Cain Is Able 

The recall's ubiquitous experts; Davis appointment doesn't hold grudges, he holds fund-raisers; Jello: Gary Coleman, über alles.

If the frenzied coverage of the recall campaign has revealed anything, it's that reporters rely heavily on a small pool of academic political pundits for analysis. In a pinch, when reporters need a guy who gives good quote, they immediately dial up Cal political scientist Bruce Cain. A news-database search of recall election stories penned between July 20 and August 20 turned up his name in no fewer than 147 stories -- more than most of the actual candidates, not to mention old Cali politicos such as ex-Governor George Deukmejian, who got 91 mentions during the same period.

While Cain, a fourteen-year UC Berkeley professor who also heads Cal's Institute of Governmental Studies, occupies a card in practically every Bay Area reporter's Rolodex, the recall has made him a hot national media commodity. During the past month he's been quoted or interviewed by, among others, the Washington Post, NPR, and Fox News. With TV news shows, he says, "The search for guests gets frantic." Just the other day, producers from Fox and PBS' Newshour competed to get him on the air to discuss the recall. When the producer from one show (Cain wouldn't say which) found out that the rival show planned to book time at a nearby broadcast station for Cain's spot, the producer told Cain, "Maybe I'll call first and take the booking away from them." After the tug-of-war for his time -- and after Cain cleared his calendar -- both shows ended up canceling the segments.

In spite of the occasional scheduling hassles, Cain clearly relishes seeing his name in print and talking to reporters who call him. "I'm a political junkie and I love politics," he explains, "so it's like calling a sports fan and asking him about Barry Bonds' home run." But even Cain recognizes that reporters sometimes rely on him too much. In fact, he says editors have in the past scolded their scribes for overquoting him and told them to find new sources.

What makes Cain and his oft-quoted colleagues -- like USC's Sherry Bebitch Jeffe and Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College -- such hot properties is that they serve as a reporter's mandatory "neutral" experts, offering cool-headed conventional wisdom to counter the partisan spin. But what effect do these ubiquitous "neutral" pundits like Cain have on the public's view of the recall in particular, and politics in general? To answer that question, we turn to our resident expert ... Bruce Cain: "In essence, we're part of the press corps, and I think that in this modern political environment, the press is influential on the way people think, so you're part of that process," he says. "But, y'know, the whole business of putting comments into the press is very complex because, yes, sometimes you're giving ideas to reporters and shaping their stories. But just as frequently, if not more so, the reporters are looking for the quote that they want to fit into the story."

Starting this week, though, Cain is leaving for a four-month sabbatical at the Brookings Institute, where he plans to take the phone off the hook and actually do some real work. Maybe that'll inspire the nation's political reporters to do the same.

Hard Cash, Not Feelings
Good thing for future ex-Governor Gray Davis that big-shot Alamo attorney Jeremiah Hallisey doesn't hold grudges. Hallisey, a Davis appointment to the state transportation commission, is one of the state's most prolific fund-raisers. Last week Hallisey flexed that muscle, organizing a $1,000-a-head (minimum) event at the Fairmont Hotel that raised about $1.5 million for the Gray Man, he boasted.

In July, the guv passed over Hallisey's son, Jeremy, and appointed union-backed candidate Millie Greenberg to a vacant seat on the CoCo County Board of Supervisors. Prior to Greenberg's appointment, many insiders predicted Davis would put off any decision so as not to piss off either of his top fund-raisers: Hallisey and Jim Kellogg, a unionista who championed Greenberg and, according to the Los Angeles Times, showed up at the Fairmont boasting he had a $1 million check in hand for Davis' antirecall drive. Old man Hallisey says that while he may not have agreed with Davis' choice for the supes, he noted that his son never formally applied for the seat, so there were no hard feelings. Of course, reports that Hallisey is applying for a judicial appointment may have something to do with his ability to forgive and fund-raise.

And fund-raise he did: The Fairmont event reportedly attracted some two hundred Davis backers and easily exceeded Hallisey's $500,000 goal. Earlier in the week, the Chron's Matier & Ross had quoted an anonymous event "sponsor" grimly predicting, "If we get fifty people there, we'll be lucky. I'd be shocked if we raised a couple of hundred thousand dollars."

"I don't know where they got that information," Hallisey sniffed to Bottom Feeder the day after the event.

In one $en$e, the event was a success, but isn't the constant whoring-for-contributions one of the things voters hate about Davis? At this point, explains UC Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain, Davis has bigger problems and needs all the funds he can get. "The fund-raising [image] problem was last year's problem," Cain says. "This year's problem is exactly the opposite: It's getting cash."

Dead Again
Van Halen without David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar? Journey without Steve Perry? Those bands just aren't the same in concert with their lesser-known crooners. Sure, a lot of bands can get away with swapping drummers or bassists, but a singer that gives a band its identity? Nuh-uh. That rule also applies to the seminal Dead Kennedys, the Frisco-born punk band whose heyday lasted from the late '70s through the mid-'80s. For the past several years, ex-frontman Jello Biafra and the band's other three original members have battled in court over royalties and control of the band's lucrative catalog. Biafra lost that fight, then appealed, and recently lost again. In the meantime, his remaining bandmates reunited and began touring with the likes of Brandon Cruz, who as a kid starred in TV sitcom The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Cruz parted ways with the ex-Kennedys in July, to be replaced by Jeff Penalty, a singer whose résumé includes a band called Stupid Ferrets (yup, they sure are). But earlier this month, some DKs fans had reason to hope for a real reunion after the remaining members invited Biafra to rejoin them at their 25th anniversary gig at the Key Club in Los Angeles on August 19. "This is not a prank or a publicity stunt," bassist Klaus Flouride insisted in a press release, inspiring a fan to post this hopeful message on a Jello fansite: "It would be great if they let Jello do some spoken word and the like." Biafra, however, quickly dashed hopes of a reunion in a press release of his own: "It makes less sense than the California recall election," he said. "Sorry I'm not running, folks, but I didn't want to take votes away from Gary Coleman." Asked whether he thought Biafra would have indeed siphoned votes from Coleman, UC Berkeley professor Bruce Cain responded: "I didn't know there was a Kennedy named Jello."


Recall followers have undoubtedly noticed reporters using the same tired catchphrases and quoting the same sources over and over in their coverage.

We used Nexis, a comprehensive news database, to track how many times some these appeared in print and broadcast stories between July 20 and August 20.

"Total recall": 388

"Governator": 168

Terminator catchphrase "hasta la vista": 344

"Hat in the ring": 79

"Whatchoo talkin' 'bout": 36

Stories quoting Cal professor Bruce Cain: 147

Stories quoting USC professor Sherry Bebitch Jeffe: 146

Stories quoting Claremont McKenna College professor Jack Pitney: 199


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