If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.


Brown Ensnared in His Own Tapegate Trap

A Commnetary By Debra J. Saunders

Friday, November 20, 2009

A recent Gallup poll found that 55 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the mass media. Hence, many readers may have felt little outrage when they read a few weeks ago that Scott Gerber, then communications director for California Attorney General Jerry Brown, recorded interviews with reporters -- most notably, my friend and colleague Carla Marinucci -- without notifying them.

The unauthorized recordings, however, were sufficiently serious to result in Gerber's resignation -- as his actions conflicted with a California law requiring that all parties consent to a recording of their conversations. Conviction on a first offense could result in a $2,500 fine, one year in jail, or both.

Brown's response was to have Chief Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette investigate. On Nov. 9, Gillette determined that although AG lawyers had told Gerber not to record any conversations without notifying reporters, neither Brown nor any other AG staffer was aware of the recordings. And: Because the interviews were "on the record," there was no crime.

Gillette may be right, but as former congressman and law professor Tom Campbell, who is running as a Republican for governor, told me, "It is almost arrogant to say, 'I'm the judge in my own case and I've decided I did not do anything wrong.'"

Brown finally figured out that his self-investigation isn't credible. On Friday, he asked Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley to review the allegations.

Here's why you should care about Tapegate. One: Brown is California's top lawman. His office should know and respect the law. "I've known since I moved to California that it's illegal under state law to tape a phone conversation without getting permission," noted Democratic political consultant Garry South. "What I don't know is how the dynamic inside the attorney general's office contributed to this fiasco."

Two: Now that South's former client, Ess Eff Mayor Gavin Newsom, has dropped out of the governor's race, Brown is likely to be the Democratic nominee for governor.

Three: Brown and his deputies have demonstrated one standard for themselves, but a different standard for others. In September, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked Brown to investigate the community activist group ACORN -- in light of secretly videotaped conservations between ACORN staffers and conservative activists James O'Keefe III, 25, and Hannah Giles, 20, who posed as a pimp and prostitute looking for ACORN's help in getting housing while breaking the law.

Brown's office responded that it would investigate both ACORN and "the circumstances under which ACORN employees were videotaped."

How are the ACORN tapings worse than Gerber's? AG spokesperson Christine Gasparac replied, "We can't compare the two because the ACORN investigation is ongoing."

Now, I don't want to see Gerber go to jail or financially ruined -- whether he was a rogue operator or a follower. That said, Gerber showed little concern for two kids who should not have taped conversations on the sly -- indeed, they were wrong to lie to ACORN -- but also don't belong in jail.

Before he got caught, Gerber trumpeted, "We're going to look at the tapes, we're going to follow the facts without fear or favor and we're going to see where it takes us." Now the AG's office sees where it took them.


See Other Political Commentary

See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.