Facts and Feces

When I imagine working on the Register's editorial page, I think of alchemists—the Renaissance "scientists" who believed it was possible (as they put it) to "conglutinate" objects, to turn one thing into another. I think specifically of the story of Leonard Turneisser, who in 1677 is reported to have "turned an Iron Nail heated in the fire, and immersed in Oyl, into Gold; done at Rome the 20th day of November after Dinner."

The Register'seditorial writers are alchemists too, though they work not in lead and gold but in feces and facts. And they do so for the narrowest ideological purposes.

Take Steven Greenhut's item on George W. Bush's trip to Eastern Europe and Russia. Writing May 12 on the paper's blog, Greenhut attacked a National Public Radio commentator who "seemed aghast" that "Bush had actually criticized the Yalta agreement, which consigned much of the East to communist slavery. The president said, correctly, that the United States was part of 'one of the greatest wrongs of history.' Tough words, but essentially correct. Who would argue that communist domination of Eastern Europe was not a horrific wrong? So why get so upset when the president says so?"

There's so much wrong in those few words that sensible people hardly know where to begin. But start with the Yalta accord, signed by Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt just weeks before Hitler ate cyanide and shot himself in the head, effectively ending the Second World War. Yalta guaranteed "the right of all peoples" liberated from fascism "to choose the form of Government under which they will live" in order that "all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want." Eventually, of course, the Soviets reneged, and, as Churchill himself put it a year later, "an iron curtain . . . descended across the Continent." But at the treaty's signing he was so pleased that he was, an aide later recalled, "drinking buckets of Caucasian champagne which would undermine the health of any ordinary man."

So, first, there's Greenhut's straw man: the NPR commentator, Daniel Hamilton, a European specialist at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., didn't say that communism is good. In fact, he sounded pretty anti-communist. He agreed with Ronald Reagan, who, "not known for being soft on communism, was very adamant, saying that any interpretation of Yalta that suggests that the United States agreed to division of spheres of influence is absolutely wrong. He pointed out at that time that the agreement was to permit free and fair elections . . . and that in his words the Soviet Union, you know, broke its agreement."

And that leads to our second point: there's a difference between deliberately selling out Eastern Europe and being party to a contract later broken. But that distinction is apparently lost on some conservatives. And that's why intelligent Americans, and not just Hamilton, are aghast: because the president is either ignorant of recent history or a liar. And the same goes for Greenhut.

What's eating Greenhut (and Bush) is Roosevelt. FDR still haunts American conservatives; it was to stop the wildly popular Democrat that Republicans amended the Constitution to limit presidents to two terms. They didn't pause there, of course: at the Registeryou'd swear Roosevelt was tanned, rested and ready for '08; Greenhut's colleague, John Seiler, recently likened Roosevelt to Hitler and called him "Franklin 'D. for Dictator' Roosevelt."

But the deliberate misinterpretation of Yalta—the alchemization of a treaty into a sellout—remains a powerful weapon in the conservative war on liberalism. Thus in Latvia on May 7, we have Bush, a man who couldn't find his way to Vietnam, accusing Churchill and Roosevelt of "appeasing or excusing tyranny" at Yalta. Who in the hell is this guy—and what are they snorting at the Reg—toquestion the integrity of history's greatest freedom fighters? (Will Swaim)

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On that same day, the Reg seized on a Fluor corporation announcement to bash state government. On May 10, Fluor, an international engineering and construction firm, announced it would move its headquarters from Aliso Viejo to Dallas. "Chairman and CEO Alan L. Boeckmann said the move was not based on tax incentives or cost-of-living expenses or the business climate in California," the Reggie'seditorial correctly noted. Then the editorial writers dropped the hammer: never mind what Boeckmann says of his own motives, "the Fluor move is another wake-up call that this state had better start treating its businesses and citizens better by taking major actions to reduce taxes, build roads and make it easier to build housing."

We could point out that reducing taxes and building roads aren't necessarily consistent goals—new roads may require more taxes. More housing might clog those new roads as quickly as they're built. Those kinds of Registercontradictions we've grown to love. It's when the Registerputs words in the mouths of experts that I want to kill someone.

So when the Reguses the Fluor announcement as evidence of the "state's hostility to business," you go to Fluor and you ask: Who's telling the truth about your relocation? You or the Register?

"I certainly respect TheOrangeCountyRegisterand their right to articulate a point of view in an op-ed," Lee Tashjian, VP of communications at Fluor, told us. "But the fact is that we really moved for the reasons Alan [Boeckmann] cited."

Tashjian then repeated those reasons, and—check this out—they have nothing to do with state government's "hostility" to business. "California's business climate was not a factor," he says—which is about as flat a contradiction as you can deliver to the Regwithout kicking it in the nuts.

If you're looking for someone to blame, blame God: he's the guy who put California so far from Fluor's clients in Texas and on the East Coast. Tashjian says it's simply become too costly to fly employees to Texas, New York, Boston and Washington, D.C.; the one-time costs of the move will be recouped by savings in travel expenses and employee downtime. (WS)

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Two days later, and the Register was feeling pretty good about itself. On May 19, it reported that Mater Dei High School choir director Thomas Hodgman and a Placentia priest named John E. Ruhl confessed to sexual misconduct to Orange Diocese officials—more than a decade ago.

Was this revelation the result of dogged investigation? Mmmmm, no.

What the Registerdid was attend a press conference, hold out its hand, and receive documents related to the Diocese of Orange sex scandal, documents released May 17 following an LA superior court judge's order.

Understandably, and in the kind of hushed tones one normally expects from professional wrestlers, the Registercongratulated itself, saying it was "publishing these papers to give a fuller picture of how the church handled those accused of molestation."

Really? Why not just tell Registerreaders to check out virtually any issue of the Weeklysince November 2003? That's when the Weekly'sGustavo Arellano started reporting on the diocesan scandal, presenting a lurid picture bordering on Cinescopic, writing stories about the attorneys who successfully sued the diocese and about Bishop Tod D. Brown's January agreement to pay victims $100 million—because, as a church memo put it, it was settle before trial or face "devastating jury verdicts against the diocese."

Arellano has shown how the local GOP protected church leaders while those very same church leaders shuffled pedophiles from parish to parish, diocese to diocese, state to state—and to Indian reservations. He's made connections in the cover-up that stretch from Orange County to the Vatican (see "The 'Sins' of the Father" in this issue).

Arellano has done it by r-e-p-o-r-t-i-n-g. In fact, he reported the Hodgman case last January. The woman Hodgman raped, Joelle Casteix, has been featured in at least a dozen of Arellano's stories—and once in our Best of OC issue, pictured at Disneyland next to a list of the worst things ever said to her. (One of them was "Can't you just let it go?") She has said she finds the Register'scoverage "completely disappointing."

That isn't to say the Registerdidn't write about the Catholic sex scandal. It did. In Fairbanks. Alaska. Seriously. In February, three Registerreporters wrote about the Catholic sex scandal in Fairbanks. Alaska. Because, you know, Alaska.

But apparently, the judge's order to release documents in the scandal gave the Registerthe courage it needed to finally report on a scandal in its own back yard. It was as if the libertarian Registerhad been waiting for government approval before reporting on the facts behind the largest settlement in the history of the Catholic Church. To call themselves courageous, however, well, yeah, sure, in the sense that they took what was handed to them. But that's a little like ordering a Whopper and then calling yourself a chef. (Steve Lowery)


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