Weak Imitation

Times reporter misreads one story, makes up another

Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the OC Weekly owes a great big wet one to big-time reporter Jean O. Pasco of the big-time Los Angeles Times. Pasco's Jan. 22 front page story titled "Anti-Airport Initiative Comes to Crashing Halt" is basically a Rich Little-ization of our Jan. 15 El Toro Watch No. 91, which was dubbed "Fatal Blow? Activists believe new strategy can kill El Toro Airport."

Our story outlined the airport opponents' new Safe and Healthy Communities Act, which is designed to stop the county's proposed El Toro International Airport by requiring approval from two-thirds of county voters. So did Pasco's. Our story called the initiative a radical departure from previous opposition strategies aimed at forcing a non-aviation reuse of the Marine Corps base. So did Pasco's. Our story laid out the opponents' schedule for getting the act on the March 2000 ballot. So did Pasco's. Our story outlined how many signatures and how much money the opposition needs to raise. So did Pasco's. Our piece said the seven South County cities opposed to the airport will formally announce the Healthy Communities Act at the end of January. So did Pasco's.

The only real difference between our story and Pasco's was her confusing lead paragraph, which described how airport opponents "ran out of time" to get their new initiative on this year's ballot. In fact, this is a fundamental misreading of the anti-airport groups' strategy. For months, anti-airport memoes and notes show South County opponents have been secretly planning to go before voters in March 2000. Their earlier focus on forcing a special election this year was a ruse designed to keep pro-airport forces off-balance. In the case of the Times, the ruse worked too well.

That fact that Pasco neglected to mention the Weekly wasn't a personal failure. It's an insight into the solipsistic world of Orange County journalism. At the two major dailies-the Times and The Orange County Register-it's policy to ignore other local papers, even when acknowledging them would be not only truthful, but also ethical.

Four days before Pasco penned a Healthy Communities Act story that already existed, she created a controversy that does not exist regarding Orange County Republican Party kingpin Tom Fuentes. On Jan. 18, Pasco wrote a 1,200-word story on how New Directions-a small group of supposedly moderate, mostly Huntington Beach Republicans-is gaining strength in the GOP Central Committee.

Pasco's inside-politics tale predicted that Fuentes-Central Committee chairman for a record 14 years-was in trouble, even though he "is expected to win another two-year term as county chairman at tonight's party elections."

"Despite an unrivaled track record as a premier fund-raiser and chief cheerleader, Fuentes has fallen out of favor with some party activists and financial backers after the devastating losses for local and statewide GOP candidates in Orange County's November elections," wrote Pasco. "Party leaders looking ahead to pivotal elections in 2000 are worried as well that his increasingly barbed comments and attacks in nonpartisan races are pushing away moderates and squandering precious party resources."

Much of this has been said before about Tío Tomas-but more eloquently. "Your leadership and your bigoted right wing of the party has led us down the path to defeat," reportedly wrote central committee member and former Marine Colonel William Daugherty to Fuentes in October 1996. "For years, our representatives have been a laughingstock in Sacramento. Worse, they have been absolutely ineffective."

Don't get us wrong: nothing would please us more than watching the GOP Central Committee can the man who in 1988 paid $4,000 for poll guards for the Latino areas of the 72nd Assembly district. But there's just one problem: the arithmetic. Despite the November 1998 losses, when Democrats not only held onto the 46th Congressional seat but also picked up a state Assembly and Senate seat, New Directions held just 11 Central Committee seats out of 60. Clearly, Fuentes is still in the driver's seat for the OC GOP. Meanwhile, some observers question the extent of the new group's moderation. Among its members is Laguna Beach's Frank Ricchiazzi, who not only is gay but also well-known for his rabid partisanship.

Not that it matters. The day after Pasco's piece predicting trouble for Fuentes ran, her byline appeared with a story titled "OC Republicans Again Turn to Fuentes" that was much shorter and lacked the meaningless speculation that padded her piece 24 hours earlier.

So much for that-at least for two years.

 
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