Today is Part Two of this blog’s second annual review of the performance of the Los Angeles Times, which is known to readers of this blog as the Los Angeles Dog Trainer. Part One examined the paper’s coverage of the 2004 presidential election. Today’s post discusses other issues, such as the paper’s campaign against Justice Scalia, the editors’ leftist views on various “culture wars” issues, the op-ed page under Michael Kinsley, errors made by the paper this year, and other topics.
Let’s get to it:
THE 2000 ELECTION
The L.A. Times‘s relentless bias in the 2004 election, discussed here yesterday, is unsurprising in light of the editors’ view of the 2000 election. After all, there are two basic views of what happened in 2000. Which view you hold depends upon where you fall on the political spectrum. The political right says that the Supreme Court properly halted a partisan travesty of a recount, designed to undo the certification of Bush as the winner. By contrast, the political left says that the Supreme Court stepped in and anointed George Bush the victor.
And how does the Los Angeles Times see it? You guessed it: the way the left sees it. According to the Times, the Supreme Court “stepped in to make Bush the winner.”
THE INTELLIGENCE BILL: A “TEST OF LEADERSHIP” THAT PRESIDENT BUSH COULDN’T POSSIBLY PASS
The Los Angeles Times ran an article critical of Republicans who were holding up the intelligence bill because they wanted tighter controls on the issuance of driver’s licenses. But the paper didn’t mention why Republicans considered the issue important: namely, most of the 9/11 terrorists had been issued driver’s licenses or ID cards, which facilitated their ability to carry out their plot.
When it looked as though that intelligence bill was not going to pass, the paper ran a news analysis portraying the fight over the bill as a “test of leadership” for the President. The day after it passed, what did the news analysis say? If you guessed that it said “Bush passed the test of leadership” — well, you haven’t been paying very close attention, have you? If you have been paying attention, then you know that the paper found a way to spin this victory as yet another negative for Bush.
The L.A. Times‘s anti-Republican bias extends to state politics as well, as its coverage of last year’s California recall election showed. I’ll just provide one example from 2004. Early in the year, the paper reported that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to propose “cuts” of at least $2 billion in education spending. The article repeatedly referred to the “cuts” that Schwarzenegger’s budget would propose. Only intrepid readers who turned to page A15 learned that the Governor was actually proposing an increase of $1.5 billion in education spending. (The best political reporter in the state, the Sacramento Bee‘s Dan Weintraub, later reported that the increase would be more like $2 billion.) But the L.A. Times referred to this as a “cut” because it was less than the schools were expecting. The story couldn’t have been any more slanted if Democrats in Sacramento had written it themselves.
THE PAPER’S CAMPAIGN AGAINST JUSTICE SCALIA
From the beginning of the year, Los Angeles Times editors made it clear that they didn’t like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and would do what they could to try to bring him down — and the facts be damned.
On February 6, the editors ran an editorial that manufactured several facts about Justice Scalia’s duck-hunting trip with Vice-President Cheney. The editors claimed that Scalia “was the vice president’s official guest,” that the trip lasted “a few days,” that “the trip was at the expense, in effect, of the vice president,” and that “Scalia and Cheney spent two days huddled together in a Louisiana marsh” with “plenty of time to kill — and to talk privately.” Each and every last one of these assertions was unsupported and completely false. The paper compounded its error by running a letter to the editor recycling the false assertion that Cheney had invited Scalia on the hunting trip.
On March 8, the editors ran a story which accused Justice Scalia of speaking at a fundraiser held by a partisan political group with a controversial gay-rights case pending before the Supreme Court. The paper was later forced to admit that the advocacy group to which Scalia had spoken had no connection with the litigation pending before the High Court. Had the paper gotten this fact right in the original story, there would have been no story. A later correction made a further admission of error: the dinner had not been a fundraiser. It just so happened that all of these errors made Scalia’s speech look questionable, when in fact it hadn’t been.
When I first saw the Times‘s allegation that Justice Scalia had spoken to a partisan political group with litigation before the Supreme Court, I wrote an e-mail to the L.A. Times to inform them that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had done the same thing. Specifically, fifteen days after ruling for the position advocated by the NOW Legal Defense Fund, Justice Ginsburg had given a speech co-sponsored by that very group. I didn’t really think anything would come of my e-mail, and said so.
Here’s where the paper deserves some credit: L.A. Times editors ran a front-page story about Justice Ginsburg’s speech, based on the tip I had given them. The story was given front-page prominence, and quoted the same experts that had been quoted in the March 8 story about Scalia’s speech. I had never been so impressed with the L.A. Times, and said so. (In truth, I felt that the Ginsburg story was a tempest in a teapot, just as the story about Scalia had been. But at least the paper was intellectually honest and even-handed in its coverage of the respective controversies.)
My favorable impression of the paper was later dispelled when I learned that, as previously discussed, the paper had badly botched the fundamental facts supporting its story about Justice Scalia’s speech. I was further disappointed when the paper refused to run a story reporting that Justice Ginsburg had a front-row seat for a speech by a defendant in a case, regarding the subject matter of the case — while that case was pending before the Supreme Court. In effect, this litigant had an extra chance to deliver his oral argument to one of the Justices. I found it hard to believe that the paper would have passed on the story if Justice Scalia had attended a speech by lead counsel for Texas in Lawrence v. Texas, extolling the virtues of Texas’s anti-sodomy laws, while the Lawrence case was pending.
The paper’s distortions about Justice Scalia continued in April, when a deputy U.S. Marshal seized and erased two reporters’ audiotaped recordings of a Scalia speech. The L.A. Times reported, quite inaccurately, that the deputy had “apparently” taken the action on Scalia’s orders. But the Times neglected to report that the U.S. Marshals Service had explicitly denied that Justice Scalia had ordered the deputy to seize or erase the tapes. I wrote the paper to ask why Times editors hadn’t printed the statement from the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
Even though the editors were now on notice of that statement, the paper nevertheless printed an editorial which asserted three separate times that the deputy had seized the tapes on Scalia’s orders. Incredibly, the paper still had not published the categorical statement to the contrary that had been issued by the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
In other words, the L.A. Times repeatedly printed an unsupported accusation, without informing readers of clear evidence contradicting that accusation. This sent a clear message to the paper’s readers: the L.A. Times has an unswerving dedication to agenda journalism, and to hell with the facts. Even when Scalia publicly said that he had not ordered the seizure or destruction of the tapes, the L.A. Times still did not admit its error. This was inexcusable behavior on the part of the paper’s editors.
The hostility of L.A. Times editors to Justice Scalia no doubt stems from their sense that Scalia is on the wrong side of the “culture wars.” The paper’s editors have predictably leftist views on most “culture wars” issues, and abortion is no exception.
An amusing example of the paper’s politically correct attitude towards abortion occurred when a leftist copy editor got his (or her) hands on a review of the L.A. Opera’s performance of Richard Strauss’s “Die Frau Ohne Schatten.” The reviewer had written that the opera is “an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean…” But the P.C. copy editor saw the term “pro-life” and reflexively changed it to “anti-abortion.” The only problem was that the Strauss opera has nothing whatsoever to do with abortion. It is exactly what the reviewer had said: a celebration of procreation. But the reviewer’s intended meaning fell victim to the copy editor’s unthinking policy of changing the phrase “pro-life” to “anti-abortion,” regardless of the circumstances. The reviewer was said to be livid, and demanded (and got) a correction that explained that the error wasn’t his fault. The rest of us chuckled — and then chuckled again.
But then, that’s par for the course for a paper that takes its talking points straight from NARAL.
L.A. Times editors also support gay rights, both on the editorial page and on the news pages. In February, the Times reported that a judge had refused to halt same-sex marriages, which had been illegally taking place in San Francisco. But the paper didn’t bother to tell readers something that might have made the judge look silly: his ruling was based on a misplaced semicolon in the proposed order seeking the injunction.
Although I believe that the Second Amendment protects individual rights, I am not a gun aficionado, and rarely write on the topic. Luckily, my blogging colleague Xrlq is quite knowledgeable about guns, and called the L.A. Times editors on the carpet when they misrepresented the law concerning Californians’ ability to obtain “assault” weapons in other states.
This year, I read a fascinating book called LAbyrinth, by Randall Sullivan. The book is about the intersection of the LAPD Rampart police scandal with the investigations of the murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. Sullivan makes a compelling case that the L.A. Times buried explosive allegations that the LAPD had covered up wrongdoing by its officers. Why would a major urban newspaper do something like this? Sullivan says that the paper wanted to save the job of the Chief of Police (Bernard Parks), due to the fact that he was black.
Whether Sullivan is right or not, the L.A. Times generally takes the side of racial minorities in any controversy that even arguably has racial overtones. The paper also continually and unnecessarily fans the flames of racial discord in Los Angeles.
The paper reported that “83% of suspects bitten by sheriff’s dogs in Los Angeles County were minorities” — but completely failed to examine several obvious non-racial variables that could explain the discrepancy.
The L.A. Times reported that federal civil rights prosecutions are down sharply nowadays. But the paper neglected to tell its readers that all federal prosecutions are down sharply, as the FBI concentrates resources on the war on terror.
This year, Los Angeles went through another racially charged trial, with the case of Jeremy Morse — the white Inglewood police officer accused of using excessive force against black teenager Donovan Jackson. The jury ultimately hung 6-6, and the L.A. Times did its best to hide from its readers the fact that there was more than one black juror on the jury.
Editors at the L.A. Times are unfailingly supportive of racial preferences. When a UCLA law professor published a study showing that racial preferences harm aspiring black lawyers, the paper’s article was titled “Professor Assails Anti-Bias Program.” This, mind you, was the headline for a news article. When racial preferences are characterized as an “anti-bias program,” the facts become irrelevant, and rhetoric wins the day. Small wonder that, while the article insisted that critics had numerous objections to the professor’s work, the article never got around to substantiating a single one of the critics’ objections.
The Los Angeles Times is also reliably leftist on criminal justice issues.
For example, the paper is notoriously opposed to California’s Three Strikes Law. This year, California voters narrowly rejected Proposition 66, a measure designed to weaken the Three Strikes Law. Times editors relentlessly campaigned for Proposition 66 on their op-ed and news pages — and didn’t let the facts get in their way. (Full disclosure: I am a California prosecutor who believes that, while the Three Strikes Law has its problems, Proposition 66 would have been a disaster.)
Early in the year, the paper cited a study finding the Three Strikes Law was ineffective at deterring crime. Only on the back pages were readers told that the group that performed the study is a reliably left-leaning organization.
Times editors almost always minimize the criminal histories of defendants serving life sentences under the Three Strikes Law. Thus, in a story replete with errors, the paper reported that a defendant “had prior convictions for stealing a car, using force on the driver and burglarizing an unoccupied house.” See if you consider it a big deal the next time your house is burglarized — even if it was “unoccupied” at the time. And, Times editors? There’s a word for “stealing a car” while “using force on the driver.” It’s called “carjacking.”
Similarly, in two stories reporting on a Ninth Circuit decision about the Three Strikes Law, the paper described a defendant’s priors as “two nonviolent shoplifting offenses.” In fact, the priors in question were robbery convictions. Neither story informed readers about the force that had been used in these “nonviolent shoplifting offenses.” (In one case, the defendant shoved a security guard while fleeing a department store; in another, the defendant’s confederate ran over a security guard’s foot with an automobile.)
After Proposition 66 suffered a narrow defeat, the paper’s editors continued to distort the facts as they crusaded for Three Strikes reform. For example, the paper is persistently recycling the urban legend that a man is serving a life sentence in California for stealing pizza from some kids. In fact, the criminal in question had his sentence severely reduced years ago, and has long since served the full sentence — but that didn’t stop Times editors from claiming that he was still in prison for life.
Even after several of my readers wrote to complain about this distortion, and were told that opinion editors had been notified of the error, the paper not only failed to correct the error, but subsequently printed a letter to the editor repeating the same urban myth. The paper flat-out refused to correct either the editorial or the letter, sending me a curt note that contained no valid explanation for this indefensible decision.
Even when a defendant has not been charged under the Three Strikes Law, the L.A. Times will often skew its article to promote the defendant’s point of view.
For example, the paper ran numerous articles about a man who was convicted of murder and later freed due to a successful habeas petition. The prosecution stood ready to retry him until a judge issued evidentiary rulings that gutted the case. The man was never exonerated of the crime, no new suspect was ever found, and no court ever declared him innocent of the crime. Yet the L.A. Times ran three separate stories about this man in 2004, and confidently asserted in each story that the man had not committed the murder. How did the Times know this, given that the court system had never made any such finding?
Sometimes, the Times‘s pro-defendant bias is positively comical. For example, the paper ran a sob story about a couple accused by authorities of running an escort service out of their home. On the front page of the California section, the story reported that the couple “can barely assimilate this image with the humdrum reality of their lives.” Readers had to turn to the back pages to learn the damning evidence authorities had amassed. A detective had met with one of the couple’s models, who had offered sex for money. And a search warrant for the couple’s home led to the discovery of a “laundry list” of sexual acts available to clients, as well as a “sizable stash of cocaine, methamphetamine and Ecstasy.” Reality doesn’t get any more “humdrum” than that, huh?
Only a reflexive anti-authoritarian streak could explain how the editors could run seven separate pieces on a man who was exonerated from an unjust life sentence by DNA testing — and simultaneously oppose a proposition designed to expand the state’s DNA database. There can be no other explanation for such stunning hypocrisy.
(Or can there? Another explanation could have been that the editors simply hadn’t done their homework. Their editorial misstated a basic fact concerning the scope of DNA sampling in California. They issued a correction after I wrote them to complain.)
Speaking of the fellow who was exonerated by DNA testing: L.A. Times editors engaged in a bit of self-righteous pontificating regarding his case, showing a remarkable lack of self-awareness in the process. The paper ran an editorial that complained: “Los Angeles’ worst serial killer apparently stalked South L.A. for years without the rest of the city noticing enough to even give him a name. We didn’t talk about an unidentified Figueroa Street Strangler as we did a Freeway Killer, Night Stalker or Hillside Strangler.” You’d think that if anyone were going to heighten public awareness of a serial killer in Los Angeles, it might be a news outlet in Los Angeles. Yet I could not find any evidence that the L.A. Times had ever run a single contemporaneous story about any of the murders committed by this serial killer. So: whose fault is it that he wasn’t noticed enough to get a name?
The paper’s anti-police bias extends to its attitude on police pursuits. In last year’s “Dog Trainer Year in Review,” I complained about the paper’s dishonest hostility to LAPD’s pursuit policy. The deception continued this year, with yet another story that repeated the litany that several well-publicized deaths could have been prevented by a revised pursuit policy. Of course, the revised policy favored by L.A. Times editors would not have prevented a single one of those tragedies. Details!
The paper used the power of editing to portray NAFTA as a failure, when the facts showed no such thing. In a January 2 story about NAFTA, the front page pounded home the theme that NAFTA has done nothing to help Mexico, and indeed may have hurt it. The paper introduced readers to Oscar Garcia, whose initial hopes for the treaty were destroyed when his plant was shut down, and he was laid off — an example typical of the Mexican economy in recent years. But the brave reader who made his way to page A36 discovered that NAFTA had indeed resulted in many benefits to Mexico. The “problem” was that free trade worked better for other countries than it did for Mexico. This was hardly an indictment of NAFTA — but you had to read past the front page to learn this.
SINS OF OMISSION
Sometimes what the paper doesn’t print shows its bias.
For example: in February, the paper ran a story about the recess appointment of controversial judge Bill Pryor, titled “Bush, Frustrated by Democrats, Again Bypasses Senate on Judge.” The story quoted Democratic lawmakers who accused Bush of making the appointment to score political points with his conservative base. Left unsaid was any hint of the fact that the Democrats had used the judicial nominations process to score political points with their liberal base — something that was proven beyond all doubt last year when Republicans obtained internal memoranda written by staffers of Judiciary Committee Democrats. If the shoe had been on the other foot, do you think the paper would have missed any opportunity to drag out an old story that was embarrassing to Republicans?
THE OP-ED PAGE UNDER MICHAEL KINSLEY
Michael Kinsley took charge of the L.A. Times‘s op-ed page this year. Kinsley’s style is on display weekly in his signed op-eds. He sometimes threatens to be courageous and honest, but always ends up retreating into his habitual supercilious attitude. A good example was the piece he did on judicial activism.
Kinsley’s lack of courage is evidenced by his failure to get rid of “Sneering Bob” Scheer. Scheer is the Maureen Dowd of the L.A. Times: an author of contemptuous, poisonous, content-free columns that make silly people chuckle, but which are ignored by most. Scheer generally tries to avoid making factual assertions, since any attempt to do so runs a serious risk of leading to a correction. His continued presence on the L.A. Times op-ed page is a source of embarrassment for any serious person who hopes to see the Times become a great newspaper.
Kinsley’s new voices on the op-ed page, while not as arrogant and fatuous as Scheer, are rarely thought-provoking. They include Jonathan Chait, the fact-challenged columnist who claims that Republicans are scarce in academia because they are poorly informed and educated, as opposed to the “complex thinkers” of the left. Thanks to Kinsley, readers of the op-ed page are also routinely subjected to the columns of Margaret Carlson, who wrote an op-ed titled: “When the Job Stinks, a Woman Gets It.” (Carlson, a woman, has a job as an op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Maybe she’s right after all.)
Kinsley stumbled his first day on the job, allowing regular contributor Erwin Chemerinsky to contribute a column about the Pledge of Allegiance case, without telling readers that Chemerinsky had served as an advisor to a litigant in that case. Meanwhile, when Jonathan Turley wrote a controversial op-ed that took the conservative side in an abortion controversy, the paper felt duty-bound to tell readers that Turley “drafted the Florida parental notice amendment” — even though Turley’s op-ed had absolutely nothing to do with parental notification law. It appeared that disclosure requirements for op-ed contributors were far less stringent when the contributor was making an argument that the paper’s editors liked. I wrote Kinsley to ask about this. He never replied.
Editorials certainly haven’t improved under Kinsley. The editorial writers at the Los Angeles Times are typical of editorial writers all across the country: they pretend to be experts on virtually everything, but in fact are stunningly ignorant on many topics. They also routinely make baseless factual assertions and get simple facts wrong. For example, the editors reported as fact their speculation that Republicans had leaked word of the Sandy Berger investigation. They also claimed in the same editorial that “Berger’s accusers have yet to supply a motive for his actions” — on the very same day that the New York Times told its readers that Republican accusers had offered several possible motives.
But the shoddy editorial work product at the L.A. Times doesn’t stop with the editors’ inaccuracies. It’s far worse than that. There is some person on the editorial board of the Times who writes maddeningly cutesy editorials. This person must go. If you doubt me, just read the sentence that opens this editorial about alliteration:
Alert: Alliteration is fun, frequently funny. But alliteration is awfully addictive. Alliterations accumulate until awe and ennui entwine.
Alert: at a paper with budget issues, sometimes you gotta make tough personnel choices. ‘Nuff said.
(I’m being tongue-in-cheek here, as I almost never like to seriously advocate that someone lose their job. But I am dead serious when I say: give the cuteness a rest, will ya?)
A headline this year read: D.A. Turns Grand Juries Into Indictment Tool. And I just turned a dog into a canine!
Q. What’s the difference between “pseudo-journalists” and real journalists, like the ones they have at the Los Angeles Dog Trainer?
A. “Real” Dog Trainer journalists don’t mind pinching a paragraph from the Washington Post.
MISTAKES, WE MAKE MISTAKES
Every paper makes mistakes. For that matter, so does every blogger. Making mistakes is human. Still, a few of the Times‘s mistakes stood out this year:
I loved it when a story about Scott Peterson placed Modesto, California somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Amusingly, the Times even makes mistakes in its Corrections section. It makes a habit out of including entire stories about prisons in its online “Corrections” section. See, because prisons are managed by the Department of “Corrections.”
WANTED: A COMPETENT EDITOR
I don’t know if other papers have many typos, but the Times is just terrible. I generally don’t comment on these, because I don’t want to seem petty — and hey, I make typos myself. But there was a period in March where I just couldn’t help myself — because so many errors appeared in such prominent places in the paper in such a short period of time. For example:
- One story quoted an expert as saying: “The principal of democracy is every vote should count.” This quote was smack-dab in the middle of the front page. You don’t want to mess with a “principal” like that . . .
- Just one week later, the lead story on Page One had this quote:
The blow to Aznar, the second-most important U.S. ally on Iraq after British Prime Minister Tony Blair, threatens to undermine other world leaders who cooperate with the United States over the objections of their public, the said.
The huh said what now?
- Less than a week after that, we got this gem:
Describing the meeting with Bush, Clarke said he told the president that “there’s no connection” between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Clarke said his team produced two reports that concluded there were no ties, but said he didin’t believe they were delivered to Bush because “he wouldn’t like the answer.”
As I said at the time:
The best thing I can say about this typo is that it “didin’t” appear on the front page . . .
But I had to wonder: don’t they know about spell-checkers at the L.A. Times?
I laughed out loud when I read an article in the L.A. Times about spyware, in which the reporter complained:
Within minutes, my computer was swamped with advertisements — pop-ups, pop-unders, pop-all-overs. There were so many I couldn’t close them before others started appearing. I had to shut the computer down.
Sounds a lot like my experience every time I try to access the L.A. Times web site.
A PRIMER ON HOW TO READ THE DOG TRAINER
Since I know a lot of you out there are feeling my pain, I decided to construct a primer on how to read the Dog Trainer. I included four lessons. Lesson One: read the end of the article first. Lesson Two: don’t take anything at face value. Lesson Three: beware of opinions attributed to “critics” or “some” or “many.” And finally, Lesson Four: sometimes it’s what the paper doesn’t print that makes all the difference. Also, just as with any mainstream media outlet, you should always be aware of the subtle ways that the wording of a piece can convey bias.
DOES THIS PAPER EVER DO ANYTHING RIGHT?
It’s only fair to acknowledge some of the good things the paper did this year — and I have already done so, in a post published here.
The L.A. Times often does good work, but this good work is often obscured by the paper’s relentless bias towards a leftist point of view on a wide variety of issues. If Times editors spent less energy complaining about the “pseudo-journalism” of other media outlets, and more energy correcting their own paper’s flaws, maybe they wouldn’t be losing subscribers faster than L.A.’s King-Drew Hospital is losing patients. Memo to editors: reading a blog or two wouldn’t hurt, either.
In closing, I’d like to share with you some excerpts from the best e-mail I received all year. It was from a former L.A. Times reporter, who said (among other things):
They [the people at the L.A. Times] have become entirely predictable in their outlook and entirely smug in their demeanor. . . . There are new names on the masthead, but the blindness to alternative views remains. . . . I encourage you to go after them with all the fury and indignation you can muster. They have become comfortable in their old age, and they deserve to be afflicted. Maybe it will keep them awake.
I have tried to follow this advice in this year-end review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.
Until next year . . .
P.S. As I said yesterday, the material that you see in this year-end review was collected from last year’s posts from this blog. So, if you are disgusted by the L.A. Times, you’ll want to become a regular reader.
You can do so by bookmarking the main page. Also, Bloglines subscribers can subscribe by clicking on this button:
Thanks very much to those of you who have made a contribution via the PayPal button at the bottom of the page. I appreciate it and will write you personally to thank you.
UPDATE x2: Thanks to Instapundit for linking Part Two.
UPDATE x3: Thanks to Power Line for the link.