Here is the transcript of my interview with Los Angeles Times reporter Dan Morain on the $230 million in taxpayer funded advertising and public information campaigns run by the state commission chaired by Hollywood big Rob Reiner. Judging from the e-mail, Morain did not impress my radio audience with his investigative instincts, but you can be your own judge of his curiosity and preparation or lack thereof. Here’s one part of the exchange that should interest any serious investigative reporter, and not just those stationed in California:
HH: [The Reiner-led Commission] spent $23 million dollars from when? November to mid-January?
DM: Well, that’s…it went on through January, correct.
HH: And that was coinciding with the time that Reiner’s political arm was circulating petitions to gather what? 600,000 signatures to qualify Prop. 82?
DM: Well, something like that, sure.
HH: How much…what did that buy for them, that $23 million dollars?
DM: Well, it was a big ad campaign. I mean, you saw it. I think most Californians who turned on their television in November, December and January saw ads that were paid for by First 5 tobacco taxes.
HH: Did you get any sense of the number of spots that ran in which markets, and how much went to radio and how much went to television?
DM: Well, it was…I mean, by far, the bulk of the money was spent on television ads. I mean, that’s what costs the most. You know, I didn’t break it down by…in any sort of percentage, but I mean it’s clear that the bulk of the money was spent on television ads.
HH: Did they provide you details as to that campaign?
DM: Yeah, actually, I do have some details as to that. But it seemed to me to be kind of, you know, minutiae that general people who pick up the L.A. Times, you know, probably wouldn’t care much about.
HH: Does…did it compare in scale to previous ad campaigns in intesity? In other words, they’ve run a lot of campaigns. This was their first pro-preschool campaign, right?
DM: Well, they ran preschool ads earlier, previously. This was, I believe, the largest, but you know, in terms of comparison to other ad campaigns, I mean, this was a big ad campaign for the state of California, without a doubt.
HH: I agree. And I’m wondering within the context of what the state commission led by Reiner funds, whether it was 100% bigger or 10 times bigger than any previous ad campaign, because that would stand out as very unusual, given the petitions circulating, correct?
DM: Yeah, well, sure. I mean, I did not do that piece of research, Hugh. It sounds like something you care to do.
HH: Well, I have been doing it. I’ve actually been reporting on it for a long time. That’s why I can’t understand the lack of detail here, because for example, you suggest that..
DM: Well, here’s the…lack of detail. I mean, the story did what the story sought to do, which is to take a look at this ad campaign, and at the firms that have received these media contracts. I mean, my job is not to, you know, my job is not to grind an axe. My job is to find stories and write them in a fair and balanced way. It’s not to go on a crusade, and you know, the story did what it sought to do.
HH: But it’s also not to whitewash a serious situation involving…
DM: Okay, so…
HH: …I mean, your paper led its editorial page today…
HH: …with a blast at Rob Reiner, not calling for his resignation. But did you ask him if he would resign from the commission?
HH: Were you aware he’s a holdover appointment?
DM: That he was appointed by Gray Davis? Sure.
HH: But that he could be replaced at any time by Arnold. Were you aware of that?
DM: Well, he’s got 8 years to serve, and…
HH: No, he doesn’t. He’s a holdover appointment, Dan.
DM: Uh-huh, okay. I believe what the initiative says is that they serve two four-year terms…
HH: No, that’s not what it says. You can serve two four-year terms, but his first service expired, and now he’s a holdover. He hasn’t been reappointed.
HH: So did you ask Arnold or anyone in Arnold’s office if they had concerns about him?
HH: Think that makes sense to do?
DM: You know, Hugh, feel free.
HH: Well, again…
DM: I mean seriously, feel free.
The Times swung and missed –not even asking Reiner’s boss who can replace him at any time what he, Arnold, thought of Reiner’s conduct– but the story is still there, with big names and big numbers, and the backdrop of a looming June election in which Reiner is pushing another massive tax hike. Arnold can dump Reiner –and should given the taxpayer funded ad campaign in support of Reiner’s political initiative– but he hasn’t, making Reiner’s problems Arnold’s problems, and also presenting potential Arnold opponent State Comptroller Steve Westley the perfect opportunity to clobber Arnold for Hollywood cronyism in tolerating Reiner’s conduct.
There are plenty of papers in California with reporters capable of penetrating the financial fog that enveloped Mr. Morain, and of doing even the minimal research that Mr. Morain either didn’t do or didn’t use. In fact, it doesn’t appear that anyone in Sacramento has asked for a precise accounting of the $230 “Mass Media Communications Account” provided for in Section 5(d) of 1998’s Proposition 10:
(1) Twenty percent shall be allocated and appropriated to separate accounts of the state commission for expenditure according to the following formula:
(A) Six percent shall be deposited in a Mass Media Communications Account for expenditures for communications to the general public utilizing television, radio, newspapers, and other mass media on subjects relating to and furthering the goals and purposes of this act, including, but not limited to, methods of nurturing and parenting that encourage proper childhood development, the informed selection of child care, information regarding health and social services, the prevention of tobacco, alcohol, and drug use by pregnant women, and the detrimental effects of secondhand smoke on early childhood development.
My questions to Morain centered on this account, and it was obvious he was unfamiliar with the idea that a separate account would leave a detailed paper trail. “Follow the money” was the direction Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein. Mr. Morain hasn’t. Nixon should have been so lucky as Reiner at the assignment desk.
Rob Reiner is hoping the Times’ gentle wrist slap has innoculated him against more digging by much more competent reporters. So is Arnold.
But $230 million is a lot of money that ought to have gone to serve children. And there’s a lot more flowing into the Mass Media Communications Account in this and every future year.
A story with the two biggest Hollywood-to-politics names, nearly a quarter billion in taxpayer-provided media play money, shady no-bid contracts, and a soak the rich scheme so that the state can warehouse ever 4 year old in its borders –and Dan Morain is the go-to guy?