Media Tips for the Next Recall
that Californias electorate has rewarded a dramatic recall
effort, its a good bet that political operatives in many states
will try to learn from this falls Golden State extravaganza.
strategists were key to the recall drive that ended in triumph for
Arnold Schwarze- neggers corporate backers. As a public service,
here are some tips for partisans who want a shot at recall history:
on smoldering resentments; use citizen outrage as bait to attract
the support of talk-show hosts, pundits, ambitious politicians,
and well-heeled contributors
plugs for the California recall were happy to vilify Gray Davis
as a crafty charlatan and/or incompetent cold fish. The governor
made such caricatures easy. He raked in lots of sizeable checks
from vested interests and engaged in budgetary sleight of hand.
But instead of confronting his deference to energy firms that functioned
as rip-off artistsor denouncing his refusal to back tax hikes
for large corporations and wealthy individualsthe recalls
conservative boosters preferred to blame Davis for too much spending
and not enough solicitude to big business.
to throw a manipulative harness on sincere concerns among voters;
keep the media messages simple and simplistic
California, an anti-tax drumbeatwith lots of media reverb
went a long way toward drowning out voices that called for
a major shift to progressive taxation. Little news coverage and
scant paid advertising explained that such a shift could mean higher
taxes for the rich and large companies, but lower taxes for every-
a luminary on the campaign team goes off message with
a genuinely sensible observation, put a sock in it, pronto
in the short campaign, a much-ballyhooed economic adviser for Schwarzenegger,
Warren Buffett, pointed out that Proposition 13, Californias
venerable property-tax limitation law, doesnt make sense.
The financier noted that he was paying $2,264 for a years
worth of property taxes on a Southern California home valued at
$4 million. But a press secretary for the actor- turned-politician
rushed to proclaim, Mr. Buffett doesnt speak for Mr.
Schwarzenegger and hastened to add that the candidate has
supported Prop. 13 for 25 years.
a steady stream of media messages that obscure complexities of
underlying power relations while providing plenty of buzz phrases
and images that serve as triggers for pre-existing assumptions
and Schwarze- neggers muscle-bound celebrity candidacy were
well-suited to what passed for news on television, where even in
depth stories were usually the word-length equivalent of a
few paragraphs. While newspapers provided some serious reporting,
for the most part the TV news was predictably agog with glitz and
so as to dodge basic issues
California, for well over a century, oligopolies of land holdings
have throttled the state. Yet when recall promoters claimed to be
speaking truth about power, they zeroed in on the corporate front
person in the governors office, rather than confront (or even
acknowledge) the dominance of real estate interests: from urban
concrete labyrinths and suburban developments to the vast tracts
of rural acreage owned by multi- millionaires and agribusiness.
a candidate eager to serve elites in the garb of a populist champion
plain-speaking cliches supplied media window dressing for an economic
mind-set amounting to a dream come true for upper-class combatants
in the class wars.
possible, conflate entertainment fantasies with social realities,
even while claiming to always know the difference
decades as a media creature of entertainment, Arnold Schwarzenegger
easily made the transition to being a media creature of politics.
His victory will encourage other mind-numbing celebrities to further
blur the distinctions between arrogant stories and rational government
is co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didnt