Patterico's Pontifications

10/14/2007

L.A. Times Censors Blogger — Then Censors His View on Censorship

Filed under: Dog Trainer — Patterico @ 10:43 am

This is a story about the L.A. Times censoring one of its bloggers — and then censoring his comments on the need to avoid such censorship.

It’s irony I couldn’t make up if I tried.

On Thursday night, L.A. Times political blogger Andrew Malcolm wrote a post about John Edwards’s denial of an extramarital affair. When some commenters complained that the story was unsupported tabloid trash, Malcolm replied in parenthetical remarks appended to the comments, saying that it was a legitimate topic because of Edwards’s denial. If the L.A. Times were to avoid discussing it, he said, that would be “censoring” a legitimate story. Here is one of the comments in question, with Malcolm’s parenthetical remark circled:

Shortly thereafter, the L.A. Times censored the post.

I wrote a post about the L.A. Times post on Thursday night. One of my readers reported at 5:05 p.m. PDT on Friday that the post had been taken down. (Since Daylight Savings my timestamps have been one hour earlier than Pacific time.) There was no explanation — or even an acknowledgment that the post had been removed. Last night (Saturday) I decided to check to see whether the post was still down. It was — over 30 hours after my commenters had reported it had been taken down.

At 11:38 p.m. last night I published a post noting that the L.A. Times post had been taken down. At 11:40 p.m. I sent an e-mail to Andrew Malcolm, the blogger whose post had been removed, asking him what had happened.

Although the post had been down for more than 30 hours, a shorter version of the post appeared within nine minutes of my e-mail to Malcolm. The re-emergence of the post was reported by commenter Itsme at 11:49 p.m. PDT. The post was shorter now, and contained this explanatory note:

(This item was originally posted Thursday evening, Oct. 11. It was removed by an editor Friday but was reposted Saturday in a shortened form.)

What was different? Not much. They simply chopped off three paragraphs at the end of the post, which had set forth details from the National Enquirer story.

Does it really take 30+ hours to remove three paragraphs from a blog post? I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m saying no. I think the editors quietly took down the post, hoping nobody would say anything. When it became apparent that somebody (me) had noticed and was going to talk about it, they put it back up.

There remained just one leetle problem. Having censored the post for over 30 hours, they still had numerous comments sprinked with blogger Andrew Malcolm’s parenthetical remarks about how important it was not to censor this story. That was kind of embarrassing, given that the editors had censored the story.

What to do about that?

By now, you’ve probably guessed the answer: they simply removed Malcolm’s parenthetical remarks. So, for example, the comment I have screencapped above now looks like this:

Malcolm’s comment about not “censoring” Edwards’s denial is gone, without any hint it was ever there.

In other words, they censored Malcolm’s opinion that it would be censorship to do what they did.

Irony just doesn’t get any more ironic.

P.S. I should note that reasonable people can certainly disagree about whether the story about Edwards’s alleged affair should have been reported based on the available evidence. That’s not the issue. The issue is the L.A. Times monkeying with (and covering up) the content of its blogs without explanation to its readers.

UPDATE: More here.

19 Responses to “L.A. Times Censors Blogger — Then Censors His View on Censorship”

  1. Maybe they’ll publish a letter asking about the censored comments on censorship.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  2. Like Stalin airbrushing his victim’s out of photographs, the Times makes great use of the memory hole, flushing unapproved and undesirable opinions from public view.

    Pathetic.

    Mike Lief (e6260e)

  3. I’m going to take a slightly contrary position here.

    First, I have long believed that it is wrong to call editorial control of a news outlet “censorship”.

    “Censorship” is the act of controlling the flow of information by a governmental agency, an act that it enforces through is coercive governmental authority.

    The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law” — it doesn’t mention the editors of the LAT.

    To say that a reporter has the right to have whatever he writes left up on a blog that is owned, funded, and operated by the LAT, denies the LAT editorial control over its various forms of publication. Its not the blogger that is going to get sued for libel/defamation — well the blogger might, but the deep pockets are the publishing entity.

    The idea that a writer/reporter must be allowed to put up whatever he deems newsworthy — and to scream “Censorship” when his editors disagree — reminds me of what I have always viewed as the canard of “academic freedom” through tenure. The idea that a tenured academic is beyond the reach of his/her superiors by virtue of seniority, freeing him/her to espouse whatever views strike him/her as self-important at any given moment, without regard to the price that others connected with the institution might be called upon to pay, is ludicrous.

    That said, its a wholly appropriate function of Patterico and others to recognize in a public forum the editorial decision made by the LAT, to call them on it, and to hold them up for public scrutiny because of it. If it influences the public’s view of the publication for good or ill, so be it. If that scrutiny causes the editors to question their decision-making, so much the better.

    But to “scream censorship in a crowded theater” is overwrought and misplaced.

    wls (fb8809)

  4. WLS,

    Censorship has a broader definition than you have set forth. It need not be a government involved.

    That said, I agree with you that editors have a proper role in determining what content is apprpriate on their web site. I use the word “censor” theoughout because that’s what their own blogger termed it. But I wouldn’t have faulted them if they had removed the three paragraphs with an explanation of why they did it.

    But taking the post down for 30+ hours with no explanation, putting it back up only after being called on it — and whitewashing (without acknowledging it) the blogger’s view that he is being censored?

    No, that doesn’t work at all.

    Patterico (f0eb3a)

  5. Yes, the word “censorship” denotes government action. The LAT (except in its’ own mind that it should be) is not the government. Therefore, the LAT is not capable of “censoring” anything.

    But, it still looks, walks, and squawks like a duck.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  6. WLS– actually censoring is just “deleting parts of publications or correspondence or theatrical performances” in this context.

    People censor themselves all the time– and censoring isn’t actually inherently bad. (The first amendment makes it so CONGRESS cannot make laws to FORCE censorship, but it doesn’t make all censorship illegal.)

    However, it is standard in the American news outlets, when you go back and change something, to explain what was changed and why– in order to keep away from the appearance or actuality of the bad sorts of censorship.

    I doubt anyone here would *care* if they’d done this before the entry was posted– submitted to the public.
    But they didn’t. They went back and removed it after submission, then posted an edited version. This shakes the trust that they’re supposed to be fostering.

    Foxfier (f765f6)

  7. Oops– sorry, forgot to put a link:
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/censoring

    cen·sor
    tr.v. cen·sored, cen·sor·ing, cen·sors
    To examine and expurgate.

    censoring
    noun
    1. counterintelligence achieved by banning or deleting any information of value to the enemy
    2. deleting parts of publications or correspondence or theatrical performances

    Foxfier (f765f6)

  8. I don’t have any problem with the comments in 4-6. I think the debate ourselves is largely one of semantics, and I agree that the LAT owed its readers a parentetical note explaining what it had done and why. Its failure to do so is one more aspect of their conduct that is rightly held up to public scrutiny here and elsewhere.

    wls (fb8809)

  9. WLS and Another Drew,

    Foxfier has a good point: people are said to “censor themselves” all the time. Can only government officials censor themselves?

    Patterico (9760dc)

  10. I put the word in quotes for a purpose. I do not deny that we, as individuals, can censore ourselves (I think we used to call that Good Manners), but I was using the word in the constitutional, legal sense, as commonly understood.
    I believe it is very difficult to charge an individual with a violation, by censorship, of the First Amendment.
    As an employer, I think I’ve got Court support for my right to restrict (censor) certain speech and/or activity in the workplace – restrictions that would be declared unconstritutional if attempted by a governmental entity.
    That’s my position, and I’m sticking to it; so, please, do not confuse me with facts.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  11. I might not be able to spell “unconstritutional” unconstitutional, but I know it when I see it.
    Sorry!

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  12. I need more rest. Something happened to the strike-through on that misspelling.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  13. I have a relative who should be a natural-born LAT subscriber – the kind they seem to like.

    Her qualifications? Well, yesterday she kindly explained to me that she knows that General Sanchez made many critical remarks about the media that have been totally unreported (because I showed them to her). But she explained to me that because his accusations about selective reporting by the media are false, it is okay for the media to selectively not report them. This is, sadly, not a joke… or maybe in the larger scheme of things, it is…

    On the plus side, I have today arrived at a new appreciation of the pathos in the curse, “Jesus wept!”

    sherlock (b4bbcc)

  14. I suspect they were both vetting the blog entry with their lawyers and waiting to see if anything actually developed to support the tabloid allegation.

    Itsme (85caba)

  15. As an interested observer….who quit reading the New Orleans Times-Picayune (to be known from now on as the Times-PickYourNose)….I think when a paper chooses to leave out what would be important facts from a story (Edwards’ denial) or doesn’t report a story at all (it’s only being blogged about), one that has some obvious relationship to what would be important (a Presidential candidate), that is the lay persons view of censorship…

    And if that were some other candidate….or some other subject, then it would get reported….and that too is a form of censorship, of the worst kind, because it is bias….

    Just an opinion…

    reff (4e3fcd)

  16. I simply avoid the aggravation and don’t read the la times

    atmom (4374b1)

  17. Whoever has the gold makes the rules. If I decide to place myself under the guy with the gold I either obey or I’m toast. It’s that simple. If the LA Times owns the site then it is their site and they can control it in any way they choose especially including the content on said site. You want to shoot your mouth off then get your own site and blab away. Anybody who still trusts the LAT in any way whatsoever has a serious difficulty in selecting reality from fantasy. It’s a horrible paper, It’s biased. It lies. It has seen its usefulness and is now an attraction only for flies and bacteria,

    Howard Veit (4ba8d4)

  18. More from the L.A. SLIMES and its ever present lie a day birdcage linner BUT DONT PUT IT IN MY CAGE OR I,LL GET VIOLENT SQUAWK SQUAWK

    krazy kagu (5006b4)

  19. I think when a paper chooses to leave out what would be important facts from a story (Edwards’ denial). . .

    Denial? Saying you’ve been in love with the same woman for 30 years is not the same as stating unequivocally that you have not had a sexual/romantic relationship with someone else.

    dave (afbb68)


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