Is OC Register Owner Aaron Kushner the Stuart Smalley of Print Journalism?

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"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and, doggone it, people are going to subscribe to me!"
Whenever I lecture about journalism, whether to senior-citizens groups or college students, I always tell them that the mission of the OC Weekly is an old journalism adage attributed to Finley Peter Dunne, author of ¡Ask a Mexican! godfather Mr. Dooley: We comfort the afflicted, and we afflict the comfortable. In other words, we celebrate the good and righteous of Orange County, those folks who don't nearly get enough love (the afflicted) and attack the assholes and pendejos of Orange County that give us a reputation as a hellhole (the comfortable). Everyone always laughs nervously at my comment, since they've been brought up in a media atmosphere where watchdog journalism and muckraking has been relegated to rags with ads for "alternative medicine" and "massage therapists."

And then there's newish Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner, a member of the comfortable class that doesn't like it when people say bad things about the comfortable.

Jim Romenesko broke the story yesterday about how, during a March 6 staff meeting, Kushner told his reporters how he doesn't believe a newspaper should "afflict the comfortable." The Boston transplant confirmed his statement to Romenesko, adding "We should be careful and respectful. It's not an issue of us avoiding stories that may be negative, it's about the tone. In this day and age, once we say something negative about something, not only does it carry a lot of weight but it lives forever in the digital archives."

Wow. Simply wow. Maybe Kushner should apply those standards to his paper's retrograde readers, who trash Mexicans, gays, Muslims, and liberals at every possible opportunity--the ultimate example of the comfortable afflicting the afflicted? Ah, but he won't do that, because they're his subscribers, and that would just be mean.

With every public statement Kushner makes about his idea of journalism, every breathless positive update posted on the paper's Inside the OC Register blog (one of the few blogs the paper allows to continue to publish), it's increasingly becoming clear that Kushner is the Stuart Smalley of print journalism. You kids might not remember the Saturday Night Live character played by Al Franken (hell, you might not even know that the Minnesota senator was on Saturday Night Live...hell, you might not even know about Saturday Night Live), but he was a send-up of self-affirmation gurus and hosted an imaginary show called--yep--Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley. Smalley ended every show by looking at himself in a mirror and uttering the immortal lines, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"

Kushner wants everyone to think of him as the White Knight who'll simultaneously save journalism AND make Orange County--to borrow Fountain Valley's city motto--a nice place to live. Last month, he made national headlines when forcing his paper to change its advertising policy after Anaheim council-pendejas Kris Murray and Gail Eastman complained about ads targeting them because, as he told the Voice of OC, "We don't like negative political advertisements." Statements like that, and wanting the Register to be "respectful" for the sake of being respectful should send chills down the spine of any good reporter (Romenesko quoted a source that said of Kushner's comments "People in the newsroom didn't like that at all").

I'll give Kushner credit: he has expanded the newsroom greatly in his time, and continues to add new pages on a seemingly weekly basis. But if you don't have a newspaper willing to call a spade a spade, then what the hell is the purpose of a newspaper? Meanwhile, we here at the Weekly will continue to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable as long as there's dirty cops in Orange County, as long as pedophile protectors roam our parishes, as long as there's pho that needs discovering or alcohol to be drunk--which means we'll be in business long after the Rapture and straight through Armageddon, tossing shit at Satan and poking our thumbs at Jeebus, for good measure. Come, ye afflicted masses, to the best damn fish wrap in town!

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15 comments
misterefq
misterefq

Funny story, since Gustavo is one of those assholes in the OC.

shitbird1
shitbird1

We're already seeing what's "happening."  With Steve Churn, the king of blowjob media, having a hand in this, it will be all sweetness and light.  Witness the new university section; do you expect objective reporting about the University of California when the institution is advertising on the same pages?

I have an idea: how about a City Council Centerfold?

phertz1
phertz1

These grants for DUI stops are loved by the cops because they result in overtime.  Studies have not been done to show that they work as opposed to simply patrolling the major streets near certain watering establishments.

nschou1
nschou1 moderator editor

As a great former OC Register reporter once told my classroom full of UC Irvine journalism students, the Register's main bias has always been this: Orange County is a great place! And there are lots of really great people here in Orange County. Yay, Orange County, yay!

qdpsteve
qdpsteve

Valid critique Gustavo, but let's face it: EVERYBODY has biases. You have biases, I have biases, the OCWeekly newsroom personnel have biases, the NYTimes and LATimes folks have biases. EVERYBODY's got at least one... :-)

Which is why it's crucial that (1) American citizens learn and embrace critical thinking skills from youth onwards, and (2) it's always a good idea to have MORE THAN ONE news source informing your life. If all anyone does is read what makes them feel comfy and warm inside, well, that person might feel good, but what he or she ISN'T is a truly informed citizen.

RichardHorgan
RichardHorgan

The Register political ad policy change and this Romenesko-confirmed pronouncement tip Kushner a little more towards the Doug Manchester-UT San Diego model than previously thought. Which for me, raises the bigger question of whether (beyond the likes of a NYT or WSJ), whether this is the only model that is seen as workable by 21st century daily newspaper saviors.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@MrDooley Oh, please. I know more about Dunne than you've forgotten about me. Doesn't matter what Dunne's intentions were, but rather the snippet that's been turned into an honest journalist's mantra—but nice to see you sympathize with Stuart Kushner!

MrDooley
MrDooley

@GustavoArellano You're a laff riot as usual. Were you afflicting the comfortable when you bashed on Slidebar to the point of running an online headline that accused it and its owner of murdering Kelly Thomas last fall? Were you comforting the afflicted when you then delivered that nice brown-nosed kiss to Slidebar and its owner a week or two ago? How do you square both of those approaches with being anything that resembles "an honest journalist"?

qdpsteve
qdpsteve

@GustavoArellano You are, Gustavo. (And so am I.) It's obvious you believe this guy is biased toward protecting the OC upper crust (Don Bren, Rick Warren, et al) from "too much" criticism. Which is fine for you to spotlight... just pointing out the obvious in my comment above.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@Sandy What headline? I sure as hell don't remember it.

Sandy
Sandy

@GustavoArellano @MrDooley I'm curious, though, what the facts are now, Gustavo. Because I do remember the headline last year where you guys said Slidebar murdered Kelly Thomas, and now you have done a follow-up that's an about face, without acknowledging you'd goofed up last year or anything. It's clear your usual response is call people names and ignore their questions, but this time, how about a real response?

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@MrDooley And gentle readers: this is an OC Register employee who's too much of a coward to use his real name, and thus has hidden behind a pseudonym for years. At least we post our babble under our real names!

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@MrDooley We state the facts, and that's that. Methinks I know who ye is, and methinks you're OUTTA HERE!

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