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Aides Concede More Mock News Videos

Times Staff Writer

A week after Democratic legislators faulted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for using taxpayer money to produce “propaganda” in the form of a mock news video, the administration on Wednesday acknowledged making several others to advance its policies.

A state senator intends to question officials today about the funding and distribution of the videos.

Initially, legislators focused on one tape extolling an administration proposal to end mandatory lunch breaks for hourly workers. But additional videos have surfaced in which the administration is promoting a cut in the number of nurses required on duty in hospitals, pay for teachers based on merit rather than seniority and a more stringent tenure track.

A video was also produced on Schwarzenegger’s plan to lower prescription drug prices, but it has not been released. Officials said it was a draft.

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The other tapes, formatted as television news stories, were sent to stations statewide starting in December. Some news outlets aired portions of the video about lunch breaks, which state officials, who monitored usage of the tape, characterized as a news release.

Officials did not track which television stations used the merit pay and tenure video, and it is unclear if they monitored use of the tapes on nurses. They described both tapes as news releases.

Schwarzenegger is backing bills related to teacher tenure and merit pay -- ideas opposed by teachers unions and many Democratic legislators. A Schwarzenegger-supported campaign committee simultaneously is pushing a possible ballot initiative to alter tenure. A petition drive for an initiative on merit pay is also being contemplated.

Democratic legislators accuse the governor of using tax money to finance his ballot measure campaign.

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“This truly is a blending of all the lines: it’s propaganda; it’s campaigns. It is all meshed into one,” state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said Wednesday. She is scheduled to convene a hearing today and intends to question officials from the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which produced the tape on lunch breaks.

The governor’s aides dismissed charges that the administration is producing propaganda or campaign material with taxpayer money.

“It is just a press release in video form,” said Schwarzenegger press secretary Margita Thompson.

Unlike the other tapes that have been released, the video focusing on merit pay and tenure features images of the governor.

The video opens with a shot of Schwarzenegger at a news conference being introduced by a woman who proclaims: “Ladies and gentlemen, again, your A-plus governor -- Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

A narrator briefly describes the proposal as the screen fills with footage of the governor touring a classroom with young children.

“In every business that you can think of it is this way: We need to offer teachers, you know, incentives,” the governor says, looking into the camera.

Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) contends that the videos violate a statute that prohibits tax-funded propaganda.

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“When the first videotape surfaced, we wondered whether it was a tempest in a teapot,” Dunn said. But citing the additional tapes, the senator said there may be “a far more serious issue” in which the administration systematically is producing “issue advocacy advertisements at taxpayer expense.”

The lunch break and teacher tapes cost less than $1,300 each to produce, state officials have said. Both were done by state employees with equipment that the state owns. The cost of the nurse tape could not be determined.

The tapes follow a format: A written introduction offers suggested opening lines to be read by television news anchors. A state employee, who previously worked as a reporter for a Sacramento television station, is the narrator.

Each video includes interviews with advocates for the proposals. The tapes do not acknowledge dissenting views or offer balance as required in news accounts.

Rick Rice, undersecretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, plans to appear before Romero today. He noted that the administration has also produced videos that provide information about such topics as identity theft

“It’s information we are required to provide to the public,” Rice said. “We can do it by any means we choose -- video, print, audio.”

The Gray Davis administration produced video news releases, but they were informational. Some, for example, celebrated Labor Day. One described a new type of driver’s license.

In the merit pay tape, the suggested anchor lead-in says: “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing education reforms that would allow teachers to earn higher salaries based on their performance. The proposals would provide teachers the opportunity to advance professionally and financially due to their work efforts, and instead of their length of service.”

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The narrator says: “The performance pay proposal would compensate great teachers and root out bad ones. The reform is designed to place the focus of our educational system where it belongs -- on student achievement.”

The tape includes interviews with teachers and others at Vaughn Learning Center, a charter school in San Fernando that uses a merit-based pay system. Each person on the tape lauds merit pay.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan, Schwarzenegger’s education secretary, also appears on the tape, saying: “Without challenging teachers, you’re not going to keep the best teachers. You’re not going to recruit the best teachers. So the bottom line is we want to change this system from bottom to top.”

Riordan spokeswoman Rose Garcia said the tape was aimed primarily at smaller market TV stations “that may not have the ability to cover the issue.”

“It is a service,” Garcia said. “How stations choose to use it is up to them.”

Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), an opponent of the governor’s merit pay and tenure ideas, called the video “a campaign piece,” paid for with “your money and my money.”

"[Schwarzenegger] is entitled to do a campaign piece, but he should pay for it with his own money,” Goldberg said. “It’s the best propaganda money can buy. It is one-sided and no one can disagree with him.”

The video on nurse staffing also involved a controversy.

Last year, the Republican governor rolled back a requirement that hospitals begin providing one nurse for every five patients, rather than one nurse for six patients. In the tape, Health and Human Services Secretary Kim Belshe dismisses criticism that the administration position endangers patients as “scare tactics.”

Last week, ruling in a lawsuit filed by the California Nurses Assn. to overturn Schwarzenegger’s order, a Sacramento judge said the governor acted illegally and the newer ratios must be enforced.


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