"I'm sorry. I talked to the people at the Holocaust Center and they completely understand."
That is the first public, recorded comment by Attorney General Jerry Brown on the matter we blogged about last week: his likening Meg Whitman's mega-money campaign tactics to the propaganda techniques pioneered by Joseph Goebbels.
I was ready to let this story die, and frankly, I was relieved it was starting to blow over as a new work week dawned. Other media outlets have made much more of it than we have at KCBS. But then Brown made a campaign stop Tuesday at Microsoft in Mountain View, touting his new plan to create half a million green jobs and 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2020. This was the media's first opportunity to question Brown since last week's Nazi controversy went nationwide. And so they did, in a post-speech gaggle (I wasn't there; the tape comes from my KCBS colleague Matt Bigler and from our CBS-5 TV newsroom). Earlier in the day, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement, denouncing Brown's comments to me as "deeply offensive and inappropriate," and calling on Brown to retract them publicly. He reacted with the aforementioned apology, although later his spokesman clarified that Brown was apologizing to the Jewish leaders for upsetting them, not necessarily for the comments themselves.
Asked by KTVU reporter Randy Shandobil, in a followup, if this means he doesn't regret making the remarks in the first place, Brown answered: "Well, I will tell you this. Jogging in the hills with sweaty strangers will no longer result in conversations. Mum's the word."
Can't say that I blame him. Except that answer is a little misleading. Yes, I was probably a bit sweaty, having ridden my bike about ten miles, mostly uphill, to that point. But I was not a stranger. Even though, as I blogged last week, Brown couldn't remember my name right away, he recognized me immediately, exclaimed "I know you" and, after I reintroduced myself, discussed the fact that I was a reporter at KCBS. So it's disingenuous for him to suggest that he got into all this trouble because he talked to a sweaty stranger. A sweaty reporter, maybe.
Brown's penchant for blunt talk landed him in some more hot water at the Silicon Valley event. Asked how he would cut state spending but still fund infrastructure projects and create jobs, Brown replied: "How do you do things without the money? It's very difficult, but I have a plan." After a pause, he joked, "I'll tell you after the election." That drew laughter from the audience but more fire from the Whitman campaign, whose spokeswoman, Sarah Pompei, said "this election and this issue are far too important for Governor Brown to continue to dodge questions, avoid specifics and shirk responsibility."
At Microsoft, Brown was whisked away by his handler as soon as the media questioning turned to the Goebbels incident. He's always been a little awkward - his late father, the legendary Pat Brown, used to lament that Jerry lacked the "human touch" and said it was daughter Kathleen who was really the natural politician in the family - but it struck me as odd how uncomfortable Brown was with the media who gathered around him in Mountain View. He seemed put off by the "gaggle," as we call it, of reporters and camerapeople who crushed around him. He complained about how "intimate" it was and said he had never been this close to so many reporters at once. Really? This, from a guy who's been winning elections in California for 40 years? You'd think he'd be used to that kind of close media attention. He'd certainly better get used to it, because this is already shaping up as an intense, hard-fought campaign, and it's likely there will be an awful lot of sweaty strangers crowding around, just waiting to see what he will say next.