Monopoly Man

John Bryson lives in a palatial 7,700-square-foot, 1928 San Marino mansion with seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms and an elegantly landscaped pool, but the Edison International chairman is not worried about paying his electric bills.

On April 8, Edison—parent company of the publicly subsidized utility Southern California Edison (SCE)—notified the Securities and Exchange Commission that it gave Bryson a 222 percent pay raise in 2002. Records the company was forced to file because of mandatory federal disclosure laws show the 59-year-old executive was paid $503,000 per month last year. In 2001, Bryson received only $228,000 per month.

Bryson is undoubtedly a gifted boss, but the sweetening of his already-loaded compensation package occurred at the same time Edison's stock value fell 22 percent. That was the same moment SCE—the primary source of income for Edison—claimed it was nearly bankrupt, had strenuously cut expenses, and was in dire need of massive additional rate hikes and new public subsidies.

Somehow those salient facts never appeared together in any mainstream news coverage. On April 8, the Los Angeles Times published a relatively dull item on Bryson's deal in its poorly read business section. Oddly, that story did not appear anywhere in the paper's Orange County edition. (Bryson has close ties to the Times; he was a longtime member of the board of directors of the paper's parent company until 2001, and though they've never admitted the error, the Times endorsed Bryson's pre-energy crisis propaganda that the industry's deregulation plan would "guarantee" consumers lower electric rates. It brought colossal price increases.)

News editors at The Orange County Register were no better. They buried their Bryson salary report on page 3 of the business section—72 pages into their April 9 edition. That day, the Register gave more prominence to the following news: "UCI Will Eventually Conduct Trials to Test Effectiveness of Acupuncture," "South Central May Lose Name," "South Korean President to Make First Trip to U.S.," and "Brea Planning Commission Recommends Revised General Plan."

We now know why Bryson was able to gloat last year that SCE enjoys more than an 80 percent customer-approval rating.

But the journalistic negligence didn't end with poor or nonexistent story placement. Neither the Times nor the Register put Bryson's bonanza in context. For example, they didn't bother to note that SCE, which had $1.1 billion cash on hand as of Jan. 31, is seeking California Public Utility Commission approval of another $286 million rate hike on consumers. Or that SCE is set in coming weeks to receive the final installment of a public subsidy of more than $3.6 billion. Or that the state-approved monopoly has funneled tens of billions of dollars from ratepayers to the private shareholders of Edison.

Instead, both daily papers ended their stories straight from an Edison press release. Most egregious was the Times: reporter Nancy Rivera Brooks seemed to be on to something meaningful when she quoted consumer advocate Doug Heller asserting that Edison executives had "padded their wallets." But the Times reporter quickly switched to Bryson, who dismissed Heller's observation as "completely false." Brooks must have agreed. She gave no explanation for Bryson's retort but did close her story by listing what she and—coincidentally?—the Edison public-relations department call Bryson's "achievements" for the utility's private shareholders.

* * *

Our story on Bill O'Reilly and his bitter break with the Register prompted dozens of angry responses from around the country ("The War's Most Unusual Casualty," April 10). The Fox News celebrity had claimed his column was permanently cut by the Register because he was pro-war. We learned that O'Reilly—who routinely rants about the lack of moral absolutism in others—wasn't telling the truth. Register editor Cathy Taylor said she dumped O'Reilly eight months before the war began because his columns were little more than O'Reilly talking about how great it is to be O'Reilly. Fans of The O'Reilly Factor host were incensed by our report and equated criticism of O'Reilly with a lack of patriotism. Here's a sampling of their comments:

"You are an anti-American piece of shit. What does R [in R. Scott Moxley] stand for? Retarded? Dude, you are channeling the Iraqi Minister of Information?"

"Your story proves OC Weekly is not supporting the Bush administration's objectives. There is a tide in the affairs of man, and you are missing it. The bear is loose."

"I hope I don't run into any Democrats. Sparks may fly."

"Stay in Orange County, Mr. Moxley. You'll be safe there from those who might threaten your deeply held beliefs."

"Are you some sort of bottom who takes it in the ass, which frees up your mouth to spout the kinds of bullshit you do? Pinko, you are a coward."

"Your column smacks of the elitism of the left. Mr. O'Reilly will continue to lead television and book sales while scribblers like you earn the anonymity they so richly deserve."

"We had an election in 2002. Bush won that. I bet that REALLY bothers you."

"I knew you were a vain sucker. Stick to gossip as you are not a candidate for putting out well-researched serious journalism."

But the most fascinating O'Reilly fan letter was from "Pete":

"Bill Clinton is the reason our soldiers are dying in Iraq. He was called the black president! Do you know how much grief blacks cause? Our welfare, school and prison systems are overrun by them. They cause every major U.S. city to be a slum. They should be sterilized. He is a traitor who sold out my country many times. Then go to that shriveled-up Nancy Pelosi. Any war protestors are gonna pay the price now—starting with the Dixie Chicks, [Susan] Sarandon, [Tim] Robbins and [Janeane] Garofalo. Then I read in the LA Times that this Howard Rosenberg is talking trash! If it weren't for Jews, we would have no problems in the world. Mark this down and never forget it: until Israel is a parking lot, there will never, ever be peace in the world. Amen."


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