We won't get fooled again! Where's The Who when we need them? Meg Whitman, a Republican candidate for governor of California, seems intent on proving the classic rock band wrong. She obviously thinks voters can and will be fooled again and again and again. Is she right?
The other day, in one of the more blatant examples I've seen in recent memory, Whitman actually invited the San Francisco Bay area news media to an "event" in Oakland, only to refuse to take any questions once the staged, ready for camera, photo-op was completed.
An extraordinary news video now gone viral on the web (and seen here on the HuffPost) shows the former eBay CEO practically pleading with her aide to run interference for her, and then shows attempts by apparent Whitman operatives to actually block the television cameras' view of the candidate--something I am used to seeing when covering mafia trials in New York, when the capos and their goons try to conceal their identities.
Whitman, of course, is loaded. With money. And, she is freely spending it on television and radio commercials across the state.
Clearly, the idea is to have as little actual contact with the press, (and maybe even the voting public?), before the Republican primary where she is facing state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner.
The news media in this state can be so toothless (unlike, say, the much more aggressive New York or Washington, D.C. press corps) that in a silly attempt to seem "fair and balanced," they actually tend to report things like, "Poizner accuses Whitman of ducking debates and the news media," as if to suggest there is some controversy about this matter.
Well, there isn't. And, the event in Oakland pretty much proves it for all to see and hear--well, at least to see, anyway.
Whitman is a packaged candidate trying to run a political campaign as if she were still running a corporation. But running for elective office is not the same thing. She needs to answer questions from the public and from the public's representatives which, in this country at least, happens to be the news media.
I know from personal experience just how much candidate Whitman tries--and succeeds--in avoiding reporters' questions. I've tried on a couple of occasions to get her to comment by phone on various issues impacting the state of California--issues she might have to someday deal with if elected governor--and time and again, I was told that Whitman would not be commenting "at this time." Yeah, like there would be some other time when she would!
I can only hope that both Whitman and the California news media draw some lessons from the Oakland debacle: For Whitman, that if she wants to be elected to high office, she needs to start acting like a public servant and not a corporate chieftain. And, for the press corp, that if Whitman continues to refuse to answer their questions at so-called "news events," then they should simply stop attending them!
That doesn't mean, however, they should stop examining everything she says (or doesn't say) and everything she does (or doesn't do).
The current governor of California, when he first ran, also tried and, to a large measure, managed, to limit and stage manage news coverage. I was there, too, for that in the early days: I recall several times when he would hold a "news conference" only to either not take questions from reporters or announce in advance that he would take only a very few. Other times, he would take maybe three or four questions and then declare the news conference over and out. And look how that turned out in the end!
So, Meg, here's a clue: You are not running for Queen of England. That position is taken, thank you. You are running for Governor of California.
Now, I read one Washington based columnist say that Californians are too politically catatonic to give a damn about all this and, besides, he pointed out, voters in Northern California have different concerns from voters in Southern California and they both have different concerns from voters in Central California.
All that may be true. But, to the voters of California, wherever they may be, I say this: Listen to The Who. Don't get fooled again!
Charles Feldman is a journalist and media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle," just released in its paperback edition. He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995 and is a regular contributor of investigative reporting for KNX1070 Newsradio.