The Flash Retort

I was a little surprised by the length and breadth of Norberto Santana’s story of the County’s investigation of fellow LiberalOC blogger Chris Prevatt.  The memo was served up to Prevatt in late October, so my first question is just how freakin’ long does it take to figure out the guy didn’t post an entry from work.  I’ve asked Mike to post stuff for me before too when Blogger went down.

 

In fact, my original response to this issue disappeared in cyberspace when I hit “publish.”  

 

But now that I have had a couple of days to consider my words, I have some comments on the Register story and on Mr. Jon Fleischman’s words in particular.  First off, we all do dumb things, and for Mr. Flieschman to call Chris dumb for criticizing his employer, well, that was dumb.

 

The Flash Report has a single glaring weakness that you don’t see on other right wing blog/news sites.  During Mr. Fleischman’s tenure as a spokesman for the OCSD, any criticism or stories from other sites critical of Sheriff Mike Carona were largely absent from the Flash Report.  Mr. Fleischman might think that was smart, as he worked for Sheriff Mike, but it only reinforced the notion that news was whatever Mr. Fleischman decided it was even though there was legitimate debate over the candidacy of Sheriff Carona within his own party.  No stories about Carona’s political retribution against his opponent in the race either.

 

It takes a certain degree of spine and testicular fortitude to criticize one’s employer, especially in such a public forum.  Ripping apart someone online is fair game unless you work for them? 

 

But let’s examine Mr. Fleischman’s comments in Friday’s Register story in defense of how he set up Flash Report and calling Chris Prevatt dumb.  Mr. Fleischman “explained to them (his employers) how the site was being used without government resources….he made sure to have his own laptop and wireless card to post while taking breaks and had county counsel review his contributions.”

 

First off, I don’t know what service provider Fleischman uses, but he needed Internet access somehow and I’m wondering if the County provided some sort of access point (Starbucks nearby for T-Mobile hot spot?  Who knows).  But Fleischman had county counsel review his contributions.  How many stories are we talking about here?  How much county time did Fleischman take up to have county lawyers review text for a site that accepts advertising?  Boy, that sure looks like county resources being used to me.  

 

And the notion that he had his own laptop and wireless card is a gem.  What better way to hide what you’re doing on county time than use your own stuff, never mind that bringing a private laptop to access the Internet likely violates a number of security and privacy requirements for government networks.  The “I used my own laptop” excuse sounds like a married guy who spilled gas on his clothes so his wife can’t smell the stripper’s perfume.  

 

I’m told that in Fleischman’s time with the OCSD, he had a very unusual vacation policy.  He might take 15 minute vacation blocks during the day to work on political stuff.  Is this policy something that Mr. Mauk ought to look into?  The costs associated with managing Mr. Fleischman’s timecard must have cost the county a pretty penny along with the free legal advice he got for his posts.  What’s the vacation policy like at County?  What are break policies like?  Does the County IT staff know that unauthorized and Internet-enabled computers are in county offices during business hours?  It presents an endpoint security threat especially if Internet access was provided through the county’s computer network.

 

Back to the notion of dumb for a minute.  You know what’s dumb?  Speaking last Spring to the Orange County chapter of the PRSA on crisis communications and political communications and assuming that everyone in the room shares your political views, like Mr. Flieschman did.  It was also dumb to talk about how you found most reporters to be lazy; they are calling you, the gateway for the Sheriff’s Department, and that’s somehow lazy?  It was also dumb to brag about how you were able to use your position to deny access to reporters working on stories you didn’t like or how you were able to have certain stories quashed.  

 

But it was also dumb to tell the story about a former Register reporter who wrote stories critical of the department; I confess, it takes a certain amount of skill to weave in accurate facts that help the listener reach a conclusion that wasn’t at all true.  (The story is, and I am paraphrasing here, that a reporter for the Register wrote an unflattering piece on rising crime in the county and it was critical of the Sheriff’s Department.  Fleischman recounted how they tracked the reporter’s ever interaction with the department and went to their editor with all of the information the reporter didn’t use in the story.  He then said the Register ran a front page apology story (not true; it was an update story), assigned a second reporter to the OCSD (true) and “now that reporter (the original reporter) is working in Tennessee,” which led most in the room to believe Fleischman’s efforts got this reporter fired.  That’s not true; the reporter left for a job offer in Tennessee and leaving OC had nothing to do with Fleischman’s efforts.  But it’s a hell of a story that fell apart after a quick call to friends at the Register.)  A final correction to Jon: Geena Davis’s character in “Commander in Chief” was an independent, not a Democrat.  In fairness, I’m having a hard time verifying your comment that only 6 percent of OC residents read a newspaper considering I get 4 papers delivered to my house every day.

 

I’m sure I will be accused of taking this event out of context.  Nice try.  I was there.  It was my introduction to the world of Mr. Fleischman and Matt Cunningham, who was the other speaker.  I don’t think Matt shares Jon’s particular view of the world that day, as he had his own stories to tell, but he didn’t dispute them either. 

I was dumb for deciding to kept my mouth shut only because I had a new business meeting immediately following the event; I wish I hadn’t.

 

Its one thing to work with reporters on stories you want done from a seat of power, and quite another to achieve the same result when pitching clients.  As far as lazy reporters go, I haven’t met one.  Most are working 10 and 12 hour days, trying to get the story right and on deadline.  The ones that manage to get home to have dinner with their families are often interrupted by calls from the copy desk.  Some give up weekends, their children’s sporting events and Girl Scout meetings.  While it’s OK to disagree with reporters or editors from time to time, but disrespecting them as lazy just tells me all I need to know.  I have been doing public relations work for more than 20 years and all PR people know you have to serve two masters: your employer and the press.  You can’t be effective without either.

 

I call on Mr. Mauk and the County to investigate Mr. Fleischman’s use of County attorneys to review Flash Report contributions during his time as a county employee, to investigate the use of private laptops for non-county business during the workday and provide new policies on the use of such products on county time, and provide new policies on contributions to political blogs on county time that extend all the way to Mr. Spitzer.  I call on Mr. Mauk to develop county-wide standards for blogging by county employees or for shutting down the ports that lead to those sites (not a difficult thing to do).  And I call on Mr. Mauk to give Chris Prevatt back his computer so he can monitor the blogs, like his supervisor told him to do.

  20 comments for “The Flash Retort

  1. Elroy El
    November 27, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Dan. I used to check out the flash report at least once a day.

    Now it’s once a week.

    Why, you may ask?

    Two words..

    Borrr…..rrrriiinngggg.

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    November 27, 2006 at 11:19 am

    I usually wait for some Republican blow up to see what Jon has to say. The last chuckle was spinning Daucher’s “win” as granting more power to the Republicans in the state senate because it’s harder to flip three Senators instead of two.

  3. Jubal
    November 27, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    Dan:

    The “contributions” mentioned in the article refers to monetary donations Jon received to fund the building of the FR website and blog — not posts he writes.

    As for internet access, Jon has a Verizon Aircard. He doesn’t need a hotspot for wireless access.

    And how am I supposed to dispute an account of which I had never heard before and had no independent knowledge?

  4. Dan Chmielewski
    November 27, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for the tip on the wireless card and provider; but I’m still pretty sure having a laptop and wireless card in county offices not part of the network is a violation on government data security compliance requirements (privtae industry has S-OX, GLB, HIPAA).

    Jon still used county lawyers to vette his enterprise; he could have hired his own lawyers for that. Using county lawyers contradicts his “no county rersources used” comment.

    You have a fair argument on the story he told, but I didn’t hear you take issue with the “reporters are lazy” comment. So you’re not in lock step with Jon, and that’s good, but you still have to admit, my account is accurate.

  5. Jubal
    November 27, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    Too many reporters are lazy, IMO.

  6. Jubal
    November 27, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Besides, I wasn’t invited to debate Jon.

    As for the county lawyers, I don’t know if Jon asked county counsel to check on every single contribution — which I doubt, since most of thgem were small dollar amounts — or just consulted with them to make sure he wasn’t inadvertantly running afoul of any county regs.

    Dan, I guess the impression your post springs mainly from a dislike of Jon and the FlashReport.

  7. Dan Chmielewski
    November 27, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Matt –
    I’m married to it and have many friends in the press who bust hump. Daily. They did in New York when I was there in the 1980s. They did in Boston when I was there in the 1990s. They did in OC and So Cal since I moved here in 1997. Too many reporters don’t have enough time to adequately research stories they rpeort; too much emphasis on dailies and not enough on enterprise.

    Re: your last comment….did *you* acquire psychic powers?

    I don’t know Jon. Never met him. I read his site maybe once a week, whereas I am on your site several times a day.

    My post is about a doublestandard applied to Chris not applied to Jon. Even you have to admit, no one in private industry or in othe segemnts of public service had the vacation schedule he had. As a taxpayer, I want to know why he got the deal he got. But I believe the answer is tied to Jon’s role with the OC Republican party.

  8. Publius
    November 27, 2006 at 2:52 pm

    Why are people always making testicle references when writing about Fleischman? Even inadvertently. Below the belt, I think. Oh, make it stop!

  9. Dan Chmielewski
    November 27, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    I used “spine” and “testicular fortitude” interchangably. Both refer to a willfullness, or lack there of, to provide an article or a link to an article critical of Sheriff Mike Carona on Jon’s site. I don’t understand how either reference is a problem. I haven’t seen other examples, so please, enlighten me on why this isn’t cool.

  10. Elroy El
    November 27, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    What I found humorous after the election was Fleischman’s proclamation that CA was more conservative since the GOP held two state constitutional offices (same as before the election) and was taking back the 34th SD.

    What a difference a week makes. The 34th is now firmly in Dem hands, the GOP made no further inroads in the CA Exec offices and lost a seat in Congress.

    So much for his political acumen.

    He is great at throwing out platitudes and soundbites about excessive government and liberals. If only it were true. I would like Jon or Matt to tell us when a GOP governor actually shrunk the size of government in CA. And going even further, how about conservative demigod Ronald Reagan. Could either Matt or Jon tell me when Reagan shrank the size of government in CA or while he was President? Reagan hiked taxes while Gov. (maybe the largest tax hike ever). And while President his fiscal policy can be summed up in one phrase,

    “We’ll forever be in his debt.”

  11. Jubal
    November 27, 2006 at 6:17 pm

    Dan:

    There are lots of reporters who work hard. But as in any other profession, there are lazy ones too — and not just in terms of activity.

    As for my psychic powers, I meant to write I “get” the impression, not “guess.” I don’t like when others pretend to know my mind, so I won’t pretend to know yours. :)

    Maybe I’d feel differently if I were a Democrat activist, but I don’t think there’s a double standard at work vis-a-vis Jon Fleischman and Chris Prevatt. I think it has much more to do with the fact that Jon worked for an independent county organization with its own elected head, and Chris’s top-level boss is unelected CEO Tom Mauck. In Jon’s case, Carona doesn’t have a problem with Jon having a blog. I’ve known Jon for 15 years — and he’s smart enough to observe the rules.

    In Chris’s case, he’s got a boss in Mauk he has hostile to blogs and is much more inclined to bring down the hammer at the first hint of impropriety.

    As for the vacation schedule, it may be unusual in county government, but its tame compared to people who work in the state legislature. Besides, if Jon is following the rules, why the fuss?

    Lastly, what “deal” did Jon get? And I think you overestimate the power and focus of the OC GOP.

  12. Jubal
    November 27, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Elroy:

    I don’t think any GOP governor has shrunk the size of government.

    What’s your point?

  13. November 27, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    i dunno what the point was jubal, but i too remember when repubs were into shrinking govt instead of growing it. it used to be your saving grace.

  14. Elroy El
    November 27, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    Jubal. Considering that shrinking government is a major plank and/or claim of conservatives it is ironic that GOP’s claims consist of rhetoric they have yet to realize.

  15. Dan Chmielewski
    November 27, 2006 at 7:53 pm

    As for my psychic powers, I meant to write I “get” the impression, not “guess.” I don’t like when others pretend to know my mind, so I won’t pretend to know yours.

    Dude — typos happen and I was only poking fun at ya because, if you’l recall, you’ve suggested psychic powers of me; don’t sweat it.. typos happen and so do misintended words. I do it all the time and it happens when the mind works faster than the fingers can type.

    Of course Carona doesn’t have a problem with Jon blogging as long as he’s not the subject of any of the stories.

    Sorry, Jon was and Chris is an employee of Orange County. Same rules should apply. I will take your word for it that he follows the rules. But for Jon, he told an elaborate story about the Register reporter and he led us to believe he got the reporter fired (you were there, what did you think?). It was easily exposed. I’ll take your word for it. But I won’t take his.

  16. Jubal
    November 27, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    Dan,

    Candidly, I only vaguely remember Jon’s story. I can hardly remember what I said, either. I think I told a war story from the Mike Huffington campaign.

  17. Jubal
    November 27, 2006 at 8:49 pm

    Elroy,

    I understood what you were saying. I don’t get the point of pointing out that Republicans haven’t achieved their goals like shrinking the size of government. That’s a huge reason why so many Republicans like myself have become disenchanted with the national GOP — not to mentioned the Schwarzeneggerized version in CA.

    The best we’ve been able to achieve at the national level was to slow the rate of growth during the era of divided government in the 80s and 90s.

    That’s why conservative GOPers are so angry. For 40 years we told ourselves, “If only we had control of Congress AND the White House, then we could really make progress in shrinking government.” When we finally got it, the opposite happened (with the salutary exception of cutting taxes).

    Hence, many conservatives — the grass roots of the GOP — had a hard time caring about retaining control of Congress.

  18. Dan Chmielewski
    November 27, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    Actually, you were pretty good; you sounded generally excited about what blogging holds for communicators. I don’t remember the Huffington story. Your piece was satted with a sense of confidence and enthusiasm, though you also bought into the notion that everyone in the room was a Republican.

    To your last post to Elroy above, cutting taxes in a time of war was and is idiotic. First time its ever happened and not only has our treasury gone from surplus to massive deficit, but our national debt has ballooned to the point where we support our lifestyle through the good graces of the PRC, the Japanese and the Saudis. I will say this; Republicans are great at winnnig elections and awful at actually governing.

  19. Elroy El
    November 28, 2006 at 6:31 am

    Jubal. It has meaning since it is people like Fleischman who put forth the myth that GOP folks shrink government and dems expand it. Certainly Jon knows the truth and spouts the rhetoric despite the facts. So then it becomes a case of whether he is stupid and ignores the facts, or is he lying.

    I would always get a chuckle out of Jon’s spouting of taxation being an infringement of liberty and that taxes were so wrong because they were taken by force.

    Yet he never had much moral guilt out of taking my forcibly taken tax dollars that infringed upon my liberty while being the OCSD spokesperson.

    Clearly Jon didn’t mind applying a double standard to himself.

  20. Dan Chmielewski
    November 28, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Matt — again, having not known you nor Jon I was planning on sleeping through that PRSA presentation. But within a few minutes Jon had derided my political party, a profession I once practiced, and one my wife still toils at as well as a number of dear friends, so pretty easy to see why it remains a vivid picture for me.

    In reading Jon’s bio on Flash Report, I have just discovered he is a cancer survivor. Having lost other family members to cancer, I would say that surviving any type of cancer is cause for celebration. My use of the term “testicular fortitude” in my original post was only a metaphor and not meant as a verbal below the belt punch. And frankly, it was meant as a tribute to Chris P who clearly has the backbone to speak truth to power.

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