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Engaging the Media

Public opinion both influences and is influenced by events, but public opinion is activated only when those events are reported in the mass media; even then, the way opinion leans is often dependent on how events are interpreted in the media.[60] Thus, it was essential that the media perceive Proposition 99 as an important issue and frame the issue as “following the will of the voter.”

The media had not paid significant attention to the Proposition 99 programs between the 1989 passage of AB 75 and 1994. Scott of the California Journal had assumed that although programmatic initiatives were disputed, the money was going into the voter-approved categories:

I have to say that it wasn't until the Lung Association and the Cancer Society suddenly started complaining about the diversions that I started noticing it at all, and more people started noticing it. Because the assumption had always been, and I'm guilty of this as much as anyone, but a lot of times what we look at as journalists to sort of guide us in determining what's a real issue and what's not a real issue is the attitude of the constituent groups. …They were never thrilled about them [the diversions], but they never raised them as an issue. I mean they never raised them as an issue to the level that they were seeking media on it. So the assumption was that if nobody's making any noise about this, then it's just not that big a deal.[4]

Scott differentiates between raising an issue and raising it “to the level they were seeking media on it.” One of the by-products of running only an insider campaign is that the press is unlikely to be informed about the problems and issues. Without the press, it is harder to rally the kind of public opinion required to influence policy.

Some of the media coverage of Proposition 99 was in news reports, and some of it was paid for by the principals. The key players credited the increased media interest in the Proposition 99 funding effort with being important, although they differed over why it occurred. ACS and ALA saw their public relations firm as key, while ANR and AHA saw their advertising campaign as important; others thought that tobacco had just become a hotter media story generally because President Bill Clinton was making tobacco an issue in national politics. It was, in fact, a combination of all these factors.

ACS and ALA had hired the public relations firm Sturges, Zegas, and Metzger. Bobbie Metzger, who was married to Willie Brown's former chief of staff, carried weight with both the Legislature and the press. According to Beerline,

Probably one of the better decisions that we made was to hire this organization. They're extremely well connected politically in Sacramento. They have an excellent reputation, and they have access to the media that staggered me. …They basically took over the media part of this campaign from that point on, from April through July. And we had press conferences, press briefings. They set us up with all of our editorial board visits, numerous radio, TV interviews. …After the word got out that we had hired Metzger, [people commented,] “Well, the Coalition must be serious this time if they hired Metzger et al.” So apparently they didn't think much of the prior efforts, that we were just going symbolically through the motions, but by having Metzger on board, apparently that sent an entirely different message to the legislators.[8]

The Metzger firm arranged for Martin and Beerline to have meetings with all the major editorial boards.

Isenberg, when asked about the media attention, attributed it mainly to advertising and the successful framing of the issue: “They advertised. They have learned the issue, which for them Prop 99 is just another way of saying campaign contributions. Tobacco campaign contributions. It becomes an opportunity to write the story; it's a fight. You can always get a good quote, call Stanley [Stanton Glantz] for a quote, call up whoever you want for a quote. Wilson's people are always outraged. And so it's a good fight, it's a constant fight, and the press media loves fights. That's how they explain issues.”[22] Julia Carol agreed:

The first thing that got their attention was the break between the coalitions, and that actually helped get media attention. It said something is happening differently. The Heart Association breaking with Cancer and Lung caused a big uproar. That first ad that we sent out, the reverberations have not yet stopped from that ad on many levels. …That ad shocked the pants off of everybody. …And then the Philip Morris memo and our subsequent ad campaign. The fact that ABC was working on the story generates interest within the media. You know everybody wants to beat them to the punch. …There's peer pressure in journalism as to who is reporting on what. I also think the voluntaries [principally ACS and ALA] did a good job of getting editorials written. They did do editorial board visits and you know they were a part, particularly Lung, was a part of the grassroots sort of getting attention in the field. I think the troops were more mobilized because they were more excited because something was happening for a change. …I mean everyone needed to be woken up. One big giant wakeup.[3]

Opinions about the series of ANRF/AHA advertisements varied from those that found them counterproductive to those that deemed them to have had a considerable positive effect on the effort to stop the diversions. Scott thought they had “a tremendous effect.” He went on to say,

Even though they [ACS and ALA] “distanced” themselves from it, it provided ammunition for the voluntaries who were working within the system to really force the issue. …I think that even though they felt as though they were sort of being subtly attacked and that they had been trying to work this deal out with the Medical Association, they felt as though it undermined them. They didn't want to piss the Medical Association off, but on some level I think they felt as though, “Well, you'd better deal with us because you don't know what those lunatics are going to do.”…So it gave them clout with the Medical Association that they might not have otherwise had. On a broader perspective, I think it put the Medical Association's Sacramento lobbyists on the hot seat because the whole, I mean, one of those ads was, “Why is the California Medical Association supporting Pete Wilson? Why is the California Medical Association supporting something that the tobacco industry supports?”[4]

Scott continued to discuss the effect of the advertising campaign on Wilson.

All of a sudden Pete Wilson, if he sticks to the hard line on the tobacco tax diversions,…in the political context, you can't say that it's anything but doing the tobacco industry's bidding. Wilson, if he still aspires to any kind of life beyond the governorship, he can't allow that to be a rap against him because it's pretty clear that's an issue that is playing well with the electorate. So I just don't think there's any question but those ads had an impact. Again, one of the ways you measure that impact is how mad the people who were targeted got about them and they got mad. Wilson was breathing fire about them.[4]

On the other hand, a number of key players felt that the ads had been ineffective and perhaps even counterproductive. Among them was Lewin, who commented, “Their strategy this year was embarrassing Governor Wilson. Originally they thought by embarrassing the CMA, they could change the CMA. That was clearly one of their strategies. I would assume they think they won on that one. And they had nothing, it had nothing to do with that. If anything, that strengthened the resolve within CMA to do nothing.”[10] Martin also thought that the ads had a negative effect:

I think it had a very negative effect at the Capitol because one of the things you avoid is blaming one person for everything bad that's ever happened. It is a smash-in-your-face kind of ad campaign that I think is very counterproductive. The other problem we had was that people read the ad and because they knew the Lung Association and Cancer Society's position on Prop 99, they thought we had written and paid for the ad too. They didn't read the sponsors' names. So we got many negative calls, both Lung and Cancer got lots of calls, “What are you doing, why are you doing this?”…This is not the way the game is played at the Capitol.[39] [emphasis added]

Of course, that was the point of the ads. ANRF and AHA wanted to change the way the game was played.

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