WATCHING THE EAST COAST MEDIA attempt to cover the California recall is like watching Tim McCarver call a Dodgers game while Vin Scully looks on without a mike. It doesn't have to be this way. In fact, the recall is such a big story during such a slow news time that "Nightline" could relocate for the duration and get decent numbers. (All of the big cable shows ought to have decamped for the west side of L.A. long ago.)
Still, even if the Atlantic Division talking heads come West for some Pacific rim grins, their bookers will need some names:
I spent a decade as a talking head alongside the Los Angeles Times's Patt Morrison and Dakota Communications' Kerman Maddox. Both talk more California inside-baseball in their sleep than Chris Matthews does awake. Patt's take usually makes MoveOn.org look reasonable, but it is delivered with enough style and verbal art that even conservatives don't mind. Maddox knows everyone--everyone--in Los Angeles, and he can answer the big questions that the New York producers haven't even asked. (Such as, Where's Maxine and is she still mad about Cruz and the "n" word?)
The best talker among the elected officials is Zev Yaroslavsky, a Los Angeles County supervisor, and arguably the state's smartest Democrat (which, outside of Willie Brown, isn't saying much). Dick Riordan is fun, but he won't get in the way of Arnold's message machine. And even East coasters have figured out that the Sacramento Bee's Dan Weintraub and free-lancer Jill Stewart come through with real details and a nice delivery. My regular radio correspondents, law profs Erwin Chemerinsky (USC law school) and John Eastman (Chapman law school), ought to be put on retainer now to avoid the scramble for the inevitable pre- and post-ballot legal skirmishing.
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, now a Senior Scholar at USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development is everyone's favorite "old school" voice. Raphael Sonnenshein of Cal State Fullerton gives great takes on meta-voting patterns, and Ruben Martinez, last spotted at Pacific News Service, is super television.
CaliforniaRepublic.org's Carol Platt Liebau is a rising online star while Kevin Roderick of LAObserved.com maintains a list of key recall blogs from which other new talent can be culled and Virginia Postrel can fill everyone in on the libertarians who matter out West. Call the switchboard at the Claremont Institute or the Pacific Research Institute if you need center-right analysts with scholarly credentials who won't bore audiences to death (or just go right to the Hoover Institution for the estimable Peter Robinson).
The recall drama is a mini-series, and the attempts to explain it by pundits a continent away are tragic--as well as short-sighted when it comes to audience share. Just imagine Pat Sajak hosting a recall show at 11:30 p.m. each night on the Fox News Channel. Better yet, what's Rob Reiner doing? Main Beach in Laguna would make the perfect set for a two month run of a new recall-themed show. Enough Beltway blather: Bring the talent to the story and embed some talking heads in the sand.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.