I drafted a long post over the weekend about the crazy Paris Hilton story, which I happen to think is real news. Maybe my (possibly) imminent incarceration is a factor in how I see this story — just like a pregnant woman suddenly notices babies everywhere, I notice people in handcuffs — but I don’t think so. To me, it’s a political story, about Sheriff Lee Baca.
To put things in perspective: Los Angeles County is the nation’s largest county, by a lot. It has more than 10 million people, which is at least 4 million more people than the second-largest county (Cook County, Illinois). Los Angeles County would be the ninth-biggest state in the U.S., coming in between #8 Michigan and #9 Georgia. More than three percent of all Americans live in Los Angeles County.
There are three county-wide elected positions: District Attorney, Assessor and Sheriff. The Assessor exerts little authority — Proposition 13 took care of that. But the DA and the Sheriff have to be counted as two of the most powerful elected officials in the United States. Sheriff Baca has more constituents than Rudy Guiliani had when he was mayor of New York City, more than Mitt Romney had when he was governor of Massachusetts, more than John McCain has as senator from Arizona, more than John Edwards had when he was senator from North Carolina. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico is running for president, and his state less than one-fifth the size of LA County. Bill Clinton’s only relevant experience for being president was being governor of Arkansas, which is less than a third the size of Los Angeles County.
Am I making my point? Over-making it? Lee Baca is a big deal.
And yet, during the reporting of his decision to release Paris Hilton from jail, none of the mainstream media saw fit to report that he received a campaign contribution from Hilton’s grandfather until about two days after a “Pop Politics Scandal Style” site called Radar mentioned it. The LA Times’ coverage was very “oh by the way,” paragraph 13 of an update on Sunday focused mostly on Hilton’s decision not to appeal her sentence.
Not mentioned in any mainstream media as of Sunday was the suggestion that Sheriff Lee Baca is somehow affiliated with the Church of Scientology. I first saw this on a Scottish site called Monsters and Critics, which linked to the documentary evidence to support the claim, a photo of Baca riding the Scientology float (supposedly) in the Hollywood Christmas Parade, which ran on this site. Kevin Roderick put the photo up on LA Observed this afternoon. Here it is:
Has anyone asked Baca or his staff about this? I don’t know of any connection to the Hilton story — which is why I hesitated in publishing my post — but now that Kevin has put it out there, I wonder how long it will take before the LA Times gets around to asking him about his ties to Scientology, or investigating those ties.
Here’s the Google link to a news search under the terms “Baca” and “Scientology.” As of now, there are only three stories that match, the same three I saw on Saturday night. Two of them I’ve linked to above. The third is a British news story focused mainly on the theory that Paris Hilton is a claustrophobic. Here’s what Google shows using the same search terms to look through blogs. And here is what you find if you Google “Baca” and “Narconon,” which is the Scientology-sponsored drug treatment center.
From that last search, I came across this item from a blog by cult “expert” Rick Ross. It’s a year old.
This month Baca was featured within the magazine International Scientology News (Issue number 33) gushing about how wonderful the founder of Scientology was and his supposed precepts remain.
The following statement is seemingly attributed to Sheriff Baca complete with photo within the Scientology publication. A copy of the quote as it appears is posted a Web site administered by David Touretzsky, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and critic of Scientology.
“The story of L. Ron Hubbard can be found in the time to understand the information that he provides, the wisdom that it brings to dealing with life’s needs and therein the real story can be told. And the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people, who have been exposed to what his ideas are — it’s all about goodness, it’s all about improving yourself, it’s all about finding a way to empower other human beings. It’s reverence for life. Those are important things.”
Can Baca be so ignorant and poorly read that he doesn’t know about the actual teachings of L. Ron Hubbard and only understands what Scientology’s public relations department churns out?
Does he think that Tom Cruise going “crazy” is proof of “improving yourself” through Scientology?
Or is it that the sheriff has somehow benefited through his association with the controversial church many call a “cult”?
Perhaps Scientology’s rich patrons have contributed to his political campaign fund?
Maybe the sheriff should do a little more reading about Scientology before he agrees again to stand up for its programs and lend his name and the weight of his elected office to its schemes.
Okay, so Rick Ross is himself controversial — to Scientologists especially.
Nonetheless, to me, this is more than enough smoke for the LA Times or one of the other major news outlets in Los Angeles to start trying to figure out what the Sheriff’s connection to this group and its affiliates amounts to.
More to the original point, the Hilton campaign contribution should have been mentioned on day one of the Hilton coverage, not day three, and it should have gotten our media curious about any other connections between Hilton’s legal and business advisers and the Sheriff’s campaigns and other endeavors.
Here’s one question I’ve yet to see addressed in any of the coverage of Hilton’s ill-fated release: Who asked for it? Did the Sheriff’s office just do this on their own after observing her breakdown, or did someone from Hilton’s camp request it? If so, who? Through whom? They’ve implied it was the Sheriff’s decision without ever really saying so, exactly. Which makes me think what they’re implying is the opposite of what happened. It usually works that way.
All weekend long I got to hear the media bemoaning the state of…uh, itself…for covering Paris Hilton rather than Iraq or other weighty matters. Paris herself played into the media’s shame with her statement Saturday.
“I must also say that I was shocked to see all of the attention devoted to the amount of time I would spend in jail for what I had done by the media, public and city officials. I would hope going forward that the public and the media will focus on more important things, like the men and women serving our country in Iraq and other places around the world.”
How she plays the mainstream press like a fiddle — she or her well-manicured flack. But there is a potentially huge political story hiding in plain sight in the middle of this celebrity gossip fiesta, and I don’t know why it’s being ignored.
I pray I’m wrong, and that the remnants of the LA Times‘ investigative team are on this story right now. If so, don’t make us wait six months for you to write a giant Pulitzer turd. Just give us the answers when you find them: Is the Sheriff of the biggest county in the United States a Scientologist? And what was his involvement in getting Paris Hilton released from jail?
P.S. There is a history of entertainment figures exerting sway over the business of Los Angeles County government. Anyone remember Dr. Thomas Noguchi? “Coroner to the Stars?” Actually, the stars feared him. After he told the public about how alcohol contributed to the deaths of actors William Holden and Natalie Wood, Hollywood’s establishment put pressure on the Board of Supervisors in 1982 to dump him. Because he retained civil service status, the Board couldn’t fire him, so they demoted him. He fought for his job in what must be the most widely covered civil service hearing in history. He eventually lost. As a reporter, I covered the appeal, which was run like a trial.