1. A Very False Equivalence
I think that Martin Wisckol does a pretty good job overall covering politics over at the OC Register. I had occasion to disagree with him recently (and publicly, in his comments section) over the past few weeks as I’ve seen him careening towards a ravine of false equivalence in discussing the ad campaigns of Jay Chen and Ed Royce in their 39th Congressional District race. They’re not equivalent and they never have been.
They’re not equivalent in extent. Royce’s campaign has about eight times the money as Jay Chen’s — and about three times the money being spent on Jay’s behalf if you include the independent expenditures of America Shining, the SuperPAC created by Jay’s brother Shaw.
They’re not equivalent in culpability. What you see coming out of Ed Royce’s campaign is coming from Royce and his agents themselves. Royce controls the message. Jay, on the other hand, has no ability to command and control what his brother’s advertising team does. Literally, he cannot control them — I’ve asked him about this. Jay is someone who follows the law. He and his brother love each other with a filial love rivaling even that of Ed Royce and Evil Dave Gilliard and he knows that his brother is going to do what he thinks best. But the law says that Jay has to stay out of it — and that he does. He’s not culpable for Shaw’s hit pieces; Royce is entirely culpable for his own.
They’re not equivalent in legitimacy. The attacks on Ed Royce have been footnoted. They’re real issues, real attacks. The attacks on Jay Chen started out without footnotes — and then Dave Gilliard figured out that he should follow suit, so he started including vague and off-point and meaningless footnotes, secure in the knowledge that most readers won’t actually look them up. The attacks on Jay Chen recall the attacks on Barack Obama — loopy, crazy, out-of-context stuff — while the attacks on Ed Royce recall the attacks on Mitt Romney : grounded in what the guy actually did.
They’re not equivalent in offensiveness. Jay had his press conference on Royce’s racist attacks today — it must have taken hours — and that was even before today’s shock grenade was rolled out. Royce has been willing and eager to invoke degrading and dangerous cultural stereotypes against Muslims and Latinos in the past; now he’s showing that when it comes to Asians he’s an Equal Opportunity Employer of Bigotry to Achieve Victory. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)
It seemed clear to me that as soon as it became clear that Wisckol was venturing into the thicket of false equivalency that things would come to no good. Now, they have.
2. The Register’s CA-39 Nastiness Timeline in October
Oct. 11 — Wisckol publishes 39th Congressional District race gets nasty. Excerpt: “Nasty ads are flooding the 39th Congressional District with such ferocity that you’d think Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton, has a serious fight on his hands. He’s an incumbent in a district where the GOP has an 8-point advantage and his Democratic opponent’s highest elected office is Hacienda-La Puente School Board trustee. Could it really be a contest? … The attack ads are vicious but standard fare, at least for a tightly fought race.” (Yes, it could and it is.)
Oct. 16 — Wisckol story on Shaw Chen’s “America Shining” SuperPAC: Mysterious congressional donor revealed. Excerpt: “The mysterious PAC that has spent nearly a half million dollars on the long-shot challenger to Fullerton Rep. Ed Royce turns out to be funded solely by the challenger’s brother.” (This would later be used in a Royce attack at on Shaw Chen, an American citizen born in Philadelphia and currently working in Hong Kong, identifying him as a “Chinese financier,” in this way: “Mysterious” — OC Register.)
Oct. 28 — Wisckol is irked that his even-handed story is used by Chen in an uneven-handed way: Candidate Chen twists facts for attack ad. Chen’s campaign (this wasn’t the SuperPAC) took two instances within the Oct. 11 story where Wisckol indicates that Royce has engaged in “nasty” attacks and builds an ad around them. Wisckol writes a short piece saying that he’s upset that Chen’s ad didn’t note that he has also called Chen’s attacks — well, Chen’s brother’s attacks — “nasty” as well. This either belies a surprising unfamiliarity with the content of political ads, which are rarely even-handed, or it was Wisckol’s way of sending a message to the world: “don’t quote me in a way that makes me look anything other than even-handed. (My guess is that it was the latter.) Message received, Mr. Wisckol! (And, in Ed Royce’s case, message ignored.) Excerpt: “More attack ads twist the truth than I have time to correct. But I think I should at least set the record straight when it’s my words that are misrepresented.”
3. Today’s Disturbing Developments
Nov. 2 — this almost unbelievably over-the-top mailer comes out:
Oh. My. God. Did you see that? There’s the headline of Wisckol’s story, right under the big OC Register logo, saying “Candidate Chen twists facts for attack ad.” And he doesn’t even mention that Wisckol mentions that both sides were twisting facts in their stories! Presumably, Wisckol is going to be royally pissed over this one!
But there’s more to it. Royce calls Chen “Extreme” (based on a misleading report that I had hoped to write about, but hadn’t the time), Desperate (probably because he wants people to be calling him “Desperate Jay” rather than calling Royce “Desperate Ed” — despite the evidence in this very mailer!), and … what’s this? “Deceiver”?
That’s an odd word. It’s like what George W. Bush should have called himself instead of the “Decider.” Oh well, let’s move on and look at the back:
“Deceiver,” “False,” “Reject,” “Warning,” “Lies” … and what’s that red and yellow color scheme? Royce’s Gilliardites are trying to link Chen with the colors red and yellow for one of three reasons:
(1) He wants people to associate Chen with U.S.C.
(2) He wants people to associate Chen with McDonald’s.
(3) He wants people to associate “deceptive” “Deceiver” Chen with the color scheme of the flag of the People’s Republic of China.
(Personally, my bet is on #3. More on that on Saturday or Sunday.)
4. How Pissed Off Should Martin Wisckol Be at This?
To some extent, Wisckol should have expected this: his short piece on Oct. 28 invited this sort of reaction. But I have to think that a piece that grabbed his headline and employer’s logo and stuck then in the middle of “LIES, DECEIVER, WARNING!” is quite a bit worse than what Chen did in pointing out that Royce nasty work had been, in fact, nasty. (Would you rather be called “nasty,” or a “lying false deceiver” about whom people must be warned?)
What will Martin Wisckol do in response? He laid out pretty clearly that he did not want his writing to be used by others in this way. His best days to respond to appropriation of his writing this would seem to be Sunday and Monday — and maybe he could take on the racism thing too.
So, we’ll find out a bit about Martin Wisckol this weekend, too, as we continue to learn more and more about both Ed Royce and Jay Chen — and ourselves. Personally, I hope that he gives Ed Royce what he has asked for!
(If the Register would like a nice graphic for a piece on this, may I point out that if you switch the places of “Extreme” and “Desperate” and remove all put the first letter of the bottom two words, you get something that spells out “Desperate ED.” I think that that has quite a nice ring to it!)