It is time for this blog’s fourth 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. The third annual review was posted here.
This year’s installment covers a number of topics, including the Michael Hiltzik sock-puppetry controversy; the alleged Ramadi airstrike; the paper’s decision to reveal the Swift counterterror program; the firing of the paper’s editor and publisher; the Iraq war and the war on terror; the paper’s shilling for Democrats during the 2006 election; and my decision to cancel the paper — among many others.
This post summarizes an entire year’s worth of work documenting omissions, distortions, and misrepresentations by this newspaper. I have made an effort to document my arguments that this paper is a regular practitioner of liberal bias. As with my previous posts, the proof is voluminous. As a consequence, don’t feel that you need to read the entire post in one sitting. Feel free to bookmark it and return to it in the coming days, browsing through the categories as they interest you.
I hope every new reader who reads this post will bookmark the main page and return often. Bloggers: please blogroll the site if you like it. I’ll be happy to reciprocate the link if I like your site — write me and let me know your URL, and I’ll take a look.
MICHAEL HILTZIK: THE COLUMNIST ATTACKS
The paper’s former business columnist Michael Hiltzik played a large role in my dealings with the paper this year. The fun started early in January, when Hiltzik compared me to a dishonest, Stalinist apparatchik. I responded to his diatribe here and here. The spat between Hiltzik and me made Howard Kurtz’s Media Notes column.
Another dust-up began when I noted that the paper had said in an editorial that the U.S. and its allies “brand” Hamas as a terrorist organization. I thought that this phrasing revealed a reluctance on the part of the editors to clearly say that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hiltzik called my complaint “picking at minor issues of syntax and diction.” My feeling was that a paper can’t even call a terrorist a terrorist is a paper you can’t trust for clarity on any issue. After my post, and my exchange with Hiltzik on the issue, the paper finally wrote an editorial that characterized Hamas as a terrorist organization. I couldn’t claim credit, of course, but it was nice to see the editors coming to their senses on this issue.
Hiltzik and I had another tense exchange over a Costa Mesa pilot program designed to check the immigration status of suspects in violent crimes. Hiltzik denounced the program as demagoguery. Then, when I noted his position, he denied it, and called me a “propagandist” and a “serial builder of straw men.” (That’s better than comparing me to a “Stalinist,” I guess.) It was clear to me that he tended to lash out when criticized, and was not always totally straight with his readers. I detailed my complaints about his column and posts on the Costa Mesa program in this lengthy post.
The second that controversy was over, Hiltzik started another one with a dishonest post about Hugh Hewitt’s SiteMeter. I tried posting critical comments at his site, but my comments wouldn’t go through. At first I thought it was because I was trying to post links, but that didn’t appear to be the reason.
Soon after that came the revelations of . . .
MICHAEL HILTZIK’S SOCK PUPPETRY
During this time, I noticed something unusual about Hiltzik’s comments on my site: they came from the same IP address that had been used by a repeat commenter named “Mikekoshi” — an arrogant L.A. Times defender who seemed to pop up when topics involving Hiltzik were discussed. I researched the issue and published a post titled Three in One: Michael Hiltzik, Mikekoshi, and Nofanofcablecos, which proved that Hiltzik had engaged in sock puppetry.
On his blog, Hiltzik published a dismissive and dishonest defense of his sock puppetry. Shortly thereafter, the L.A. Times suspended Hiltzik’s blog, which led me to worry that the episode might hinder the paper’s experimentation in interactivity with readers. The blog suspension was soon reported by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post, who followed up a few days later. One of Kurtz’s pieces had a funny headline, for a few hours: “Columnist’s Blog: He Hasn’t Been Himself Lately.”
I thought that suspending the blog was punishment enough. Sure, Hiltzik had been dishonest, but I thought his dishonesty was inconsequential compared to the sort of dishonesty that the paper engages in on a regular basis. (For what it’s worth, Glenn Reynolds agreed with me.) The paper soon did an investigation into Hiltzik’s past work. The editors found no evidence of the sort of trivial dishonesty exemplified by the sock puppetry I had caught — and apparently didn’t much care about examples of more substantive intellectual dishonesty, like this.
I had initially thought this would be a minor Internet flap, and nothing more — but within a day, the story was hitting Reuters and the AP. It ended up in the pages of the New York Times and elsewhere in the media. It was reported as far away as the Netherlands. But the only media outlet that called me was the AP — once. (The New Media was better. Hugh Hewitt’s producer called, but I couldn’t go on the air because I was working. I ended up doing a short bit on Ace of Spades’s and Jeff Goldstein’s radio show.)
In announcing the suspension of Hiltzik’s blog, the L.A. Times cleverly defined Hiltzik’s offense as posting under pseudonyms, rather than acknowledging the dishonest and embarrassing sock puppetry that had formed the true gravamen of Hiltzik’s offense. The old John Carroll term “pseudojournalism” came to mind.
An interesting side issue arose out of the controversy: the appearance of a commenter named “Masha,” who defended Hiltzik — but didn’t tell us that she was commenting from the L.A. Times. It turned out that Masha had commented (and had defended the L.A. Times and Hiltzik) before — and had called me, Hugh Hewitt, and the Power Line guys “fascists.” She had also posted comments under the name “workingjournalist.” There was nothing unethical about this, in my view — it was just funny.
Tim Rutten circled the wagons, saying that critics like me and Hugh Hewitt want a press that doesn’t bother us with “inconvenient facts.” Funny, I just thought I wanted an honest press. But Rutten was a lot less defensive than this guy was . . .
Ultimately, the paper decided not to fire Hiltzik (a decision that I agreed with) — but discontinued Hiltzik’s column (which I thought was an overreaction). He ended up being reassigned to a “sports investigation” beat, and was publishing stories before the month was out.
The issue of sock puppetry came up again, however, with journalist Lee Siegel and blogger Glenn Greenwald. I wrote about it in a post titled Song of Myself. At least one blogger who had felt the jab of Hiltzik’s poison pen has engaged in a little schadenfreude at his loss of a column.
As we moved into May, the L.A. Times still had not run any pieces about Hiltzik other than the brief Editor’s Note announcing the paper’s action against Hiltzik. Meanwhile, editor Dean Baquet explained to a small gathering of people what the paper hadn’t bothered to adequately explain to its own readers: why the column had been discontinued. (The reason was that Baquet believed that Hiltzik could no longer credibly write columns about duplicity.) The odd part wasn’t that readers were confused about why Hiltzik had lost his column — it was that Baquet didn’t seem to understand why they were confused. Did he think all readers read every little Editor’s Note on Page A2?
By the end of the year Hiltzik was publishing articles on the paper’s front page.
In May, I noticed that a Technorati search for “Patterico” contained sponsored links for sock puppets — and for a subscription to the L.A. Times.
PATTERICO CANCELS THE L.A. TIMES
In February, it looked like I might have the green light to cancel the paper — because after we moved, the paper wasn’t arriving in time for Mrs. Patterico to read it before work. One day in March, I noted that it still hadn’t arrived by 6:44 a.m.
I did eventually cancel the paper, and I soon learned to enjoy the benefits of being a non-subscriber. Now, when the paper calls trying to get me to renew my subscription, I just put my four-year-old son on the phone. But the final straw wasn’t late delivery. Rather, I cancelled when . . .
THE L.A. TIMES REVEALED DETAILS OF A CLASSIFIED AND EFFECTIVE COUNTERTERROR PROGRAM
The reason I cancelled the paper was due to the paper’s unforgivably egregious decision to publish classified details of a successful counterterror program. (The New York Times and the L.A. Times were to blame for revealing the Swift program, while (contrary to conventional wisdom) the Wall Street Journal was not.)
I was immediately furious, because it was clear to me that the program was legal and had appropriate safeguards and oversight. This became increasingly obvious over time. What’s more, the program had been successful — although the paper didn’t explain this to readers. To the contrary, the L.A. Times story falsely implied that the program had not been successful. Unlike the New York Times, the L.A. Times persistently refused to report the program’s successes. As part of this campaign, the editors blatantly misstated facts regarding standard criminal investigative procedures.
I summarized the arguments in favor of the program here. The House of Representatives agreed that the program was effective and legal, and had appropriate safeguards and oversight. I told a little story to explain why releasing the program’s details was harmful, here.
Conservatives soon began to discuss whether papers like the L.A. Times should be criminally prosecuted. I analyzed the legal and philosophical arguments for prosecution of those responsible for revealing the details of the Swift program. Here is a short summary of the arguments favoring prosecution of the papers. I ultimately argued that, while prosecutions of reporters and editors might well be legally feasible, they should be shelved while we prioritized the hunt for the original leakers.
I did take a couple of steps on my own. After 15 years of subscribing, I cancelled my subscription to the paper over the Swift story. And I gathered together information on the paper’s advertisers, for the benefit of anyone who wanted to make their displeasure known to those paying the paper’s bills.
I never labeled the editors as traitors; I don’t believe that their motivation is to help the enemy. But their decision to publish this story exhibited such poor judgment that it was easy to imagine these men giving away critical WWII secrets.
Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus explained his reasoning in a local radio show. I transcribed his appearance and gave my commentary here. McManus is, I’m sure, a nice guy, and was very pleasant to me in an e-mail exchange. But I thought that his reasoning revealed an incredible arrogance and lack of concern for the harm his decisions could cause the country.
It was indisputable that some terrorists were tipped off, because some terrorists had been caught by the program.
Some editors seemed to realize they’d screwed up. For example, Doyle McManus had initially talked about how tough it had been to decide whether to publish the story. But he later backpedaled, saying that he never really had to make the decision, because the New York Times already had.
Editor Dean Baquet didn’t stick to that script. Rather than claiming that the decision had already been made, he published a letter defending his decision to publish the story. But that letter merely showed that he didn’t have the information necessary to make an informed decision. Baquet and New York Times editor Bill Keller issued a joint defense of their decision to publish, but they said little that was new.
I thought that Baquet should face tough questions from his critics on a story of this significance. I wrote Baquet asking for an interview, and I took suggestions from my readers as to what questions I should ask Baquet. However, he ultimately declined to be interviewed. He gave me a revealing reason for turning me down, but he never gave me permission to share it with my readers — though I waited and waited for permission.
The authorities finally decided to administer a punishment to Baquet: a spanking. The event was memorialized in a disturbing photograph on the Times website. (Warning: the events described in this paragraph may not have actually happened; they may have been described for humor purposes. Also, you’re going to have to follow the links to see that picture.)
Meanwhile, it emerged that Baquet intended to use the pages of the newspaper to “push back” against blogger critics. I was disappointed to learn that he didn’t want to engage his critics in debate, but seemingly wanted only to lash out at them from his Spring Street bunker.
THE RAMADI AIRSTRIKE STORY
On November 15, the paper reported that U.S. forces had “pulverized” 15 homes in Ramadi two days earlier, killing 30 civilians, including women and children. An e-mail from someone claiming to be a soldier in Ramadi surfaced on the Internet, claiming that the story was false, and that its allegations were based on enemy propaganda. I conducted an investigation which revealed that the story was highly dubious. The military denied that any airstrike had occurred in Ramadi — something the paper hadn’t reported. Other news sources reported that only a single structure had been burned out, and that only adult men had been killed — a result consistent with the military account. Milbloggers soon decried the L.A. Times story as ludicrous. A soldier based in Ramadi chimed in and said that if any such airstrike had occurred in central Ramadi, he would have heard about it. Michelle Malkin featured the story on an episode of “Vent” on Hot Air.
Based on my post, the paper looked into the incident again, and ran another story on December 29 that finally reported the military denial. The new story backed off the claims that an airstrike had caused the damage, and that 15 homes had been pulverized. (No, I didn’t get any credit in the article.) Keep visiting this site, as I will have more on this in coming days, including further evidence that the only airstrike that day was 10 miles away, in open farmland removed from residential structures.
One of the people who helped me with the Ramadi story was Maj. Megan McClung, who later tragically died when an IED exploded in Ramadi. The L.A. Times had nice tributes to her from Roy Rivenburg and Dana Parsons. Her father has agreed to work with me on producing a tribute to her later this month.
The Jam(a)il Hussein controversy followed quickly on the heels of my post on the Ramadi airstrike story. But I never saw any evidence that the paper did any coverage of the controversy.
THE IRAQ WAR
The L.A. Times has consistently opposed the Iraq war, since its inception. For example, the paper was calling the violence in Iraq a “civil war” even before Al-Jazeera did. In June, the paper ran a front-page article touting the number of deaths allegedly caused by the war in Iraq — but buried or omitted important facts and context. And the editors ran a predictable story tying Iraq to Vietnam.
In February, a bombing in Samarra touched off sectarian violence. The attack bore classic hallmarks of an Al Qaeda operation — but the paper buried that information in one piece, and downplayed it in another.
When chemical weapons were found in Iraq, I was dubious about the story’s significance, but I didn’t think the discovery should be hidden from readers entirely. But the paper’s editors apparently did.
As the verdict in the Saddam Hussein case was coming in, the paper was busy expressing doubts about the court’s legitimacy. The paper — in a “hard news” article — called the trial a “theatrical, yearlong televised odyssey dogged by questions of legitimacy” and referred to it as “[t]he trial, or circus as it sometimes seemed.” Nice bias avoidance there! Once the verdict came down, it was naturally portrayed as bad news for Iraq.
DID GEN. HAGEE BRIEF REP. MURTHA BEFORE MURTHA SHOT OFF HIS MOUTH ABOUT HADITHA?
In May, the L.A. Times reported that Gen. Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, had briefed Congressman Jack Murtha on the alleged massacre at Haditha, before Murtha had made his famously inflammatory statements about the conduct of our troops there. I was dubious about whether Gen. Hagee had briefed Murtha in advance, and I wrote the Readers’ Representative to confirm the story. The reply was unhelpful — basically a statement claiming that the report was accurate, with no further detail. In August, the Marine Corps issued a statement suggesting that Gen. Hagee had briefed Rep. Murtha after the incendiary statements, not before — meaning that Murtha may have spouted off without reliable information. I published my previous exchange with the Readers’ Representative, and wrote a follow-up e-mail. The response I got was comically unrevealing. So I decided to put the question to Hagee’s office directly. Hagee’s office directly contradicted the assertion in the L.A. Times story.
WAR ON TERROR
When three Guantánamo inmates committed suicide in June, it appeared to be a political act designed to shut down the facility — and the L.A. Times played into the terrorists’ hands by emphasizing the calls for a shutdown in the wake of the suicides. Strong evidence later emerged to show that the suicides were in fact a political stunt — including an interview on my site with a former Guantánamo Army nurse called “Stashiu.”
In August, an ideologue leftist judge named Anna Diggs Taylor issued an extremely partisan and poorly reasoned decision, which ruled unconstitutional the NSA’s controversial surveillance program. Independent experts almost universally decried the judge’s shoddy analysis. But L.A. Times readers never learned this, because the paper didn’t bother to consult with legal experts. Even the famously liberal New York Times quoted numerous experts who mocked the decision. Meanwhile, L.A. Times readers were left in the dark.
In September, Bush fought it out with dissident Republicans over the terms of a bill covering treatment of detainees. The eventual compromise seemed very favorable to Bush — according to everyone but the L.A. Times, which seemed to think Bush had caved. I had a hearty laugh at the paper’s expense, and the paper soon backed off of its initial characterization.
THE ISRAEL-HEZBOLLAH CONFLICT
The paper’s editors said that “some say” the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was pretextual. They didn’t do much to hide the fact that they were among the “some” who said that.
During the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, the paper ran pictures of suffering Lebanese on the front page of the paper — day after day after day after day after day . . .
By contrast, depictions of suffering or dead Israelis were virtually nonexistent on the paper’s front page.
IGNORING THE FAUXTOGRAPHY SCANDAL
Wrapped up with the Israel-Hezbollah conflict was the Reuters Fauxtography scandal. After that scandal had been simmering for days, the New York Times and Washington Post saw fit to run stories. One paper didn’t bother: the L.A. Times.
I started hearing crickets when I listened for substance on issues like the paper’s (lack of) reporting on the Fauxtography scandal; or the paper’s (lack of) a substantive response to me about Murtha and Gen. Hagee; or editor Baquet’s (lack of) a response to me regarding whether I could publish his reasons for declining an interview with me about the Swift story.
The Fauxtography controversy was finally mentioned — in a surprisingly thorough and sensible column by the reliable lefty Tim Rutten.
THE BIG MYSTERY
In what may have been my favorite L.A. Times moment all year, the paper declared it a “mystery” why a Muslim had shot up a Jewish Community Center in Seattle.
The only clues the shooter had left behind: a long string of quotes detailing his anger at Jews and U.S. policy in the Middle East. A real head-scratcher, that one!
You got me!
SHILLING FOR DEMOCRATS DURING THE 2006 ELECTION
The paper had historically done a very good job covering Harry Reid’s questionable land deals, but ignored new questions during the election season. The eventual coverage was all of three unrevealing paragraphs. Don’t worry, though — the paper finally got around to reporting more detail on Reid’s penchant for pushing bills that benefit him personally . . . once the election was over.
The paper tried to portray attack ads as an almost uniquely Republican phenomenon. I later did some independent research and learned that one of the article’s sources had been quoted out of context. Even the liberal Adam Nagourney of the New York Times admitted that both sides go negative.
The paper implied that the Republican leadership knew about and covered up “Foley’s sexually charged Internet exchanges with minors” — implying that the leadership knew about the infamous instant messages, which were far more lurid and disturbing than the e-mails that the leadership had been told about. Steve Lopez used an expert to keep this false meme alive. The paper criticized Republicans for sitting on the story, but it turned out that the L.A. Times had known about the Foley e-mails in July, two months before they were made public. The paper was also ridiculously credulous about the motivations of the person who revealed the e-mails.
The Harold Ford, Jr. campaign faced an ongoing controversy in Tennessee regarding Ford’s attendance at a Playboy party — raising potential issues of hypocrisy for the self-proclaimed upstanding churchgoer. When supporters of his opponent ran an ad mocking the candidate for this, Ford supporters cried racism — and found a sympathetic ear in the editors of the L.A. Times, who highlighted the racial angle while cynically hiding the underlying controversy from readers.
When fuel prices were low at election time, the L.A. Times reported on the alleged “perception” that it was all the result of a GOP conspiracy.
Uniquely among the national papers, the paper initially refused to explain why Jack Murtha’s ABSCAM activities were so suspicious. The paper initially treated it as a mystery why Murtha’s ABSCAM tape might cause watchdog groups concern over the possibility that Murtha might become the House Majority Leader. When the paper finally did report the whole story, or a facsimile thereof, it pretended that it had already done so.
None of this had come up during the election, of course.
COVERING FOR PEOPLE ON THE LEFT
The paper failed to tell readers about the Democrat partisanship of leaker Mary McCarthy. The failure continued and continued — even though Howard Kurtz admitted that it was relevant information. The paper even upped the ante by quoting someone who claimed that she was not an ideologue — even as the paper continued to hide evidence that she was, indeed, an ideological partisan.
Back in 2004, the editors of the L.A. Times confidently asserted that Sandy Berg(l)er had taken no original documents from the National Archives. I questioned their assertion. This year it emerged that I was right to have done so.
In March, the paper continued its long tradition of lionizing lefty civil rights attorney Stephen Yagman, who was later indicted for money laundering, bankruptcy fraud, and tax evasion.
The paper whitewashed the comments of a teacher who indoctrinated his students with anti-American leftist claptrap.
The paper went on and on about Anthony Pellicano’s ties to law enforcement figures — with no mention of Pellicano’s ties to Bill Clinton, formerly the top law enforcement officer in the country.
SLAMMING BUSH AND OTHERS ON THE RIGHT
The paper loves to editorialize in news stories, as when a front-page “hard news” article claimed that Bush’s “combativeness” had become “a trademark of his time in Washington.” Or there was the lead article in one Sunday paper titled “Bush’s Agenda Loses Focus.” That one wasn’t an editorial, and it wasn’t a news analysis. Just straight news, baby! Jack Webb would have been proud of this “just the facts” approach, no?
Michael Isikoff had Dowdified (or “Isikoffed”) a memo by Alberto Gonzales to falsely suggest that Gonzales found “quaint” Geneva restrictions on coercive interrogation. Op-ed Editor Andrés Martinez repeated the canard in an internal memo.
In May, we learned that CNN’s ratings had slipped 38%, while Fox News Channel’s had slipped only 17%. So naturally, the L.A. Times columnist focused on the precipitous drop in the ratings of . . . Fox News. Independent Sources made the case that the columnist’s facts were wrong as well.
When Tony Snow became the new White House press secretary, the paper ran contradictory pieces, some saying that Snow had been too much of a sycophant to Bush — and others claiming that Snow had been too critical of Bush. (I have to admit I’m a big fan of Snow’s, because he once left a couple of comments on my blog.)
In March, the L.A. Times misreported the contents of a video briefing of President Bush before Katrina, to falsely imply that Bush had been warned the levees could be breached, thus insinuating that Bush was a liar. The AP, which was originally responsible for the erroneous interpretation of the video, eventually “clarified” its story. But the L.A. Times let its distortion stand, misleading one letter writer, whose published letter stated that Bush was warned “that the storm could breach levees” — even though he had been warned of no such thing. I wrote the paper to complain about the inaccurate letter, as well as the inaccurate story on which it had been based. Ironically, in the end, the paper corrected the letter — but not the inaccurate story upon which the letter had been based!
It was rather amusing to watch the editors get all huffy about how the President should have seen the Katrina disaster coming. Cyclone Larry caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to Australia this past year. As it approached, we all saw it coming . . . yet the L.A. Times didn’t print a word about it in advance — preferring to wait until it had hit before mentioning it.
The paper continually confused opposition to illegal immigration with opposition to immigration in general.
The paper seemed to show an acute sensitivity about reporting the immigration status of people who committed serious crimes. This became obvious in February, when a drunk driver killed a CHP officer. A paper in the California desert reported that the suspect had fake documents of the type that an illegal immigrant might have — but the L.A. Times didn’t breathe a word of it. Another desert newspaper reported that the culprit was a “suspected illegal immigrant.” Finally, after I had harangued my readers about the issue for days, the paper finally whispered something about the suspect’s immigration status — on Page B6.
The paper falsely described an activist against the Sensenbrenner immigration reform bill as “ambivalent” on immigration reform. It was true enough that the paper disclosed (in a whisper on the back pages) that she had spoken to her Congressman about the bill at his local Southern California office. But the paper entirely failed to disclose the extent of her activism — which would have shown that she was anything but “ambivalent” about the bill. The paper didn’t mention that she had gone Washington, D.C. to lobby for a guest-worker program. Nor did the editors disclose that (in Conor Friersdorf’s words) she had “plant[ed] pro-guest worker program quotes in multiple press outlets and back[ed] a specific faction in the immigration reform debate.” After four days passed with no correction or clarifying language, I wrote the Readers’ Representative to ask what was going on. Ultimately, the paper decided that it was going to leave readers in the dark about the extent of the woman’s activism. Mentioning the meeting in the Congressman’s local office, I was told, was disclosure enough.
Pattt Morrisson had a unique take on why the border fence was a bad idea — it might hurt the environment!
The editors of the L.A. Times routinely print sloppy stories that unnecessarily fan the flames of racial division. For example, the paper uncritically published the results of a study finding racial discrimination in the setting of mortgage rates, without looking at factors that would tell readers whether or not the study was legitimate. And the editors continued to profess befuddlement as to why George Bush would avoid the NAACP — even though the reason was obvious, if the paper had bothered to explain it: the organization’s affiliates and leaders had waged an active and ugly campaign against Bush in both his presidential elections.
Tennie Pierce hazes a colleague.
The paper consistently hid from its readers the real reason that firefighters played a prank on black firefighter Tennie Pierce — leaving readers to believe his spurious claim that the prank was an act of racism. After I complained about it, and talk radio continued to bang the drum, the paper finally revealed part of the truth, after hiding the facts from readers for weeks.
A black Democrat and former reporter criticized the paper’s lack of coverage of a black-on-white hate crime in Long Beach.
The paper ran a story that made a racially charged claim about movie roles being set aside for white males — but the entire premise of the article was later quietly retracted in a small correction on Page A2.
The editors, who last year excoriated California prison officials for segregating inmates on the basis of race, looked pretty naive when the race riots in L.A. jails started up in February — and some jail inmates literally begged to be segregated by race, for their own safety.
SCREWING UP THE MEL GIBSON STORY
The paper voiced surprise that Mel Gibson hadn’t been charged with more crimes stemming from his DUI incident — but it might have seemed less surprising if the paper had gotten basic points about the law correct.
“MY MISTAKE WAS THAT I TRUSTED A RESPECTED NEWSPAPER”
An L.A. Times contributor lamented: “My mistake was that I trusted a respected newspaper.”
THE MYTH OF THE CHURCH PUNISHED FOR AN ANTI-WAR SERMON
The paper recycled a myth from last year: the myth of The Church That Lost Its Tax Exempt Status for an Anti-War Sermon. Unlike last year, the paper didn’t just bury the several legitimate reasons the church lost its status. No . . . this time, the editors just entirely omitted any mention of those reasons. Cathy Seipp had even more information putting the myth to rest — but the paper continued to beat it into the ground.
ANTI-POLICE AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ATTITUDES
In November, a video emerged showing an LAPD officer punching a suspect. The L.A. Times attacked the officer’s honesty because his partner got the number of blows wrong — but so did the paper, as I proved in this post. In the same post, I also interviewed an expert that the paper had previously interviewed. I was not surprised to learn that paper had failed to put the expert’s remarks in proper context. As it turned out, there was a plausible reason that the report-writer might have misreported the number of punches — a reason that the paper didn’t tell readers about. By contrast, the reporters, who had watched the video in the comfort of their offices, had no such excuse. After I noted that the paper had erred in reporting the number of punches, and wrote the Readers’ Representative seeking a correction, the paper ran another story that stated the correct number. Finally, the paper issued a correction. The L.A. Daily News ran a column about the incident that really should have been in The Times — just as LAPD officer Jack Dunphy’s piece should have been.
When a tape emerged showing UCLA campus police repeatedly tasing a student, the paper tied it to the LAPD tape, even though no LAPD officers were involved. After all, in journalism, “themes” trump strict accuracy.
Pattt Morrison claimed that California was cramming prisons with first-time drug offenders — a ludicrous assertion that I know is untrue, based on my experience as a California prosecutor. Steve Lopez later contradicted her with a column about a drug dealer he believed should have gone to prison. Unfortunately, Lopez seemed to be less concerned with getting violent offenders in prison than he was with imprisoning drug dealers.
In a story about whether an L.A. County jail inmate had committed suicide, the paper waited until Page A24 to tell readers that the inmate was suicidal upon entering the jail, and had twice tried to commit suicide before. Burying these significant details on the back pages bolstered the editors’ argument that the death was not a suicide, but rather a beating death attributable to malfeasance by the Sheriff’s Department.
In another story about the jails, the paper said that women have at times “routinely” served more time than men — but waited until Page A14 to tell readers that during other times, men have “routinely” served more time than women.
In September, the editors complained that California’s DNA database was underfunded, and therefore incomplete — an interesting argument, given that the editors had opposed an expanded database to begin with.
PRO-CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTITUDES
Often, when the paper runs a story about a criminal defendant, the article omits information that 1) makes the defendant look bad, or 2) provides perspective from the victim or (in a murder case) the victim’s family. The paper’s outrageous sob story on Sara Jane Olson was no exception.
Similarly, in September, the paper ran a weeklong series on public defenders. It was quite good, I thought — but I had a hard time picturing a similar series lionizing a prosecutor. (And no, I’m not volunteering.)
Also in September, the LAPD went out of its way to warn illegal immigrants with warrants not to show up to a protest, lest they be arrested. You might think that a local newspaper would be curious to learn more about the risks and consequences of a police decision to warn people with warrants not to get arrested. If you thought that, you would be wrong.
When “The Path to 9/11″ came out, Democrat Senators engaged in some anti-free-speech thuggery, implicitly threatening to pull ABC’s broadcast license if ABC didn’t alter the movie in Bill Clinton’s favor. The L.A. Times ignored the thuggery — something the editors never would have done if the thugs had been Republican. Once again, Tim Rutten stepped in where the rest of the paper had been negligent. He had a good column on the free speech angle, but unfortunately fell for the myth that copies of the movie had been directed at right-wing bloggers — an allegation that I personally knew was based on misunderstandings and distortions.
The editors and I flipped our usual conservative/liberal positions when considering the free speech case of Garcetti v. Ceballos. (I took the pro-free-speech position.)
LEGAL COVERAGE BY HENRY WEINSTEIN, DAVID SAVAGE, AND OTHERS
Justice Ginsburg snoozed her way through part of the Supreme Court’s oral argument on the Texas redistricting case, but the L.A. Times didn’t see fit to mention it. Would the paper have shown a similar courtesy to a napping conservative? Ha!
Henry Weinstein is a very liberal legal affairs reporter for the paper — so liberal that he is a loyal Pacifica radio listener. That’s kind of like being a loyal reader of Noam Chomsky. Weinstein is the guy who repeated — for the umpteenth time — vicious slanders against a judge I once clerked for.
That’s why I was so distressed by Judge Jeremy Fogel’s decision declaring unconstitutional California’s protocol for administering lethal injections. The holding upset me, but I was even more appalled to see that, as part of the evidence for his decision, the judge cited articles written by Henry Weinstein. The L.A. Times is getting cited in federal court decisions now — as if its articles are authoritative?? God help us all! As if to demonstrate exactly why that is such a mistake, Weinstein soon ran an article about Judge Fogel’s decision that dishonestly portrayed an ardent death penalty opponent as a neutral expert.
David Savage is another liberal legal affairs reporter with a history of slanting coverage to the left.
Savage is a supporter of abortion rights, as is obvious from his stories. He created the false impression that replacing Justice O’Connor with Judge Samuel Alito might create a Supreme Court with five votes against Roe — something any student of the Supreme Court would tell you was flatly false. Then he did it again, on the front page — burying on the back pages the fact that Alito would be at best only a fourth vote to overturn Roe. Savage also misstated the holding of Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, an abortion case from the Court’s last term.
Savage is also generally — though not always — hostile to prosecutors. (Lord help me if this paper ever covers one of my trials!) Consistent with this bias, Savage misstated and omitted several important facts in a story about a Supreme Court case reviewing why a Los Angeles prosecutor (whom I have met) had exercised peremptory challenges in a criminal case.
Credit where credit is due, though: in a Bizarro-world twist, a piece by Savage about an appeal of a murder conviction was actually slanted in the prosecution’s favor. (What, you wanted it to be down the middle? Sorry . . . The Times doesn’t do that.) The paper later editorialized similarly.
Savage is also an opponent of conservative judges, and propagandized against Brett Kavanaugh.
The blogosphere got its chance to take its own whacks at Savage. When Savage penned an op-ed about the Roberts court, the blogosphere whapped him good.
Legal affairs reporting at the paper is often dismal and incomplete. For example, when Ninth Circuit judges reverse a death sentence, the paper doesn’t always tell you who appointed the judges — at least if all three of them were appointed by Democrats. And the paper is sometimes a bit quick to judge the outcome of a case based on the oral argument.
The paper’s editors got really upset when a local judge lost her seat to a candidate the paper considered less qualified. She ended up getting a judicial appointment. It turned out that maybe there was a reason she was voted out of office after all.
The paper ran an article with an alarmist and misleading lede falsely suggesting that the Supreme Court might be revisiting the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. Not so!
THE PAPER’S FINANCIAL AND CIRCULATION WOES
Word came in January that the Tribune Company’s revenue and stock price was tumbling, based in part on a loss of ad revenue at The Times.
Evidently stories about the paper’s poor circulation bothered Michael Hiltzik, who deleted comments from someone who argued on his blog that The Times’s circulation woes were an indication of reader dissatisfaction.
In May, the Tribune Company was considered “takeover bait” by stock analysts.
The paper’s editors started a project to see how to re-engage readers. I gave them some advice, including suggesting that the paper construct an improved web site with comments and trackbacks for stories. I also suggested that the paper give a column to the Readers’ Representative.
It was reported yet again in November that the paper’s circulation was falling — but by then, it seemed to be a Dog Bites Man story.
THE POWER STRUGGLE WITH CHICAGO
Out of Tribune’s and The Times‘s circulation and financial problems came a showdown between L.A. and Chicago. In September, we learned that editor Dean Baquet was in a standoff with corporate bosses at Tribune regarding staffing levels for the paper. It quickly became apparent that it was a real power struggle.
Oddly, in reporting Baquet’s ouster, the paper described Baquet as an “African-American” — despite the fact that he had always resisted the term. The lesson: the stylebook always wins.
THE TRIBUNE CARES WHAT YOU THINK!
But the Tribune Company cares what you think — deeply. Just look at this comment left by Tribune Company employee “Biff”:
Patrick Frey? a deputy district attorney? commenting on the LA Times? and people care what you think because….????
You gotta love it.
The paper ran an article that tried to suggest a relationship between flatter taxes and economic hardships faced by workers — but never established a cause and effect relationship.
The paper distorted the public’s view of the NSA surveillance program by posing a series of poll questions designed to imply that the goal of the eavesdropping program was to spy on citizens’ domestic communications — without mentioning that the program’s stated objective was to intercept international communications where one party was an Al Qaeda terrorist or affiliate.
The paper also conducted misleading polling regarding Samuel Alito.
OUTSIDE THE TENT CONTINUES . . . SORT OF
Last year, the paper introduced a feature in Current (the Sunday op-ed section), called “Outside the Tent.” Critics of the paper were invited to criticize the paper on its own pages. I thought it was a great concept, and I contributed a couple of pieces last year. (At least one of my submissions was hard-hitting enough that Current editor Bob Sipchen told me it had gotten under the skin of a senior editor, who had declared “Outside the Tent” a huge mistake after reading my initial submission.) But when Mike Kinsley left the paper, and Bob Sipchen left Current, I worried for the future of the “Outside the Tent” concept.
On New Year’s Day, the paper ran a series of resolutions for the paper, submitted by former “Outside the Tent” contributors, including me. One of my resolutions was for the paper to “continue running ‘Outside the Tent.’” I noticed in January that “Outside the Tent” continued after Bob Sipchen left. But I was never asked to do a piece again — not surprising after the Hiltzik affair.
“Outside the Tent” lives, but it doesn’t seem to be running as often as it did last year. I still wonder whether it’s being consigned to a slow, quiet death.
Evan Maxwell is a former L.A. Times reporter who is now a successful novelist. He graced my site with some guest posts this year, providing some insight into the history of the paper. He introduced himself here. He followed up with a very interesting trio of posts about his experiences with politically correct attitudes at the paper, here, here, and here. In May, he had a nice post in memory of Ed Davis. He had a good post about the issue of reporters’ exploitation of frustrated bureaucrats, comparing it to athletes using steroids. He also did an excellent post on the transparent newsroom.
COLUMNISTS — STEVE LOPEZ
Steve Lopez still didn’t understand why the paper didn’t get unanimous kudos for the Arnold Schwarzenegger Gropegate story — so I tried to explain it to him (again).
Lopez’s columns are discussed elsewhere in this Year in Review, in the appropriate topical sections. There’s no denying that he’s an entertaining writer. He upsets you when you disagree with him, but when you agree with him, there’s nobody better.
COLUMNISTS — JOEL STEIN
Joel Stein wrote an ignorant, insulting, and stupid — but honest! — column about how he doesn’t support the troops. Jim Treacher whapped Stein good. Memo to Stein: just because you’re laughing at yourself, doesn’t mean we’re laughing with you.
I understand that Stein is a “humor” writer — but he made up facts in a very non-humorous way.
COLUMNISTS — MEGHAN DAUM
Columnist Meghan Daum appeared to give a (qualified) endorsement to a violent protest of a Minuteman speech at Columbia University. She got an earful of Internet rage as a result — something bloggers put up with on a routine basis. I will say, however, that she was very pleasant to me in an e-mail exchange we had about the incident, and accurately quoted me in a column she wrote about it.
COLUMNISTS — AL MARTINEZ
A Times columnist called bloggers “inane.” This was delicious irony, because the columnist was Al Martinez — who is, I’m reliably told, a very nice man — but who has also penned some of the most inane columns in the history of journalism.
COLUMNISTS — ROSA BROOKS
To Rosa Brooks, Dick Cheney’s accidental shooting of a fellow hunter was Cheney being violent, while Islamic extremists murdering people over cartoons were described simply as . . . protests.
OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS: JACK DUNPHY
“Jack Dunphy” is the nom de plume of an LAPD officer and a writer with far more talent than I have — and there is no false modesty hiding between the lines of that statement. I have met “Dunphy” and know his real name and where he works. I have been lucky enough to have him contribute a guest post to this blog, and hope to convince him to do so again.
Dunphy is a regular columnist for National Review Online, and has also contributed a number of controversial pieces to the L.A. Times. For example, in February, Dunphy blasted the paper’s coverage of discipline at the LAPD. Dunphy was back in paper’s op-ed pages in June, writing about the obstacles that LAPD officers face for doing their jobs well.
In October, Dunphy phoned me and told me that it appeared that the paper was not going to publish him any more. I contacted Op-Ed and Current Editor Nick Goldberg — whom I have met and who strikes me as a very decent guy — and asked him what was up. He said that there were concerns about publishing op-eds under a pseudonym — a concern that strikes me as valid in the abstract, but spurious as to Dunphy specifically. The upshot is that, as a result of my intercession, the paper’s editors may publish Dunphy again. I hope they do. If not, this blog is always available to him — though I strongly suspect that National Review is still a more desirable outlet . . .
OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS: ATRIOS?!
In July, the paper published an op-ed by blogger Atrios, who reportedly tried to put an open comment thread in the middle of the piece. (Humor warning: the preceding may not be literally true.)
Showcasing the paper’s grasp of the trivial, the editors ran an entire article about the fact that President Bush had not seen “Brokeback Mountain.”
THE PAPER’S WEB SITE
The paper could do much more with its web site — as exemplified by the fact that the site is almost completely inaccessible to me when I use a Treo.
In December, the paper recycled quotes from a two-year-old interview with Martin Scorsese, causing Scorsese’s rep to complain about the paper’s “dubious ethics.”
I had a joke post titled Los Angeles Times v. Everything That Is Good and Right in the World. Read it and you’ll see what I mean . . .
The paper ran an op-ed by a California criminal law “expert” who doesn’t even know what the punishment is for robbery in California.
The paper typically supports the viewpoint of the homeless to the point of excluding rational arguments made by landlords and hotel owners.
The paper, which worked tirelessly last year to propagate the myth of Hillary as centrist, had to admit that the image was taking a hit with her description of the Republican House of Representatives as a “plantation.”
Times sports columnist T.J. Simers thinks he’s a jerk — but I proved “scientifically” that I am many times the jerk he is.
Chuck Phillips continued to try to discredit a witness who had accused him of corruption, without telling readers about the conflict of interest.
Newspapers get all sorts of things wrong, and we don’t catch them. But someone out there does. For example, Mrs. Patterico is a bird expert, and noticed that the paper misidentified a black-crowned night heron as a cormorant in a photograph. I never would have noticed that . . .
In March, the paper reported that about 10 billion (with a “b”) people die of hunger annually — an interesting assertion, given that this figure is almost twice the entire world population.
The paper’s proofreading problems were, at times, comical. Don’t they have a spellchecker?
Even if the copy editors do know how to use a spellchecker, there are still those damn homonyms.
Speaking of which, the editors wrote an editorial about the importance of “precedence.” (I think they meant “precedent.”)
BRIGHT SPOTS AT THE PAPER
Despite my complaints, the paper had a number of bright spots — maybe more this year than in past years.
For example, the paper hired Matt Welch.
Bob Sipchen continues to be a real asset to the paper. (Full disclosure: he published two of my “Outside the Tent” columns in 2005. Don’t worry; I’m not sucking up. He couldn’t publish me any more, even if he wanted to.)
I even found a picture of him with hair, cleverly hidden on the paper’s web site:
I also enjoyed reading pieces by op-ed contributor Andrew Klavan.
To its credit, the paper reported that only a small fraction of late-term abortions are done for medical reasons or due to fetal abnormalities — debunking a canard pushed by pro-choicers across the country.
The paper gave many conservatives heart attacks when the editors endorsed Arnold Schwarzenegger for Governor. Of course, the other guy was Phil Angelides. Still . . .
I’m going to close with a re-run of an excerpt from an e-mail I received from Evan Maxwell in 2004. It was the first e-mail I received from him, and I used it at the end of the 2004 Year in Review. I like it so much I’m going to use it again. Evan told me:
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.
As always, 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. The material in this post was collected from last year’s posts from this blog. If you are disgusted by the L.A. Times, and/or you have enjoyed this post, you’ll want to become a regular reader. Please remember to bookmark the main page and return often. And Bloglines subscribers, remember that you can subscribe by clicking on this button:
UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, Allahpundit at Hot Air, Hugh Hewitt, Mary Katharine Ham, Marc Danziger, Kevin Roderick, and everyone else who has linked the post.