stringbook




........................................................................Home | Books | Bio | c.v. ............................. ... ...

Fifteen or so percent of twelve or so percent




I will say it for maybe a third time. I really wish Ron Kaye would take a month off or so instead of jumping right back into it. "Beating the Political Machine One Step, One Day at a Time" is precisely what we didn't need to hear from him on Wednesday.

When Jerry Brown lost a Senate race once, he went to Japan, cleared his head in a monastery, and reinvented himself. Al Gore said "It's time for me to go." Ron Kaye is not Jerry Brown or Al Gore, but reformers need to think about why they had success--and flaunted success--in the Measure B fight and also about why they crashed and burned on Tuesday.

Within the attaboys and wellwishing inside the echo chamber of Clean Sweep, the perception persists in LA that somehow whatever happens in our elections is the fault of media. This is somewhat fair but mostly not.

To be sure, there are many things to fault. A consultant complaining about coverage told me yesterday that seventy-five percent of the Times coverage of Council races, for instance, was devoted to CD 14 coverage. This despite the fact that the Times reader-rate is lower in CD 14 than any other Council district.

CD 14 the media (broadcast too) claimed was one of the closest races. But it wasn't, and it never was; in fact, the race in CD 4 was one of the closest, and many in the District sensed it, even if they didn't have the candidate who was making it close right, and even if media weren't saying so either.

Why were they telling us CD 14 was close? As reformers are fond of saying: follow the money. Especially a political neophyte's. Was it to keep encouraging one of the candidates to buy online ads? Nobody in CD 4 was about to spend any money on Times ads--and the media kept telling you, despite what the pros knew, that it was CD 14 rather than CD 4 that was close.

Ron Kaye himself told an audience recently that "There is no meaningful firewall anywhere between editorial and advertising anymore." Rudy Martinez could have saved himself a bundle by taking that to heart.

º º º º

How decisions about what gets covered at a newspaper are made is often very capricious and rarely studied. An editor often feels more comfortable greenlighting a story in her own district, where she knows the key figures, than one in, say, Porter Ranch, where they would have to take Sandy Banks' word for it. A newspaper will pride itself in the number of foreign correspondents it maintains but whole communities in its own resident city remain a mystery to it.

But the truth is that media amply covered the races, even if it did not cover them well. Media, especially print-digital, are shifting into less-than-stable forms of discourse anyway, and readers only have their own habits to blame for that. For most readers online, the lead-in to a story about a Council race is not the story itself, but a short blog post describing the content, and often this is enough "depth" to satisfy the reader. Many readers skip right to the comments and post what might be on the top of their head, often without even reading the story. None of this really services the democratic process the way careful, double-sourced stories used to. Is it the writer's fault--or the reader's, the noisiest of which have already made up their minds, and cheer and boo every story contrary to their own position?

To make a better media, be a better reader.

º º º º

Just thank God something like this isn't happening here, because if they did this in LA, turnout would be under ten percent: San Francisco is heading into its first purebred "ranked-choice" mayoral election. To avoid a runoff, you are encouraged to pick your top three preferences, in order. Though the City by the Bay has had ranked-choice elections since 2002, they've never had a bona fide one with lots of candidates because Newsom ran unopposed when he was re-elected.

In Oakland, they also have ranked choice, and last time around "The Oakland mayoral election used ranked-choice voting and Jean Quan defeated former state Sen. Don Perata even though Perata had more first-place votes." Dislike.

º º º º

Whatever happens--it is not true that eighty-eight percent of the City of Los Angeles do not care about local politics. Nor is it true, as the people who have made a habit of losing elections keep insisting, that the small electorate is less representative than the larger one. Twelve percent is exponentially larger than any poll, and any poll's margin of error is far slimmer than any Tuesday result's margin except in Parks' district (where I guess labor simply did not spend enough, hak-cough).

What is true is that many who don't vote have an increasing amount of trouble locating a reason to express themselves at the polls. When the only choices are between status quo and pitchforks, people may even be expressing more sense than we give them credit for when they opt for neither. Which brings us back to Ron Kaye, and why he should take some time away. The pitchforks will not win many throwdowns in a town as surface and glitzy as Los Angeles.

Tomas O'Grady fared so much better than the Clean Sweep candidates in part because he wore great suits, had a great sounding voice, and simply looked the part. Yes, it can be as simple as that.

Conversely, it took Stephen Box five months to finally be convinced to shave his politically-ridiculous torpedo beard. He was being photographed through all that time.

If election results are not to your liking, these kinds of political realities may not be to your liking either. The smartest man or woman in the room is rarely the top vote-getter in the room. But the wisest man or woman in the room sometimes is. Reformers need to put aside their pitchforks at this time, and seek the greater wisdom. A little space-time, please.