The whole world is watching

Not ready for prime time: For the recall folks, all the elements were falling into place. Peter Jennings was coming to Sacramento to host an ABC World News Tonight Town Hall meeting. Governor Gray Davis would be a featured panelist. News10 and The Sacramento Bee were both sponsors. And the recall campaign, through e-mails and talk radio, was working to deliver “hundreds if not thousands” of protesters to, as Recall Gray Davis campaign chairman Howard Kaloogian put it, show “people around the world” what’s happening here.

Then came the moment of truth: After introducing the panel, Jennings turned to the governor and said that, although the forum was mostly about education, it would be hard to ignore the recall campaign going on as they spoke. In fact, he said, folks on both sides of the issue were demonstrating outside at that very moment. Jennings looked down at the monitor, but there was no cutaway. He continued with a question, and, midway through the answer, we finally cut to the exterior image, what might have been our version of the toppling of Saddam’s statue in a Baghdad square.

What a letdown. Beneath the “AIR-10 POWER ZOOM” logo, the helicopter camera zoomed in on the street outside the Guild Theatre to show us …


Well, not exactly nothing. There were a few kids standing around in what looked to be school uniforms, and there were a couple of cops and a brief view of a guy with a sign that couldn’t be read, but mostly, there was just empty street.

Where were the hundreds if not thousands of protesters? Was ABC part of the vast left-wing conspiracy to thwart the recall movement?

Bites drove to the auditorium, parked near the trucks with colorful paintings of bloody fetuses and entered the fray. On each side of the street stood a dozen or so recall folks, chanting through megaphones. The News10 helicopter had moved on.

Bites caught up with recall proponent Sal Russo as a few recall volunteers walked him to his Mercedes, parked just around the corner in “historic Oak Park.” “I was inside the theater, so I didn’t see much of what was going on outside,” said the Republican adviser, who figures a couple hundred people were on hand when he showed up. “The boys here were outside, so they would know better.”

One of the “boys” loading up a pickup truck, campaign coordinator Joe Wierzbicki, explained that the crowd was divided between recall supporters, union members who showed up to counter the recall protesters, and unaligned folks attempting to pressure the governor to maintain education, health-care and social-service programs. “They want to use the recall to leverage Gray Davis to not make cuts,” he said. As for what went wrong with the aerial opportunity, Wierzbicki figures “it all depends on what angle they took and where the bodies were.”

All of this suggests recall proponents and local media need to work more closely to stage the kind of first-class media spectacles television audiences expect. A select group of Iraqis with shoes and an equal number of photojournalists were all it took to make a Baghdad square a symbol that would live forever. Where are those tanks and Gray Davis statues when you need them?

Crawling Hand: If, like Bites, you’re going through withdrawal now that the Laci Peterson mystery appears to be winding down, Sacramento lawyer Jeffrey Kravitz may have just the case for you. Kravitz is representing Roger Strunk, a Tracy resident the Philippines’ government wants extradited to Manila following the murder of his wife, Nida Blanca. Blanca was one of the Philippines’ most beloved television stars, and though the case is still under the radar in the American press, it’s making big news in the island nation and within the Bay Area’s 1 million-strong Filipino-American community. An American citizen and actor who reportedly has at least one film credit for 1963’s The Crawling Hand, Strunk was being held in the Sacramento County Jail last week, when a U.S. magistrate set his extradition hearing for July 28. Kravitz, meanwhile, has characterized the overseas fervor around the case as being 10 times larger than that surrounding the Peterson case. It’s good to know our media’s obsession with morbidity is shared by the world at large.