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Friday, November 20, 2009

Which Is Worse? Newsom Boycotting Press, or Newsom Blowing off Substantive Questions and Being Nasty?

Posted By on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 1:30 PM

click to enlarge I am displeased in you, Hank Plante. - BRAINCHILDVN
  • Brainchildvn
  • I am displeased in you, Hank Plante.
By now many of you have seen the cringe-worthy Gavin Newsom/Hank Plante interview, an experience every bit as unpleasant as watching Ricky Gervais as David Brent pontificate and condescend in the British version of The Office. Most folks will remember Newsom petulantly ripping off his microphone in the aforementioned interview and snapping -- on camera, mind you -- "off the record, I'm amazingly disappointed."

But that's not what did it for us. Despite the sheer unpleasantness of this interview, the takeaway was how, after excoriating Plante for focusing on "the past," when finally asked questions about the city's budget deficit, all Newsom could think to say was "It's a big deficit" and "it's a challenge." Plante had to all but stage-mother Newsom to get anything more than that.

It appears Newsom has been taking his interview etiquette lessons from Crash Davis. It also prompts the question: Which is worse -- for Newsom to sanctimoniously avoid the press or to deign to speak with reporters yet blow off reasonable questions and come off as utterly contemptuous and condescending? Experts we tracked down say it's the latter.

"Newsom can be any way he wants to be -- if he delivers the goods," said political analyst David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics. But he's not. Newsom is now dancing around questions and coming off as petulant. "If he's condescending and tells the media the 55 things he's doing to make the city better, they could overlook it."

By this point, the meme of Newsom-chides-press, press-chides-Newsom may be growing tiresome for the average news customer. The general public may be ready to give both Newsom and the media the ol' Mercutio treatment: "A pox on both your houses." If so, however, Newsom will be hurt more. The press can cover other things. But Newsom has no other way to effectively communicate with his electorate.

"Newsom has created a PR monster with his administration. He is a live-and-die by the press mayor. He doesn't get out there in everybody's face like some other politicians do; think of Mark Leno," says Latterman. "I get it, Newsom is pissed off at the press. Fine. But he's cutting off his nose to spite his face."

While several knowledgable political insiders told SF Weekly that the prickly Plante/Newsom interview was a sign of the mayor's political demise, this is certainly not a unanimous position. Jim Stearns, a progressive consultant who represents San Francisco politicians diametrically opposed to Newsom, said all the bizarre behavior of the last several weeks need not be a major issue.

"If he doesn't have his legs under him by January then, okay, we've got a real problem. But right now, I don't see this as a huge dilemma for him," said Stearns. Newsom "lost a major anchor in Eric Jaye and another in Nathan Ballard; you don't really have someone who is steering that ship internally. And it's very difficult for a public figure who has to negotiate a million different public appearances to also steer the ship and handle all the internal staff decisions. But to me, this is a fairly natural transition -- but it's bound to be uncomfortable and awkward for both him and us."

And yet, Stearns can't resist taking a dig.

"In public, the Newsom administration puts on a really good game face. But in private, there are all kinds of awkward silences and a lack of basic civility. And now the window is open and the public is seeing what many leading city people have seen for the past couple of years."

Photo   |   Brainchildvn

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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