It happens every year: I read every post I’ve written over the past 365 days about the Los Angeles Times . . . and I think to myself: this is just unbelievable. There’s something appalling and eye-opening about seeing an entire year’s worth of the paper’s bias, omissions, and distortions gathered in one post.
This year, L.A. Times editors slammed Sarah Palin, John McCain, and McCain’s ally Joe the Plumber — while they protected Barack Obama and his allies, including unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers and radical Palestinian Rashid Khalidi. The paper described a 19-point margin in opposition to gay marriage as a “narrow margin,” and displayed the usual politically correct attitudes on race, abortion, and crime. We watched the paper overreach on the story about Judge Alex Kozinski’s porn collection that wasn’t. And the paper retracted a story by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chuck Philips, in one of the most embarrassing incidents in the paper’s history. This year saw a campaign of relentless distortions on DNA evidence; the bankruptcy of Tribune Company; and a collection of errors like none we’ve ever seen before.
Yup, it was a fun year for liberal bias and incompetence at the local rag. So without further ado, here is my sixth annual review of the Los Angeles Times, otherwise known as the Los Angeles Dog Trainer. We’ll start at the logical place:
THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The newspaper completely ignored some stunningly ignorant comments that Hillary Clinton had made about Pakistan and its elections. Then the editors ignored them again. Editors continued to ignore these statements even after Hillary was nominated to be Obama’s Secretary of State — on the strength of her alleged expertise in foreign policy.
But, as with John McCain, the editors showed no kindness to Hillary when she was posing a threat to their preferred candidate: Barack Obama.
Hillary got a taste of how Republicans are treated by the L.A. Times.
They even misquoted Hillary after Super Tuesday in a way that made her sound like she was making a concession far greater than the one she had actually made. I wrote the paper and obtained a correction. (Read on; you’ll see many similar instances of my correcting the paper’s inaccuracies.)
Hillary got a little taste of how the paper slams Republicans on a daily basis with the wording of an article. And then she got yet another taste, to the point where I was surprised that the editors hadn’t explicitly labeled her a “shrill and desperate bitch.” (Meanwhile, the articles about Obama focused on how Republicans loved him too.)
When the editors reached in their rhetorical bag of tricks and came out with the observation that there was a “growing consensus” that her presidential bid was doomed . . . well, you knew it was over then. You might be able to fight City Hall, but you can’t fight a “growing consensus” in Big Media.
Hillary had the last laugh, though, when she put reporters (including an L.A. Times reporter) in a restroom. I found it oddly appropriate, given the nature of what L.A. Times reporters generally produce.
As for the Republican primaries, the paper followed a strategy of propping up McCain, to set him up for a later knockdown.
The paper endorsed McCain in the primaries, causing Jack Dunphy to observe that this was a sign for true Republicans to support Romney. But the paper’s editors foreshadowed how they would treat McCain in the general election, when a story’s lede blamed McCain for a supporter’s capital crime of using Obama’s given middle name — something that McCain had expressly repudiated, as the story only later explained.
The newspaper has always claimed to care about substance vs. style — but when a candidate of substance came along (Fred Thompson), the paper focused on his dullness.
THE GENERAL ELECTION: OBAMA VS. McCAIN
Love for Obama
The pro-Obama spin kicked in early.
The editors’ preferred candidate
When the Reverend Wright controversy hit, TV sets across the nation were looping clips of Wright screaming “God damn America” and saying that America’s chickens had come home to roost on 9/11 — yet the initial L.A. Times story on the Wright controversy, incredibly, omitted mention of both controversial statements. The paper finally gave prominence to these details . . . after Obama resigned from the church.
The editors weren’t quite sure what Rev. Wright had said that was so bad.
How much did the paper love Obama? Well, one story began, in a quote I am not making up, “Words helped get Barack Obama where he is today. Elegant words. Inspiring words. Words that swoop and words that soar.” This stuff mocks itself.
When Obama blatantly broke his pledge to accept public financing, the L.A. Times anticipated the decision by spinning it as a positive — just as I had predicted they would. After Obama’s rejection of public financing was official, I was briefly shocked when the initial L.A. Times story actually took Obama to task. But, true to form, the editors got their hands on the story and fuzzed it up for the print edition.
After the Heller gun rights decision was announced, legal affairs reporter David Savage allowed Obama to pretend he had always supported the principles enunciated by the decision, when in fact, Obama’s campaign had supported the D.C. law struck down in that case.
The paper also protected the image of Bill Ayers, and minimized the extent of Obama’s contacts with Ayers. The paper gave Bill Ayers a little puff piece in April, allowing him to falsely whine that he had been misrepresented in the media. Not mentioned: Ayers’s expressed lack of regret for setting bombs.
To the editors, Bill Ayers was a nutty, nutty radical whom Obama barely knew.
On Ayers, the paper asserted: “McCain alleged that Obama launched his political career in the former Weatherman’s living room, an assertion for which there is no recorded basis.” I proved that this was not true, with a link to a blog entry written by someone who was there who had claimed exactly that. (Shortly after my post, that blog post disappeared down the memory hole, but I had, of course, saved the evidence.) Evidently the blogger thought that the post had showed the critical Obama-Ayers tie for which the paper claimed there was no evidence. But the paper refused to issue a correction.
The paper also covered for Obama when it emerged that the newspaper possessed a tape of Obama at a dinner honoring Palestinian radical Rashid Khalidi. The paper said it had made a promise to a source not to release the tape, which made some sense, but it made no sense that the paper wouldn’t release any additional information. Former L.A. Times reporter Evan Maxwell wrote me to argue that the paper should release the tape, but that never happened.
I’ll give editors credit for this: they did run an article in July saying that Obama can’t pay for everything he promised to do when elected.
But for the most part, we learned about Obama’s shortcomings only after he was safely elected. Only then did editors fully reveal some issues that the paper had previously downplayed or completely failed to disclose — like the fact that Obama oversimplified the foreign policy challenges he faced, or the fact that his economic policies are terribly worrying to some investors, or the fact that he is unlikely to chart a centrist course. After the election, a blog at the paper’s web site also revealed that Obama’s small donor base image is a myth — shocking news, except that I had revealed it before the election.
Once McCain clinched the nomination, the paper started in with the hit pieces, beginning with one that revived a set of hoary old howlers regarding ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda — including a misquotation of the 9/11 Commission Report. I wrote the Readers’ Representative and obtained a correction, which was inadequate.
The L.A. Times liked John McCain . . . until he got nominated.
In August, the L.A. Times published an article describing six major issues where McCain had taken on his party, and zero issues where Obama had done the same. The theme of the article: McCain is not a maverick.
Without any context, the paper claimed that after the economic crisis hit, McCain “declared that ‘the fundamentals of our economy are strong’” — an utter distortion of McCain’s initial reaction to the crisis. And the paper grievously distorted the record on responsibility for the mortgage crisis — leaving out scads of facts pointing to significant Democrat culpability.
McCain finally responded to the economic crisis by giving a speech that hit hard on the Democrats’ responsibility. The L.A. Times cut out the portion of the speech relating to the economy — and then quoted Obama saying McCain was scared to talk about the economy. George Orwell would have been proud.
Then, after I wrote about it, they sent that story down the memory hole.
I don’t make this stuff up, folks. I just report it.
The paper quoted a voter implying that Obama cared more about gas prices because he mentioned them first in the conventions — omitting the rather obvious point that Obama mentioned gas prices first because the Democrats had their convention first.
When McCain got a serious bounce after the convention — 10 points in one poll — the paper did its best to minimize it.
After John McCain talked about firing the SEC Chair, the L.A. Times jumped on the Media Conventional Wisdom Bandwagon and repeated the canard that a president can’t fire an SEC Chair. Of course, he can — as the paper finally admitted in a correction prompted by my complaint.
The paper went on and on and on about the anger at the Republican rallies, to the point where a friend who is an Obama supporter thought the article was an opinion piece.
A news article called a debate “a perfect distillation of McCain’s general election campaign, with all of its inconsistent messages.” Now that’s objective!
Just as the paper protected Obama ally Ayers, it attacked McCain ally Joe the Plumber. When the Joe the Plumber phenomenon hit, the L.A. Times found it very important to note that Joe, a citizen who had dared to asked Obama a question, had tax liens. The fact that Obama’s treasurer had tax liens? Not so important. After I pointed this out, and Howard Kurtz picked up my observation, the L.A. Times story that had generated the criticism disappeared down the memory hole — re-emerging in a different form at a different Web address.
As we have seen (and will continue to see), the editors are really fond of that little “memory hole” trick.
The paper found it important to report the silly rumors that Trig Palin was not Sarah Palin’s son, but rather the son of her daughter Bristol. The paper also helpfully included a picture of Bristol holding Trig in a motherly fashion, just to ensure there was visual proof of this nonsense.
Above: The editors never liked Sarah Palin.
Some of the paper’s reportage on Palin was at least halfway fair, mixing some deserved praise in with the cheap shots. And to their everlasting credit, they criticized Charlie Gibson for mischaracterizing a prayer of Palin’s — even if the article had some silly and misplaced criticisms as well.
Of course, not all the staff writers got the message. Even after the paper caught Gibson’s distortion, the phony charge was repeated by staff writer Mary McNamara, in a column (rife with misspellings and bad writing) that was sent down the memory hole. (I told you: they do a lot of that at the L.A. Times.) Then columnist Steve Lopez flew all the way to Alaska on the newspaper’s dime, just to repeat the exact same canard. I guess not even Steve Lopez can be bothered to read the L.A. Times.
The paper not-so-subtly compared Sarah Palin to Dan Quayle, with a story titled Before Sarah Palin, the GOP Had Dan Quayle.
The paper published an article saying that Palin said “yes” to a “road to nowhere” — and saved for the 31st paragraph out of 33 the news that it might actually be a road to somewhere. Whether it was or wasn’t, the idea that Palin’s justification for the road — a central fact of the story — could be relegated to the end of the story is truly unbelievable . . . or would be, for a more responsible and less biased paper.
The Times quoted a Fox News transcript of a quote from Sarah Palin about Bill Ayers. As I wrote in a letter to the Readers’ Representative, the quote was obviously garbled, but apparently the paper felt no need to watch the show to see if the transcript was accurate. After I called them on it, the paper issued an elliptical correction and set forth an accurate version . . . on page A2. By the way, the initial story on Palin’s quote left out a bunch of facts that supported what Palin was saying. Par for the course.
The coverage of Palin just got more stupid and more insulting as time went on, until the paper was literally doing entire stories about her winking.
The paper did manage to do a puff piece on the vice-presidential candidate . . . the one on the Democrat ticket, that is.
The only VP candidate meriting a puff piece from the L.A. Times was the Democrat.
The paper’s coverage was very often in lockstep with Democrat strategy. For example, before the vice-presidential debate, Democrats tried to lower expectations for Biden and heighten them for Palin . . . and so did the L.A. Times.
The paper did a big expose on Palin’s college years, even though she was merely the Republicans’ vice-presidential candidate. But I found no evidence that the paper ever bothered to do a story on presidential candidate Obama’s mysterious Columbia years, which (according to the New York Times) Obama had misrepresented and refused to discuss.
The paper said that Obama was more honest than McCain — overlooking a huge bounty of Obama falsehoods to reach that conclusion.
PRO-DEMOCRAT BIAS IN GENERAL
Pro-Democrat bias didn’t stop with the election of Obama. The editors falsely told readers that Democrats didn’t have 10 Republican votes necessary to pass the auto industry bailout. The paper eventually corrected the error after I brought it to their attention.
The paper did a great job suppressing the story that John Edwards was having an affair with Rielle Hunter. Mickey Kaus revealed that blog boss Tony Pierce had e-mailed a gag order to Times bloggers asking them not to mention the affair. One blogger wrote me and denied feeling gagged, citing as evidence a blog post written by someone else and published before the gag order was circulated.
A blogger eventually interviewed Pierce, who explained that he simply felt that one item was enough if there was no new hard news. (Because when Republicans get in trouble, the paper always runs just one story and leaves it at that. Right?)
When the Readers’ Representative asked readers if they considered the paper to be biased to the left, I encouraged readers to (politely) let her have it. In July, the paper attempted to refute claims of liberal bias, using laughable and easily refuted arguments.
ANTI-REPUBLICAN BIAS IN GENERAL
One of the ugliest episodes at the paper this year occurred when Tony Snow died. At the L.A. Times Top of the Ticket blog, which says that comments are moderated, a steady stream of ugly vitriol appeared in the comments, reveling in Snow’s death, and hoping that he suffered.
The ugliness spread to comments on Snow’s obituary. Blogger Andrew Malcolm wrote me to defend the publication of the ugly comments — which he told me he found “vile and despicable” — arguing that he shouldn’t engage in viewpoint censorship. But I couldn’t understand why he didn’t criticize them on the L.A. Times blog. Criticism isn’t censorship, after all.
The L.A. Times actively approved comments hoping Tony Snow suffered before he died.
The paper doesn’t censor hateful comments, but it does censor profanity — meaning that it approved comments saying “I hope [Tony Snow] suffered at the end [of his life]” but refused to approve my comment saying that “[a]nyone who would say they hope Tony Snow suffered is a dick.” (Oddly, a comment was approved for a period of time that said Snow looked like a “dick.”)
The year’s bias started on January 1, when a year-end political quiz falsely claimed that George W. Bush “[e]rroneously said Nelson Mandela was dead.” Bush had clearly been speaking metaphorically. Over a month after the item appeared, the paper wrote me to say that editors refused to correct the error.
An assassination plot against Obama got big play — but I noted that plots against Bush had gone unreported.
The paper erroneously claimed that the Supreme Court “determined” Bush won the presidency in 2000.
CHUCK PHILIPS RETRACTS A STORY BASED ON FORGED DOCUMENTS AND IS LAID OFF
Other than the election, the big story of the year began in March, when The Smoking Gun revealed that a story written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chuck Philips appeared to have been based on forged documents. Later that same day, the newspaper admitted that the documents relied on by the story were, in fact, forgeries. I urged the paper to take a closer look at the entire body of Philips’s work, and predicted (to derision from my commenters) that Philips was not long for the paper.
Chuck Philips wrote a story based in part on forged documents.
It turned out that the paper had been warned in advance of the story that Philips had relied on anonymous sources with shaky credibility — but the paper had ignored the warning. What’s more, Philips had overlooked a series of red flags that made his story sound . . . peculiar.
The article earned the “Error of the Year” award from a web site that keeps track of newspaper corrections. It made Gawker’s list of the Top Ten Worst Media Moments of 2008. And local notable Kevin Roderick called it “one of the most embarrassing mistakes in [the L.A. Times‘s] history.”
How bad was it? So bad that — I swear I’m not making this up — even Mary Mapes was making fun of Philips.
Even Mary Mapes thought Chuck Philips had really screwed up.
Some argued that if Philips had been scammed, he should disclose his sources — something he has not done to this day. L.A. Weekly editor Jill Stewart observed: “Take away the anonymous sources, and Philips’ entire story turned on a bogus document.” The question of the day was: who gave him the phony documents?
Finally, on April 7, the paper formally issued a stunning retraction of the entire story, making it clear that the problems with Philips’s article went beyond a reliance on forged documents. It was an utter rejection of the story in its entirety. The announcement came on the very same day the Pulitzers were announced — and not only did the paper come up empty, but editors were no doubt worried that Philips would have to give his back.
The paper gave Philips temporary cover, saying he would remain at the paper even as critics were ticking off the story’s multiple failures of fact-checking. But when the publisher compared the retracted story to a plane crash, Philips’s days seemed numbered.
Why was Philips so sloppy? Had his editors required him to cut corners and produce stories too quickly? Not hardly: I calculated that in a 41-month period, he had done only 43 articles . . . barely over one a month.
Philips was finally let go in July, in the middle of a massive round of layoffs, which I believe the paper used to mask the fact that Philips was simply being fired — and would have been fired anyway. He hadn’t published a single story in the four months since The Smoking Gun had destroyed his retracted story.
In July, I learned that James Sabatino, the guy who allegedly hoaxed Philips, is a reader of this site.
THE L.A. TIMES SIDES WITH A SHADY PRIVATE EYE INSTEAD OF ITS OWN REPORTER
Anthony Pellicano, who stands accused of trying to intimidate former L.A. Times reporter Anita Busch with a Mafia-style threat left on her windshield (a fish, a rose, and a note saying “Stop”), was convicted of dozens of federal felonies this year. After the verdict, I interviewed Busch, who told me how the paper had mistreated her after she was threatened. The paper’s top lawyer and Chuck Philips had even tried to enlist the aid of Pellicano . . . the very person who, as it turned out, was fingered by law enforcement as being behind the threats.
Although it is now known that she had truly been threatened, L.A. Times employees mocked her, calling her the “Tawana Brawley of the newsroom.” Chuck Philips rolled his eyes at her. (In an odd side issue, even after it was announced that Pellicano was suspected of having been behind the threats, an editor continued to display a paperweight from Pellicano that said “Sometimes you just gotta play hardball” — although he claimed there was nothing to it.
Although Pellicano turned Busch’s life upside down — tapping her phone, listening to her most secret conversations, and ruining her journalism career — an L.A. Times staff writer still found it appropriate to ask: “[W]here’s Anthony Pellicano when you need him?” and said almost admiringly that “there could be a cool efficiency to how he operated.” Not surprisingly, Pellicano’s victims objected to this insensitivity.
The paper seemed very tight with Pellicano, and after Pellicano was charged, Chuck Philips wrote a series of pro-Pellicano articles. After the conviction, Busch called for an independent investigation of Philips’s reporting on the Pellicano case. Local news legend Pete Noyes served up a rebuke to Philips when he said that a journalist should recuse himself from covering the criminal case of a long-time source — something Philips hadn’t done with Pellicano.
Pellicano did seem to share the paper’s disdain for bloggers; he reportedly said of one that he deserved “a good beating.”
Philips wrote letters to a prison inmate who was a witness in the Pellicano case. In the letters, Philips said he believed that the government had engaged in misconduct — even as he was reporting on whether the government had engaged in this misconduct. Also, he repeatedly ran a particular factual scenario past the witness — one that would benefit Pellicano. In an interview with me, Philips admitted writing the letters to Proctor and defended their content.
Now that Philips is gone, the paper has been doing good reporting on the case. After it was learned that Pellicano had a man inside the FBI feeding his defense team an FBI report through an intermediary (reportedly actress Linda Fiorentino), the paper caught Pellicano’s lawyer in some contradictory statements regarding where he had gotten the report.
Above: Linda Fiorentino
When Pellicano was finally sentenced, Anita Busch read a statement at his sentencing that was an utterly damning indictment of the paper and its treatment of her. The paper didn’t quote any of Busch’s cutting references to The Times — or even acknowledge that she had been an L.A. Times reporter when threatened. An editor wrote me to defend the omission, saying Busch’s statements were “neither true nor new” — a defense that ignored mountains of evidence supporting Busch’s claims.
CHUCK PHILIPS FAILS TO REPORT FACTS UNDERCUTTING A MURDERER’S CLAIM OF INNOCENCE
In January 2007, Philips wrote a front-page L.A. Times article asserting the innocence of an inmate named Waymond Anderson in a 1993 arson/murder. The article claimed Anderson had a solid alibi, asserting that Anderson was in Jackson, Mississippi on the date that the murder had occurred in Los Angeles County in California. Philips believed that Anderson’s alibi was valid; he has told an interviewer that he believes Anderson is innocent. Philips also told me: “I helped him out doing legal things for his case.” (Full disclosure: my boss prosecuted Anderson.)
Waymond Anderson contradicted his alibi and told tall tales about the “real killers.”
As it turned out, however, Philips knew a lot of evidence that undercut Anderson’s claims of innocence, but didn’t publish it.
For example, Anderson had repeatedly contradicted his alibi in recorded statements made to police. He admitted this year under oath that, on dates that Philips claimed Anderson had been in Mississippi, Anderson had told police that he was in fact in Compton, California — listening to the murders being planned. Philips admitted to me that he had known this fact, but hadn’t reported it.
Philips also knew Anderson had credibility problems. In a deposition, Anderson told tall tales about the “real killer” — who (Anderson claimed) had also killed legendary rappers Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. According to Anderson, the “real killer” had phoned Anderson — while Anderson was incarcerated, facing murder charges — to keep Anderson apprised of his every step in planning these murders . . . and to confess his guilt afterwards. It was a bizarre and utterly unbelievable story.
Above: Tupac Shakur
Above: Biggie Smalls
If Anderson’s stories had been true, Philips would have had the biggest story of his career — but he didn’t publish a word of it. Why not? I theorized that Philips didn’t believe Anderson. Philips later confirmed this in an interview with me.
So why didn’t Philips tell readers that Anderson had said unbelievable things about the man who had supposedly framed him for murder? Philips told me he didn’t report these facts because they “muddied up” the story too much.
Well, the truth is sometimes messy — but that doesn’t justify concealing it in the name of simplicity.
It turned out that the facts that Philips and his editor withheld from readers were some of the very same facts that caused a judge to reject Anderson’s claims of innocence in court.
In August, Philips got his reward for championing Anderson’s cause: Anderson accused Philips of conspiring with Suge Knight to suborn perjury and threaten the inmate with messages smuggled into prison. Philips had regularly written pro-Knight articles, but this was going a step further, if Waymond Anderson was to be believed.
Did Chuck Philips smuggle threatening messages for this man? Waymond Anderson said he did.
Of course, Anderson was not believable and never had been — but Philips only recently figured that out, even though the evidence had been staring him in the face from the beginning. In his interview with me, Philips claimed: “Waymond Anderson is a liar.” It would have been nice to have had that point of view when Philips was advocating Anderson’s innocence of murder.
THE KOZINSKI SCANDAL THAT WASN’T
In June, the paper said that the chief judge of the 9th Circuit, Alex Kozinski, had published pornographic materials to a web site. This was seen as ironic because Kozinski was presiding over an obscenity trial.
Alex Kozinski came to be in the editors’ crosshairs. (HO/AFP/Getty Images)
That evening I read that the paper’s tipster was Cyrus Sanai, who had battled with Kozinski previously over issues relating to Sanai’s parents’ divorce litigation. Sanai left a comment on my blog; I phoned him and spoke with him. By early the next morning, I had obtained and published actual images from Kozinski’s “web site” (a private web server that Kozinski used to share odd items with friends). I followed this up later with a second set of images and videos.
It soon became clear that the L.A. Times had overreached. The paper had described a twisted porn collection, when in fact, Kozinski mostly had assembled a collection of humorous or offbeat items that sometimes had a pornographic aspect. There was some questionable and offensive material, as even the judge admitted. But overwhelmingly, my readers said that the actual images themselves were far more innocuous (and often more humorous) than they had been led to believe by the L.A. Times.
The paper stretched to find a parallel between Kozinski’s material and the material produced by the man on trial in Kozinski’s court for obscene images of bestiality and defecation. For example, the paper described a video in Kozinski’s collection as “a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal.” It turned out to be a humorous video of a man running away from an aroused donkey. It was on YouTube and had been on television.
The paper also referred to “themes of defecation and urination” — but vastly understated the humorous context of any such themes. Rather than graphic depictions of bodily functions, material with themes of urination turned out to be stuff like this:
The L.A. Times described images like this as material with “themes of defecation and urination” — failing to adequately convey the humorous context.
The turning point came when Judge Kozinski’s wife harshly criticized the L.A. Times in a letter posted on my site, saying that the paper’s article had been “riddled with half-truths, gross mischaracterizations and outright lies.” The Associated Press quoted liberally from the letter, which was eventually quoted in the L.A. Times itself.
I went on local radio with the reporter, Scott Glover, and had the pleasure of criticizing his story directly to him.
I also dug deeper into the background between Sanai and Kozinski — an angle that the paper had never even mentioned. Tipster Sanai admitted to me that his misconduct complaint against Judge Kozinski was part of a “litigation strategy.”
Critics started to notice the difference between the descriptions and the images. One critic said that “the subsequent revelations of the actual content of his site and how greatly it differs from what Glover describes is in many ways more disturbing than anything Kozinski had in his stash.” Critics also noticed the unsavory goals of the lawyer who had tipped off the paper. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed titled “Smearing Judge Kozinski.” There was even an op-ed in the L.A. Times that opined that the story had been overblown.
Remarkably, the very same paper that had put the story on the front page editorialized that Kozinski should respond by saying: “So what?” Less than a month later, the schizoids in charge of editorials opined that “it’s alarming that he would have taken on such a case given his appreciation for squalid pictures and videotapes.” Let me get this straight: according to the editors, Kozinski’s material was alarming . . . yet Kozinski’s attitude toward the issue should be “So what?” Hoo-kay.
I interviewed ethics expert Stephen Gillers, who had been quoted in an early L.A. Times story on the Kozinski controversy, and who told me that he thought Kozinski should not be disciplined.
After the paper failed to bury Kozinski with the “porn web site” story, it put out a nothing story about Kozinski’s private e-mail list of people to whom he sends off-color jokes.
THE WAR ON TERROR
This year we got to see how an Arab terrorist’s obituary reads in the L.A. Times: like Arab propaganda.
When computers were seized from FARC terrorists, and their content showed Venezuelan assistance to the terrorists, the paper reported: “No independent confirmation of the laptops’ content has been made . . .” — even though the AP had independently confirmed the laptops’ content. What’s more, information found on the laptops had been successfully used in a raid on a FARC safe house.
The paper’s headlines screamed about Palestinian civilian casualties from an Israeli attack, but saved the context for the 14th paragraph: that civilian casualties were reportedly caused by Hamas’s placement of targets inside civilian areas.
THE IRAQ WAR
When President Bush made a farewell trip to Iraq, the paper predictably emphasized the loss of life there, and downplayed our successes.
The paper published an unsubtle picture of a young Latina girl crying over a headline: “The Effects of Immigration Raids.”
Subtle social commentary from the editors.
But the paper largely ignores the rampant stories of people killed by illegal immigrants who should have been deported, complete with pictures of the victims’ crying survivors.
When examining local issues that relate to overcrowding, the paper never mentions illegal immigration. The paper ran an entire article speculating on the reasons for Los Angeles’s overcrowded emergency rooms — but somehow never mentioned the elephant in the room: illegal immigration. Similarly, an article on the cost of prisons failed even to mention the cost of housing illegals. Another article portrayed deep thinkers thoughtfully scratching their heads as they labored in vain to determine why traffic sucks in Southern California — again never mentioning the obvious factor of millions of illegal immigrants.
Top editors carefully consider the effects of illegal immigration on overcrowded hospitals, prisons, and freeways.
The paper noted that Obama won Western states with help from a large Latino turnout — but editors seemed remarkably incurious as to whether illegal immigrants had played a role in this victory.
At times, it seems like the editors truly don’t understand that illegal immigration is, well, illegal.
The paper tried to convince readers that the federal government was really cracking down on illegal re-entry cases, because the Central District had doubled a miniscule number of prosecutions, making the new number . . . still miniscule.
I was asked by the paper to give a quote on immigration, as part of a feature quoting 40 “prominent Angelenos and Southern Californians.” (That word “prominent” . . . I do not think it means what you think it means.) And the paper interviewed Jack Dunphy on Special Order 40, which interferes with officers’ freedom to target illegal alien criminals.
The paper decried a movement to take DNA from [i]mmigration detainees and others arrested for federal crimes,” quoting a lawyer who said: “A lot of these folks don’t have any crimes other than the fact that they’re here unlawfully.” Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
HOMOSEXUALITY AND GAY MARRIAGE
An anti-gay marriage measure was leading in polls by 19 points. (It later passed.) The L.A. Times told readers that voters “slimly reject” gay marriage; voters “narrowly reject” gay marriage; that voters reject gay marriage by a “small margin” or a “narrow margin” or “a bit”; and that a “bare majority” oppose gay marriage. It took the New York Times to report the gay marriage poll properly.
Above: editors said these percentages were basically the same.
David Savage didn’t get the memo, and described this 19-point margin as a stable majority.
But then, the size of a lead is in the eye of the beholder. There were no such qualifiers when Obama led McCain in California by a mere 7 points — and when Obama led McCain nationally by 12 points, that was described as a “sizable lead.”
(In fairness, the L.A. Times was not alone in misrepresenting statistics this way; TIME Magazine later said that McCain “edged out” Obama on national security when the gap was 20 points.)
The paper lobbied for gay marriage in news articles in other ways, going so far as to publish a piece arguing that gay marriage would be a boon to a slowing economy.
The paper claims to care deeply about precedent for the sake of precedent, when the precedent is Roe — but when it’s an anti-gay precedent, precedent is suddenly less important.
This all revealed bias, to be sure . . . but there were times when incompetence trumped bias — such as when the paper completely failed to report a key court decision declaring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” unconstitutional.
An article about bias based on sexual orientation bore a headline talking about “sex bias,” which Eugene Volokh called “an outright mischaracterization of what’s going on.”
It’s seemingly standard policy at many major newspapers to withhold the race of criminal suspects who are black, even if a physical description would help catch the criminals. The L.A. Times proved that it also follows this politically correct and dangerous policy — although it claims not to.
The editors seemed worried that Obama’s election would cause people to think there is no racism. Of course, there still is . . . but the examples they gave to prove it were lame.
I have discussed in previous year-end reviews how the paper tried to lend credibility to the Tennie Pierce case — a lawsuit brought by an Los Angeles firefighter who claimed he had been pranked due to racial discrimination. When a jury found that Pierce had in fact been pranked because he had pranked others — and awarded $1.6 million to two white supervisors who had been scapegoated — the paper refused to take responsibility.
Tennie Pierce pranks another firefighter, before getting the L.A. Times to support his lawsuit for being pranked himself.
An op-ed told us that most Muslims love women’s rights and hate terrorism, ignoring a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
An L.A. Times blogger thought it was racist to use the phrase “Barack the Magic Negro” — but neglected to mention that the phrase had first been used by a black man . . . in the L.A. Times.
As he does virtually every year, David Savage cried “wolf!” about the highly unlikely prospect of Roe being overturned if McCain were elected.
Above: A little-known portrait of David Savage
When you cry wolf, you have to do it again and again, and Savage was no exception.
THE FEDERAL JUDICIARY
Ed Whelan had an excellent critique of a David Savage article on Bush’s judicial legacy.
The prison crisis in California (caused in part by illegal immigration, as we have seen) is being overseen by three of the most liberal judges on the planet. But the paper couldn’t be bothered to tell readers that all three judges had been appointed by Jimmy Carter.
In early January, the paper decided to scale back the Homicide Blog, which also changed hands from the tireless Jill Leovy, who wrote a moving Column One piece about the experience of covering every homicide in L.A. One story covered only in the blogs was a heartbreaking story of a man gunned down as he was bringing home a teddy bear for his two-year-old daughter.
Luis Albert Leon died getting a teddy bear for his daughter. He was remembered in a blog entry.
There is a war going on in our city, and the paper largely ignores it. So when Hillary Clinton visited Compton — just down the street from where I prosecuted a guy for shooting four kids — she mentioned nothing about the rampant violence in the area, and nobody (including the L.A. Times) said boo.
At least they reported the story when, in March, there were fatal shootings within a block of the Compton courthouse where I work. (Full disclosure: I’m now handling one of those cases.)
Meanwhile, if Britney Spears has so much as a minor fender-bender, it warrants a mention on the paper’s main web page. You couldn’t make up better stuff than this.
Stop the presses! Britney had a fender-bender!
The paper ran a front-page story on Roman Polanski’s bid to have his child molestation case dismissed — but managed not to mention the fact that the 13-year-old victim had alleged that Polanski had sodomized her.
There has been one bright spot in the paper’s crime coverage: the paper has done a good job covering the violence in Mexico relating to turf wars between rival drug cartels. If only the paper could do as good a job covering local crime . . .
ANTI-POLICE AND LAW ENFORCEMENT ATTITUDES
In a perfect example of how the paper reports police uses of force, the paper gave headline space and the lede to the anti law-enforcement view of a suspect’s friend, leaving for later in the story the fact that two disinterested bystanders corroborated the police version of events.
Other newspapers’ reporters might quit to become cops, but at the L.A. Times, they quit to work for the Public Defender. And the paper is quick to attack police mistakes or misconduct, but is stingy in identifying examples of police valor.
In 2004, when an LAPD officer was caught on tape hitting a suspect with a flashlight at the end of a pursuit, Steve Lopez wrote three snarky columns and never tried to get the officer’s side. Years later, in 2008, Lopez finally talked to the officer, and found out that he is actually a good guy. Unfortunately, the officer had long since been fired by LAPD brass responding to a hostile climate that had been fueled in part by Lopez’s one-sided columns.
Steve Lopez: What? You wanted me to do research the first time around??
Lopez was hardly the only anti-law-enforcement offender; Jack Dunphy slammed Tim Rutten on his column about mandating financial disclosure for officers assigned to anti-gang and narcotics units. Jack wasn’t willing to say Rutten didn’t care about the truth — but I was.
The paper wrote about a case involving an employer’s right to dismiss an employee for physician-recommended marijuana use; Jack Dunphy called the paper’s news story “little more than an editorial slamming the Court’s decision.”
All this anti-law-enforcement sentiment was odd, given that people need police to make the streets safer. After all, the L.A. Times is scared to deliver the paper in Boyle Heights because of the gang problem there.
Oddly, though the editors seem to hate the cop on the street, they love Chief Bratton. Jack Dunphy couldn’t find a story about Bratton’s threatening his enemies by comparing himself to the Mafia chieftain in “The Godfather.”
In an obituary for a federal judge, the paper quoted criticism from anti law-enforcement jerk Stephen Yagman — while omitting several salient details, including the fact that Yagman was a recently convicted felon who was entering prison that very day.
The editors had what sounded like a damning video showing police misconduct. So why didn’t they post it?
DISTORTIONS IN THE EDITORS’ JIHAD AGAINST DNA EVIDENCE
All year, the paper’s editors have been engaged in a holy war against the use of DNA in criminal cases. It started in May, when the newspaper ran an article about statistical probability in cold hit DNA cases, and it was immediately clear that some of the assertions didn’t make sense.
The editors don’t seem to like DNA when it’s used to convict.
For one thing, the article seemed to assert that larger databases made cold hits less reliable, when it would seem that the opposite would be true — at least in cases where the search revealed only one hit. A statistics professor named David Kaye agreed with me on that point. In addition, he told me, the article had falsely portrayed an anti-prosecution view of the statistical question as the consensus view — when, in fact, there is a competing view more favored by peer-reviewed articles. (The author of the L.A. Times article wrote me to claim that he had acknowledged there is a lack of unanimity of opinion, but the article didn’t clearly express this.)
But the biggest error was a flat-out statistical misstatement in the article. Professor Eugene Volokh outlined the problem. I drafted a letter to the article’s authors, and ultimately sent this e-mail about the misstatement. Then I noticed yet another error in the article, again having less to do with the math, and more to do with how the math was expressed in English. Of the three errors I identified, the paper corrected only a trivial arithmetical error, leaving the more significant misstatements standing.
The editors denied they’d made a misstatement, even though they admitted that it would be wrong to make a different statement that my readers overwhelmingly agreed was identical.
Although editors denied that they had described the statistics incorrectly, they did start describing them correctly — which I took as a silent concession that I was right.
But true vindication came when a statistics expert — one whom the paper had previously quoted as an expert — claimed in a scholarly article that the paper had “mischaracterized” the statistic that I had complained about. I once again wrote the Readers’ Representative, citing the expert’s opinion. She didn’t give me the courtesy of a reply.
A second DNA kerfuffle began when the paper ran a front-page story portraying certain matches in an Arizona database as shocking. Why, the paper suggested, the results defied the laws of statistics! Only on the back pages were readers told that most of the matches “were to be expected statistically.” One of the authors of “Freakonomics” later pronounced himself surprised that the matches were largely to be expected; apparently, like many readers, he had been misled by the article’s initial spin.
A local jury freed a clearly guilty man accused of rape; the foreman was heard expressing concerns about the case based on “recent controversies” about DNA — a clear reference to the L.A. Times‘s misleading series of articles.
In discussing a technique called familial searching, the paper did its usual shtick with DNA: it played up phantom privacy concerns, and buried the fact that the technique has been used to free wrongly convicted individuals.
OP-ED AND COLUMNISTS
Guess who got his column back? That’s right: sock puppeteer Michael Hiltzik. In 2006, the editor had taken it away, saying that Hiltzik’s sock-puppeting dishonesty meant that he could no longer credibly write about corporate duplicity. Guess the new editor disagrees . . .
Above: Michael Hiltzik
In making the announcement about Hiltzik, the Readers’ Representative blog mentioned that Hiltzik had been reassigned to Sports in 2006, but never mentioned exactly why. When my commenters tried leaving comments on the Readers’ Rep blog, to explain the mystery, those comments didn’t get approved. [UPDATE 1-3-08: I have since learned that Gold, apparently prompted at least in part by commenters coming from my site, wrote a subsequent post that explained that Hiltzik has “redeemed himself” by writing some articles since his sock puppetry.]
Dick Cheney told an audience: “We do not torture — it’s against our laws and against our values.” Writing about Cheney’s speech, Rutten told readers: “[Cheney] told them that he was glad the administration had tortured people and that he’d do it again.”
Although I agree with the editors about the legal dangers posed by waterboarding, I don’t believe in lying to readers about what a public figure like Cheney has said. I wrote an impassioned and angry letter to the Readers’ Representative, but I knew from past experience that editors would never issue a correction to a Rutten column.
Rutten never seems to understand that such falsehoods are free propaganda for the enemy.
A Patterico reader was motivated to write a letter to the editor about Rutten’s dishonesty. Naturally, the excellent letter was selectively edited to remove the most pointed comment.
I got so fed up with the newspaper’s distortion of the truth that I wrote a satirical column about Tim Rutten in which I employed the paper’s favorite techniques of trickery. The deceptive techniques were explained in detail in this post.
I continued the ridicule later that month, imagining how the paper might use Rutten-style techniques to misreport a Saturday Night Live skit as serious news.
The UAW pays people not to work. But at the L.A. Times, columnist David Lazarus was upset that the UAW made any concessions at all — while Dan Neil actively wants the federal government to buy General Motors.
Joel Stein continued his ridiculous series of cries for attention with a column about how he doesn’t love this country.
Al Martinez, the paper’s most inane columnist, became the paper’s most inane blogger as well. Martinez’s achievement as most inane columnist is quite a feat, given that he works at the same paper as Joel Stein.
Al Martinez: Did you read his blog entry about his bunions?
Steve Lopez continued a career seemingly driven largely by columns deriding the Hummer driven by a local government official.
Rosa Brooks ignored Democrat complicity in enabling excesses by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and blamed it all on Republicans.
James Rainey told readers that “nobody” was seeking the re-introduction of the “Fairness Doctrine.” Uh, not quite nobody.
OTHER OP-ED CONTRIBUTORS
Bloggers besides myself had good fun at the expense of some of the paper’s op-ed contributors. The paper had a silly and superficial op-ed mocking General Petraeus’s medals as unfashionable, and iowahawk saw a satire opportunity. And an op-ed about how women are allegedly patronized and silenced by men was ripped apart by Amy Alkon.
In February, NRO columnist (and occasional Patterico guest blogger) Jack Dunphy returned to the pages of The Times.
To the paper’s credit, the editors let me participate in a week-long online discussion about the future of the paper, on the paper’s web site. I pulled no punches; the links to the five entries are collected here, complete with some choice quotes.
FINANCIAL WOES AND TRIBUNE’S BANKRUPTCY
In March, Kevin Roderick reported: “The Los Angeles Times has lost more subscribers in the past four years than any U.S. newspaper and it isn’t even close.” But never fear; even if you don’t read the paper, it works great as rabbit bedding.
Tribune’s stock performance in better days
As circulation has dropped, the paper itself has gotten smaller and smaller.
And so has the paper’s staff.
In January, editor Jim O’Shea was fired for refusing to make budget cuts. It didn’t change a thing. Massive layoffs happened in July, and the publisher was also dismissed. (The paper lost a good man when Tim Cavanaugh appeared in the list of names of people laid off.) News of the bloodbath continued over several days.
At least editors kept their priorities straight. As the paper was crashing, editors were said to be focused on unearthing the author of the critical web site “Tell Zell” — which, as it happens, hasn’t published anything new since October.
The paper was so financially desperate it started spamming people on behalf of a foreclosure auction service.
The paper is turning to the Web for its future . . . but in October, HotAir.com (a site put out by two bloggers) had almost 1/3 the page views of latimes.com (the Web site of a major newspaper employing hundreds of people).
In December, the paper’s parent company Tribune Corp. filed for bankruptcy, and its stock price lost 94 percent of its value in a single day. The paper soon began discontinuing payments to former staffers.
MISTAKES, WE MAKE MISTAKES
There are bound to be errors in any piece of writing, including this blog post. But the paper’s writers and editors have repeatedly boasted that their standards are far superior to bloggers’ standards, so it’s only fitting for a blogger to point out when they have fallen short.
Certain media outlets were fooled by a phony Facebook entry for Bilawal Bhutto. Some bloggers caught it, even before L.A. Times columnist Rosa Brooks got taken in.
Ten days after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, the paper published a Parade Magazine insert asking “Is Benazir Bhutto America’s best hope against al-Qaeda?” Many readers were outraged; apparently they had missed the tiny note on Page A2, where the paper buries all its corrections.
An editorial falsely (and outlandishly) claimed that 60 million people in America survive on $7 a day. This turned out to be propaganda from the World Socialist Web Site.
The paper got fooled by some Iranian fauxtography (with a Photoshopped rocket) and had to issue a correction.
If you have personal familiarity with any aspect of a story that appears in Big Media, you will find an inaccuracy in that story — as I found out in a story about a crash near a Compton airport, which shortened the traditional mile to about 1/6 its usual length. I wrote the Readers’ Rep and obtained a correction that was still wrong — but was closer than before . . .
The paper has a recurring problem with words that sound alike. The paper confused “acclamation” and “acclimation.” Editors also said that an engineer in a train crash had never hit his “breaks.” The paper also made a reference to a “Noble prize-winning” economist.
In a lead article on the front page, the paper spelled the Republican nominee’s last name as “MCain.”
The paper published an embarrassing front-page article criticizing Silda Wall Spitzer for standing next to Eliot Spitzer after he was caught whoring around.
The paper amusingly panned Gladstone’s — a local restaurant that people go to for the view, and not the food — by saying that the food is not good. Duh.
Funnyman Roy Rivenburg mocked the paper with a satirical edition of the paper called Not the L.A. Times. In one entry he claimed that the paper had become a parody of itself — that is, more than usual.
In an e-mail printed on my site, an attorney accused the paper of giving favorable treatment to its former editors, in the paper’s coverage of a scandal involving alleged overbilling by a public relations company. These claims were undercut to some extent by information provided by one of my commenters, but questions remain.
Throughout the U.S. Attorney scandal, I had criticized portions of the L.A. Times coverage of the scandal, while acknowledging problems with the Bush administration’s handling of the matter. A report came out that substantially supported my criticisms of the paper’s coverage.
A review of a book by Sandra Tsing Loh said — again, I swear I’m not making this up — “Loh is a cunning linguist who’s honed her craft over 20 years, and it shows.” Who wrote this review — Seymour Butz? Riffing off an iowahawk bit, I found and published the first draft.
I hope you enjoyed the post. If you’re interested, I have done five previous annual reviews of the newspaper. The previous annual reviews can be found at these links:
For posterity, I’ll note that I just added a line about Chuck Philips admitting to me that he had done legal work for Waymond Anderson. I also added the bit about the Sandra Tsing Loh “cunning linguist” book review. Somehow I had missed both points initially.
UPDATE x2: Thanks to Jonathan Adler at The Corner for the link.
UPDATE x4 1-3-08: I added a reference to Jamie Gold’s post explaining Hiltzik’s alleged redemption — and also a line about the L.A. Times blogger who thought “Barack the Magic Negro” is a racist phrase, but neglected to mention that it had first been used in the L.A. Times. These happened in 2008 and belong in this Year in Review, even though I learned about them today.