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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Whitman: Brown Is Plan-Free

Republican Meg Whitman’s latest ad accuses Democratic rival Jerry Brown of having "no plan" for California should he be elected governor. Brown calls it a "televised lie." We find that Whitman’s ad fudges the facts — but just a little.

The Los Angeles Times vetted this ad quickly, posting its findings July 22. We’ve taken a look as well. Here’s what we found:

  • Whitman’s claim that Brown has "no plan" is of course an exaggeration. Brown’s campaign website lists a "green jobs plan" to create jobs by investing in renewable energy. But that’s about all we could find. The Times said Whitman "has released more detailed policy prescriptions than Brown," and we find that’s true. Brown’s website is full of claims about his past accomplishments, but says little about what he would do if elected.
  • Whitman’s own plan is a glossy, 48-page booklet (available as a downloadable pdf file) that calls for lots of tax cuts (page 11), a "strict spending cap" (page 22), a "flexible hiring freeze" to reduce the number of state workers (page 25), cuts in welfare benefits (page 27) and other items. So she has laid out a set of proposed policies — some more specific than others, to be sure — supporting her ad’s basic message.

The ad misleads viewers — just a bit — with video clips from years ago of Brown conceding that he had no plans when he ran previously.

In a clip from CNN’s “The Late Edition” in April 1995 Brown says: “You run for office and the assumption is, ‘Oh, I know what to do. But you don’t. I didn’t have a plan for California.’ ” Fair enough. We’ve read the entire transcript of that interview, and the quote is in context. Brown was talking about being a talk radio host, his job at the time, saying he could be more candid in that role than he could as a politician. The relevant portion:

Brown, April 16, 1995: Well it’s all a lie. You’re presenting your plan-

CNN’s Frank Sesno: What did you lie about [when you were running for office]?

Brown: All right. Here’s what. You run for office and the assumption is, oh, I know what to do. You don’t. I didn’t have a plan for California. Clinton doesn’t have a plan. Bush doesn’t have a plan.

Sesno: So you said you had a plan for California and you lied because you didn’t have a plan.

Brown: Well that’s a lot of- you know, you say you’re going to lower, you say you’re going to lower taxes, you’re going to put people to work, you’re going to improve the schools, the schools- you’re going to stop crime- crime is up, schools are worse, taxes are higher. I mean be real.

The CNN clip is clearly labeled and dated, and a reasonable viewer might well conclude that if Brown admitted he didn’t have a plan then, he might not have one now, either.

In the second clip, Brown is shown on CNN’s “Crossfire” in February 1996, saying: “You need a real plan. Something I’ll acknowledge I did not have.” We find that’s a bit misleading, because Brown was referring to his 1992 presidential campaign and not to his tenure as California’s governor. We say that’s only "a bit" misleading because viewers may well see little difference between Brown admitting he had no plan for the state and admitting he had no plan for the country.

So, how does Brown justify his claim that this ad is "a televised lie"? That’s pretty strong language. He claims that the ad takes his remarks out of context:

Brown website: [W]hat’s the second sentence she left out of her latest televised lie?

"There is a tremendous skepticism out there. People are looking for someone they can trust who really knows what needs to be done and can communicate that he’s about to do it," Brown continued in the 1996 CNN interview.

It was true then and it’s true now.

Would the full context alter a viewer’s reaction? Brown was talking specifically about his 1992 proposal to replace the multi-rate federal income tax with a single-rate, "flat" tax of 13 percent, a tax plan similar to one later pushed by conservative Republican Steve Forbes. Here’s all of the relevant portion of that CNN interview from 1996:

CNN’s John Sununu: Governor Brown, you’re an outsider. You were a strong supporter of the flat tax. You really didn’t go anywhere. Steve Forbes is an outsider. He’s a supporter of the flat tax. He seems to be moving. Is it just that Steve is a lot smoother in presenting the issues?

Brown: Well, he’s got a better smile. I’ll acknowledge that. He’s got a magazine named after him. I did win- beat Clinton in six primaries. But he’ll find out the flat tax is not enough. You need a real plan, something I’ll acknowledge I did not have, Forbes does not have, nor do I think either Clinton or Dole. There is a tremendous skepticism out there. People are looking for somebody they can trust who really knows what needs to be done and can communicate the sense that he’s about to do it. Forbes is an early morning glory here where- whom I think will have a very tough time sustaining it.

We leave it to our readers to decide.