Register Again Draws Fire Over Political Ad

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The Orange County Register has again drawn accusations of political favoritism by publishing an unflattering picture of Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait in an attack ad, which violates the newspaper’s stated policy regarding such advertisements.

In the last three editions of the Anaheim Bulletin, the Register’s community weekly, full back-page ads paid for by the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce have implied that Tait wants to demolish Angel Stadium and build a high-density development in its place.

The Ads include an image of a wrecking ball and photos of Tait grimacing from the City Council dais.

They were flagged by Jason Young, an Anaheim activist and Tait supporter who last year submitted attack ads featuring the likeness of Tait opponent Councilwoman Kris Murray that were only accepted by the newspaper on the condition that Young remove Murray’s photo.

Young said when he emailed the Register on Sept. 25 to complain about the Tait ad, Bob Chavez, an advertising rep, told him it had been published by mistake; and though it was too late to pull the ad for the Sept. 26 edition, it was not scheduled to run again after that.

Chavez confirmed as much in a Sept. 30 email chain that Young forwarded to Voice of OC.

“Was that Mayor Tait ad scheduled to be run more then (sic) those 2 times it ran? Who finally caught that the ad wasn’t compliant with your guidelines?” Young asks.

Replied Chavez: “No just those two times and it was myself and my manager that caught it.”

Register Publisher Aaron Kushner also acknowledged the mistake last week in an email to Voice of OC. He said the ad shouldn’t have run because the newspaper had not obtained a release from Tait to publish his photo.

“We do indeed have a policy against using a photo of someone without their release and the ad as it ran has been pulled until it either has the appropriate release or the photos have been removed,” Kushner wrote. “It should not have run with the photo without the appropriate release.”

Yet the ad did run again on Oct. 2, the same day Kushner sent the email to Voice of OC. There were differences — one being a disclosure that names the Chamber as the sponsor. But the unflattering images of Tait remained in the ad.

This infuriated Young.

“I definitely don’t appreciate it. [The Chamber] ads should have gone through the same scrutiny as my ads,” Young said. He went on to say Chavez told him Kushner personally approved his ads.

“It was never ever conveyed to me that it was some kind of release related to the picture,” Young said, referring to Kushner’s comments regarding Tait’s photo. “That’s total bullshit.”

Kushner did not respond to Voice of OC requests for interviews regarding Young’s claims.

Tait has been allowed to air his position on the stadium lease negotiations in the Register’s editorial pages. The newspaper last week published a letter to the editor from Tait implying that the Chamber’s ads and council majority’s attacks are just “election politics.”

The controversy over the Register’s political ad policy began in 2012 when Young submitted attack ads that targeted Murray and Councilwoman Gail Eastman. The ads slammed the two members of the city’s council majority for violating state law when they voted to approve a $158 tax million subsidy for a hotel development that critics called a huge giveaway of public funds.

The Register initially printed Young’s ads. But after Murray and Eastman complained during a meeting with Kushner and Register co-owner Eric Spitz, the newspaper began rejecting Young’s ads, citing its policy on negative political attacks.

“We don’t like negative political advertisements and believe that if we are doing our job, they should undergo a greater level of systematic scrutiny,” Kushner told Voice of OC last year.

However, the Register’s decision on the Anaheim ads came around the same time it was proposing to be the corporate naming rights broker for the city’s convention center, a deal that journalism ethicists criticized as making the Register look like an agent of the government.

Tait was also an outspoken critic, stating that the newspaper’s credibility as a government watchdog would be threatened by a business partnership between the newspaper and City Hall.

Negotiations over the deal later collapsed

The current chapter of the controversy began last year when Young tried to submit an ad featuring Tait’s rebuttal to an editorial by Murray regarding a lawsuit to change Anaheim’s electoral system from one that elects council members on an at-large basis to a districts election system.

Young was told the ad couldn’t run with the image, an email Young provided to Voice of OC shows.

“A couple of things with the ad, we need to remove the photo,” reads an excerpt of Chavez’s email to Young.

The council districts initiative and the stadium lease debate are the two hottest issues heading into the November election.

Tait, who is up for re-election, has led an aggressive campaign against the proposal, which would grant team owner Arte Moreno 150 acres around the stadium at $1 a year for 66 years.

While the Chamber and other business boosters support the deal, Tait and others call it a massive giveaway of a public asset to a billionaire sports franchise owner.

Moreno terminated the deal framework with the city last month. The announcement came after negotiations had already been frozen for six months.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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