That clever Cooley

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Here are some of the things we like about L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley: his principled prosecution of fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski, his tough stance on politicians who violate the Brown Act and his restraint in charging nonviolent offenders with third-strike violations -- in an editorial last year, we put Cooley at the top of a list of “admirable officials” for his three-strikes stance.

If you’re hearing a popping sound about now, it may be Cooley’s campaign manager’s head exploding.

Writing editorials is a bit like reviewing movies; it’s not uncommon for politicians to pull blurbs out of editorials to use in campaign advertisements -- like the “feel-good movie of the summer” snippets used in film marketing. But last week Cooley, who’s running for state attorney general, did something we haven’t seen before: His campaign put out a press release reprinting in its entirety a Times editorial that was highly critical of his office, and posted it on his website for good measure.

Cooley, or somebody in his camp, doubtless made the political calculation that in a Republican primary campaign targeting conservatives, a bad review from the Los Angeles Times is actually a bonus. Entertainment marketers have been known to make the same sort of calculation. Filmmaker David Lynch’s 1997 “Lost Highway,” for example, was promoted with an ad bearing the banner headline “Two thumbs down!” from reviewers Siskel and Ebert, apparently to lure moviegoers who disdained mainstream critics.

The editorial highlighted by Cooley didn’t mention his name. It stated that Los Angeles County pursued more death penalty cases last year than any other county in the U.S., which we find fiscally irresponsible and morally abhorrent. As district attorney, Cooley bears ultimate responsibility for this aggressive approach.

Maybe pointing that out isn’t a bad campaign decision. After all, a 2006 Field poll showed that Californians favor the death penalty by a 2-1 margin, despite what eggheaded editorial boards think about it. Besides, it turns out that the old Hollywood saw about any publicity being good publicity is sometimes true. A recent study in the journal Marketing Science showed that negative reviews can sometimes increase a product’s sales, especially for products with low consumer awareness. Cooley is little-known outside L.A.

But if criticism from The Times is good for Cooley, what about praise? What happens if we decide he’s the best Republican for the job and endorse him in the primary -- would that be good for his campaign, or would he try to hush it up on the theory that conservatives will do the opposite of what The Times recommends? The mind reels.