It is time for this blog’s third annual review of the performance of the Los Angeles Times, which long-time Patterico readers know as the Los Angeles Dog Trainer. The first annual review was posted here. The second annual review was posted in two parts, here and here, and resulted in one of the proudest moments I have had as a blogger: being featured in a Day by Day cartoon.
This year’s installment will cover familiar topics, such as general anti-Republican and pro-Democrat bias, culture wars issues, and media coverage. It will also cover events specific to the year, with a heavy emphasis on judicial confirmation battles, the war in Iraq and the war on terror, and other miscellaneous issues.
This post summarizes an entire year’s worth of work documenting omissions, distortions, and misrepresentations by this newspaper. When someone truly takes the time to provide specific examples of liberal bias in the news media, the result can be voluminous, and this post is no exception. Feel free to bookmark it and return to it in the coming days, browsing through the categories as they interest you.
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Without further ado, on to the bias:
THE IRAQ WAR
Perhaps the most critical issue facing the nation is the war in Iraq. The paper consistently takes a negative view of the war, reporting polls showing sagging support for the mission, and ignoring polls that show the opposite.
The paper’s unrelentingly negative attitude on the war was well illustrated by a story about an increase in the marriage rate in Iraq. Every single person quoted in the story who was actually getting married said they were doing so because conditions in the country were improving. Yet the paper portrayed the phenomenon as Iraqis trying to make the best of an unjust war.
The paper has steadfastly maintained the fiction that establishing democracy was not an articulated justification for the Iraq war until it became clear that the U.S. was not going to find large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq. This fiction is easily debunked.
The paper also repeated the “imminent threat” canard. They stalled on a correction for days, and finally refused to issue one, claiming that the error was, and I quote, “not correctable.” I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, folks.
The L.A. Times danced with joy when Barbara Boxer managed to annoy Condi Rice with a misleading presentation of the facts leading up to the declaration of war in Iraq. Gloated The Times: “Boxer, the passionate standard-bearer, had succeeded in getting that woman’s [Rice’s] goat. Mission accomplished.” The Times did not bother to mention that “passionate standard-bearer” Boxer had gotten Rice’s goat by gravely distorting the facts. That part was left for the blogs to handle.
When Rep. John Murtha made an impassioned anti-war speech, the paper burnished Murtha’s alleged credentials as a hawk with the false claim that “no Democrat was a firmer ally” of Bush’s in the Iraq war than Murtha. In fact, Murtha had criticized the war even before it started.
The paper ran a sob story about how a church was deprived of its tax-exempt status, supposedly due to the anti-war sentiments of one of the rectors. The paper buried on the back pages the fact that the rector had portrayed Bush as a “terrorist,” and had also expressed his opposition to just about every other Bush policy under the sun, including Bush’s positions on nuclear weapons, anti-abortion laws — and even tax cuts. But other than that, he didn’t do a single thing to oppose the candidacy of George W. Bush!
The paper recently lectured George W. Bush on the need to “explain democracy to Iraq’s Sunnis and let them know that in elections like the one held last week, the group with the most votes wins. ” Where were these sentiments when the Democrats were whining about the results of the 2004 election, or trying to filibuster President’s Bush’s judicial nominees, all of whom have majority support in the U.S. Senate?
THE WAR ON TERROR
The paper published a story that speculated that Bush’s war in Iraq had nothing to do with Moammar Khadafy’s decision to disarm — while failing to report Khadafy’s explicit admission to the contrary.
The paper ran an unusual same-day editorial on the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Padilla v. Hanft, leaving out virtually every fact about Islamist terrorist “Jose Padilla” that might have undermined his legal arguments.
Dick Durbin ridiculously exaggerated the problems at Guantanamo by comparing them to the atrocities committed by Nazis, Pol Pot, or the Soveits in the Gulag. L.A. Times editors could not understand why Republicans were reluctant to accept Durbin’s initial non-apology apology, made on the same day that he had declared he had “no regrets” about his statements (a fact the paper didn’t bother to tell its readers).
The paper printed a whiny and deceitful op-ed about the TSA’s watch list.
The paper ran an op-ed by a trainee journalist from Britain’s paper The Guardian, which later fired the trainee for failing to disclose that he was a member of a radical Islamist organization that explicitly sought jihad against America. The L.A. Times edited a bizarre and striking line from the piece that related the London terror bombings to the “sassy” opinions of young British Muslims. Moreover, The Times never bothered to disclose the author’s radical Islamist affiliation to its readers.
The paper generally did a poor job of covering the recent story of President Bush’s secret surveillance program. The program is assumed by many liberals to be illegal and unconstitutional — including the liberals on the L.A. Times‘s editorial staff. However, the program is actually widely thought by legal experts to be within the law — a fact that the paper whispered on Page A32, twenty-two full paragraphs into a story whose theme was Bush’s desire to avoid the legal strictures of the wiretap court.
The editors ran an editorial claiming that Bush was “cavalier” when he denied that the story about the (legal) surveillance program was the “story of the day.” The editors didn’t bother to tell readers what Bush thought the story of the day actually was: the historic elections in Iraq, with unprecedented Sunni participation. Who’s being “cavalier” again?
I am starting to think that there are really some fundamental differences between the way that L.A. Times editors think and the way most Americans think. For example, the editors wrote an editorial that characterized freedom and democracy as “our way” of doing things — as if other countries can somehow choose a different way of governing themselves without freedom and democracy.
The rift between the views of L.A. Times editors and the rest of us was revealed starkly in an incredible article that the paper did about North Korea. It was a puff-piece interview with an “affable” North Korean “businessman” — and it utterly whitewashed the evil nature of the North Korean government. Its author, Barbara Demick, later revealed that she had known that the “businessman” was in reality a “North Korean official” — a fact that she had unaccountably left out of the article. After Hugh Hewitt and others highlighted the story, there was an uproar among conservatives, but I saw only one letter published regarding the article — one which praised the article as “refreshing.” Demick finally went on Hewitt’s show to explain herself — and pointedly refused to call Kim Jong Il “evil.”
A news article mocked Bush for pursuing democracy around the globe — a policy that, the editors claimed, sometimes trumped “urgent issues.” (I guess democracy for me is “urgent” while democracy for thee can wait.) The article treated Bush’s vision of democracy around the globe as a pie-in-the-sky idea — ignoring the surge of democratic sentiment in countries like Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and even Cuba.
ANTI-REPUBLICAN AND ANTI-BUSH STORIES
Only clueless people think the L.A. Times is completely unbiased. (Indeed, some especially clueless people, including a Harvard professor, think it’s conservative!)
Then again, it may depend upon what the meaning of “conservative” is. For example, the L.A. Times‘s Tim Rutten is so far to the left, he thinks it’s a “myth” that Hollywood is liberal. But it was revealed in an interview with Hugh Hewitt that Rutten considers himself to be a “pretty conservative guy” because he goes to church, has remained married to the same woman his whole life, and takes care of kids. His consistently leftist views on virtually every issue under the sun apparently don’t figure into the equation.
I began the year with two examples comparing how the Washington Post and the L.A. Times treated similar issues. The first example compared the papers’ disparate treatment of Justice Rehnquist’s year-end report on the judiciary. The second example examined their reporting on Iraqi election preparations. Would you believe it? The L.A. Times‘s spin in both cases was the spin favoring the Democrats.
When the paper labeled pieces “news analysis,” the writers evidently felt free to editorialize to their hearts’ content, as in a piece which dismissively stated: “Bush has marched through his presidency championing causes held dear by one Republican Party faction or another.”
The paper falsely reported that, in a major presidential foreign policy speech, the only applause had “apparently” been sparked by a White House aide. It turned out the applause had actually been sparked by members of the military — but reporting this fact might have made Bush look good.
The paper exulted in the indictment of Tom DeLay, and downplayed evidence of partisanship by his prosecutor, Ronnie Earle — including Earle’s criticism of DeLay (then a target of Earle’s investigation) at a Democratic fundraiser.
PROTECTING DEMOCRATS’ GOOD NAMES
If the paper was critical of Republicans, it was at least equally charitable to Democrats. For example, Ron Brownstein uncritically accepted Hillary Clinton’s spin that she has truly become a “centrist” — ignoring her leftist views on a number of core liberal issues. Brownstein had been far more suspicious of similar claims by Bush in 2000. Two weeks later, the paper printed another Hillary-as-centrist article.
The Times claimed in a June article that John Kerry had finally released his complete military records. I found this assertion less than credible, for two reasons. First, the same reporter had made the exact same claim during the 2004 presidential campaign — and had been wrong. Second, the reporter didn’t get the records directly from the government, but rather from Kerry’s office, only after Kerry aides had pre-screened them.
Even after Bill Clinton left the Oval Office, the L.A. Times continued to protect his reputation. Many readers will remember the story of the drug trafficker who was pardoned by Bill Clinton, after his rich father had
bribed Hugh Rodham paid Hugh Rodham $200,000 to “lobby” the White House (money Rodham later returned in disgrace). Well, it came to light this past year that the paper knew in February 2001 that the DEA had long suspected the father of having been a drug trafficker himself. For unknown reasons, the paper sat on the story for over a year, mentioning it only after it was broken elsewhere.
An article about thuggish private investigator Anthony Pellicano detailed his numerous connections with famous people — with one notable omission: Bill Clinton, for whom Pellicano had done some interesting and significant crisis management (and had been suspected of doing much, much worse).
The paper quoted Zbigniew Brzezinski as an “expert” when he is in fact a Democrat shill. Mere weeks after the paper quoted Brzezinski as an “expert,” he gave the official Democrat response to a Bush radio address.
The paper ran a prominent front-page article about nepotism in Congress, but waited until Page A18 to mention that Democrats were among the worst offenders.
CULTURE WARS: ABORTION
The paper reported on a study that purported to show that fetuses don’t feel pain until 29 weeks. When it was later revealed that the authors of the study had connections to the abortion lobby, Times editors downplayed the revelation.
The paper left out the anti-abortion half of the story in a story about partial-birth abortion. In a nutshell, the paper reported that “some” doctors said partial-birth abortion is the better procedure — not bothering to mention that others say it isn’t.
CULTURE WARS: GAY MARRIAGE
It’s no secret that Times editors are for gay marriage. As it happens, so am I — but I’d like to see it happen through societal consensus, not imposed illegally by courts or legislatures ignoring constitutional provisions. An editorial writer dissented from the paper’s official line, and criticized the California Legislature’s illegal action in authorizing gay marriage, in contravention of a state proposition. Good for her.
CULTURE WARS: RELIGION
In an article about a silly court decision striking down a policy of having students recite the Pledge of Allegiance, The Times failed to consult any experts, who would undoubtedly have said that the judge’s reasoning was faulty. This was a consistent pattern at the paper: whenever a Republican made a pronouncement about the law that was clearly incorrect, experts came out of the woodwork to say so. When Democrats (or left-leaning judges) made such statements, the experts were nowhere to be found.
When the paper announced an ethics code. I wished the paper luck. I didn’t realize at the time that the ethics code apparently had a loophole, making it okay for a writer to take a cheap and completely inapprorpriate shot at James Dobson. This was permitted because it took place in the context of a movie review, even though the movie had nothing whatsoever to do with Dobson.
CULTURE WARS: RACE
The paper helps to keep racial tensions high in Los Angeles by trumpeting studies that purport to show blacks are disadvantaged in numerous ways, but that do not control for non-racial factors. The paper carried on the tradition this year with a study on racial disparities in mortgage lending rates.
Meanwhile, when studies lacking major flaws show no racial disparity, those studies are whispered on the back pages, if they are mentioned at all — as with the study that showed whites bear the brunt of fatalities in Iraq, a fact that the paper buried on page A9.
CULTURE WARS: THE RIGHT TO DIE AND TERRI SCHIAVO
I hesitate to mention Terri Schiavo, whose tragic situation sparked a divisive and ugly controversy. But regardless of one’s views on the underlying facts of her case, the reporting should have included the most significant arguments made by both sides of the controversy. Predictably, The Times omitted some of the most compelling arguments made by Ms. Schiavo’s parents. This pattern repeated itself time and time again.
As was common in the liberal media, the paper portrayed the issue as one of family vs. government — a much more convenient story line than the truth: that the battle was between competing family members with very different ideas about what should happen to Ms. Schiavo.
The paper continually distorted its coverage by treating Schiavo as a “terminal” patient, despite the undisputed fact that she was no more “terminal” than any of us humans, all of whom must one day die. For example, the paper ran a piece about the “euphoria” of starving to death. But the story cited totally inapposite examples of terminal cancer patients who had lost the will to eat and to live, and whose situations were in no way comparable to that of Terri Schiavo.
In news articles on bitterly disputed controversies like this one, newspapers should avoid emotionally charged terms that favor one side. The paper’s editors totally ignored this precept in their coverage of Michael Schiavo. In their eyes, Michael Schiavo became a martyr — someone who, in the paper’s words, was “vilified” and “demonized” by Ms. Schiavo’s parents. These loaded terms appeared, not in an opinion piece (or at least one labeled as such), but rather in a theoretically “straight” news story.
The paper also created the illusion of widespread outrage at Republicans by reporting push polls as though they were balanced and accurate.
The paper systematically attacked the parents’ Republican supporters in Congress. Times editors accused Bill Frist of making a decision about the case based on watching a video — a canard oft-repeated by the liberal media despite the fact that his decision was based on numerous other factors as well.
How ugly did the editors get? In an editorial, they actually issued a veiled threat to William Rehnquist: vote to overturn Congress’s law, or we’ll trash your obituary.
But the absolute low point was reached when the editors dragged Tom DeLay’s dad into it. Unlike Schiavo, DeLay’s dad was terminal and was on a ventilator. His organs were failing. Unlike Schiavo’s family, DeLay’s family was unanimous about what he would have wanted. Nevertheless, the editors were evidently determined to find some “hypocrisy” among Republican supporters of the parents, no matter how irrelevant and how personally painful to the parties involved. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that DeLay is a popular villain among liberals.
I cannot express in words the depth of my contempt for this appalling action on the part of the editors, though I tried to in a letter to the editor (which, as usual, was not printed). In my view, the DeLay episode was one of the most disgraceful episodes in the paper’s history. The parties responsible should be deeply ashamed — though I am quite positive that, to the contrary, they got a little giggle out of it. My dad died this year, and if someone tried to use his death to make a cheap and inapposite political point, I would be blinded by rage. No matter what you think of Tom DeLay — and, personally, I am not a fan of his — any rational person should be disgusted by this story.
When Terri Schiavo’s autopsy was released, it turned out to be inconclusive on certain issues that the paper had reported as fact, such as the assertion that Schiavo died of a heart attack, or that she had suffered from an eating disorder.
MEDIA COVERAGE: THE CBS SCANDAL
The paper offered consistently wretched coverage of the major media issues of the day.
For example, after the issuance of the Thornburgh report regarding CBS’s Memogate, the paper continued last year’s fundamental misunderstanding of the CBS forged documents scandal, with an editorial that said every media organization should be thinking: “There but for the Grace of God . . .” But the CBS forged documents scandal was about a media outlet deliberately blinding itself to facts that undercut its story. Avoiding that situation does not require any special exercise of God’s grace — just objectivity and honesty. My post was titled: “But for the Grace of God, Our Misrepresentations Might Be Discovered As Well . . .”
Meanwhile, our “conservative” friend Tim Rutten claimed that the Thornburgh report “adds little of value to our understanding of whether political bias was at work at any level of the process.” But Rutten conveniently failed to mention the report’s evidence indicating otherwise. Significantly, Rutten omitted any mention of a Mary Mapes e-mail, in which Mapes drooled over the prospect of obtaining information that “could possibly change the momentum of an election.”
MEDIA COVERAGE: THE EASON JORDAN SCANDAL
CNN head Eason Jordan aroused conservatives’ ire this year by alleging that the U.S. military had deliberately targeted journalists. Given the explosive nature of the allegation, it was no surprise that The Times was all over the scandal from the beginning. Just kidding! Actually, the paper didn’t even breathe a word about the controversy until after Jordan resigned. The paper’s steadfast refusal to cover the story contemporaneously was another step forward in the ongoing effort by newspapers to make themselves irrelevant.
When the paper did finally get around to reporting the Jordan controversy, it whitewashed a previous Jordan controversy, over Jordan’s admitted policy of refusing to report bad facts about Saddam’s regime. Reader Diana Magrann called them on it, and the paper issued a correction, but neglected to use Ms. Magrann’s suggested language in the correction. As a result, the paper had to issue an embarrassing correction to the correction.
MEDIA COVERAGE: JUDITH MILLER AND JOE WILSON
Meanwhile, the paper continued to fictionalize “lyin’ Joe” Wilson as a fearless truth-teller, in the process mangling (for the umpteenth time) what President Bush had said about Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium from Africa.
Captain Ed and Tom Maguire also took a good whack at the paper for its coverage of the Joe Wilson/Karl Rove nonstory.
MEDIA COVERAGE: THE NEWSWEEK CONTROVERSY
This year saw a controversy over a report in Newsweek that American interrogators had flushed a Koran down the toilet. The report sparked riots in which many died.
It was no surprise that the L.A. Times attempted to downplay the controversy, as the paper’s hands were dirty on the same issue. The Times had repeated the allegations of the Newsweek story in numerous articles, never telling readers that the allegations were based on unconfirmed reports from anonymous government sources. The paper’s willingness to make such allegations formed an interesting contrast with the paper’s decision to delete information favorable to the United States government based on anonymous government sources quoted by other news organizations. (See, for example, the next section regarding the paper’s editing of a Reuters story on the Sgrena shooting.) My own feeling on the proper ethics is simple: tell us what you know and what you don’t know.
The paper ran an editorial that said the Newsweek controversy was exaggerated, and suggested that the interesting question was not why Newsweek got the story wrong, but why Muslims believed the story. Tell that to the dead victims of the rioters.
Ironically, in an article about Newsweek’s irresponsible use of an anonymous source, the paper quoted a source from Newsweek who — you guessed it — wished to remain anonymous.
THE EDITING OF A REUTERS STORY REGARDING THE SGRENA SHOOTING
Late in April, the Los Angeles Times edited a Reuters story to remove critical facts supporting the U.S. position on an important international issue: the shooting by U.S. soldiers of a car bearing Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, resulting in the death of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari. This incident sparked an international controversy, which strained U.S.-Italian relations. A key issue was the speed of the car as it approached the checkpoint. The story portrayed this as an unresolved issue — cutting out the part of the story where Reuters had reported that satellite footage showed the car speeding towards the checkpoint. In addition, the paper changed the term “killing” (used in the Reuters version) to “slaying” — making the killing seem deliberate and premeditated.
Was his slanted editing accidental? Clearly not. The paper did the exact same thing the next day. I decided it was time to write the Readers’ Representative.
Mickey Kaus said the paper had screwed up, and had to choose between leaving its readers uninformed, or doing a true investigation of the satellite footage allegations. It chose the former route.
I could not fathom why the paper had done this. I explored the possibility that the paper was simply suspicious of any story based on anonymous sources from CBS News, based on Memogate. If that was the case, I just wanted the paper to say so.
Howard Kurtz suggested that The Times might have had a good reason not to run the story — but I addressed every possible justification and shot it down. In particular, I noted that the paper had repeated statements of anonymous government sources with respect to the Newsweek controversy over the alleged flushing of the Koran. What was different about this situation? The answer seemed obvious: here, the anonymous government source was saying something that helped a Republican Administrations’s position.
Three days later, the paper still had said nothing to explain the omission, and repeated the word “slaying” in another story. Over two weeks later, I still had received no response to my e-mail regarding the Sgrena editing. The editing was never explained to me.
THE JUDICIARY AND THE SUPREME COURT
The makeup of the federal judiciary is, for me, one of the key issues facing the nation. It is clear to me that the Los Angeles Times has pursued a liberal agenda in its coverage of this issue, and so I have given it a lot of space in this Year in Review.
It starts with the paper’s coverage of the Supreme Court. Early in the year, L.A. Times editors were apparently concerned that Justice Thomas might get the nod for the Chief Justice spot. They ran a story about Justices getting gifts that twisted the applicable standards into pretzels to make Justice Thomas look bad.
The paper made a big deal out of the fact that the current Supreme Court is composed primarily of Republican appointees, but saved for the back pages an analysis showing that many of the Court’s rulings are still liberal. The paper could have run exactly the same story in 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided; I showed exactly how such a story would have read.
When William Rehnquist died, the paper wrote in his obituary that Rehnquist had “helped elect” Bush in 2000. Gee, and I thought it was the voters who had elected him.
THE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION PROCESS: THE FILIBUSTER
There was an interesting split between the paper’s news side and the editorial side on filibusters. While the news side of the operation toed the Democratic line on filibusters, the editorial side of the paper took a principled stand against the judicial filibuster.
You definitely couldn’t see this one coming. In April, the paper was running the usual liberal claptrap about Republican hypocrisy on filibusters, while ignoring the more glaring Democrat hypocrisy. It was par for the course at the L.A. Times; nobody was surprised. Later in the month, the editorial page accused Republicans who were fighting judicial filibusters of mounting an “attack on the judiciary.” Again, such liberal orthodoxy was completely expected
Then the paper did a complete 180-degree turn within one day, coming out against filibusters in general and the judicial filibuster in particular. This didn’t sound like the L.A. Times at all! I could only surmise that Republican thugs had executed an armed takeover of the paper’s editorial offices.
The op-ed page was not always as sensible, or careful with the facts. That page ran a deceptive op-ed piece by David Greenberg about judicial filibusters. Interestingly, a fuller version of Greenberg’s piece published elsewhere was far less misleading. I never found out whether the fault lay with Greenberg or Times editors.
But the editorial page remained consistent in its principled opposition to the filibuster. This was not without dissent, of course, as editor Judy Dugan’s signed editorial, dissenting from the company line, made abundantly clear.
Luckily for folks like Dugan, the news pages continued to distort the filibuster controversy to favor the Democrat position — not just once, but repeatedly. The news side did its best to make the filibuster sound like a venerable, time-honored tradition — and the Republican threat to end it, a terrible danger to truth, justice, and the American way.
From the beginning, the paper portrayed Republican efforts to end the judicial filibuster as a major constitutional crisis — just like Harry Reid wanted it portrayed. Ron Brownstein helped out with a news analysis making the same point.
Given the news side’s view on filibusters, it was no surprise when it the paper gave a predictable pro-Democrat spin on the Gang of 14 deal, and insisted on referring to the Gang of 14 as “mavericks” — a description specifically designed to drive me crazy.
The paper’s poor coverage of the filibuster controversy continued when the Senate voted to apologize for its history of inaction on lynching. Of course, the filibuster was arguably the single most important factor in the Senate’s repeated failure to pass anti-lynching laws. Yet the editors waited until the very last sentence of the article to mention this, and used the word “filibuster” exactly once in the article.
Even as late as November, the paper said that the filibuster was “in the Democrats’ arsenal” as a weapon to potentially be used against Judge Alito — an analysis that ignored the statements of several key Senators who had indicated otherwise.
THE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION PROCESS: JOHN ROBERTS
Even before John Roberts was nominated to replace Sandra Day O’Connor, the L.A. Times distorted the record regarding who might replace him. The paper surreptitiously edited the Web version of an article by liberal legal affairs reporter David Savage, about President Bush’s decision to nominate a replacement for Justice O’Connor. The edit quietly corrected a mistake that had appeared in the print version on Page One — namely, the claim that the leading candidates were all “white men.” In fact, as other news outlets had reported, the short list had included women and minorities. Indeed, the possibility of an Alberto Gonzales nomination had sent many conservatives into an uproar. How could Savage have missed that?
The Readers’ Representative responded twice to my inquiries regarding the “white men” whiteout, each time saying that the edit was not done to fix a mistake, but providing no answer as to why it had happened.
When Sandra Day O’Connor retired, the paper followed the lead of pro-abortion interest groups and pushed the panic button on Roe. This was unnecessary because replacing O’Connor with an anti-Roe Justice (which Roberts may not be) would not create a majority to overturn the decision — despite the paper’s best efforts to suggest the contrary, time and time again.
The paper ran an editorial that overstated the importance of O’Connor’s role as a swing vote, incorrectly stating that “she alone was in the majority of every one of the court’s 13 5-4 decisions this last term.” This was flatly false. I wrote a post noting several prominent 5-4 decisions in which she had been in the minority, and registered a complaint with the Readers’ Representative. The paper ultimately issued a correction in response to my complaint.
The paper’s initial announcement on the Roberts nomination portrayed Roberts in the headline as an inexperienced party hack. Several weeks later, on the front page, a curious and amusing visual juxtaposition seemed to suggest that the editors thought the country was going to hell with Roberts’ nomination.
The paper initially claimed that Democrats were withholding criticism of the Roberts nomination, and omitted Dick Durbin’s pointed comments disparaging the nomination, since including them would have spoiled the story’s theme. The same story doctored a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor to eliminate her most effusive praise for Roberts.
The blog Independent Sources took on The Times for an irrelevant and inappropriate article about the anti-abortion views of John Roberts’s wife.
Meanwhile, David Savage falsely claimed that Roberts was a member of the Federalist Society. At the same time, an editorial expanded upon the claim, saying that Roberts had been a “fixture” at the Federalist Society. The paper ultimately corrected the record regarding Roberts’s alleged membership in the Federalist Society, but failed to correct the comment in the editorial.
Days later, there was still no correction of the “fixture” comment. Ultimately, the paper waited it out, and was saved by the bell.
It turned out that Roberts had held a position on the Society’s steering committee. This didn’t require him to be a member, and Roberts may not have even known about it — and, most importantly, it certainly did not make him a “fixture” at the Federalist Society. But the paper now had some wiggle room with respect to its inaccurate statement to the contrary, and the claim was never corrected. Apparently, wiggle room was more important than accuracy.
It was amusing to watch the paper treat the Society as some kind of arcane group akin to the Freemasons. Savage described the Federalist Society as a “somewhat secretive group.” What’s the secret? I’m a member, and nobody has told me. The best I can figure is that the group won’t release its membership records — but neither will the ACLU, and when is the last time that the L.A. Times mentioned the “secretive ACLU”?
A controversy arose regarding whether the Administration would disclose memoranda from Roberts’s time in the Office of the Solicitor General. The Administration claimed that the memos should be withheld due to attorney-client privilege. This controversy gave rise to several awful articles with shoddy legal analysis, usually written by David Savage.
Early on, the paper ran a story on the issue of the disclosure of the memoranda that was pure agenda journalism. It portrayed the Administration’s refusal to disclose the memos as an attempt to hide something embarrassing, and failed to report any part of the mountain of evidence indicating otherwise. In pushing this bogus document controversy, the paper falsely suggested that a different precedent had applied during the Bork confirmation hearings.
Democrats made the utterly ridiculous assertion that the attorney-client privilege can be invoked only in court, not in Congress. Using a familiar tactic, The Times failed to ask legal experts about this assertion, though the editors would have insisted on consulting legal experts if Republicans had made an equally ludicrous assertion.
David Savage did more than one sloppy analysis of the issue of the disclosure of the documents. In one such article, Savage misread a case that said that the attorney-client privilege gives way in criminal investigations — a totally inapplicable situation. After a while, the reporters’ misinterpretation of judicial opinions became a real embarrassment. In one egregious case, an article stated that a particular appellate decision “scoffs” at the proposition that the attorney-client privilege applies to government lawyers. In fact, the case strongly stands for that principle.
Roberts’s religion also became an issue. A silly Jonathan Turley op-ed about John Roberts advanced a fictional version of a meeting between Roberts and Dick Durbin, using it to argue the relevance of Roberts’s Catholicism. It turned out that Turley’s biggest mistake was believing Durbin. But Turley’s piece was silly even though it was based on a misrepresentation of the meeting by Durbin.
NARAL ran a flatly false ad about Roberts. The L.A. Times portrayed the truth of the ad as a “he said, she said” type of controversy, without consulting independent experts who would have undoubtedly explained that the ad was a misrepresentation of Roberts’s record. When FactCheck.org reported its conclusion that the ad was false, the paper’s stories on the ad failed to mention FactCheck.org’s analysis. This was an interesting omission, because the paper had previously trumpeted findings by FactCheck.org — as long as those findings had promoted a leftist position, of course.
The paper printed an article about the Roberts memos that were released, but failed to publish (or even give a Web link to) the memos themselves, so that readers could evaluate the claims being made. In essence, the paper’s editors were saying “trust us.” It was no surprise that readers were reluctant to do so. This is because, when the paper talked about memos that had been released, the coverage was often unfair — as with a story about Roberts’s use of the phrase “illegal amigos.” The paper falsely implied that the comment was made in the context of a memo opposing a civil rights initiative, making it seem callous and racist.
David Savage reported that certain documents released by the White House relating to the Roberts nomination had not been requested by anyone on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported that the documents had been requested by Arlen Specter. I sent an e-mail to the Readers’ Representative about it.
The agenda journalism continued once the hearings began. In a particularly outrageous stunt, the paper quoted language from Senator Arlen Specter that had been widely interpreted as a suggestion by Sen. Specter that Roberts had been dishonest. Sen. Specter opened the next day’s hearings by clarifying that he had not meant that at all — but the L.A. Times never printed one word about Specter’s clarification. This dishonest omission allowed the false implication to remain in the minds of any readers foolish enough to rely exclusively on the paper as their sole source of news.
At the same time that a Knight-Ridder article came out showing that Roberts is not a doctrinaire conservative, Savage wrote a story concluding that Roberts is a doctrinaire conservative. The article led me to suggest a drinking game: drink when you see liberal bias in the L.A. Times. It’s a joke, folks: I don’t want my readers dying of alcohol poisoning.
Curiously, at about the same time, the paper printed a story about Roberts’s pro bono work on a major gay rights case in the Supreme Court. This was a nothing of a story, in my view. Printing it on the front page was simply an effort to rile up social conservatives, and it worked.
As with filibusters, the editorial page was far more reasonable about Roberts than the news side, and wrote an editorial endorsing him — albeit with faint praise, declaring in the headline that Roberts was “not worth fighting over.”
THE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION PROCESS: HARRIET MIERS
The paper at first did not seem to understand that Harriet Miers was a poorly qualified nominee for the Supreme Court. It took the paper several days to report legitimate criticisms of her nomination that had been percolating for days on blogs like mine. The editors attributed Harriet Miers’s confirmation troubles to the White House’s failure to conduct a behind-the-scenes campaign on her behalf. Apparently it didn’t occur to the editors that she simply was an inferior nominee.
I was no fan of Harriet Miers’s, but I was annoyed when the paper tried to spread the meme that her questionnaire answers had been “rejected” by Senators, who had, in fact, merely requested follow-up answers to several questions.
The editors concluded from Miers’s support for a constitutional ban on abortion that Miers would be a reliable vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the wisdom of abortion of a matter of policy and the constitutionality of Roe are completely separate questions — something Times editors and staffers have apparently never understood. Ron Brownstein got the exact same point wrong in December.
THE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION PROCESS: SAMUEL ALITO
The paper has done a better job covering the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court than it did with the year’s previous two Supreme Court nominations. Early on, the paper ran a fair and complimentary profile of Alito. And when the Washington Times broke the news of a memo in which Alito had given his opinion about the legality of Roe v. Wade, the L.A. Times’s coverage was largely fair.
However, it was interesting to note that the editors found it necessary to explain that the Washington Times is a conservative paper — meaning that any leak to that paper must have been intended to reassure conservatives. I wonder if the editors even realize that leaks to the L.A. Times are often motivated by liberals attempting to push a liberal agenda in a liberal newspaper.
Unfortunately, the paper’s coverage of the Alito nomination has not been uniformly good — especially when it came to that old bugaboo: abortion. When our old friend David Savage wrote about Alito’s dissent in an important abortion opinion, he subtly altered a quote from a Supreme Court case to make it look as though Alito had voted in favor of a law that generally allows husbands an effective veto over an abortion.
THE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION PROCESS: LOWER-COURT NOMINEES
David Savage wrote a fair and balanced article about Priscilla Owen’s judicial opinions. Unfortunately, he badly botched the analysis of one of her business opinions. I wrote Savage an e-mail, copying the Readers’ Representative, complimenting him on the article generally, but noting his erroneous interpretation of the business case. He never responded. Months later, the Readers’ Representative responded, essentially brushing my complaint aside without providing any explanation or defense. My distillation of her response: we weren’t wrong — and even if we were, so what?
The Times ran a cartoonish caricature of a Janice Rogers Brown speech that was strongly and convincingly disputed by a blogger who had been in attendance.
The paper appeared to botch Senate rules in an article about the Republicans’ abolition of the “blue slip,” which traditionally entitles Senators to block nominations to federal courts in their state. Times editors appeared to assume that California Senators Feinstein and Boxer would have been able to block the nomination of Janice Rogers Brown to the federal bench, despite the fact that Brown was nominated for a spot on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a jurisdiction that has no Senators. My research indicated that the editors’ assumption was wrong.
The Times consistently undermines Republican attempts to rein in out-of-control spending, and this year was no exception.
For the second year in a row, the L.A. Times portrayed an increase of over a billion dollars in education spending as a decrease in spending. Last year, the paper reported that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to propose “cuts” of at least $2 billion in education spending, when the governor was actually proposing an increase of between $1.5 and $2 billion in education spending. One year later to the day, the paper pulled the exact same trick, calling a $2.9 billion increase (7%) in the education budget a $2.2 billion cut. Days later, a second story warned of a “$2-billion cut” in Schwarzenegger’s proposed education budget. A third story said the proposed budget “scales back payments to schools.” Not surprisingly, readers were fooled.
The paper portrayed a legislative analyst as critical of the governor’s proposed budget, in a story titled “Analyst Is Critical of Spending Controls.” Yet the analyst’s actual report had led with praise of the budget’s “positive attributes,” including its realism and “significant amount of ongoing savings.” These positive comments were, characteristically, barely alluded to by the L.A. Times, and then only on the paper’s back pages.
When Schwarzenegger’s final budget contained significant cuts, the paper’s spin was predictably negative. Rather than speaking to advocates of spending restraint, who would have cheered the budget (while perhaps saying it didn’t go far enough), the paper simply spoke to a slew of people who would be adversely affected by the cuts, thus portraying the budget in the worst light possible.
The paper clearly doesn’t like Schwarzenegger, and runs unlabeled editorials against him on its news pages. One such piece characterized Schwarzenegger’s proposals as “vague and hastily drawn”; said his problems were the “result of overreaching, hubris, poor staff work and serious miscalculations”; and described aides as having to “clean up after” their boss, who suffered from a “lack of follow-through” and was “stumbling badly,” appearing “uncertain and unfocused.” All of this language appeared in one “straight news piece” about Schwarzenegger. It wasn’t even labeled a “news analysis”!
The newspaper had a constant drumbeat of stories recounting “missteps” and “misstatements” by Schwarzenegger. In fairness, Arnold did have his share of missteps and misstatements, but the paper overdid the caricature. It got to the point where you couldn’t read a story without one or the other of these words appearing somewhere in the article.
During the recent special election in California, the paper said that Schwarzenegger was trying to target a narrow segment of the public, and contrasted that with Arnold’s image as a man of the people. The article all but accused Arnold of trying to suppress the vote. But when you turned to the back pages, it turned out that all Arnold was doing was targeting his message to people likely to support it. What a shocking revelation!
The editorial board of the L.A. Times is notoriously supportive of illegal immigration. At one point late in the year, the paper actually ran a story suggesting that illegal immigration is not a crime — which it most assuredly is.
When California state senator Gil Cedillo introduced legislation that exempted illegals — and only illegals — from state laws that punished unlicensed and uninsured motorists, I had to learn about it on National Review Online. The L. A. Times had not said one word about it.
The editors further revealed their attitude about illegal immigration by opining in an editorial that a Spanish-language TV station’s billboard making a reference to “Los Angeles, Mexico” was funny — and that anyone who disagreed lacked a sense of humor. The editors also equated opposition to illegal immigration with Nazi xenophobia. (For this post, I got another mention in a Day by Day cartoon.)
It is a longstanding practice of the paper to falsely suggest that the Three Strikes Law mandates a 25-to-life sentence for any three felony convictions. This year was no different.
In the past, The Times has gotten on its soapbox about the need to pay attention to murders of the downtrodden — yet a story about a serial murderer of prostitutes was broken this year, not by the L.A. Times, but by the local legal newspaper.
I took the editors to task for a naive editorial that said it would be “preposterous” for California prison officials to argue that there is a compelling reason to segregate prisoners by race in the year 2005. Ironically, there was a massive race riot at the California prison in Tehachapi the very next day — but the L.A. Times refused to call it a race riot. I wonder why?
THE DEATH PENALTY
Like most newspaper editors, L.A. Times editors are generally against the death penalty, and appear to be perfectly happy to misrepresent the facts to support that position. The paper published an analysis of the cost of the death penalty this year that was an enragingly egregious example of distortion. For example, the paper counted as a cost of the death penalty the entire cost of all capital appeals (!) — as though these murder cases never would have been appealed at all if the defendants had received only life in prison. This and numerous other errors had the effect of overstating the cost of capital punishment.
Are the editors really such simpletons that they couldn’t spot such a basic logical fallacy??? Or is there something else going on? I wrote a rare letter to the editor, which was never published. Also, I wrote the reporter and his editors directly to complain — and never heard back. A reader of mine also wrote the reporter, and received an utterly unsatisfactory response.
Was it just a mistake when the paper reported that parties in death penalty cases are entitled to double the number of peremptory challenges available in other cases? This is not true; any case with a maximum punishment of life in prison entitles the parties to the same number of challenges as a death case. But pretending otherwise sure makes death penalty cases sound more cumbersome and expensive . . .
The paper told readers that Stephen Reinhardt has been a consistent skeptic of death sentences. It would have been much more accurate and complete to have told the whole truth: Reinhardt has never once voted to uphold a death sentence in almost 25 years as a federal appellate judge.
The editors ran an absurd editorial that advocated commuting the death sentences of any Mexican national who had not been advised of their right to consult with the Mexican consulate. The editors’ position was utterly out of touch with reality. They wanted the defendant’s sentence commuted even if the defendant had lived in the U.S. since childhood, had no connection with Mexico, and was manifestly guilty of a heinous murder.
The paper did a much better job on its coverage of the Tookie Williams execution. Earlier in the year, the paper ran an article titled A Nobel Nominee Faces Execution. I would have preferred “Convicted Quadruple Murderer and Crips Founder Faces Execution.” But later in the year, articles on the topic consistently presented the point of view of law enforcement and the victims’ families. One article in particular investigated the people who nominated Williams for the Nobel prizes, and determined that they were (surprise, surprise!) anti-death-penalty activists whose primary motivation for making the nominations was not the quality of Tookie’s books, but the desire to save his life.
However, when shots were fired outside Tookie’s funeral, the paper missed the story entirely.
As long as I can remember, The Times has had an anti-police bias. It showed up in an article about police officers who are engaged in multiple shootings. The article displayed an all-too-common ignorance of the need to examine control variables in statistical analyses. As a result, it almost completely failed to address legitimate reasons that a limited number of police officers might be involved in multiple shootings.
When police shoot someone, the victim is generally described by the L.A. Times as having been “unarmed.” It’s always interesting to see who merits that description. This year, the paper described as “unarmed” a man driving a 2000-pound car at officers. I’d call that a deadly weapon; Times editors apparently consider it chopped liver.
In yet another shooting, the suspect backed his vehicle into a police car. The paper said he had backed his car “toward” the officer, only telling readers on the back pages that “toward” really meant “into.”
Jack Dunphy had an excellent piece on this case on National Review Online, and later wrote an “Outside the Tent” piece about it in the L.A. Times. Dunphy’s L.A. Times piece was the subject of a weaselly correction that implied a thoroughness in The Times‘s coverage of the incident that didn’t really exist.
But all of this pales in comparison to the paper’s front-page claim that an anti-crime activist shot an “unarmed teen.” On the back pages, readers learned that a group of thugs had surrounded the activist. One had shouted: “There’s the snitch!” Then, one of them had reached for a gun in another thug’s waistband — at which point the activist shot him. That, the paper described as the shooting of an “unarmed teen.”
It doesn’t matter how justified the shooting is, The Times will portray it as part of a disturbing pattern of police shootings. In one article, the “victims” of the police shootings were 1) a guy who attacked a sheriff’s deputy with a machete; and 2) a guy who tried to stab a sheriff’s deputy with a knife. Yet the paper insisted on portraying these as part of a “string of officer-involved shootings” that “occurred against a backdrop of steadily increasing use of guns by sheriff’s deputies.” I guess we can all put in whatever “backdrop” we want. To me, it sounded like the shootings occurred against a backdrop of steadily increasing attacks on sheriff’s deputies.
EDITORIALS: MICHAEL KINSLEY
Last year, I was suspicious when Michael Kinsley came on as the paper’s opinion editor. Kinsley is a well-known leftist and I thought he was unlikely to change the opinion pages for the better.
I was wrong.
Kinsley came up with the idea of the “Outside the Tent” feature, in which contributors are invited to submit pieces critical of the paper’s news coverage. I published two of these pieces this year, and discuss that feature more in the next section.
Kinsley turned out to be very controversial, and staked out bold and independent positions on a number of issues, such as when he wrote that the Katrina disaster and its aftermath was not Bush’s fault.
One of Kinsley’s (unfortunately short-lived) innovations was called a “wikitorial.” Using the open-source concept of the Wiki, the concept sought to enable the paper’s readers to modify an editorial to include their own arguments. It was a good idea, but the paper did not have proper controls in place to defeat or correct mischief, and the Wikitorial was defaced by pornography and taken down. Jeff Jarvis and I believed that the experiment was not a failure, and encouraged the paper to repeat the experiment. Unfortunately, it was never repeated.
Under Kinsley and Sunday Opinion editor Bob Sipchen, the paper put out some good and balanced opinion pieces. There was a day in May when the Sunday Opinion section amazed me with the quality and diversity of opinion, including several serious and well-done conservative pieces.
One decision made during Kinsley’s reign made no sense to me: when the paper changed the name of the Sunday “Opinion” section to “Current.” Editor Bob Sipchen explained that the change was made in part to allow news reporters a chance to submit pieces to the section, without having to publish them in a section called “Opinion.” There were only two problems with this logic: “Current” was still composed of opinion pieces, and, more importantly, reporters were already expressing their opinions on the news pages anyway.
Kinsley had a prickly personality, and did not suffer fools gladly. Susan Estrich had a publicized e-mail fight with Kinsley. And when the L.A. Weekly‘s Nikki Finke criticized Michael Kinsley for being too much of a leftist, and not enough of a leftist, Kinsley responded by calling Finke an idiot.
CREATIVE SELF-FLAGELLATION: “OUTSIDE THE TENT”
As I mention above, Kinsley left behind one innovation that was truly courageous: an occasional feature in the Sunday Opinion section (now known as Sunday Current) called “Outside the Tent.” Mickey Kaus had the first installment, and Hugh Hewitt took the second slot. Then the editors lost their minds and gave one of the next slots to me.
My first piece ran on February 13, and argued that when the paper prints a false assertion of fact on the front page that significantly affects someone’s reputation, that mistake should be given a prominent, front-page correction — not one buried in a small box on Page A2. Unfortunately, the paper didn’t take my advice, and continued to whitewash its mistakes.
At least one reader didn’t like my piece — but then, he had been blinded for years by The Times‘s misleading coverage, so who can really blame him? To me, the key question was whether the editors were taking the criticism seriously. They appeared to — at least Kaus’s piece.
The feature was at times so occasional that, in June, I became concerned that the experiment was over. I needn’t have worried, as later in the year I was asked to contribute again.
OUTSIDE THE TENT: CINDY SHEEHAN
My second Outside the Tent piece was about the paper’s coverage of Cindy Sheehan. In my piece, I highlighted the notable facts about Sheehan that had been entirely omitted from the paper’s news coverage. For example, the newspaper had reported as fact that Sheehan had come away from her first meeting with the president “dissatisfied and angry,” completely failing to tell readers about a contemporaneous interview in which she had sounded quite pleased with the president’s behavior during the meeting.
Channeling Michael Moore, Sheehan had called terrorists “freedom fighters.” She had also called Bush a “lying bastard” and a “maniac.” But some of the paper’s op-ed columnists, like Rosa Brooks, seemed to be ignorant of many of these basic facts about Sheehan.
As with my first piece, the paper printed a letter to the editor critical of my piece, from a reader who was unfamiliar with the facts — no doubt because he had always gotten his facts from the L.A. Times.
After my piece on the coverage of the Sheehan scandal was published, the paper initially seemed to ignore the points I had made. But the editors finally included a reference to Sheehan’s previous contradictory statements, albeit weeks after they were first relevant. It was almost as if the editors were actually paying attention to the criticism . . .
. . . Or was it? The following month, an AP story had accurately reported that Bush had not met with Sheehan while she was in Crawford. The L.A. Times reprinted the story, but edited it to add the inaccuracy that Bush had “never” met with Sheehan. I complained, and the paper refused to issue a correction. The Readers’ Representative explained that, in her view, “never” as used in the piece really meant “while Cindy Sheehan was in Crawford, Texas.”
My editor for the Outside the Tent pieces was Bob Sipchen, who has since moved on from the Sunday
Opinion Current section. While he was there, I had a rare chance to do an on-the-record interview of Sipchen, which I published in three parts. We discussed the Outside the Tent feature in Part One, issues of journalistic objectivity and transparency in Part Two, and his reaction to the interview in Part Three.
THE L.A. TIMES AND THE INTERNET
Both Sipchen and Kinsley were very proactive in getting the L.A. Times involved with the Internet and the blogosphere. It’s my belief that Sipchen will continue this legacy.
Like many newspapers, the L.A. Times hasn’t always had the best relationship with bloggers and the Internet. The paper started the year seemingly clueless about the Internet, but developed a Web presence over the course of the year that demonstrated some real courage.
The paper dipped its toe into the world of blogging in May with a one-day blog about the mayor’s race. Then, in June, the Sunday Opinion section started a regular blog, which garnered contributions from various luminaries as well as common folk. It was another bold move towards interaction with the paper’s readership, and I found myself proud of this newspaper that I so often criticize.
[UPDATE: And how could I have failed to mention that L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik started a blog of his own, hosted at the paper’s web site? It even has comments — and Hiltzik reads them and responds. I hope to see many more blogs like his.]
The paper ran a piece on some local bloggers and yours truly was mentioned. It was unclear whether the paper considered me a mere media-watcher, or the purveyor of “phlegm-flecked rants . . . from the right.”
One problem the paper still has — though there are signs of improvement — is failing to post original documents that are relevant to the issue discussed in the story. For example, The Times reported on a controversy over whether certain initiative petitions circulated to voters were substantially different from the versions submitted to the Attorney General. I wondered why the paper couldn’t simply post both versions and let readers decide for themselves.
I e-mailed Sipchen about this at the time, and he agreed that the paper should be more pro-active in this area. I later saw a story about Judge Alito that posted a memo that was the central subject of the article.
EDITORIALS: SPONGEBOB AND JAMES DOBSON
The L.A. Times commonly displays hostility towards religion and religious leaders. This bias sometimes results in carelessless about the facts, as happened with the incident involving SpongeBob SquarePants and James Dobson.
First, the L.A. Times ran an editorial with a dubious description dramatizing Dobson’s comments about SpongeBob. Then, the paper ran a second editorial which directly accused Dobson of having called SpongeBob a homosexual — an accusation reminiscent of Jerry Falwell’s famous statements about Tinky-Winky (one of the famous “Teletubbies”). It was a great story, with only one problem: it wasn’t true. I demanded a correction, and the paper ran one four days later. For my efforts, Josh Marshall dubbed me part of a “subculture of SpongeBob-Dobson-smackdown enthusiasts.” And here I thought I was just interested in accuracy . . .
EDITORIALS: THE OBSESSION WITH BONO
The editorial board this year seemed obsessed with lead U2 singer Bono. The editorial board actually endorsed him to be the head of the World Bank. I swear to you, I’m not making this up. Reader Joe Brinker was aghast. In another editorial, the editors called Bono a credible candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Even more credible than Tookie Williams or Yasser Arafat??).
Yes, the editors seemed inordinately preoccupied with Bono. But then a stunning three weeks went by without a single editorial mentioning the U2 singer, until the editors broke the dry spell with a piece re-endorsing Bono for the World Bank — and implying that the editorial writer had met Bono personally!!! If only the rest of us could be so cool . . .
Finally, of course, Paul Wolfowitz ultimately got the nod for the World Bank spot. I figured the editors would be unhappy, and I was right. After all, Wolfowitz almost certainly knows none of the lyrics to “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and has a very limited collection of purple sunglasses . . .
OP-ED: ROBERT SCHEER DEPARTS
In other good news, the paper finally got rid of Robert Scheer — something I had suggested they do last year. Scheer is the guy who falsely claimed that the Bush administration had been warned that Al Qaeda planned to hijack airliners and use them as suicide weapons. Bill Quick caught Scheer making a statement about Bill Bennett that had no basis in fact. To its credit, the paper corrected that error, as well as countless other errors in Scheer’s columns.
At the end of the year, I wrote a post that documented the fact that Scheer’s online collection of columns uniformly fails to include any of the dozens of corrections that his own paper has printed over the years. Egregious misstatements are simply left to stand with no suggestion of their falsehood. My readers reacted to this news with a yawn; they already knew Scheer was dishonest. Dog bites man.
Scheer’s departure led to an interesting e-mail from former staffer Evan Maxwell.
Scheer’s departure was unfortunately balanced out by the ouster of long-time conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez.
COLUMNS: STEVE LOPEZ
Steve Lopez published an inane column complaining that the city didn’t fill in potholes that he had reported under the name of “Joe Voter.” He’s probably equally shocked when Domino’s won’t honor his pizza orders placed under the name “I.P. Freely.” I invited Steve to help me correct the “potholes” at the paper: namely, uncorrected errors.
However, Lopez did a nice job covering Skid Row this year.
MUSIC REVIEWS: ROBERT HILBURN
MISTAKES AND CORRECTIONS
David Shaw disclosed in July that he had an inoperable brain tumor, and died during the summer. Before he left us, however, he got off a shot or two against bloggers, some of whom he described as “self-important ranters who seem to wake up every morning convinced that the entire Free World awaits their opinions on any subject that’s popped into their heads since their last fevered post.” Sounded like the editors of the L.A. Times to me . . . My suggestion to editors: when you hear the word “blogger,” think “reader” — because that’s what we are: interested, educated, sophisticated readers. Thinking of us that way might help editors and staffers from making foolish statements like Shaw’s.
Shaw famously contrasted bloggers’ supposedly slipshod practices with the amazing accuracy of newspapers like The Times:
At least four experienced Times editors will have examined this column, for example. They will have checked it for accuracy, fairness, grammar, taste and libel, among other things.
The second I read that quote, I knew it was a keeper — a little nugget I could return to whenever The Times made an embarrassing mistake that had eluded the attention of those “four experienced Times editors.” Naturally, there were many, many opportunities to use the quote to comic effect. Little did I know that the first such opportunity would come the very next day, when the paper issued a mammoth correction to its notorious Chico State story — an article so rife with errors that it led to an internal investigation resulting in the reporter being fired.
It turns out that there was (allegedly) more to the correction than mere sloppy journalism. The Times had questions about whether the reporter in question had even visited Chico State. Before the reporter was fired, he sent out an odd e-mail to colleagues about the controversy, apologizing for the story and boasting about his “handsome BMW GS1100 Paris-Dakar motorcycle.” At last report, he was fighting his dismissal.
In a weird coincidence, it turned out that this same reporter’s name appeared on a story the previous year that pinched a paragraph from the Washington Post — though the mistake had been blamed on an editor and not the reporter.
The thing is, this wasn’t the first L.A. Times story with this many errors, and it wasn’t the last, either. The L.A. Times Magazine ran a story about the effect of the Three Strikes law that had a surprising number of errors — including a false statement that the law mandates life without parole for certain repeat offenders. This was incorrect, and I wrote the paper to complain. The paper issued a second correction to the story, but the correction was incorrect, and required a third correction. The paper finally consulted with me regarding the true effect of the law, and issued a third correction to the story. The third time indeed proved to be a charm: they finally got it right.
Somehow, mistakes at the L.A. Times always seem to end up benefitting the leftist point of view.
For example, just a few days ago, the paper was badly embarrassed when a reporter took an April Fool’s joke seriously. The joke was a phony press release that had circulated on the Internet, purporting to be from the governor of Wyoming. The reporter attributed statements from the press release to the governor, without bothering to check the document’s authenticity with the governor’s office. After all, if it’s on the Internet, it must be true! At last report, the same reporter was preparing a blockbuster story titled “How to Make Big Bucks Responding to Unsolicited E-Mails from Nigerians.”
The paper loves to put stories about California state prisons in the Corrections section — you know, because they’re about “corrections.”
One of my favorite corrections all year was this puzzling correction:
Ian Somerhalder — An article in Saturday’s Calendar section on actor Ian Somerhalder said he was 31. He is 26. The article also said he has blond hair; he has dark brown hair.
Also, his name isn’t really Ian Somerhalder; it’s Victor Petrovsky. And he isn’t an actor; he’s a lathe operator at a curtain rod factory outside Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Times regrets the errors.
The paper misstated a fact about a sheriff’s deputy that had been murdered. I wrote the reporters and never heard back, but obtained a correction after writing the Readers’ Representative. This happened on the same day that I obtained a correction to the editorial about Justice O’Connor, mentioned above.
One day, the corrections were so good, I reprinted all of them.
Howard Bashman found about one gajillion basic errors in an op-ed about the members of the Supreme Court.
I tend to de-emphasize posts about poor circulation at the L.A. Times, since a paper’s quality does not depend on its circulation. Still, it was impossible to ignore that circulation was significantly down again this year. Things got so bad the editors couldn’t even give their paper away — though they tried, apparently to boost circulation numbers. They even tried to give free copies to me, one of their harshest critics.
Then-editor John Carroll claimed that the paper’s circulation woes had nothing to do with the content of the paper. I asked readers to tell him whether they agreed.
The fact that the paper’s circulation numbers were down was a point lost on “conservative” Tim Rutten when he suggested that talk radio is losing its audience because of its narcissism and excessive partisanship. Why is the L.A. Times losing its audience, Mr. Rutten?
There was a very interesting article in Rolling Stone alleging that an L.A. Times staffer was on Suge Knight’s payroll.
The paper said that the breach of the levee in New Orleans occurred along a section that had not been upgraded; meanwhile, the New York Times reported the exact opposite.
Susan Estrich started an anti-L.A. Times web site — but it turned out to be a bust.
The paper had a misleading piece on Social Security. Kevin Murphy rebutted it.
I asked people why they did or did not read the L.A. Times, and got an earful from commenters. In well over 100 comments, almost nobody had anything kind to say about the paper.
The paper said it was “hard to imagine” that any American didn’t know about Oprah Winfrey’s “rocky romance with beau Stedman Graham.”
The editors soberly cautioned readers to take the Los Angeles mayoral election “seriously” — then ruthlessly mocked incumbent James Hahn at every opportunity — not for his stands on the issues, but for being too boring. It got to the point where the paper actually ran a picture of Hahn next to a yawning 7-year-old.
I have mentioned many more positive things about this newspaper in the body of this Year in Review than I usually do. As usual, staffer Roy Rivenburg was another bright spot. He likes to expose old guys named Thomas. He had an excellent article about the CortiSlim lifestyle, showing his chops as a serious investigative journalist. He also had an amusing piece at the end of the year about political gifts.
The paper did a better job at combating bias this year than it has in past years, especially as the year went on. However, as this post shows, the paper still has an institutional problem of liberal bias, which is unlikely to end any time soon.
UPDATE x2: For greater accuracy, I have changed “Bush” to “the Bush administration” in the sentence that previously read: “Scheer is the guy who falsely claimed that Bush had been warned that Al Qaeda planned to hijack airliners and use them as suicide weapons.”