[Guest post by Jack Dunphy]
There must be something in the water over at the Los Angeles Times building. On Monday, columnist Al Martinez couldn’t resist insulting police officers even as he praised slain LAPD officer Randy Simmons. In a 790-word column, he devoted the first hundred of them to reminding his readers of what brutal, racist, militaristic thugs he believes cops to be.
Today brings us Tim Rutten’s latest column, in which he criticizes Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the “casually malicious use he made of his trip to the microphone” at Simmons’s funeral on Friday. Rutten accuses the mayor of “pandering” to the L.A. Police Protective League – the police labor union – so as to gain some sort of political advantage.
It’s not as though there was nothing objectionable about Villaraigosa’s address to the 10,000 mourners gathered that morning in the Faith Dome. The mayor has the annoying habit of being self-referential in his speeches, regardless of the occasion, and indeed he opened his remarks at the funeral by talking about all the times he had gone to hospitals to visit wounded police officers, as though the inconvenience of doing so was somehow comparable to that of being shot.
But that isn’t what so troubled Rutten as to rouse him to the keyboard. No, Rutten was instead offended that the mayor would stoop so low as to use the occasion to criticize the local press. Here’s a passage from the column:
Now, few politicians can be fully trusted near a microphone, particularly before a large audience on an occasion as emotionally charged as Friday’s, but nobody could have predicted the reckless digression in Villaraigosa’s eulogy of Simmons. First, he informed the audience that “the newspapers” only “tell the truth” about LAPD officers in obituaries. Then the mayor went on to say, “We know that the central story of this department has never been written in consent decrees or the reports of inspectors general.”
If newspapers, including this one, only tell the truth about dead police officers, we are left to assume that they lie about the living ones. Does the mayor have an example in mind? Does he really believe that The Times’ stories on the Rampart scandal, which helped lay the groundwork for the reforms now being undertaken under the federal consent decree, were lies? If so, let him say so directly and give examples.
Though I have been fortunate enough to be published in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, I am a cop, not a journalist. I am unschooled in the expectations a community might rightfully have of its largest daily newspaper. But it seems to me that telling the “truth” requires more than printing stories that are factually correct. The Times’s stories on the Rampart scandal may have been correct down to their last detail, but do those stories, or any stories about the LAPD’s well-publicized misdeeds, represent the “central story” of the LAPD Villaraigosa was talking about?
No, they do not. Here is a passage from my column that appeared in the L.A. Times on Sunday:
What’s disheartening to L.A. cops is that the need for reform seems the longest-running and most familiar narrative about their department. I’ve lived through many LAPD scandals during my career, including on-duty cops committing burglaries in Hollywood in 1981, the beating of Rodney King in 1991 and Rampart. These stories were exhaustively covered in this newspaper and in other media.
But how many people will recognize the names of Steven Gajda, Filberto Cuesta and Brian Brown? These police officers were murdered doing their duty during the time former officer Rafael Perez and other cops were committing the crimes that led to the Rampart scandal and the consent decree.
Now here is a fuller version of that portion of Villaraigosa’s address that Rutten found so troubling:
We don’t say it loud enough, but there’s no higher service to the public than the work that you [police officers] do. Even if the newspapers only tell the truth when there’s an obituary to be written, we know that the central story of this department has never been written in consent decrees or the reports of inspectors general. It’s written in the footprints of thousands of cops like Randy Simmons who go out there and risk everything, everything, every day, for the rest of us.
Randy Simmons and the other officers who entered that house in Winnetka did so knowing there was someone inside waiting for the chance to kill them. They went in anyway. If the standoff had instead ended peacefully, the Times would have run a story about the triple murder that preceded it, but there would have been no mention at all of the officers’ dedication and bravery. That is the “central story” of the Los Angeles Times.
This may be the last time I ever say this, but Mayor Villaraigosa got it exactly right.
And it almost certainly won’t be the last time I say this, but Tim Rutten got it exactly wrong.