From conservative budget cuts seen as discompassionate to Barack Obama’s detractors seen as racist, political optics fuel bias — and with 24-hour news, it occurs almost every minute of the day. Individuals in public office soon find that part of the job includes a greater spotlight and higher standards.
Locally, the Santa Clarita Gazette has been embroiled in its own twists on the subject. In April, the Gazette printed articles addressing leadership of the local chambers of commerce after numerous hours of research and interviews. The process brought Santa Clarita City Councilman Bill Miranda into focus regarding an inquiry into money raised at the 2014 Latino Chamber’s gala.
The Gazette could not determine what happened to the money. No one was accused of embezzlement or misappropriation. The Gazette has repeatedly requested that Miranda provide the accounting of the funds raised, and he has not, most recently on May 12 during a radio show on KHTS that also featured Doug Sutton.
“What, I have to do your writing for you, too?” Miranda said during the broadcast. “Wait, I have to write your articles and proof your articles and edit your articles for you so you can attack me?”
Then Miranda accused the Gazette of bias, more specifically, racism.
“All of a sudden, the Latino gets into public office and the Latino chamber is under scrutiny with a microscope, and with the facts easily attainable, and being told where did the money go?” Miranda said during the broadcast. “What are we, a bunch of hoodlums? Are we perceived as a bunch of hoodlums? ‘Where did the money go?’ How do you explain where did the money go?”
There are no easy answers, and Miranda declined to comment for this story despite having said on the radio show, “Try quoting me a little more often and try quoting (the source who fed the Gazette the original idea) a little less often.”
Sutton was accused of neglecting to look into the Latino Chamber money matter while he served on the Santa Clarita Chamber’s board of directors.
“And I didn’t. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention,” he admitted.
Allan Cameron has lived in the area a long time. So has Bob Kellar. Both have much experience dealing with the press. Yet neither of them understand why Bill Miranda refuses to show the Gazette the documents that could explain where the monies from the 2014 Chamber of Commerce gala went.
“It’s a strange thing to say, ‘I have it, but I’m not going to do your job for you,’” said Cameron, a community activst.
“Why would you choose to answer that way, I don’t know.” City Councilmember Kellar said, “You’d have to ask him.”
Role of Public Official
Former Hart School District school board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine co-chaired the 2014 Latino Chamber gala. She said Miranda and former treasurer Marlon Roa were ultimately responsible for the numbers.
“We (elected officials) are held to a higher standard because we are responsible for overseeing a huge budget,” Mercado-Fortine said. “(Bill Miranda) doesn’t understand his responsibility as an elected official, in terms of protecting the interest of the taxpayers.” (Miranda was not elected, but appointed.)
Michael Cruz, a Canyon Country resident who ran unsuccessfully for city council in 2006 and later served on the city’s parks, recreation and community services commission, said anyone running for, or appointed to, public office must expect a level of scrutiny.
“You need to get a thick skin,” Cruz said. “I think Bill is in the process of learning that.”
SCV Chamber Chairman of the Board John Musella backed Miranda in saying he doesn’t see the need to “spend valuable time digging out the evidence to prove otherwise.”
“I think the real story should be about why people are spending time spreading rumors about the (Latino Chamber) and the merger (with the SCV Chamber) with no proof of their baseless accusations,” Musella wrote. “What is their end game? What is the benefit to them? If they believe these things, surely they have proof of their claims. If not, the real story should be the source of the rumors and what they have to gain by making such disparaging accusations.”
Hart District Board President Joe Messina, also a radio show host, grabbed onto Miranda’s belief that the entire reason for the stories was because The Signal owners, who have a partnership with Doug Sutton, wanted the stories done. Sutton has denied this, but Messina said the viewpoint exists in the community.
“I don’t know if it’s a truth or a lie. I have heard stories from both sides,” Messina said. “If I’m sitting in Bill’s chair, I don’t know if it’s ever going to work out with me and them.”
“Does the community at large think the Gazette is acting inappropriately, or is there some bias?”
Neither Berta Gonzalez-Harper, who founded the Hispanic Business Committee within the chamber and ran for city council in 2014, nor Mercado-Fortine nor Cruz thought so. Cruz name-checked Sutton as not racist, and Gonzalez-Harper was upset Miranda played the race card at all.
“You mean to tell me that because we have Hispanic surnames, we are judged solely and exclusively by that? Please,” she said.
Newspapers rely on people — leaders, whistle-blowers, activists, concerned citizens, people with their own agendas, etc. — to provide them with information that can more completely flesh out a story. Miranda’s refusal to provide information leads some to conclude he doesn’t have it.
“I still have documents from 2004,” said Gonzalez-Harper. “You’re telling me you don’t have documents. Something is screwy. Something is not right. … You’re going to want to keep copies … There’s no law prohibiting you from being transparent with finances.”
Most people, however, think the solution is for Miranda to produce what he says he has or admit he doesn’t. If he doesn’t put this behind him, Gonzalez-Harper said, it could hurt his chances for election. But nothing will happen as long as Miranda insists on holding on to what he says he has and the Gazette continues to insist he has to prove it.
Experts Weigh In
Political players lie, and many who don’t are accused of lying. The debate over why goes on indefinitely. What theories do mental health professionals have as to why a person would cling to what appears to be a lie or accuse others of bias, such as playing the race card?
Judi Lirman, a Tarzana-based marriage and family therapist, refers to the propaganda technique called “The Big Lie.” In it, people can’t believe someone could lie on such a scale, so they conclude the person is telling the truth.
As for playing the race card, Lirman says it’s a common diversion tactic, similar to what President Trump is doing, and can be explained thusly:
A parent asks Johnny why he hit his baby sister. Johnny replies that it’s because she poked him, so shouldn’t the parent be upset with the girl?
However, when asked about the Gazette’s ongoing dialogue with City Councilman Bill Miranda, Lirman acknowledges that he might have faced discrimination. “There’s a lot more discrimination in our society than what we want to believe,” she said. “He may be primed for that.”
What happens next, Lirman said, is a person’s fight-or-flight reflex kicks in. “As a public figure, he can’t just disappear,” she said. “He repeats it even if it’s preposterous. It’s out of panic. He’s doing an adult version of the temper tantrum in the hopes that you will go away and give him what he wants, which is to be left alone.”
Ron N. Gad, a licensed psychotherapist and Ph.D. candidate with the Beverly Hills Therapy Group, specializes in personal image and identity. “Every culture has that unconscious goal to be a part of the ‘other,’ not to be the ‘other.’”
Gad said he thinks Miranda playing the race card is related. “What you’re trying to do is put down the Hispanic people who are working so hard. ‘You’re accusing us rather than accusing me.’ When he or she looks to support and defend identity, it’s an identity of many layers, on every level. He is trying to stand up and say, ‘You’re wrong and this is why I’m defending my image, the image of my office, the image of every Hispanic person in this community, the image of every Hispanic politician.’”