Patterico's Pontifications

3/30/2007

Something Smells About This Sewer-Related “Op-Ad” in the L.A. Times

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:28 pm

The L.A. Times has invented a new type of opinion piece: the “op-ad.”

Stay with me on this. I promise you that the payoff will be worth it.

Thomas Rooney is the President and CEO of Insituform Technologies, Inc. Here is a screenshot from his company’s web site, with a quote from Mr. Rooney about the “national epidemic” the country faces as a result of bad sewer pipes:

rooney-redacted.JPG

(I have temporarily redacted something from this screenshot, for humor purposes. It will appear unredacted later in the post.)

Luckily, this is a “national epidemic” for which Mr. Rooney’s Insituform Technologies has the cure. You see, Insituform sells and installs new sewer pipes, which replace the old ones causing the “epidemic.” It’s in Rooney’s company’s best interest to make old, deteriorating sewer pipes sound like a real problem.

Here is an ad for Mr. Rooney’s company:

Note the language used at the beginning of the video:

Most sewer pipes were built 60 years ago,

but . . .

. . . but were only meant to last 50 years.

Do the math . . .

Remember that language. You’ll see it again.

As blogger Radosh.net explains, it turns out that someone calling himself “Jim” sent an unsolicited e-mail — what most of us call “spam” — pushing an article penned by Mr. Rooney:

[J]ust two weeks ago I got a[n] unsolicited e-mail from “Jim” with the subject line, “This guy predicted that sinkhole in Guatemala.” You tend to remember spam about sinkholes. I had no idea what “that sinkhole in Guatemala” was, but “this guy” turned out to be Thomas Rooney, and as near as I can tell, Jim wanted me to post an article [Rooney had] written about sinkholes.

(H/t Kaus via Linda S.)

The op-ed happens to discuss the vital issue of (you guessed it) deteriorating sewer pipes.

The blogger discovered that Rooney’s article — the very same piece that “Jim” had quoted in a spam e-mail to Radosh.net — had already been posted online . . . at least twice. It had already appeared (in a slightly different form), in a publication called “Inside the Bay Area,” on December 19, 2006. You can read it here. It contains the following line:

Most water and sewer pipes in America were built 60 years ago, but [were] meant to last 50 years. Do the math . . .

Where have I heard that before?

Oddly, the entire article also ended up getting reproduced, in its entirety, in a blog comment by someone named “Nancy” at this blog site. The date was March 8, 2007 — a little over three weeks ago (and months after the piece first appeared in “Inside the Bay Area”).

And now, you’ll never guess which is the latest publication to publish this “op-ad.”

Well, I suppose you already did guess. I did kind of give you a hint, up at the top of the post.

And in the headline.

Yup, sure enough, here is what confronted me on the L.A. Times web site today:

looming-sinkhole-crisis.JPG

It looks like “Jim” got to the editors of the L.A. Times! (It’s a little-known fact that the editors are also avid consumers of Viagra and penis-extension devices. Really! Just ask them!)

Yes, it’s the very same piece that “Jim” tried to foist on Radosh.net — and that appeared in “Inside the Bay Area” in December 2006, and in a blog comment over three weeks ago.

You won’t be surprised to learn that, according to Rooney’s piece, it turns out that the problem of old pipes is an “epidemic”:

And this year is shaping up to be even worse. From Hawaii to New York, Alaska to North Carolina and everywhere in between, an epidemic of breaking pipes is causing unprecedented havoc.

Here’s my favorite line from the op-ad:

Yet for all this damage, few people understand how broken pipes create sinkholes. Most water and sewer pipes in the United States were built 60 years ago — but were meant to last 50 years. Do the math.

I’m getting that deja vu feeling — all over again.

The L.A. Times piece ends with this line:

We’re Insituform. We fix more broken sewer pipes than any other company in the world.

No, wait, sorry — that’s wrong. That language is nowhere in the L.A. Times piece. It’s from the video I showed you earlier.

I keep mixing them up.

How does Mr. Rooney feel about having gotten to place an op-ad in today’s L.A. Times? It’s time to unredact that screenshot:

rooney.JPG

Radosh.net has a pretty convincing explanation for this embarrassment. Remember that the Brian Grazer-edited Current section on Sunday was suddenly killed, meaning that editors had to scramble to put a new one together, quickly. They actually did a pretty good job — but it turns out that the editors robbed Peter to pay Paul. Put simply, they stole the good pieces from the upcoming week, and ran them in Sunday Current.

But that left them with a shortage of good pieces to run during the week. Meaning they had to dig a little deeper than they might have preferred.

Which leads us to the Rooney op-ad.

I might almost feel sorry for L.A. Times editors — except that they somehow don’t seem to have space in their paper for Jack Dunphy.

Jack, I have figured out your problem. You just don’t have the right representation. I think I’ve found the guy who can help you get your pieces placed in the L.A. Times.

His name is “Jim.”

P.S. I know, I know. Maybe old sewer pipes are a real problem. But here’s the thing: if the editors truly felt this was a critical issue, couldn’t they have found someone a little more dispassionate to write about it?

Those Three Deceptive Dots . . .

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 12:00 am

An ellipsis is a dangerous thing in the hands of L.A. Times reporter Richard Serrano.

In his coverage of Kyle Sampson’s testimony, he uses an ellipsis in quoting Sampson’s prepared remarks:

Noting that “the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance-related’ reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial,” Sampson said: “A U.S. attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective … is unsuccessful.”

This sounds an awful lot like Sampson is confirming the worst charges of the Democrats — that the Administration sought to remove U.S. Attorneys who didn’t fashion political prosecutions in a manner pleasing to Washington politicians.

Except . . . what’s in the ellipsis? Let’s go to the source:

Presidential appointees are judged not only on their professional skills but also their management abilities, their relationships with law enforcement and other governmental leaders, and their support for the priorities of the President and the Attorney General.

. . . .

Thus, the distinction between “political” and “performance-related” reasons for removing a United States Attorneys is, in my view, largely artificial. A U.S. Attorney who is unsuccessful from a political perspective, either because he or she has alienated the leadership of the Department in Washington or cannot work constructively with law enforcement or other governmental constituencies in the district important to effective leadership of the office, is unsuccessful.

The L.A. Times‘s Serrano uses an ellipsis to remove the bolded passage, which explains that “unsuccessful from a political perspective” doesn’t mean “prosecutes too many Republicans and not enough Democrats,” but instead means “refuses to implement Administration priorities, and alienates local law enforcement and home Senators.”

I know, I know. They have to cut out something. But somehow, the part they cut out is always the part that helps the Administration case.

This is nothing new. In an earlier post, I showed that a story authored by Serrano used ellipses to distort a Kyle Sampson memo. Sampson’s memo described strong and weak U.S. Attorneys in this way:

bold = Recommend retaining; strong U.S. Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the President and Attorney General.
strikeout = Recommend removing: weak U.S. Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against Administration initiatives, etc.

Seeking to emphasize the political motivations of the Administration, Serrano removed the bolded parts, which showed that the Administration cared about good results and management, and left in the portions dealing with loyalty. Serrano quoted Sampson as recommending the retention of “strong U.S. attorneys who have … exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.” The article further quoted Sampson as recommending “removing weak U.S. Attorneys who have … chafed against Administration initiatives.”

There is a pattern here, and it isn’t pretty.

UPDATE: Interesting. The story has now been edited to remove the above passage. It now reads like this:

Sampson denied that any of the firings was done for improper reasons, but he said that politics in the broadest sense was a legitimate reason for replacing U.S. attorneys, who are appointed by the president.

It still doesn’t explain what Sampson meant by “politics in the broadest sense” — but the misleading ellipsis is gone. The deceptive ellipsis apparently didn’t make it past the editors . . . this time.

But the episode is very revealing about how the reporters want to portray things. For that reason, I’m glad I caught the initial version.


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