Friday, February 11, 2011

Jerry Brown on Egypt, other topics

David Siders provided another celebrity-journalism bit of coverage on Gov. Jerry Brown, this time dealing with his morning appearance on the Good Day LA morning TV program: Jerry Brown upstaged on morning show Sacbee Capitol Alert 02/11/2011. Part of the problem may be that the piece is a news blog report. And lots of reporters seem to have never gotten over the notion that a blog is a place to be snarky and petty.

Here is Siders' dumb initial summary of the interview:

Gov. Jerry Brown, in the middle of a live interview with the morning show "Good Day LA," was interrupted by news today that Egypt President Hosni Mubarak had stepped down.

The popular morning show abruptly cut away from him.

"Governor, pardon me, but with what's going on in Egypt at this point, we're going to go live," one of the hosts said.

When the show returned to Brown, he was relegated to a split screen.

"I didn't have a lot to say, anyway," Brown said. "So I was glad for the interruption."
In horse-race journalism, the fact that Jerry's routine interview was partially delayed by news of a major historic event is what was important. He doesn't both to report on what Jerry actually said about Egypt.


Here is the summary I did on Facebook after hearing the whole interview live:

As it happened, Jerry Brown was scheduled for a TV interview just as the news broke about Mubarak's resignation. When he came on, they asked him about it. Jerry said this is "real people power" in Egypt and pointed out that the word "democracy" originally meant "power of the people." (He meant in the original Greek.)

They asked him if other Arab leaders "around the world" (??) should be worried. Jerry said, "Any leader out to be nervous. When people get this upset, stuff happens." Then he added, "I didn't say it was going to be good." He went on to talk about other things including budget cuts, the Parent Trigger Law, "desert people", "ocean people", Jesus and John the Baptist. Also about a conversation he had on Egypt a couple of weeks ago with a former Soviet ambassador.
Siders does provide some context to some of the references I left sounding cryptic:

Brown, governor from 1975 to 1983, was asked what surprised him when he returned to the Capitol last month.

"What surprised me is walking into the caucuses of the Republicans and the Democrats, how different they are. They look different, they dress different," he said. "The Democrats tend to be from the coast, and the Republicans tend to be more inland, more desert people, mountain people, whereas the Democrats are more ocean people, more urban people."
It was in a follow-up comment that he said with a little grin, "Jesus came out of the desert, I think. No, that was John the Baptist."

The main point of Siders' story was that the Egypt news interrupted the interview, but he didn't even mention what Jerry said on the subject!

I was especially struck when he mused on what the consequences might be if conflicts in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East intensifies. Oil prices could go up, the stock market could go down because, he said, "We're in a very interconnected world, and that why we have to build a very self-reliant economy."

Say what? A very self-reliant economy?!? The Capitol reporters think it's a big deal that the Governor's interview gets interrupted. But that the Governor of California suggests that the United States need to flush the neoliberal/deregulation/Washington Consensus economic policies down the drain in favor of something like an economy green enough to provide its own energy needs - ah, no big deal. But, hey, Jerry, why didn't you bring an entourage?

The idea of journalism is that reporters should be able to apply sound news judgments and report on events in a way that clarifies what's going on the world to their readers. Our press often does the opposite. They filter out what's important and go gaga over celebrity trivia. Who got Jerry's autograph on the plane?

He also commented on the fact that the United States had limited influence in this situation, because the Egyptian people were taking things into their own hands at the moment. He said we in the US might like to think we can control what happens in the rest of the world. But it's not realistic.

And he also related his own experiences to an observation about Mubarak and dictatorships generally. Asked if he felt like he was stuck in a "bubble" in Sacramento, he said, no, he gets out and talks to people. Then he noted that you can't completely avoid "the bubble" and that he's partly affected by it.

When the California budget cuts came up, he said, "I know, it's all bad." And he clearly wasn't being sarcastic. An interviewer asked which ones he thought would hurt the worst. He said that it's really hard to say because people at the Governor's level are so far removed from the worst impact of reductions. He then talked about how he was proposing to close the fiscal gap of $25 billion (the rounded number he used) by splitting the burden equally between taxes and cuts, trying to do it "the most human way I can".

And he returned to the bubble imagery in talking about why dictators often choose to stay in office a very long time. Jerry related it to being in an information bubble in which the people around them tell them they are doing a great job and being detached from the real effects of their policies. Then after a while, they come to think they are indispensable and that everything would fall apart without them.

Most of our reporters, it seems, are going to have their heads spinning covering Jerry's governorship. But I'm enjoying seeing him in action. Siders also didn't pick up on something that seemed obvious to me about Jerry's "desert people" and "ocean people" comment. Unlike the "postpartisan" illusions of our President, Jerry was saying what's obvious about the big partisan divide in the legislature. He's trying to work with the Republicans. But he's also realistic enough to know when to cut bait and give up on negotiations when the other side shows clearly they aren't going to make a deal.

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