The Painful Truth

As late as 10:16 p.m. est on nov. 22--six hours after the O.C. Registrar of Voters declared Bob Dornan the loser--the defeated congressman's Washington, D.C., staff was busy faxing copies of an Orange County Register editorial to the national press corps in hopes of undermining Loretta Sanchez's upset victory.

That Dornan would turn for help to the media he claims to mistrust and despise reveals how far and fast his political star dimmed during the 17 days it took to finalize the vote count. But the nine-term congressman has always been an unabashed manipulator of the press, relying on conniving charm or, as was usually the case, incessant and sometimes obscene bullying. For years, that rendered the county's two daily newspapers reluctant to challenge Dornan on most anything, including his often fallacious, always self-serving versions of his blemished personal and political life. Why is it that our dailies print Dornan's vicious attacks on other politicians' lack of military service ad nauseam but refuse to tell their readers that he chose drama school over combat for two years during the Korean War?

Another glaring example of blatant media favoritism toward Dornan occurred in the Register's Nov. 23 coverage, news ostensibly aimed at announcing Sanchez's official victory. The headline did not read "Sanchez wins!" or even "Dornan loses!"--as is often its style--but rather the bland, verb-free "The final tally." (Sounds like the paper was reporting a fatality-ridden disaster, not a historic election.) The subhead read, "Dornan years" and--oddly, given the day's news--failed to mention Sanchez or the election. In a font five times smaller than the boring main headline, the Register wrote in a sidebar story, "The winner: it's Sanchez"--as if it was trying to bury the outcome. A huge three-column color photo of Dornan graced the front page, while Sanchez--the victor--received a thumbnail-sized mug shot partially beneath the front-page fold. Inside, the paper carried no photos of Sanchez but seven of Dornan.

Compounding the one-sidedness, the Register promised that readers would learn "the full story" of the election and listed the paper's inside articles, all of which had to do with Dornan: 1) "He said it: some outspoken Dornan remarks"; 2) "Time line: a chronology of Dornan's life, career," a sanitized time line crafted by Dornan himself; and 3) "What next? Dornan looks for new opportunities."

Hello, Register: Is anyone home? You must have forgotten the winner. Her name is S-A-N-C-H-E-Z. You know, the woman who captured a place in California political history just hours before your paper hit the presses.

The saving grace of the Register's coverage was editorial cartoonist Mike Shelton, who created a wickedly pointed drawing of a relay race with Dornan refusing to pass the torch to Sanchez, instead inserting it in his mouth, causing smoke to pour from his ears. The caption read, "Dornan passes the torch . . .well . . . eventually . . ."

But both the Register and the Orange County edition of the L.A. Times continue to push the canard that only Dornan could have beaten Dornan--a theme based on the ex-congressman's self-manufactured invincible image. In their Nov. 23 post-election stories, each paper devoted paragraph after paragraph to blaming Dornan's loss on his brief, quixotic attempt to win the 1996 GOP presidential nomination.

Editors at the Register said Dornan's "presidential run sapped him politically." That opinion, offered to readers under the guise of straight news, did not take into account that he spent little money in the presidential primaries, campaigned only for a few weeks, and was never--not even for a millisecond--a contender. Remember: Republican voters said Dornan's speeches were more appropriate for a late-night, Las Vegas lounge act.

As early as January, he was nothing more than presidential-primary road kill. Back in the 46th Congressional District, Dornan faced no serious competition. Sanchez, by contrast, was in the middle of a tough, come-from-behind primary campaign. One simple fact is inescapable: the now ex-congressman had more time (nine months) to prepare for Sanchez than she did for him (seven months).

But don't tell that to the dailies. They seem content hawking the fallacy that the election's outcome had little to do with Sanchez's brilliant campaign strategy and connection with voters on issues. The Times and Register should consider the possibility that the people of Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Anaheim were sick and tired of Bob Dornan and his ugly, divisive politics. Is that so difficult to publish?)


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