In 1993, Newport Beach Congressman Christopher Cox stood before the national media, flashed his trademark toothy smile, and guaranteed that President Bill Clinton's policies would spark a cataclysmic depression. "It is the Dr. [Jack] Kevorkian plan for the economy," the usually colorless congressman whined.
Today, of course, the country is in the seventh year of the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. But thanks to The Orange County Register, Cox—whose highly partisan doomsday prediction proved as substantive as his false front teeth—continues to enjoy an unblemished reputation as a statesman.
On June 12, Register political reporter Dena Bunis touted a new report that portrays Cox as an economic "superhero." But the Washington, D.C.-based reporter didn't bother to disclose several critical facts. The report was the work of the so-called "Citizens Against Government Waste," a pro-Republican group funded largely by ultraconservative corporate special interests. Bunis merely described the group as "anti-waste." (She did not respond to the Weekly's request for a list of "pro-waste" groups.)
Bunis also failed to mention that few members of Congress have worked harder to open the doors of the federal treasury to multinational corporations and wealthy individuals than the natty Newport Beach millionaire. While other politicians have at least feigned concern about giving tax breaks to the lower and middle classes, Cox has worked effectively to increase their burden. In a nod to the trickle-down economics of Ronald Reagan, Cox still shamelessly champions a 20-year, $855 billion estate-tax cut for the nation's most affluent citizens.
On July 25, the Register reporter continued shilling for Cox by offering her insights on the congressman's unsuccessful hope of becoming George W. Bush's vice-presidential nominee. Her lethargic, laughable conclusion, offered in the headline: "Cox not sure if he was candidate."
Everyone else is pretty sure he wasn't. Bush didn't even bother to send Cox a face-saving preliminary candidate questionnaire. According to the conservative U.S. News & World Report, Cox was axed from the VP candidate list. Bush advisers concluded that the congressman is "politically tone-deaf," the magazine reported. Oddly, that reputation-altering assessment of the "superhero" didn't make it into any of Bunis' reports.
Last November, Bunis helped Cox out of another image-scarring situation. A Washington, D.C., publication reported that multiple named sources overheard the supposedly "unflappable" congressman slam Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein as "old, fat and lazy." The veteran Register reporter dutifully came to Cox's rescue in print, suggesting erroneously that Feinstein's campaign had formally accepted the congressman's version.
GOD BLESS AND BYE-BYE
It's no secret that the first place an embattled government official or bureaucrat goes for a gentle, pain-free interview is to Bill Rosenthal's Orange County Perspective on OCN. Rosenthal's interviewing repertoire includes just one pitch: the softball. Nearly every major notorious public figure, from middle-finger-wagging Mickey Conroy to dictatorial former county CEO Jan Mittermeier, has blatantly used the show as a propaganda-loaded visual press release.
Few shows, however, have been more likely to induce projectile vomiting than the Sept. 9 appearance of Orange County District Attorney Anthony "Tony the Trigger" Rackauckas. Armed with three black pens and two yellow legal pads, Rosenthal could not think of a single tough question for arguably the most controversial politician in the county. Among other pressing issues, Rosenthal asked: How many district attorneys are in your office? What are your thoughts on the war on drugs? Can you reflect on the death penalty?
Rosenthal must have asked the DA in advance what issue he wanted to discuss because the word "gang" was mentioned more than a dozen times. Rosenthal asked the DA to tell the viewers about his aggressive enforcement. The inarticulate Rackauckas responded that his enforcement is, well, "aggressive."
Oddly, the following facts were not mentioned: that Rackauckas was the lead prosecutor in the case of Dwayne McKinney, the Orange County man freed earlier this year after serving 19 years for a murder he did not commit; that Rackauckas' office absurdly charged Shantae Molina with the 1998 murder of her child (last month, she was found innocent of all charges); and that Rackauckas refused to admit that his office bungled the prosecution of Arthur Carmona, a Costa Mesa youth who spent two years in prison until his conviction was overturned last month amid monumental exonerating evidence.
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In perhaps his one attempt at a decent question, Rosenthal weakly asked the DA if he was aware of cases of police misconduct in Orange County. "No, no," said a smiling Rackauckas, who is responsible for policing the police. "That code of silence [among police officers who witness other officers committing crimes] is pretty much mythical."
"God bless you and bye-bye," said Rosenthal. No doubt the DA breathed a sigh of relief.
SAD TIMES AT SUNFLOWER
For those who thought the Tribune Co.—the new owners of the Los Angeles Times—might resuscitate the beleaguered Orange County bureau on Sunflower Street, think again. According to a Sept. 13 memo, the paper will close its once highly touted Our Times community editions, leaving only the Costa Mesa-Newport Beach Daily Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. A source said the Times will cut up to 125 jobs "paperwide"—most of them in the understaffed, overworked OC bureau. The new round of cutbacks has apparently depressed already dismal newsroom morale. "People are in real dread around here right now," said one editor.