What's in a word? When the word is "whore," quite a lot. And yet, when it comes to the reality of California politics, not so much.
Pushed along by bad reporting and outright journalistic promotion of a campaign stunt, the story of the voicemail recording of Jerry Brown discussing with advisors billionaire Meg Whitman's backing away from her supposed public pension reform imperatives in pursuit of a police union endorsement got a lot of attention. Not because it showed the supposed labor patsy Brown hanging tough with unions, but because an unnamed advisor wondered if they ought to type Whitman as a "whore." Which frankly, considering the serious implications of the massive hypocrisy involved, is an insult to sex workers.
Oddly, no one reported that it was actually a woman who said it until I did, first on my blog, New West Notes, then here on the Huffington Post. Now the rest of the press accepts and reports that the reference was made by a female, which obviously puts an entirely different spin on the matter than if it were Brown himself or another man. Even the state president of the National Organization for Women, which backs Brown, calls Whitman a "political whore."
Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown had some very tough exchanges in their 1992 battle for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now they're campaigning together.
And what is the upshot after days of hyperventilation? Not much. Brown was ahead of Whitman before and he's ahead of her now. Three very good private polls over the last few days give Brown a seven or eight point lead. Even the Republican Rasmussen poll, notorious for skewing conservative, put Brown in the lead on Friday, 50% to 44%.
Naturally, Whitman chief strategist Mike Murphy claims that he has not one but two private polls showing Whitman ahead by four points. Talk about doubling down on nonsense. This is the same truth-free behavior he displayed in the 2005 California special election which nearly destroyed his then client Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship.
"Whoregate," as some of the dimmer media bulbs typed it, was a bust, the latest distraction attempt from Whitman's highly-paid mercenary crew.
Of course, they promoted the teapot tempest, disseminating a bogus transcript identifying Brown as the speaker in question when it was perfectly obvious to anyone with ears that it was not only not Brown himself, it was a woman.
They got a very bad story and headline published in the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper which is a far cry from what it was in the 1990s, then promoted that in the national media echo chamber, with a particular boost from Time magazine pundit Mark Halperin, who's been a constant conduit for Whitman. Even after I revealed that it was a woman who had said "whore," Halperin put a Whitman press release at the top of his blog for the better part of a day. That's right, a press release. He didn't even bother to rewrite its spin -- which was that it was probably Brown himself who said it, which is an outright lie -- or add any other "value" he brings.
But in the end, aside from a distraction that may have prevented Brown from extending his lead, it's amounted to not much, just more shallow media churn.
There is speculation about which woman working with Brown made the shorthand suggestion. I'm good with voices and I have a very firm opinion about that. Here it is: Her identity should remain private. She didn't agree to have her conversation recorded, which is required under California law. The only reason the folks who produced and disseminated the recording aren't in legal trouble is because that would keep the story alive.
"Let's all take a deep breath. Relax."
Good advice. It's what Brown said Friday night at a big rally at UCLA. He and former President Bill Clinton, his bitter 1992 presidential rival, appeared together before 6,000 screaming students and other youngish folks. They were joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who both tried to run against Brown in the Democratic primary but dropped out. Newsom is the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
Former Governor-turned-Attorney General Jerry Brown introduced former President Bill Clinton Friday night at UCLA.
Brown and Clinton also appeared together at Beverly Hilton fundraiser Friday night, and will do another big rally together Sunday night in Silicon Valley at San Jose State University.
The two one-time rivals, whom many mistakenly reported had a blood feud, embraced on stage and praised one another to the skies.
After some joking around -- "One thing you can count on: I'm not writing any damn memoir. Because if I said all the interesting stuff, I couldn't keep running for office." -- Brown was particularly upbeat.
"California's a state of imagination, of creativity, just like this university," he said to screams from the crowd. "And that's what I see in the next four years, a creative, dynamic place."
"You know, we're not poor. People say, gee, things are tough. Yeah they're tough. I know we got a lot of problems, got people out of work, we got foreclosures, it's a tragedy any time somebody loses their job or their house.
"But remember, California last year generated $1.8 trillion of new wealth. Okay, this year, it'll even be more. This is one of the richest places in the whole world.
"We have enough wealth to continue to have a great university and get every kid in this school that can qualify. And when I say every young man or young woman, I mean everyone, whether they're documented or not. If they went to school, they oughta be here.
"I feel good about this. We got some problems. I know things are screwed up, but lemme tell ya this. At some point, the breakdown prepares the way for a breakthrough. And that's why I'm running for governor. We're gonna have a breakthrough. I'm confident of that.
"When I went to UC I got my degree in Latin and Greek. So I may not know how to count too well, but I know about Latins and Greeks. I know about a lot of obscure stuff.
"If you want to read Meg Whitman's economic plan, you have to be able to get into some pretty obscure stuff. Because it's not there. It's smoke and mirrors."
"Meg, own up, how much are you going to make out of your own tax breaks?" he demanded before adding: "By the way, don't worry. I don't think she's going to get a chance to get that tax break."
Billionaire Meg Whitman's thoroughly dishonest ad featuring footage of Bill Clinton -- touted last month as the best TV ad of the entire election cycle by Time pundit Mark Halperin -- looks dumb now.
Finally he was ready to introduce Clinton, who finally defeated Brown in the 1992 Democratic presidential primaries, leaving the former governor as the runner-up for the nomination.
"Let me tell you about President Clinton. I don't need to say much. Not only was he great in office, but he has been great after he left office," Brown said. "He didn't retire to Palm Springs to play golf, he's out there doing stuff. He's helping people in Haiti. He's fighting AIDS. He's healing the victims of tsunamis. He's a guy who's mobilizing the highest spirit, the angels of our better spirits."
Clinton was equally effusive. "I've known Jerry Brown for almost 35 years. When we were governors together, we strongly supported the push for green energy. He knew it was good economics when most people thought it was a fool's errand."
"He's the only politician in America I've heard say this except me. As horrible as the recession has been when, we come out of it, if we learn right lessons from it, we will be stronger for it."
"It will matter enormously who the leaders of California are. You have more potential than any place on earth."
What else happened in this fascinating race over the past few days?
After holding a Thursday press conference at a Los Angeles school, where he warned of further budget cuts that would be caused by Whitman's tax cuts for the rich and challenged her again to reveal how much she would make personally by eliminating the capital gains tax, Brown hit Soho in LA for a big Hollywood fundraiser.
The DreamWorks gang, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen served as chairs of the event, which looks to raise a million dollars. A number of notables were co-chairs including George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, Annette Bening, and Warren Beatty.
Meanwhile, Whitman did the woman-of-the-people bit, riding her green campaign bus through Bakersfield and the Central Valley. She's apparently going to be on the bus a lot, trying to dispel the already entrenched image of her as, well, a detached billionaire. Look for the bus to hit business sites owned by staunch Republicans.
While Whitman herself experimented with her new mode as populist, her campaign launched yet another attack ad against Brown, this one a 15-second spot claiming he's soft on crime. Though that's not much time to say anything, the campaign did manage to wildly distort Brown's record. Yes, he personally opposes the death penalty. But he's also prosecuted hundreds of death penalty cases and cleared the way for executions to begin again.
Brown's campaign immediately punched back by releasing an ad detailing Whitman's record of lying. I don't know how much air time that's going to get, however, since the campaign just launched a good new ad based on all the newspaper endorsements Brown is racking up over Whitman, with an emphasis on Whitman's hometown paper expressing its deep disappointment in her.
Jay Leno had fun this week with Whitman's incessant advertising and her illegal immigrant housekeeper problem.
Looking on from London, where he met Thursday with new British Prime Minister David Cameron and reviewed British troops back from the fighting in Afghanistan, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger checked in with his nearly two million followers on Twitter and managed to weigh in on the fading "whore" controversy.
First Schwarzenegger excoriated any politician "who catered to unions by trying to block public employee pension reform."
Then he was asked by a Twitter follower what he thought about Whitman's involvement with the LA police union whose official produced the recording, and which endorsed her after she modified her position on the issue.
"It's appalling when anyone sells out," said Schwarzenegger. He also, naturally, deemed the offending word "unacceptable."
Also on Thursday, an intriguing new independent expenditure committee called Concerned Educators for Jerry Brown for Governor launched a big TV ad campaign.
Millions will be spent on this. What's intriguing about it is that the funding is coming from the California Teachers Association and Netflix founder Reed Hastings, frequent antagonists on education issues.
CTA, of course, is one of the dominant labor powers. Hastings, in contrast, is a reformist figure who was president of the California Board of Education, appointed first by Democratic Governor Gray Davis and then by Republican Governor Schwarzenegger.
Under pressure from the left, the state Senate refused to confirm Hastings.
Incidentally, one of the women featured in this ad was also featured in advertising overseen in 2005 by CTA political consultant Gale Kaufman when she won the national campaign manager of the year award from the American Association of Political Consultants for defeating all four of Schwarzenegger's special election initiatives. The campaign for those initiatives was run by Whitman's now chief strategist, Mike Murphy.
When I spoke with Kaufman Wednesday night about all this, she was particularly tickled by the continuity.
Frequent antagonists joined together to fund this big new TV ad campaign boosting Brown on education.
Here's the script:
Our kids can't afford another four years of crippling cuts to public schools.
Class sizes are too big - and all this standardized testing just isn't working.
So classroom teachers looked closely at the plans of both candidates for Governor...
...and we're supporting Jerry Brown
Brown's plan focuses on a well rounded education
With History, Science and the Arts as well as English and Math
Schools where teachers and parents work together
And that's why we urge you to vote for Jerry Brown -- a leader we can trust to make our public schools a priority again.
There were also major developments earlier in the week, including the third and final debate between Brown and Whitman.
Clinton debunked local press reports of a feud with Brown last month.
Whitman submerged the real big news coming out of Tuesday; namely, that she put another $20 million from her personal fortune into her trailing campaign for governor of California. This puts her official self-funding total at $141.5 million. As I've already reported, the true figure is at least $2 million more, taking into account the acknowledged $1 million-plus that Whitman gave chief strategist Mike Murphy for his credit-free Hollywood production company two days after he cut ties with her primary rival Steve Poizner, and undeclared early spending on consultants, research, and travel.
Whitman was already the biggest self-funded candidate in American history, at any level, including presidential. But will another $20 million do what the $150 million she's already spent has failed to achieve? At a time in which Jerry Brown has well over $20 million to spend of his own, after spending little more than $10 million in all his campaign prior to this month?
To ask is to answer.
As to Tuesday night's debate in San Rafael, Brown again had the edge, as he did in the first two debates. Whitman, looking very grim, especially in reaction shots, in which she frequently glowers or gives a curious laugh, was much more aggressive than in her first two debates.
She knows she is behind Brown, not to mention far off her original plan. But her greater aggressiveness did little to add to her positive appeal. And playing the victim card on the private "whore" comment didn't help much, especially when Whitman -- like the press and much of the public -- understands that the person who said it is a woman. And especially when it highlights her willingness to sell out her supposedly tough position on public pensions to try to pick up a few law enforcement endorsements to buttress her non-existent record. Camp Whitman benefited from bad early reporting on the controversy, at least enough to distract from her deep crisis on illegal immigration, but that's over.
Brown's new ad, playing up newspaper endorsements around the state, emphasizes Whitman's hometown newspaper's deep disappointment in her performance as a candidate.
Brown clearly got the better of it on her budget-busting plan to eliminate the capital gains tax, which she amusingly touts as a job creation program even as she refuses to answer Brown's question about how much she would personally make off the policy, as well as on his support and her opposition for California's landmark climate change/renewable energy program.
Whitman scored on education, but even there her message is essentially negative. Attacking the teachers union is hardly uplifting. Nor is it all that smart politics, as they are likely to reinforce their already strong efforts against her. As in fact they did, two days later.
At best, Whitman achieved what I call the furball effect, in which the event is seen as a blur of charges and counter-charges.
The coverage reflected this, with nothing even approaching a potential breakthrough moment for Whitman.
On Wednesay, Brown launched a new TV ad highlighting the big newspaper endorsments he's picking up around the state, including an extraordinary one from Whitman's Silicon Valley home San Jose Mercury News, which strongly praised Brown and derided Whitman as unqualified and nonsensical.
It's one of his better TV spots -- the ads definitely have their critics -- a well-done comparative that balances criticism of Whitman with praise for Brown, all from credible third party validators.
What's next in this rollicking race? Stay tuned. One thing is for sure: President Barack Obama is coming to California.
On October 22nd, he does a big rally in Las Vegas to goose Democratic enthusiasm and turnout for that key Senate race between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tea Party fave rave Sharron Angle. Then he comes over to Los Angeles for a big rally at USC, where Senator Barbara Boxer will be on hand as well as Brown.
Boxer is actually in a tighter race now than Brown. But Boxer, now beset by nearly $5 million in outside Republican advertising in her lower profile race against ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, still has a slight edge.
More about that next time.