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The kings and queens of the California political quotation

What do the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, Los
Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune, Reuters and the
Associated Press have in common?

They all quoted Sherry Bebitch Jeffe the day after last month’s Democratic
convention.

Jeffe isn’t with either the campaign of state Controller Steve Westly or
state Treasurer Phil Angelides. She isn’t even a Democrat. But Jeffe, a
political analyst at the University of Southern California, is one of
California’s leading opinion-slingers.

Often pithy, and always on-the-record, she is a standby of the Capitol press
corps, racing to meet daily deadlines with an insatiable need of a good
quote.

“I was in the room. I had watched the whole convention,” says Jeffe. “I was
the only analyst there.”

As Election Day nears, the phones ring more and more often for the small
cohort of oft-quoted California political experts. “It heats up as elections
come along,” says Barbara O’Connor, a communications professor at California
State University, Sacramento. “I probably get 25 calls a week.”

O’Connor, Jeffe and the state’s two other leading quotemeisters, Bruce Cain,
a political science professor at UC Berkeley, and Jack Pitney, a government
professor at Claremont McKenna College, don’t advertise their services. But
everyone covering California politics knows who they are–and how to get in
touch with them.

The system works like viral marketing. Once an academic is quoted as an
expert observer of California politics, the pundit’s name makes its way into
other reporters’ Rolodexes.

Then another reporter calls. Then another. And another.

“Once they see a commentator quoted, that’s what they look for,” says
Pitney, who says that LexisNexis, the searchable Internet newspaper
database, has compounded the number of calls he receives.

Academics like those in the “Big Four” say what reporters, striving for
objectivity, can’t.

“I don’t care about puffing one side up or trashing the other,” says Jeffe.
“There are things that an analyst can say that a reporter ought not be
saying in his or her own words.”

Picking up their phones for reporters who are on tight daily deadlines
doesn’t hurt either.

“The reason I get quoted is I actually call people back,” says O’Connor, who
shares her home, office and cell-phone numbers with reporters. “You have to
accept it as a priority, as part of your work product as a professor.


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