting aspects of the state's current crisis. Just don't expect any paper or television station to cover it. Principal Contributor Hugh Hewitt is an author, television commentator and syndicated talk-show host of the Salem Radio Network's Hugh Hewitt Show, heard in over 40 markets around the country. His opinions on national issues can be found at and he writes a weekly column (Wednesdays) for

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