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Recall gives the East Coast yet another excuse to snipe

September 28, 2003|DAVID SHAW

As if dreadful summer weather, a mid-August blackout and the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were not depressing enough, the East Coast media must be about to apply for a collective prescription of Prozac now that the California gubernatorial recall campaign is winding down.

The heavyweights on the Hudson have long taken special delight in ridiculing what they variously call "the Left Coast," "La-La Land" and "the land of fruits and nuts," and the recall has given them their biggest opportunity to poke fun at us since -- well, since Ronald Reagan first ran for governor.

All summer, recall stories emanating from the East Coast have been filled with words like "outrage," "embarrassment," "car wreck," "circus," "freak show," "farce" and "guffawing."

Now, thanks to Tuesday's federal appeals court decision, there are only nine more sniping days till Christmas ... er, election day.

To be fair, the recall is something of a farce, and many of the candidates are worth a guffaw or two. I mean, when was the last time a candidate for the governorship of anything used the slogan "Finally, a governor you can get drunk with"?

Even California news organizations -- The Times among them -- have been unable to resist pointing out, in various ways, that this campaign more closely resembles the theater of the absurd than an election for the leader of the world's sixth-largest economy.

But the Eastern media made a habit -- an obsession -- of ridiculing California long before anyone ever heard of Gary Coleman. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, in particular, has practically made California-bashing a regular feature.

"You know you're in trouble when the folks out in California start making sense" is the way one 2001 editorial began.

"A Los Angeles County official has given new meaning to the term space cadet" was the first sentence of another.

The Journal is an equal-opportunity basher when it comes to California, pillorying Gov. Davis, the University of California Board of Regents, the Coastal Commission, the California Supreme Court, movie studios, "the People's Republic of Santa Monica" and the Public Utilities Commission -- among many others -- with indiscriminate abandon.

During the energy crisis of 2000-01, the Journal consistently editorialized that it was all the fault of Gov. Davis and other state officials, conveniently excusing the far greater role played by energy companies like Enron.

"Enron's traders were merely taking advantage of the opportunities that California's regulators gave them," one Journal editorial said.

In another editorial during that period, the Journal called California "the Alfred E. Neuman state," "the state that gave us the Beverly Hills diet" and a state that "has come to look like a hapless banana republic."

Hot tubs, gold chains

Given the liberal tilt to California politics in recent years -- and the positioning of the Journal editorial page just to the right of Attila the Hun -- it's probably not surprising that the Wall Street editorialists would lash out at us so frequently and so venomously. But the New York Times serves a generally liberal audience, and even before the recall, the Times also enjoyed jabbing California -- and Los Angeles in particular.

Charlie LeDuff came to the paper's bureau here about this time last year and was quick to open fire. Los Angeles, he wrote, was "an insipid backwater" with rush hour 24 hours a day and a heartless attitude toward the homeless.

New York-based magazines and television networks have long made a cottage industry of dumping on Los Angeles. I can remember David Browning, then senior producer here for the "CBS Evening News," telling me a number of years ago that most New York news executives thought, "You people are all sitting in hot tubs, wearing gold chains around your necks and eating alfalfa."

Of course, every February -- when the weather is cold and snowy in New York -- these same executives quickly find an excuse to come to Los Angeles to review their troops and examine firsthand the latest trends. They insist that their local bureau chiefs arrange for them to have dinner at Spago with a couple of movie stars and then they "go back to New York and talk about how shallow we are," as Peter Greenberg, a former Newsweek correspondent here, once told me.

So what is it about California -- and Los Angeles -- that so troubles New York journalists?

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