Patterico's Pontifications


Disclosure Standards at the L.A. Times Op-ed Page: A Question for Michael Kinsley

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 6:37 pm

Michael Kinsley’s official start date as L.A. Times editorial and opinion editor was yesterday, so I guess this question is for him. I have e-mailed the following to him. I’ll let you know if he responds.

Mr. Kinsley:

What are the rules for revealing conflicts of interest and other biases in the biographical statement of the author of an op-ed piece in the L.A. Times?

Today, your paper ran an op-ed by Erwin Chemerinsky decrying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to deny standing to Michael Newdow in the Pledge of Allegiance case. Professor Chemerinsky’s biographical statement at the end of the piece was simple, straightforward, and unrevealing:

Erwin Chemerinsky is a professor of law and political science at USC.

You left out one not-so-minor point: Chemerinsky was also an advisor to Newdow during the pendency of Newdow’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

For example, see this article, which describes Chemerinsky as a “Newdow adviser who had substantial input into Newdow’s brief.” Funny, I didn’t see that mentioned in Prof. Chemerinsky’s biographical statement.

I know there are people at your paper who know this. For example, this link contains an excerpt from a March 23, 2004 story by L.A. Times reporter Maura Dolan, who said that Chemerinsky “has been coaching Newdow” and had sent at least one e-mail to Newdow criticizing one his briefs. That story quoted Chemerinsky as saying: “What I have tried to do is encourage [Newdow] to focus on the issues that are before the Supreme Court.”

Contrast Chemerinsky’s neutral-sounding biographical statement on this liberal-leaning op-ed with the biographical statement for law professor Jonathan Turley, when he wrote a controversial op-ed that took the conservative side in an abortion controversy. Turley’s op-ed supported the homicide prosecution of a Salt Lake City woman who had refused a cesarean section that was necessary to save the lives of her unborn twins. One of the twins died as a direct result. Here’s how Turley’s biographical statement read at the end of his L.A. Times op-ed:

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington Law School and drafted the Florida parental notice amendment.

(Emphasis mine.)

Apparently, the statement didn’t read this way at Turley’s insistence, since the biographical statement for the identical article on Jewish World Review said nothing about Turley’s work on the Florida parental notice amendment.

And why should it have? Turley’s op-ed had absolutely nothing to do with parental notification law. But I guess your paper felt it was important for readers to know that Turley, though pro-choice, is not a 100% party-line supporter of the completely unfettered right of any female of any age to terminate any pregnancy for any (or no) reason.

Here’s the way your paper’s policy looks to me:

  • Op-ed taking conservative position: disclose irrelevant work on tangentially related subject matter.
  • Op-ed taking liberal position: fail to disclose direct involvement on the very case that is the subject of the op-ed.

I know you weren’t in charge when Turley’s op-ed ran, but you can tell me whether you think Turley’s or Chemerinsky’s biographical statement was mishandled — or that you think they were both handled correctly. (If that’s your position, I’ll be amused to see you try to justify it.)

Am I wrong here? What gives? Does your op-ed page have a rule mandating the disclosure of the biases and conflicts of interest of your op-ed contributors, or not?

Or do you have a rule that applies only when the contributor is making an argument that the paper’s editors don’t like?

I would appreciate a response to this question.

— Patrick Frey

P.S. In the original version of this post (and therefore in my e-mail to Kinsley) I used the term “byline” to refer to the short biographical statement at the end of an op-ed. A commenter questions whether this is the proper term, and I realized that, as a non-insider, I don’t know the answer. Rather than continue to use a possibly improper term, I have edited the post to refer to a “biographical statement.” It’s a little more clumsy, but may be more accurate. If anyone knows the correct term for this statement, let me know in the comments.

The Power of the Jump: How to Bounce Checks and Get Government Funds

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Race — Patterico @ 7:27 am

The L.A. Times had an interesting story yesterday titled City Funds Flow to Check-Bouncing Developer. It is a story about curious government favoritism towards someone, with a twist: the reason for the favoritism is hidden until the back pages. Read on, and you’ll see why.

The story begins:

Los Angeles parks Commissioner Christopher Hammond is no ordinary deadbeat.

He’s bounced a campaign check to the mayor. He’s bounced campaign checks to six members of the City Council. Hammond, a leading developer of subsidized housing, has even bounced checks to the city attorney, the official responsible for prosecuting people who bounce checks.

Remarkably, this has done little if anything to harm his relations with the elected officials he relies on to approve subsidies for his projects.

Despite the bounced checks, a trail of angry business creditors and the more than $500,000 he owes in back federal and state taxes, Hammond’s business entities have received substantial government subsidies over the last few years and stand to receive, in partnerships with other firms, an additional $31 million for redevelopment of Santa Barbara Plaza, a decrepit shopping center in South Los Angeles.

The article continues with the theme: the guy has bounced checks to just about everyone in creation, but gets nothing but support from local government. Hammond is notorious. An accountant who is a campaign treasurer for the mayor and other local politicians is able to respond to the reporter’s questions about the guy’s bounced checks without consulting records. The list of people or organizations Hammond has stiffed is comically never-ending:

Hammond has also bounced checks to contractors working on his homes and for his business. He is in default on mortgages for his two homes. His landlord has taken him to court for an alleged failure to pay rent on his corporate offices. He has bounced checks to settle lawsuits over bad debts. He has even reneged on a charitable donation to the American Heart Assn.

“There has to be some reason he continues to get subsidies, despite being so obviously unreliable,” I thought to myself, and turned to the back pages to find out the reason. My guess was, he had managed not to bounce checks to the more significant people in local government.

Turns out that guess was wrong. There’s hardly a politician in the county who hasn’t received a rubber check from Hammond.

So what’s Hammond’s secret? It comes on the back pages, after the jump, where most readers won’t see it.

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