California Democrat’s Campaign Calls Pulitzer Winner, Debate Moderator a ‘Hack’

Democratic candidate Harley Rouda threatened to cancel debate over GOP incumbent's 'notes'

The communications director for a Democratic congressional candidate in California called a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist a "hack" before a televised debate Monday.

Jack D’Annibale works for Harley Rouda, who is running to unseat Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R., Calif.) in California’s 48th Congressional District. D’Annibale made the comment on the set of PBS’s "Inside OC," which was set to host the debate between the candidates.

A video released by "Inside OC" Tuesday shows the contentious exchange, in which Rouda and his staffer protest Rohrabacher bringing notes to the debate. They ask "Inside OC" host and prize-winning journalist Rick Reiff, set to moderate the debate, to remove the notes.

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"You said no notes. In fact, we’re going to take a picture of the notes," D’Annibale told Reiff. Pulling out his phone and snapping pictures of Rohrbacher and his materials, Rouda's staffer said, "You’re running for Congress and you shouldn’t need notes."

Rohrabacher claimed the notes were permitted, and were there for good reason: After 30 years in office, "I have a track record and [Rouda] doesn’t."

The Democratic candidate said they would "have to reschedule." He protested that Rohrabacher would be able to consult his notes before answering. "You think that’s fair?" Rouda asked.

Reiff answered it was. "Yeah! I have a lot of guests. Some guests like to have notes," he said. 

"I’ve never told a guest they can’t bring notes if they want to have notes," Reiff added. The host even offered Rouda a potential line of attack against the Republican: "You can bring this up. You can bring up that he needs notes, blah blah blah. You can do whatever you want."

D’Annibale, Rouda’s staffer, claimed Reiff had prohibited notes in an email. One of Rohrabacher’s aides challenged him: "Wait a minute. Let’s see the email."

D’Annibale interrupted, putting his hand up. "No no no no no. No no no no no. No no no no no. No no no no," he responded.

Reiff told the assembled men that if Rouda refused to participate, he would proceed with just Rohrabacher and explain to viewers why Rouda walked off. The Democratic candidate relented and and agreed to proceed as scheduled.

Before walking off the set to allow the debate and show to begin, D’Annibale leaned over the desk toward the moderator and said, "You’re a hack."

Off camera, someone asked: "Is that going on social media?" It is unclear if the question was in reference to the entire exchange or if it was specifically a response to D'Annibale's "hack" comment.

"Yeah. Yeah, we’re promoting the show," Reiff said.

D’Annibale is a former volunteer for Barack Obama's presidential campaign and communications director for Rep. Mike Honda (D., Calif.).

The event was the first debate between Rouda and Rohrabacher. The Democratic candidate turned often to the incumbent’s ties with Russia, while Rohrabacher emphasized the need to get illegal immigration under control.

FiveThirtyEight gives Rouda a 2-in-3 chance of winning. Its polls show the two running almost even ahead of the November election.