The Desert Sun Newspaper & Lust for Blood

     Repetition, repetition, repetition – that’s the best way to brainwash others and the public at large. It’s probably one of the oldest of political and media tactics in the playbook. It’s also the best way to mount an attack (or defense) – simply repeat what you want others to believe and keep repeating it until they finally show evidence of having tasted the Kool-Aid and now belong to the club of true believers.

     The Desert Sun newspaper’s front page “Palm Springs to hire 2 firms to look into its programs” story about Mayor Steve Pougnet has a new face. It’s been produced under the bylines of street reporters Barrett Newkirk, Skip Descant and Kia Farhang. Together, these three managed to produce an 890+ word tabloid ostensibly about the June 3rd Palm Springs City Council meeting. It turned out to be just another in the long-running series of witch hunting hit pieces targeting Mayor Steve Pougnet.

     The newspaper articles’ second half, of approximately 450 words, is a series of cut-and-paste rehashed information previously reported ad nauseam about Mayor Pougnet, developer Richard Meaney, Financial Disclosure Forms, Redevelopment Agency property sales, and the Hacienda Cantina & Beach Club. Of the four photos appearing in the online version of the story, three are of Mayor Steve Pougnet (and he wasn’t even at the city council meeting). A summary of the story would need to  identify the first section as about the city council meeting and the second as just another rerun of their earlier Steve Pougnet newsprinting excesses.

     There are moments when Desert Sun street reporter articles actually give “yellow journalism” a bad name. That’s the case with the newspaper and its current three-member team pulling together to ferret out more trivia from which to fashion headlines linking Mayor Steve Pougnet and the Palm Springs city council to scandal. They may succeed, not because they’re being truthful, performing a service or acting as 4th Estate public guardians, they may succeed for the simplest of reasons. It’s that vast supply of printer’s ink that allows them to engage in “repetition, repetition, repetition”.

     Here’s a defanged version of the Steve Pougnet story minus the lust for blood. In his regular occupation as a consultant Mayor Steve Pougnet was employed by local developer Richard Meaney. (Note: The mayoral position is considered part-time and includes a small salary. There are no restrictions prohibiting the mayor or city council members from having regular full-time employment positions separate from their part-time city responsibilities.)

  • 1.)  Mr. Meaney reportedly has benefited from legitimate financial dealings with the City of Palm Springs. The transactions were handled by city staff and ultimately approved by the City Council. Mayor Steve Pougnet has since apologized for overlooking a need to abstain from a procedural vote regarding one of the financial transactions.
  • 2.)  Questions have arisen whether the city received fair value from the arrangements with Mr. Meaney or whether undue influence occurred with respect to any of the transactions.
  • 3.)  No evidence has been produced indicating undue influence occurred. No evidence has been produced linking these transactions to Mr. Meaney’s employment of Steve Pougnet as a consultant.
  • 4.)  No evidence or link has been produced indicating that Steve Pougnet benefited from other than his regular fee for consulting services.
  • 5.)  A former Palm Springs resident now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area reportedly filed a complaint with the FPPC. Copies along with the FPPC form letter reply were shared with the local media. There’s no evidence that an actual FPPC investigation is underway.
  • 6.)  That same San Francisco Bay Area resident reportedly filed a complaint with Riverside County’s outgoing civil Grand Jury. Copies were shared with local media along with a response indicating the complaint would be passed along, without action, for consideration by a new civil Grand Jury in July. The media identified the complainant as “a long-time detractor of the mayor”.
  • 7.)  An opinion was requested from the county District Attorney for an interpretation of the state’s ethical requirements for elected officials. That opinion was provided but no other indication exists that the District Attorney currently has an interest in the local media’s political targets.

     Whether in war, peace or the media there are some who appear to have an unquenchable thirst for fresh blood. That’s beginning to appear to be the case with Desert Sun street reporters and Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet. If reports of an ongoing FPPC significant investigation were to surface, a criminal Grand Jury indictment handed down or evidence that crimes or other violations of law disclosed, then the newspaper would be performing the right job in reporting such events. None of this has occurred, no evidence produced and nothing beyond speculation presented to substantiate the series of Desert Sun stories on this subject. It continues, in the minds of many, to be just another instance of a “Guilty until proven innocent” judgment from those who would surely expect something better should they ever become targets of a media witch hunt.

Bond Shands
June 4, 2015
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