Questions For Mr. Fox

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Editor’s Note: Joel Fox’s response to this piece can be found here

Dear Mr. Fox,

Your defense of the Small Business Action Committee’s ad attacking Jerry Brown raises more questions than it answers. Its comparisons of the ad, and the decision to not identify the financial backers that provided SBAC with the money to broadcast, begs other questions. Among them:

1. You compare SBAC’s ads to the American tradition of protest against the powerful, citing the Boston Tea Party. The tea party after all was a public act of civil disobedience against a distant tyrant. Your ad is a private act by somebody or some businesses who won’t identify themselves or their intentions to influence public opinion in a free election – and to curry favor with a Republican candidate for governor who has more than enough money to spread her own messages already.

Isn’t that comparison an insult to the patriots who took real risks to found this country?

2. You say that the people who funded this ad have to be anonymous to protect themselves from retribution by the attorney general. But isn’t it also possible that businesses backing the SBAC may have a history of bad acts that have been pursued by the state and/or the attorney general?  Can you assure the public that none of the backers of the ad are currently being prosecuted or sued by the state and/or the a.g.?

3. You compare your protection of the anonymity of your financial backers to reporters who protect the anonymity of their sources. An interesting comparison. Yes, reporters sometimes don’t tell people where they get their information. But good ones tell you something about those sources, including their biases and associations. And good reporters use unnamed sources only when it’s absolutely necessary. As a reporter, I spend a lot of time trying to convince unnamed sources to let me use their names. Mr. Fox, have you spent anytime trying to convince the financial backers of this ad to let you use your name?

4. Also, good reporters give cover of anonymity only to people who have information that they can’t get out to the public anywhere else. What message in this ad is there that hasn’t been put out in all kinds of places, including this web site and Meg Whitman’s campaign?

5. How do you defend including a totally misleading claim about Gov. Brown turning a surplus into a deficit, when you know yourself that Prop 13 was crucial to turning that surplus into a deficit (and that the surplus itself was not a good thing-but a provocation that helped lead to Prop 13)? The only intellectual honest way to include such a claim would be if you are an opponent of Prop 13, and you’re a famous supporter of Prop 13. Have you changed your mind about Prop 13?

6. One area in which I agree with you: This is an issue advocacy ad. But there’s a problem. We don’t know what issues the advocates behind this ad have with the state, because we don’t know who they are. It seems a safe bet that the donors have specific things they want from a Gov. Whitman. Does Whitman or her campaign know the identity of these donors?

7. The big question I have about the ad though is: Why would SBAC even bother? Whitman doesn’t need the help. And putting up this ad may not buy SBAC anything but the criticism and grief to which you have had to respond.

Plus, wouldn’t be the money for this ad be better spent on paying big bonuses to Fox & Hounds Daily contributors? At the very least, it might make us less likely to ask impertinent questions.

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