It is time for this blog’s first annual review of the performance of the Los Angeles Dog Trainer (aka Los Angeles Times).
Before I get to the review itself, I should explain the term “Dog Trainer” to people who are unfamiliar with the term. I stole it from comedian Harry Shearer (a fact that I acknowledge every time I use the term, with a link to this post). To my way of thinking, Shearer’s phrase captures the essence of the paper better than the other possible names for the paper (like the “Los Angeles Bird Cage Liner” or the “L.A. Fish Wrapper“).
So how did our local Dog Trainer do this year? Well, that depends on your taste. If you like blatant liberal bias, manufactured quotes, and inaccuracies that consistently favor the left, then you will find that Dog Trainer editors did a stellar job. For the rest of you, I think you’ll find that the paper’s performance left quite a bit to be desired.
Fasten your seatbelts — here we go!
When you think of the Los Angeles Dog Trainer in 2003, you think of the paper’s skewed coverage of state politics — particularly the recall election. The biased coverage of politics in Sacramento, together with the pro-Davis recall coverage, cost the paper thousands of subscribers. This seems like a good place to start.
The paper’s coverage of California politics did not begin well. In early February, when I began this blog, Gray Davis had recently been re-elected Governor. I guess the editors felt it was safe to report (finally) that Davis had fudged budget numbers just before the election. This was a detail that had escaped the attention of the crack Dog Trainer staff until after the election, when it was too late to do anything about Davis — or so it seemed.
The paper kept up the drumbeat for the Democrats during the budget negotiations. When the Legislature was trying to figure out what to do about a $38 billion budget shortfall, the federal government dropped $2.4 billion into the Legislature’s lap. Democrats immediately spent all the money — not on fixing the hole in the budget, but on social programs. This tidbit, which deserved to be the lede of any responsible story on the budget crisis, was dutifully buried deep in a story that portrayed the crisis as largely manufactured by Republicans. (It later materialized that Democrats were the ones trying to manufacture a budget crisis — a fact the Dog Trainer downplayed. More on that later.)
This was the background that led to the paper’s horrible, horrible recall election coverage.
THE RECALL ELECTION
The Dog Trainer‘s opposition to the recall was no secret. The editors of the paper let their hatred of the recall distort all of their coverage — even their poll numbers. The Dog Trainer‘s polling on the recall was a running joke among the politically savvy in California. The only poll numbers in the state that looked as optimistic for Davis were the numbers put out by Davis himself. People were asking whether the paper had any shame, and how badly the paper would have to be embarrassed before someone got fired.
The paper’s columnists all opposed the recall, and the candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger — every last one of them. A Dog Trainer writer named Roy Rivenburg wrote me to criticize the one-sided nature of the paper’s columnists, saying: “I wish my paper had a pro-recall columnist or two to balance out the predictable Lopez/King/Morrison/Skelton blather.” Good for him.
Rivenburg was dead on the money, too. For example, in a typical boneheaded anti-recall, anti-Arnold column, $300,000 a year columnist Steve Lopez mocked voters for getting excited about saving an average of $140 on their car taxes. Lopez’s column, showing his insensitivity to the value of a dollar to average folks, was a shameful moment.
Given the paper’s hostility to the recall and to Arnold, nobody was surprised when the paper ran the infamous Arnold hit piece. I actually thought the content of the piece was pretty good. However, several other factors made the publication of the story an utter disgrace. The timing of the piece was so blatantly calculated to inflict maximum damage to Schwarzenegger that Mickey Kaus predicted the timing of the piece to the day. There was never any valid explanation why the paper didn’t run similarly sourced stories about Gray Davis’s alleged physical abuse of government employees. I found it particularly outrageous that the paper, knowing the allegations about Davis’s wild temper, described Davis to readers as a man who possessed a “calm demeanor.”
In a surprising (and desperate) move, editor John Carroll ended up going public on the pages of the Dog Trainer to defend the Arnold hit piece. I was not convinced, and said so repeatedly. Equally unimpressed was Jill Stewart.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing Carroll said in his paper’s defense was to compare others’ coverage of the incident to “journalistic pornography.” This was richly ironic, coming as it did from a guy who had given the green light to a story containing the following quote from Arnold: “Have you ever had a man slide his tongue in your [anus]?”
Right around this time, Dan Weintraub reported that he owns a “large white political button with black writing” that reads: “I don’t believe the Los Angeles Times.” Meanwhile, people were canceling their Dog Trainer subscriptions right and left. The paper admitted to 1000 cancellations, but reliable sources were soon reporting that the numbers were upwards of 9000.
It seemed like a lot of people were piling on the Dog Trainer — and it seemed like the Dog Trainer deserved every last bit of it.
No sooner had the Dog Trainer limped away from the scandal of its recall coverage, than it started screwing up basic things no paper should get wrong, like quotations. In one egregious example, a writer named Bill Arkin criticized General Boykin for his inflammatory language about Muslims. Arkin wrote:
Boykin is also in a senior Pentagon policymaking position, and it’s a serious mistake to allow a man who believes in a Christian “jihad” to hold such a job.
Given the context of the piece — criticism of Boykin’s poor choice of words when discussing religion — the use of quotation marks was designed to make less informed readers believe that Boykin had actually said he believed in a Christian “jihad.” But he hadn’t. Arkin defended the use of quotes around a word Boykin hadn’t said, as a “characterization.” The paper never issued a correction, despite a firestorm of criticism.
Not content with inventing quotes, the paper insisted on mangling them as well. Predictably, the victims turned out to be Republicans like Arnold.
THE POWER OF THE JUMP
The manipulation of quotations was only one tool in the Dog Trainer‘s arsenal of distortion. On this blog, I have identified another: the use of the “jump.” I have noted the paper’s noxious use of this tool in my semi-regular feature called “The Power of the Jump.”
As explained in the initial post in which I used the term, the “jump” is the place in a newspaper story where the story moves from page A1 to one of the back pages that nobody reads. Reporters and editors are well aware of this fact — as a Dog Trainer reporter once admitted to me. I have culled the following list of examples of inconvenient facts that the Dog Trainer has saved for its back pages. Interestingly, the buried facts tend to be those that are embarrassing to the political left:
- Millions in influence-peddling contributions from a particular Los Angeles insurance company were paid to California legislators. Only on the back pages did the editors reveal that the recipients were primarily Democrats.
- A story about the budget crisis highlighted Republicans’ refusal to raise taxes. Only on the back pages did the editors reveal that the problem also stemmed from the Democrats’ refusal to cut spending.
- Another story discussed a confrontation between a Republican and a Democrat in Washington. “Epithets and insults like ‘wimp’ and ‘fruitcake’ filled the air.” A fistfight almost broke out. The problem was blamed on the “frustrations of Republicans eager to use their power and Democrats tired of having none.” Only on the back pages did the editors reveal that all of the epithets and insults came from a single Democrat, who had physically threatened the Republican, saying: “You think you are big enough to make me, you little wimp? Come on. Come over here and make me, I dare you. You little fruitcake.”
- Democrats in Sacramento planned to create a budget crisis for political reasons. Their strategy sessions were inadvertently broadcast throughout the State Capitol building. Stunned people in the building heard a number of cynical quotes from Democrats, discussing how good it would be for the Democrats to cause the budget crisis to come to a head. All the juicy quotes were buried in . . . you guessed it: the back pages.
- One entire story of significance was relegated to the back pages. When Gray Davis said “you shouldn’t be governor unless you can pronounce the name of the state,” most people considered that a big story. The Dog Trainer editors thought it belonged on . . . the back pages. It was a page A16 story for the Dog Trainer, with the offensive quote saved for page A17. Despite the Dog Trainer‘s blindness to the significance of the story, the Davis’s quote created a furor after other news outlets gave it appropriate prominence.
- Respected Dog Trainer reporter Ronald Brownstein discussed the Bush tax cuts. Only on the back pages did the editors reveal that Brownstein thought the tax cuts made President Bush seem like a caring and effective leader.
- Race was not an issue in UC admissions “overall,” the Dog Trainer revealed. Only on the back pages did the editors reveal that race was a significant admissions factor for the two most elite schools — the fact that had started the controversy to begin with.
Speaking of race, a favorite trick of the Dog Trainer is to polarize its readership on race issues. They had a doozy when a white man was arrested for killing the sister of Venus and Serena Williams. The headline was: “Race of Compton Suspect Startles Police.” Wow! The headline clearly implies that racist cops didn’t think a white man could be a killer! Well, that wasn’t quite what was going on. The police were simply surprised that the white killer had been allowed to join a black gang — since black gangs are typically racist and do not allow whites. When whites join non-white gangs, they typically join Hispanic gangs, not black gangs. Big deal. The headline should have read: “Police Surprised That Racist Black Gang in Compton Allowed White Guy as Member.” But where’s the fun in discussing race if you can’t inflame and polarize people?
Closely related to issues of race are issues relating to the criminal justice system. Here again, the need to inflame is apparently irresistible to Dog Trainer editors.
The paper had horrible coverage of the racially charged trial of the police officers accused of using excessive force against Donovan Jackson in Inglewood. The paper consistently referred to the case as a “beating” case, though no “beating” was alleged. The paper portrayed the victim’s testimony as consistent on topics where other news outlets said he was not. Strangest of all, when Officer Bijan Darvish was acquitted, the paper said, he and his lawyer “shouted” the word “Yes!” Other news outlets reported what I heard with my own ears: he said “Yes!” in a loud whisper. Whisper, shout . . . what’s the difference when you’re trying to make a point about arrogant racist cops?
(Dog Trainer reporters may just have overly sensitive hearing. They also allegedly heard protesters shouting down Arnold Schwarzenegger at one of his political rallies, though other reporters present (including respected reporter Dan Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee) heard no such thing.)
The paper’s coverage of the trial hit a low point when editors accused the prosecution of “settling for a jury with only one black member,” when the facts (mostly unreported on the news pages) showed that the prosecution had fought hard for diversity on the jury. Indeed, the only black juror had been stricken by the defense, until the prosecution convinced the judge to reseat that juror because he had been removed for racial reasons by the defense. The paper either didn’t understand what had really happened in jury selection, or didn’t care.
Showcasing the paper’s well-known bias against police (and LAPD in particular), an April article purported to raise a “moral issue” about the LAPD’s extensive use of resources to solve the murder of an innocent 13-year old named Joey Swift. Apparently, LAPD does not typically devote the same resources to gang killings as it did to the murder of this innocent child.
I titled my post on this story “THE MOTE IN YOUR EYE” since the remarkable thing about this murder was not the police resources used to solve the crime, but the media resources expended covering it. Indeed, it was the extensive media coverage of this case — including five separate stories in the Dog Trainer — that helped solve the case. And what are the newspaper resources devoted to publicizing your typical gang murder? An LAPD detective answers that question in the article, telling the reporter: “We know that if we were to tell you a [murder victim] is a well-known gang member, you would not cover it.”
This story was simply one of many manifestations of the Dog Trainer editors’ anti-police bias. Another is their attitude towards police pursuits.
If you have read the Dog Trainer for a while, you know that their editors don’t like police pursuits. They skew the facts of every story they get their hands on involving high-speed chases. The editors have long pushed for reformation of the LAPD pursuit policy, seeking to prevent chases that begin with simple traffic infractions. The paper has pushed this agenda by hyping some tragic crashes that occurred at the conclusion of police pursuits. But the paper never mentions that the so-called reforms would not have prevented any of these crashes — or that police pursuits beginning with traffic infractions often result in the arrests of serious and violent felons (including murderers).
The editors’ dishonesty extends to descriptions of police pursuits in other jurisdictions. For example, in this post I described how the Dog Trainer implied that a motorcyclist in Michigan had been chased because he lacked a license, or had expired registration tags. You had to read stories from other news outlets to learn that the motorcyclist had sped in excess of 100 mph (over 70 in residential areas) and ran several stop signs. Nor does the Dog Trainer tell you that the pursuing officer was several blocks back when the motorcycle crashed. Why were these facts hidden from you? Because the editors decided that you didn’t need to know them. In a typical pattern that recurred throughout the year, the misleading article led to the publication of letters to the editor which echoed the misleading statements from the article.
THE RECENT SUPREME COURT DECISION ON MIRANDA
The factors apparent in the previous story — anti-police bias, hiding facts from readers, and the subsequent printing of letters containing factual misstatements — were all evident again in the paper’s coverage of the Supreme Court decision last term relating to Miranda rights. The Dog Trainer‘s coverage here was a striking example of the paper’s omission of critical facts in covering Supreme Court decisions. (By the way, I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere else — a Patterico exclusive!)
My first post on the topic summed up the problem. The Supreme Court decision in question held that you can’t sue the police for failing to read you your Miranda rights. The story gave prominent play to the facts that gave rise to the case: the plaintiff (Oliverio Martinez) had been in an altercation with police. Martinez was shot multiple times. The primary factual dispute in the case was whether Martinez had pulled an officer’s gun. The Dog Trainer stories all completely failed to mention that, in a tape-recorded interview, Martinez admitted that he had pulled the gun on the officers. Worse, the paper ran a puff piece about poor crippled Mr. Martinez, which also failed to mention his admission that he pulled the gun. Worst of all, an editorial blatantly misrepresented the contents of the tape-recorded interview by asserting that the police had gotten nothing useful from Martinez. The editorial, added to the two stories, made it a hat trick: three pieces of misleading reportage.
I wrote a letter to the editor of the Dog Trainer, John Carroll. He passed it on to the “reader representative,” who took weeks to finally respond. When she did, her explanations were pathetic. The bottom line is that the reporters decided that the readers just didn’t need to know facts like Martinez’s admission that he pulled a gun on officers. You can read the exchange of e-mails between myself and the reader’s representative, here and here.
Several days after I had written the paper this letter, correcting their misstatements, the paper published a letter that misrepresented the same facts that had been misrepresented in the stories and editorial. My faith in Carroll was diminishing rapidly.
And then, of course, came the recall election, which undermined my confidence in Carroll almost beyond repair.
THE JOHN CARROLL MEMO
Earlier in the year, I had higher hopes for John Carroll. Many who follow media bias issues were stunned when it became public knowledge that Carroll had written an internal memorandum criticizing a story about a Texas abortion law for its evident liberal bias. My post on this amazing event was titled “HELL FREEZES OVER.” I was cautiously optimistic that Carroll’s memorandum meant things might be changing. My enthusiasm was tempered by the fact that the story he had discussed was hardly the worst that the paper had to offer. Couldn’t Carroll see that? As the year passed, my suspicions about Carroll were reinforced, as one journalistic atrocity after another piled up.
Not only did Carroll preside over a terrible year for news reportage, he was also ultimately responsible for some terrible editorials. . .
Typical of the factual inaccuracies in Dog Trainer editorials were the howlers contained in their screeds against Bush’s judicial nominations. For example, editors opposed the nomination of Priscilla Owen to the federal bench, but called her “Patricia Owen.” Now that shows a keen grasp of the facts! Editors also blatantly misrepresented William Pryor’s stand on the Ten Commandments flap in Alabama.
Almost worse than the factually inaccurate editorials were the cutesy editorials that showed up in the third position with alarming regularity, bearing titles such as “Writing Real Good.” Get it? See, because . . .
Other idiotic editorials included:
- An editorial about disclaimers, filled with supposedly amusing disclaimers.
- An editorial titled “Déjŕ Vu All Over Again” that opened: “OK, mes amis, this is guerre.”
- A pointless editorial about online dating.
- A god-awful editorial about acronyms.
And who writes the headlines for this paper?? My award for stupidest Dog Trainer headline all year: “Hunger Gnaws at Ethiopia.” Get it?
I am unshakable in my belief that this headline was written by the idiot who does the cutesy editorials.
This sort of professionalism was evident all over the paper. For example, liberals everywhere were happy to see Bill Bennett brought down a peg or two by the revelations of his gambling. Heck, I was too. Sharing the joy, a Dog Trainer reporter wrote an article about Bennett’s gambling, stating (in a comment typical of the tone of the whole piece): “It is just too delicious.” How very objective and professional!
MISTAKES, WE MAKE MISTAKES
Another serious problem at the Dog Trainer is the mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, but it is disturbing when the mistakes seem to fit a pattern. Errors at the Dog Trainer consistently seemed to support leftist views.
In one egregious example, the Dog Trainer ran a prominent front-page article about a guy who used to work for Tyson Chicken. He related harrowing tales of his mass slaughter of chickens, saying he had killed 80,000 chickens in a shift. He said his time at Tyson was more haunting than when he had killed enemy soldiers in Panama, or when he had spent time in prison for manslaughter. This was a great story, except that he didn’t kill 80,000 chickens in a shift, he was never in Panama or even in the military, and he didn’t go to prison for manslaughter. But wasn’t it a much better story when all these things were reported to be true? (Is it a coincidence that “animal rights” is considered a liberal issue?)
The paper said that L.A. County lost a third of its revenue when Arnold reduced the car tax, but in reality it lost about 4% of its revenue. (Did I mention that the paper doesn’t like Arnold, and opposes cutting taxes?)
Before the election, the Dog Trainer printed a silly article arguing that the car tax, which had been raised by administrative fiat, could not be lowered to previous levels by administrative fiat. This flew in the face of claims made by Republicans Schwarzenegger and McClintock. The article backed up this ridiculous premise by asserting that “Jon Coupal, president of the [Howard Jarvis] taxpayers association, acknowledged that rescinding the hike could require court action.” Coupal had said no such thing, and immediately wrote the editors to correct the statement. The paper waited 13 days — until after the election — to correct the misstatement. (Did I mention that the paper editorialized against the recall, and opposed the Republicans who claimed the car tax could be lowered by fiat?)
Some of the corrections, to be sure, were of errors that were not politically motivated, but were just plain stupid. Let’s just say: if you follow the Dog Trainer‘s food recipes, make sure the battery on your smoke detector still has some juice!
SINS OF OMISSION
Rather than getting something wrong, you can just ignore the story. For example, I personally thought it was interesting when the plaintiff from Roe v. Wade filed a motion to overturn the case. I’ll bet you did too. Well, guess what? The Dog Trainer didn’t share our interest.
THE DOG TRAINER ON MEDIA BIAS
I’ve laid out what I think is a pretty good case for the bias of the Dog Trainer. So what do Dog Trainer reporters think about this media bias stuff?
In April, Dog Trainer media critic David Shaw pontificated about liberal bias in the media. Perhaps the most revealing thing he mentioned: he had actually gone on vacation with someone who opposes gun control — twice! The fact that Shaw found this detail important enough to mention said more than anything else in his article.
THE DOG TRAINER ON LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD
If you want a true example of liberal bias at this paper, check out nut case Tim Rutten. He had a compelling piece about the so-called “myth of liberal Hollywood.” I’ll say that phrase again, so it sinks in: the “myth of liberal Hollywood.”
I guess you can’t argue with his logic. After all, look at all the conservatives in Hollywood: Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Bo Derek, Tom Selleck, uh . . . did I mention Mel Gibson? Meanwhile, there are very few liberals in Hollywood (except for Tom Hanks, Woody Harrelson, Martin Sheen, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg, Warren Beatty, Susan Sarandon, Al Franken, Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, Rob Reiner, Tim Robbins, Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Julia Roberts, Michael Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, Robert Altman, Danny Glover, Jessica Lange, Joanne Woodward, Jane Fonda, Janeane Garofalo, Cher, Sheryl Crow, Bono, Sean Penn, Anjelica Huston, Harry Belafonte, George Clooney, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah, John Cusack, Madonna, Ed Harris, Kate Hudson, Richard Gere, Ed Norton, Dustin Hoffman, Larry Hagman, Matt Damon, Robert Redford, Woody Allen, Whoopi Goldberg, David Clennon, James Cromwell, Kevin Costner, or Johnny Depp).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
No one person can catalogue all of the sins committed by this paper in an entire year. This has been one person’s attempt to point out a few things that caught my eye. If you have other examples, feel free to leave them in the comments.
However, one person can indeed summarize the basic problem with this paper. I can’t say it any better than Hugh Hewitt did:
There is more diversity at a militia meeting than at a party of Los Angeles Times columnists. What happens when a newspaper becomes an echo chamber? Obvious errors and over-the-top biases go undetected. That’s what happened in New York. It is happening in Los Angeles as well.
As Joe Lieberman would say: Amen, brother!
UPDATE: Steve Lopez e-mails to tell me that he doesn’t earn anything close to $300k a year. Just so it’s clear: I didn’t make that number up, but took it from this L.A. Examiner post. But Lopez says it’s wrong, and I’ll take his word for it. (He didn’t tell me how much he does make, by the way . . . he sort of implied it wasn’t anybody’s business — and maybe he has a point — so I didn’t ask. I’m guessing $140 is still chump change for him. For most people, it’s not.)