Curious Timing Or PR Spinning At The Fairgrounds? (Amended)
Tonight I write to you about a curious phenomenon that occurred in one of our local newspapers today. After what seems like months of absence from the pages of the Daily Pilot - it's really only been a few weeks - all of a sudden today there are three (3) big news stories dealing with the Orange County Fair and Event Center online Tuesday night which will likely appear in print Wednesday. Yes, I know there is almost always some little piece in the Daily Pilot about this or that event at the Fairgrounds - it's what they do across the street from City Hall, after all. While informative, I'd have to describe most of those as benign. Not so with the pieces that will appear today. NOTE: Before I was out of bed this morning former Fair Board President Dave Ellis signed in with a couple clarifications. You can read them below in green italics.
The last "news" story about the Fairgrounds before today was an article on March 22nd describing the cessation of elephant rides during the annual Fair. Before that was a story a month earlier about two new Fair Board members - Ashleigh Aitken and Stan Tkaczyk - being appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. Today the Daily Pilot made up for lost time. In no particular order, here are the three stories regarding the Fairgrounds that appear today.
ONE-SIDED CALCULATION OF VALUE
First, is a piece by Jon Cassidy - former Orange County Register reporter who now writes the occasional story for the Daily Pilot as a contractor - titled, "Fair collects little from Equestrian Center". You can read it HERE. It outlines the financial part of the equestrian activities at the Fairgrounds with a slant on the story that would lead one to believe there may be a move afoot to further reduce - or completely eliminate - the equestrian activities at the Fairgrounds. In recent years the footprint of that activity has been reduced by 50% and it is widely known that former Fair Board president Dave Ellis was a main proponent of ousting the horse folks and paving over that area and using it as additional parking. No mention is made in this particular article of the value to the community of the equestrian activities on the Fairgrounds property. Nor is there any historical context of those activities - only raw numbers. It seems one-sided. (Dave Ellis says,"in 2009 former Fair Board President Julie Vandermost led the effort to terminate the equestrian operation, not me. It has never come to a vote so you do not know what my position is, or might be. I think you might be listening to some folks that have a different agenda. However, I do have a concern fair revenues subsidizing private clubs operating on public land.")
ATTORNEY GENERAL DROPS FAIR BOARD AS CLIENT - AGAIN
The second article appearing today is another piece by the recently-ubiquitous Cassidy titled, "Attorney general drops Fair Board as client." The thrust of the story, which you can read HERE, is the fact that the State Attorney General has, once again, refused to represent the Fair Board in matters involving the lingering questions about the bogus sale scheme that occurred a couple years ago, citing conflict of interest concerns. Again, the equestrian users are a centerpiece of this article. And, again, this piece seems to have a distinctly pro-Fair Board slant.
WHERE DID HE GET THOSE NUMBERS?
The third article appearing today is columnist Steve Smith's little epistle titled, "Fair Board gets it right when helping foster kids." You can read Smith's disjointed piece HERE. OK, some of you will say the use of "disjointed" is a little harsh, but that's how I view it. He begins with a supposed quote from Robert Kennedy, then follows up with a couple other unattributed numerical quotes, including his statement, "80% of complaints will come from 20% of the citizens." I don't know where he got that one, but I suggest it's not even close. I suspect that most of the complaints by citizens come from a very small percentage of the populace - maybe 5% or less. I state that based on a decade of watching our local government in action and realizing that fewer than 50 people regularly speak up at public meetings - those people that actually pay attention to issues.
FOSTER FAMILY NIGHT AT THE FAIR
He then veers into the excellent program wherein the Fair Board provides a "foster family night" - an evening at the Fair before it's open to the public where foster families may attend and not have to deal with the rest of us. It's a good program and, according to Smith, was previously paid for by private funds. This year the Board hopes to attract 25,000 people to the event - nearly three times last year's number - and it will be funded by an additional dollar charged on tickets for shows at the Pacific Amphitheater. (Dave Ellis says, "One more small detail in your Foster Family story. Steve Smith posted this comment (below) to his story as a clarification on the funding of the event. This is an important item … Joyce Tucker and I start raising the 150K in the next couple of weeks … I’d like to make it clear that the vast majority of the funds for the event will be from private sources. The $1 per PacAmp ticket is designed to help if we fall short. In the event of a surplus of funds the remainder will flow to a college scholarship program for foster children.
TAX OR NOT?
He then gets into the "is that buck a tax?" issue, and whether people should be subjected to paying an additional tax. He decides that, yes, we members of the public should fork over another buck to pay for this program. According to him, "it's the least we can do". Really?
Smith then brushes aside criticism of the program wherein some apparently have suggested this is another "deal" contrived by the Fair Board. I don't know if it is or not - Smith cavalierly dismisses that thought - but it speaks volumes about how at least a few members of the public feel about the Fair Board. They've learned not to trust them.
OPPOSING VIEWS FROM "MALCONTENTS"
In his final sentence Smith says, "One night at the fair is the least we can do to say thank you to these families through a small charge, even if the malcontent 20% believe otherwise." I highlighted that word because it rings of a phrase planted by someone pushing the Fair Board view of anyone who dares to criticize them.
COINCIDENTAL TIMING OR PR CAMPAIGN?
My point here is that each of these articles have managed to appear all at once on the pages of our local newspaper of record and have just the slightest whiff of PR-flackery in them. I'm not suggesting that Cassidy nor Smith are biased in their reporting, but none of the three articles seem to carry the kind of balance one might hope for. Yeah, I know - Steve Smith is a "columnist" and, therefore, not required to be "fair and balanced" in his presentation of issues. And, of course, he makes his living as a PR flack.
I LOVE THE SMELL OF PR SPIN IN THE MORNING
What I AM suggesting is that this kind of smells like the work of a good Public Relations person - someone hired to pump out "news" with a definite slant in favor of the Fair Board's views. In my view, there's nothing wrong with that as long as the local media is not complicit in presenting only one side of the issue. It's something to consider.