Spinning out of control

Less sting: The Sacramento Bee isn’t known for deviating much from the well-scripted political theater practiced in the capital. With few exceptions, most politicians are taken at face value in the pages of the Bee, while most of its scoops and insider stuff are calculated leaks by the powers-that-be.

This kind of blind acceptance of messages from public relations pros, flacks, campaign operatives and other self-interested insiders is an all-too-common affliction in the mainstream media. After all, we live in the Age of Public Relations, an insidious era in which spun perception becomes reality.

Yet Executive Editor Rick Rodriguez, Publisher Janis Besler Heaphy and the other Powers-that-Bee seem to not only accept spin-as-reality, they have employed the power of public relations to try to fool Bee readers into believing that less is more.

When the Bee this week converted over to a smaller paper in order to cut newsprint costs, the paper lost nearly 10 percent of the space it has traditionally devoted to articles and ads.

In the redesigned paper’s maiden issue, Heaphy trumpeted the Bee as “a brighter, more colorful newspaper with more of the news and information you need,” echoing Rodriguez in Sunday’s paper calling it “fresh, brighter and more colorful, with more useful and entertaining content.”

Now, Bites is no math whiz, but wouldn’t a 10 percent reduction in the size of the paper, with no change in the type size or ad ratio, translate into less “news and information you need,” and less “useful and entertaining content?”

And considering the Bee didn’t change their ad rates, aren’t advertisers now paying the same price for smaller ads, amounting to a rate increase?

Aside from the fact that it looks more like USA Today now, Bites has no problem with the redesigned Bee, but we should all expect more truth and less spin from journalists, who live and die by their credibility and trustworthiness.

But if we use Heaphy and Rodriguez’s argument that smaller format papers are better because they are “easier to handle,” then it’s worth noting that Sacramento News & Review’s pages are smaller and even easier to handle than the Bee’s, naturally making this the better paper, right?

He speaks!!!: Mercurial Congressman John Doolittle has long refused to talk to the Bee, freezing their reporters out just like he has done with those from SN&R and any other area newspaper that writes anything unflattering about this right-wing extremist from Rocklin.

So it seemed strangely anti-climactic when Doolittle broke with his policy of unaccountable silence—a policy regularly spelled out in Bee stories that cover his exploits—to talk to the Bee about his opposition to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, in a story that ran this week.

Apparently, the Bee has decided that it’s OK to let Doolittle use the paper to get his self-serving comments in print, while still ducking reporters who may have tough questions on more controversial topics.

So what exactly did the long-mute public official have to say? “The only campaign finance problem I know of is that campaigns are starved for cash.” Ah, now Bites is finally beginning to understand why his handlers don’t want Doolittle talking to the press: his tendency to say stupid things.

Mea culpa: By way of full disclosure, Bites has to confess pressing a few of Steve Maviglio‘s buttons, possibly prompting his reactionary letter decrying the Sacramento News & Review‘s woeful mistreatment of Gov. Gray Davis.

Starting March 1, when Maviglio e-mailed Bites complaining about Davis being portrayed in this space as unaccountable to the press, Bites has been e-sparring with the governor’s press secretary up until Maviglio’s March 27 warning: “There is a five page letter coming your way noting all the factual errors.”

Maviglio fired off his promise of official rebuke just nine minutes after Bites sent His Grayness’ mouthpiece a four paragraph denunciation of Davis’ approach to the power problem that was so caustic, insightful and utterly irrefutable that poor Mr. Maviglio blew his rationality gasket.

There’s probably enough Davis flack v. SN&R in this paper, but Bites just wanted to explain and apologize. Yet if you want to read Bites’ e-mail exchange with Maviglio, stop by the SN&R office with 50 cents for a copy that really is five pages long (or check it out on our new Web site).