Jeff “Podunk” Pelline took some victory laps recently because he was invited to a luncheon celebrating the reelection of county Clerk-Recorder Gregory Diaz, giving Jeffie an excuse to (again) drop a name and (again) infer that he’s an important fellow.
Pelline has been a reliable foot soldier for Diaz over the years, contributing money to past campaigns, running Diaz’s press releases on his blog unedited and with no critical comment, and taking regular shots at anybody who dares to run against him.
When Diaz misinterpreted the statute regarding how many signatures of registered voters you need to qualify a measure for the ballot, Podunk brushed it off as no big deal.
Jeffie has been in Diaz’s camp since he was editor of The Union, when he ran against incumbent Kathleen Smith in 2006 for the clerk-recorder’s job. She was appointed to the job when Lorraine Jewett-Burdick resigned, and was seeking election to a full term.
Smith was a real piece of work. She managed to screw up a couple of elections and didn’t think it was necessary to apologize. She spent no money on advertising, and did little campaigning when she ran for election. The Union endorsed Diaz, but she won anyway. (The paper hasn’t endorsed a candidate since then.)
The luncheon is the latest episode of Pelline’s ongoing campaign to impress the local yokels with how many important people he has met over the years, presumably making him superior to the rest of us.
He has certainly reminded me on several occasions, informing me that Larry Ellison and other corporate titans have praised his work in the past. (That would raise a red flag with most reporters I know, but I digress.)
Then there’s the recent email regarding Larry Baer, president of the San Francisco Giants. I mentioned Baer in my commentary on the death of long-time Giants broadcaster Hank Greenwald, suggesting he was less than sincere in his praise of Hank. That prompted the following from Podunk:
“Baer couldn’t pick ‘Bored Georgeman’ out of a lineup! I ran into him at the Arizona Biltmore at Spring Training in March, however, and he said, ‘Hi Jeff.’ Need an introduction? Let me know. Ha!”
So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the recent death of Herb Kelleher, long-time head of Southwest Airlines, prompted Jeffie to write that it was a “privilege” to interview Kelleher during his big-time reporting days. (Privilege? You would think Pelline was granted an audience with a potentate.)
Pelline writes fondly of a “fun night” he had with Kelleher at a business editors and writers convention in Phoenix. “He had a great sense of humor,” we’re told.
Kelleher was certainly an unorthodox CEO, eschewing the stiff formality of most corporate heads to come across as one of the guys, a hail fellow well met. Just listen to Terry Maxon, who covered the airline industry for 25 years at the Dallas Morning News.
“For the time you spent with Herb, you were the only one who existed,” Maxon wrote in a blog post. “You were his best friend, the person he’d rather be talking to than anyone else in the world. You were awash in the glow of his admiration.”
This can be quite intoxicating for reporters, who are usually greeted with grudging acceptance at best or outright hostility at worst when interviewing corporate heavyweights. Imagine that, a friendly CEO!
“For a reporter, of course, this is dangerous,” Maxon continues. “At the core, we are not the friends of the people we cover. We are not their enemies. We are recorders of what they do, with an effort to put it into an accurate, balanced context that informs our readers. We are not cynics, but we are skeptics.”
So for all his conviviality, how informative was Kelleher? “From time to time, I would have sit down interviews with Kelleher, ” Maxon wrote. “I can’t remember any newsworthy secrets, any news he ever told me–ever.”
There are a lot of reporters who are susceptible to a kind gesture or compliment that colors their work, a phenomenon I witnessed many times during my years in corporate PR. They yearn for acceptance–or at least acknowledgment–from people in positions of power, and mute criticism to maintain access.
Of course, none of them would ever admit to such a weakness.