Here we go again. The State of California's budget is again in crisis, facing a budget deficit of $16 billion, which is $6.8 billion higher than projected mere months ago. Governor Jerry Brown is browbeating residents to pass tax initiatives in November which include "a quarter-cent increase in the state sales tax for four years and a seven-year hike on incomes of $250,000 or more that will range from 1 to 3 percentage points."

The totally predictable problem (and, from all appearances, a bit contrived; the state's controller saw this coming several months ago, and was largely ignored) is that tax revenues aren't coming in as expected. Media treatment of the problem acts as if this all some kind of uncontrollable act of God which is a by-product of the recession and weak recovery.

In what amounted to a love letter to California's Democratic Governor Jerry Brown on Thursday's NBC Nightly News, special correspondent Tom Brokaw gushed: "It's not sunshine every day for the California economy, but Jerry Brown has not given up on big dreams. His new big dream, a high-speed rail line from the north to the south..."

Anchor Brian Williams set the scene for Brokaw's fawning report: "California is mounting a comeback led by a man whose name has been synonymous with California government for decades." Brokaw sympathetically declared: "The one-time boy wonder of California politics is now the state's aging lion....Sticking up for his state."

The media pandering on behalf of the Obama Re-election camp already is astonishing. During the George W. Bush years, everything bad that happened in America somehow was connected to the malignant reign of “The Decider.” Last year, CBS even sought out journalist Sally Quinn to  claim that Bush’s victory in 2000 could be blamed for unraveling Al Gore’s marriage ten years later.

God knows, and so too do most Americans, that the state of the union is a mess. But in the Obama era, nothing that goes wrong can be traced back to the Democrats in power.

I can't say that I'm up on what every state is doing, but it's hard not to notice contrasts between two trios of states singing decidedly different tunes:

  • Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey, three states with recently elected conservative Republican governors, have either put their budgets to bed, or are on the verge of doing so, by cutting costs and not raising taxes.
  • Connecticut, Minnesota, and California, three states with recently elected liberal governors who are Democrats, are on the verge of a shutdown, serious layoffs, or issuing IOUs. All three governors have enacted or want tax increases.

So how is the press covering these situations?

Quirky liberal California Gov. Jerry Brown (elected to the post for the second time) was glorified in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine story by reporter Adam Nagourney in "Jerry Brown’s Last Stand."

Brown proceeded to answer the reporters’ questions with a display of self-confident humor and a command of facts, history and language that befits a man in the eighth decade of his life, as he likes to describe himself. The news conference ended, 22 minutes after it began, only when a reporter signaled the close with a clipped, "Thank you, governor." Brown wandered down the terminal, trailed by two television reporters who wanted to book him for studio interviews. One handed him a business card, which Brown slipped into his shirt pocket. When the governor arrived at his waiting car, he laid a garment bag straight and neat in the trunk and climbed into the passenger seat.

L.A.- based Adam Nagourney covered California’s budget impasse for Thursday’s edition, “Standoff in Sacramento as Brown and G.O.P. Lock Horns Over Taxes.” New Gov. Jerry Brown wants to put tax hikes in front of the voters through California’s initiative and referendum process.

While the paper’s previous California budget writer Jennifer Steinhauer showed her displeasure with direct democracy after voters rejected tax hikes under headlines like “Calif. Voters Reject Measures to Keep State Solvent,” and “In California, Democracy Doesn’t Pay the Bills,” Nagourney by contrast made encouraging noises about a public vote in the hope Brown’s proposed tax hikes would pass. From Thursday's article:

California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown was caught on tape in a conversation with an aide, in which that aide called his Republican opponent Meg Whitman a "whore" and CBS's Early Show, on Friday, didn't find that gaffe worthy to report, even though Brown was forced to apologize. ABC's Good Morning America, didn't do much better, as while they did report on the sexist phrased being hurled at Whitman they didn't get around to it, until the second hour of their show. ABC's Juju Chang, in a news brief, noted "Some salty language in the race for California governor. It's difficult to hear, but it's a voice mail recording that captures Democrat Jerry Brown" and an aide, "who used a not-so flattering word to describe" Whitman. Chang went on to play a clip of the aide saying of Whitman "She's a whore."

NBC's Today show, for some reason, bleeped out the offending word, but did offer the most extensive report of the controversy and unlike their morning competitors highlighted the story in the first hour of their program with Vieira teasing at the top of the show: "And caught on tape. A private conversation between California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and an aide recorded on a voice mail and derogatory word is used to describe rival Meg Whitman. The Brown camp is apologizing but Whitman's camp is calling it unforgivable, today." Vieira's colleague, Natalie Morales, then offered a full story, six minutes into the show.

Greta Van Susteren on Friday absolutely skewered Gloria Allred, the attorney representing California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's former housekeeper.

In a fiery nine minute discussion on Fox's "On the Record," the host accused her guest of being "unthinkable" and "rotten" by bringing this issue to light, especially right before an election.  

"You're getting your client deported by putting a big neon sign, 'Hey, I'm here illegally, I signed documents falsely, and I've done that under penalty of perjury,'" scolded Van Susteren.  

"On the eve of an election, to raise something like this, which has the possibility of smearing unfairly, calling someone a liar and subverting the electoral process...I think all three things are rotten" (video follows with comments and highlights along with full transcript at end of post, h/t Ed Morrissey): 

Good Morning America on Thursday devoted nine minutes and three segments to the "bombshell" accusations that are "rocking" the California governor's race.

After relating the allegations that Republican Meg Whitman knowingly hired an illegal housekeeper, reporter David Wright proclaimed, " The political risk for Whitman? That she comes off at heartless or hypocritical." [MP3 audio here.]

"Either way, not a good day for her campaign," he added. Wright even framed the issue as a "she said/she said" controversy. After noting that when Nikki Diaz, the housekeeper, "applied for the job, Diaz had provided proof of Social Security and legal residency," Wright added that "Diaz's lawyer insists that Whitman knew for years those documents were false."

Co-host Stephanopoulos interviewed both Whitman and liberal lawyer Gloria Allred, who is representing the woman. He began by hyping the allegations as a "potential bombshell in the California governor's race."

In late July, NB Contributing Editor Tom Blumer busted the Associated Press for neglecting to mention the party affiliations of scandal-plagued officials in Bell, California. The AP piece was one of hundreds of reports on the scandal. Of those hundreds, one solitary report mentioned party labels for the five officials.

Can you guess which party they belong to? I'll bet you can.

The only news outlet that mentioned the officials were Democrats was the Orange County Register. And even that paper noted the absence of party labels only in response to reader complaints. "Our readers noticed one part of the story has been left out by virtually all media sources," the paper's editorial board wrote. "All five council members are members of the Democratic Party."

The most prominent of the officials in question, former Bell city manager Robert Rizzo, resigned after it came to light that he was making $1.5 million per year - in a town with a per capita income languishing at about half the national average.

Jerry Brown was known as "Governor Moonbeam" in the 1970s, and ran for president from the left three times (to the left of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, and to the left of Bill Clinton in 1992). But now that he's running for governor again, Time magazine is trying to convince its readers he's really a centrist. In the August 2 magazine, reporter Karl Taro Greenfeld helpfully laid out Brown's case that he's a penny-pinching budget hawk:

He was never as eccentric as his Governor Moonbeam reputation would suggest. He was a budget hawk before that term was fashionable: he rejected the governor's mansion to live in a Sacramento apartment, was chauffered in a in a Plymouth Galaxy instead of a limousine and declined his own pay raises.

That's a weird passage: rejecting all the ritzy trappings of power is eccentric. But offering these small, symbolic poses does not make you a budget hawk. In trying to score Republican opponent Meg Whitman's ads, recounted a 1992 story from the liberal New York Times:

Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday repeated Democratic talking points as he challenged Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. Speaking of Whitman's tenure as CEO of Ebay, he admitted the company was "very successful," but critiqued, "You made a fortune. But your opponent, Jerry Brown, says that government is a completely different world."

The former Democratic operative turned journalist later repeated the words of Whitman's opponent: "Jerry Brown also says that the heart of your economic platform, he says, is tax cuts that are going to benefit you but not do much for the state of California."

In what seemed like a second attempt to undermine Whitman's business credentials, Stephanopoulos asserted, "You know, you see all of the shenanigans on Wall Street. And there's just as much distrust of the business world today as there is of politicians."