They don't say

Feb. 5, 2010

The best press conference I ever covered featured a crooked Republican city councilman in Orange County who had a round belly and a big mouth but little actual thought of how to save his own skin. Surrounded by skeptical reporters and a reluctant but determined district attorney, he gathered the press to defend himself against myriad corruption allegations. The high point of the afternoon occurred when he told a reporter, “There is no difference between what I said and didn’t say.”

I’ve never found a more elegant or concise denunciation of American politicians. With very few exceptions, there is no difference whatsoever between what an elected official tells constituents, and what the official does not tell them. There is equal meaning in their verbiage, and in their silence.

Take, for example, Sen. Abel Maldonado. During his Feb. 3 Senate confirmation hearing to be lieutenant governor, Maldonado said that, “Every day I drive past those oil platforms, and every day I’ve made myself a promise that I will do whatever I can to bring those platforms down.”

Don’t even try to find meaning in that. Does Maldonado actually think we’ll believe that every day he promises himself that he will raise an insurrection against further oil drilling off the California coast? This is what he tells himself as he drives to work every day? Is this assurance mere contempt for voters’ cognitive abilities, or does he actually believe that normal people who do not stand for election think these things and talk this way?

Then we have gubernatorial candidate Steve Poizner, who this week decided that an arrogant e-mail message from a moronic Meg Whitman campaign minion promising to put him “through the wood chipper” required a criminal investigation and the words, “This is not an attempt to be hardball and to be aggressive, but this is an attempt to effectively manipulate the election process, the integrity of the election process, by issuing these threats behind the scenes to get me not to run.”

Effectively manipulate? Integrity of the election process? Does Poizner actually think that whining to law enforcement wins votes? Does his attempt to turn a brutal but hardly surprising campaign message into a legal matter help voters in any way, shape or form understand the core issues at stake in the governor’s race?

In a way, Whitman is a visionary in this regard. There literally is no difference between what she says and doesn’t say because she doesn’t say anything at all. At times, her absolute refusal to talk to the press in anything less than a rigidly scripted, managed forum has led me to wonder whether she exists at all.

Whitman is nothing more than a marketing plan, crafted by consultants, promoted by strategists and focus group-tested until all her base humanity has been skimmed off. Even conference calls are apparently tightly orchestrated, less she stray a millimeter from what her handlers believe she should say.

And yet with all that protection, she screws up and says something that causes ears to prick up. Witness the revelation that her newest television ad contains a lie about how long she’s lived in California (30 years, instead of the actual 23). Passed off as a mere math error (“Meg moved to California with her husband in 1981 and has considered herself a Californian ever since,” Whitman’s press secretary told the Sacramento Bee, nicely side-stepping the fact that Whitman lived in Massachusetts from 1992 to 1998), the whole controversy is in fact far less than even that. That she has no idea how long she’s lived in California is amusing and pathetic, but it tells us nothing about what she would do if elected governor.

Whitman, like Poizner and Maldonado, simply has nothing of value to say. Their goal is to say whatever they think they need to say to get elected. For that reason, the voters would be better off if they just said nothing at all.

-Anthony Pignataro

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  1. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 6 February, 2010, 11:21

    “Whitman, like Poizner and Maldonado, simply has nothing of value to say.”

    OMG! I finally agree with CalWatchDog on something! I will certainly file away this comment for use in October when either Whitman or Poizner will be your nominee.

    Reply this comment
  2. PRI
    PRI 8 February, 2010, 08:49


    Just wanted to clarify that CalWatchdog is a non-partisan journalism center that does not endorse candidates for any election.

    Thanks for reading.

    Anthony Pignataro

    Reply this comment
  3. StevefromSacto
    StevefromSacto 8 February, 2010, 11:38

    Thank you, Anthony. My differences with CalWatchdog are not partisan. They are ethical.

    As a former reporter, I have a real problem with CalWatchdog calling itself a “journalism” center, especially when your sole source of funding is a right-wing think tank. Real journalism separates news reporting from editorial opinion. With CalWatchdog they are one in the same. Only things that glorify the Right or embarrass the Left qualify as “news.”

    This is not to say that the Left doesn’t have similar Web sites and blogs. But most of them make no apologies about being opinion-based sites. They don’t claim to be “journalism” centers or “fair and balanced” (gee, where have I heard that before.)

    I’ll continue to read and respond to CalWatchdog’s opinion pieces. They help get my blood pumping in the morning and sometimes provide me with a good laugh. And I must admit that I enjoy the give-and-take with people who have different viewpoints than mine.

    But please don’t masquerade as a non-ideological Web site. That dog won’t hunt.

    Reply this comment
  4. PRI
    PRI 8 February, 2010, 11:54


    It’s perfectly fair to question the source of funding for any journalism outfit. But in the case of CalWatchdog, I was hired to report on state government. That’s it. At no time has PRI — our parent think tank — suggested or directed how I should write or how my editor, Steven Greenhut, should edit our stories.

    I personally have no idea who donates money to PRI, and I don’t want to know — it makes it easier on me because then I don’t have to worry about stepping on toes. As a former newspaper guy, I’m sure you understand that issue. I spent 13 years writing and editing alternative weeklies that were 100% driven by paid advertisements. That I no longer have to listen to “advertiser concerns” or hear ad reps complain about business lost because of my reporting, I can say I greatly prefer the current arrangement.

    Ultimately, as CalWatchdog continues to report stories that batter all parties and ideologies, I think fewer people will dispute the fact that, yeah, we’re actually non-partisan.

    As always, thanks for reading, and for your feedback.

    Anthony Pignataro

    Reply this comment
  5. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 8 February, 2010, 18:59


    Good response, although I am truly waiting to see stories that “batter ALL parties and ideologies.” So far, it seems to me that the slant has been strictly anti-government, anti-public employee, anti-union.

    Reply this comment
  6. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 9 February, 2010, 10:21

    What party do you see as being represented by “anti-government”? Last time I looked Californias’ government, although mostly democrats, does contain elements of other parties. Are you saying an ‘anti-government’ statement would be automatically ‘anti-democrat’?
    And aren’t many of the individuals being slammed in these articles republicans?
    I fail to see the basis of your criticism.

    Reply this comment
  7. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 9 February, 2010, 11:24

    Again, Larry, this has nothing to do with “party.” My issues aren’t partisan, they are ideological. The Republicans that get slammed are those who are considered moderate; those who would fix government rather than starve it to death; those who are willing to cross party lines to help find solutions to California’s problems.

    Many years ago, I had an unpleasant experience with the tv show “60 Minutes.” I used to think “60 Minutes” was a paragon of journalistic virtue until I saw up close how they slanted and molded their stories to fit preconceived notions. If the facts supported their story line, they used them. If the facts contradicted their story line, they ignored them.

    CalWatchDog does the same thing. It begins with the preconceived notion that government is bad, that government is the “enemy”, that those who work for government are worthless leeches, etc., etc. I understand that and my posts represent an attempt to provide another view. But please don’t insult my intelligence by claiming that this blog is in any sense objective.

    Reply this comment

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