The Makings Of A Media Whore

SUNDAY COLUMN | Rep. Eric Swalwell is a young politician and like many experienced people in all ranges of endeavors, they are susceptible to learning bad habits early. The East Bay’s pubescent congressman discovered very early in his low-budget campaign to unseat the far more financed Pete Stark that free advertising by way of a complacent and enamored local media was the only way to effectively get out his message.

Such leaning on the media for a free ride, however well it worked in getting the 32-year-old Swalwell to Congress, may well have a corrosive effect going forward, especially since it seems to only encourage his already apparent predilection toward campy or strained publicity stunts. If the first few weeks of the Swalwell era in Congress are any indication, he is showing the makings of an enormous media hog willing to put his face in front of any camera while provocatively baiting well-known conservative bullies to sweep him before their enormous audiences.

The New Republic provides a good primer on Swalwell’s use of gimmicks to bring attention to himself going as far back as college. That led to his routine use of rubber ducks to mock Stark avoiding a second debate last year. Nevermind that the Stark campaign called him out for employing a fleet of yellow duckies made in China. Further recall that although Stark did much to get the media’s negative attention, while Swalwell deftly capitalized on it, there were frequent dead periods as Stark laid low when Swalwell distributed his own story lines to the media that either never caught fire or were ignored.

The furor offered by Alberto Torrico accusing Stark of bullying after registering support for Swalwell was manufactured. A report by KGO-TV even reveals it was Swalwell’s campaign who distributed Torrico’s hilarious victimization. Anger over Stark’s children receiving social security benefits was a Swalwell construct, too. Other times, the gambit failed, like when it they could find no takers for a story accusing Stark of using campaign funds to hire a clown to entertain at his children’s birthday party over three years ago.

These types of media tricks, of course, served their purpose then, but fail to work while in office without a definable foil. Cue Swalwell, the talking head. Since early December, Swalwell has made the rounds around the local radio dial, showed up on the local news in the run up to being sworn-in Jan. 3. All normal modes of introducing himself to the public, however, it has quickly morphed into a readily identifiable pattern of Swalwell searching for free national media anywhere he can grab it.

His appearance two weeks ago on with Sean Hannity on Fox News was surely a head scratcher for some local Democrats, who told The Citizen last Jan. 13 at party convention caucuses, its showed nobody in D.C. was watching over him. Meaning, if Democratic House members surely cared about his tenure in the 15th District, they would have talked him out of going on Hannity to be ambushed by the conservative firebrand. Indeed, that’s what happened as Hannity blitzed Swalwell on gun control and the right to privacy, while the Republican congressman appearing in the same segment was totally ignored.

Swalwell’s most desperate move for free media attention; however, came a few days before his debut on Fox News. In a tweet sent Jan. 7, Swalwell was clearly attempting to shove his way into a shouting match with conservative icon Rush Limbaugh, tweeting, “@RushLimbaugh calls ‘gay marriage’ the ‘normalization of pedophilia.’ From the guy w/ 3 ex-wives. #Unreal .“

Rushbo didn’t bite on Swalwell’s incendiary tweet, but the undisguised move by Swalwell, if anything, shows the rookie envisions himself in the starting lineup along with Reps. John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and other A-list congressional stars. It has shown that he sees questions about his liberalism as a potential negative in his district. If not, why attempt to cold-cock the biggest Republican bad guy immediately upon being handcuffed in the uber-unpopular congress?

What remains to be seen is whether he will strive to earn respect through legislation and leadership or will he continue to rely on strategies usually employed by television reality stars? In that case, Swalwell can never hope to eclipse Honey Boo Boo.

TWEET OF THE WEEK “My thoughts and prayers go out to KTVU who had a laptop stolen in Oakland. #news” – @_MikeT_ , Jan. 11, mocking news of another attack of members of the media on the streets of Oakland in the days after another round of murders to start the new year.

WEEK THAT WAS & WILL BE A barrage of meows and “fuck you, Chief Jordan!” rained down from the Oakland City Council chambers this week as its public safety committee recommended a $250,000 consulting contract for revamping the moribund and short-staffed police department to the full council. However, it seeks the right to exclude former New York City and Los Angeles super cop William Bratton from the contract. That means: we’re back at it next Tuesday, Jan. 22, for another raucous and venomous council meeting.

Fremont added a new member to its council for the third time in two years with the appointment of Raj Salwan. His appointment gives the council a distinctly Asian Persuasion for the first time in its history with fellow Indian American Anu Natarajan, who, by the way, did not vote for Salwan, and Suzanne Lee Chan.

The East Bay’s two newest members of the assembly are starting in definite divergent paths. While Assemblyman Rob Bonta has offered his first bills in the Legislature and appeared in high-profile press conferences with Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and Assembly Speaker John Perez, it has not been an auspicious start for Hayward Assemblyman Bill Quirk. He told The Citizen this week it will be some time before his offers legislation and, frankly, is having difficulty adjusting to Sacramento’s brand of politics.

Speaking of Hayward, its reformulated school board will take up the hot-button discussion of guns in the classroom in coming weeks and public employees in San Leandro may be nearing a new contract despite difficulties with the mayor and City Council. Workers, including the power police officers association, had been on the job since the previous contract expired last Dec. 31. The issue slated for discussion in closed session, Jan. 21. If no deal is struck, sources saying the unions may request binding arbitration—a scenario often hostile to management’s concerns.

QUOTABLE “Stop the behavior when it’s small, stop the cancer when it’s small,” William Bratton, to The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 18, repeating his often used analogy linking his brand of law enforcement to eradicating cancer.

BEST READS Read how another increase in the number of gang injunctions in Anaheim is working. Keep in mind, some city leaders in Oakland still hope to revive the controversial method of law enforcement. (OC Weekly, Jan. 18)

“Is Realignment a Model for Reform?” asks the East Bay Express in its cover story this week. (East Bay Express, Jan. 16).

“Wright Lassiter’s Audacious Vision for Safety Nets” apparently includes quiting the job before the plan is fully realized. However, the Highland Hospital CEO’s ideas for providing health care in the brave new world of Obamacare is a good read. (Health Leaders Media, Nov. 30, 2012).

Slap the word “reusable” on a plastic bag and its legal under Alameda County’s new environmental ordinance, says the Grist’s Susie Cagle. (Grist, Jan. 18).

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