LAUSD’s top-dollar hack jobs are a symptom of an American sickness

first_imgStill, I have to wonder how extra-special communicators Victor Abalos and Michael Bustamante plan to convince even the dimmest audience member that the payroll system is working and that students aren’t leaving school on a one-way ticket to public assistance. But here’s the great thing about public relations consulting. If it doesn’t work, you get paid anyway. LAUSD isn’t, of course, alone in this glib approach to failure. The U.S. government has, since 9-11, gone through a few high-powered PR people – the last one being Bush insider Karen Hughes. Somehow the woman sent to “win over the hearts and minds of the world” as the State Department’s goodwill ambassador failed to convince the part of the world that hates us that they are wrong to feel that way. And so what if she told an Egyptian leader that our Constitution cites “one nation under God” before reproaching Saudi women for not having a right to drive. These, as one wag described them, were just “misunderspinnings.” Meanwhile, our president (in an August 2006 NBC News interview) recognized that, “We are great with TV, but we are getting crushed on the PR front.” A month later Donald Rumsfeld mused, “The enemy is so much better at communicating.” Great. Now we can’t even lie right. This in a nation that used to put together vast operations like the Marshall Plan, real things that actually worked. But somehow, somewhere along the once-bright line we replaced competency under pressure with a belief that we can talk our way past any error, past any disaster, man-made or not. From endless post-news-conference spinning (where you’re told ahead of time that you’re being spun) to the Katrina spin to the always-evolving war spin, this is just us, the way we do things in America now. I don’t, for instance, see the French trying to convince anyone that they aren’t irritating or the Mafia hiring consultants to position themselves as misunderstood Italian-American businessmen. But Abalos, the LAUSD’s $170,000-a-year man (sans college degree) is already explaining to reporters that his hiring was necessary because the daily newspapers of Los Angeles “love to focus on all the negative going on in the district.” Oh, it’s because of daily newspapers that kids drop out and there’s gas in the basement at Belmont! And the truly stunning thing about that idiot line is how it works for every flag-wrapped crook who comes down the line. But why blame LAUSD for following a trail cut a century ago by Ivy Lee, a man hired to brush up the image of the unbrushable John D. Rockefeller, creator of Standard Oil and sanctimonious creep who – when he wasn’t destroying unions and ruining his own brother – prowled his estate searching for shirkers among the landscape crew. In 1914, to improve a dismal image made monstrous by the killing of three strikers and the accidental deaths of 11 women and children during a strike at a Rockefeller-owned mine in Colorado, he hired Lee, the father (along with Edward Bernays) of public relations. Lee did a lot of good and a good amount of what is now seen as routinely bad in a career that saw him raise millions for the Red Cross before helping IG Farben at the start of the Nazi era. He also performed a feat of magic with Rockefeller. This he did by showing the man conducting his private church choir and handing out dimes to children on the street. And gosh darn if it didn’t work! It’s just that we used to temper such bull with American know-how and ingenuity. Rockefeller did, after all, build something real. But what does it say about us and our future when we allow the people in charge to take us all tap dancing on thin air? I want to hear your comments. Connect with me at, call 310-543-6681 or send a letter to Daily Breeze/John Bogert, 5215 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA 90503-4077.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREPettersson scores another winner, Canucks beat KingsOnly nobody figured, and they built anyway despite warnings from the California Department of Oil and Gas that the 35-acre site is a giant toxic hazard. But why dwell on what has been called the most expensive (and still unopened) high school in the nation? Let’s think instead about a system with a dropout rate ranging somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent. And that nutty payroll computer! Still, it’s a dumb idea to bring in people who might be able to fix the actual problems. I mean, why bother when you can hire communications specialists to tell semi-comatose taxpayers that the problems don’t exist. Not if you look at them in just the right way. Naturally, glossing over such things takes talent, and talent costs money, which is why the district is paying two consultants $178,000 and $90,000 to rescue the existing six-person communications staff that is already scraping by on $1.4 million a year. “We don’t do as good a job of communicating with all the audiences we need to talk to – our teachers, students, parents and the general public,” school Superintendent David Brewer III said. Hammered by a busload of bad publicity, the Los Angeles Unified School District last week did what just about every screw-up since John D. Rockefeller has done when things go bad. No, they didn’t fix the problems that include an appalling dropout rate and a computer system that has been underpaying or overpaying its teachers for nearly a year. The fact of the matter is this. The mammoth LAUSD does a lot of stupid stuff. Like building a half-billion-dollar school complex directly over Edward Doheny’s Los Angeles oil field in downtown L.A. When I heard about the proposed Belmont Learning Center in 1990, I figured that somebody had taken into consideration the possible presence of hydrogen sulfide and methane gas in a field so shallow Doheny tapped it with a shovel. last_img read more