Aaron Kushner, owner of The Orange County Register, probably assumed his recent interview with Larry Mantle, KPCC's host of AirTalk, would be a painless breeze.
As we've previously reported, members of the mainstream media have repeatedly abandoned their cognitive powers to become squealing Kushner cheerleaders solely because he initially made grandiose promises of creating a journalistic utopia when the rest of the media world was steeped in layoffs and cutbacks.
Never mind that one of his first steps was to quietly axe the company's matching 401(k) retirement contributions to reporters and other staffers.
"Despite all the saccharine hype, Kushner's 15-month reign at Grand Avenue demonstrates no point greater than that the 40-year-old businessman with a background in hawking greeting cards is a superb salesman whose ignorance of journalism only seems to fuel his rah-rah enthusiasm," I observed on these pages in September 2013.
Signs of Kushner's incompetence have continued to mount in the intervening nine months: a horribly expensive pay-wall that often made the Register unnecessarily irrelevant, a juvenile focus on happy news and big photos of high school club meetings, secret deals tying favorable news coverage for businesses that enter into advertising contracts, huge layoffs of veteran talent, and ill-advised expansion into Long Beach, Los Angeles and Riverside.
Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano recently disclosed mandatory furloughs this summer at the paper and Kushner's desperation sales pitches to attract investors. His reign is buried in such a financial mess he's on the verge of another round of mass layoffs and is even trying to sell Reg headquarters in Santa Ana as well as other papers in the once mighty Freedom Communications chain.
Given that dismal reality, Kushner's appearance on Mantle's June 4 broadcast was, as we've become accustomed, another opportunity for him to happily declare all is well despite the iceberg dead ahead.
"We're highly confident that the team as it continues will be able to continue to deliver against our mission of community building," he robotically uttered. "We invested in community building, not in print, not in digital. We invested in our communities."
The empty, vacuum-cleaner-salesman-like lines alarmed the normally non-confrontational Mantle.
"I have to say, if I worked for you, hearing your description and the lack of specifics, I'd be very nervous about the future," he said near the conclusion of the 15-minute interview.
But the mild confrontation failed to pierce Kushner's fake smile. Though he had no prior journalistic experience, the man who jumped the deep fissure between selling greeting cards to selling news didn't immediately address the assertion. Instead, he tersely punted, saying, "Any other questions?"
You have no clue what you're doing, do you?
R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.