Patterico's Pontifications


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:


(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 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 — 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:


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 — 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 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?

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

  1. Never mind the sewer pipes–the L.A. Water Department has been dumping fresh water into the Pacific Ocean at night.

    Jake Gittes (dab029)

  2. Maybe Insituform is running a circular in the Sunday section. You know — tucked right inside the Currents section.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  3. Dumping water? That old canard? I assure you that the DWP is not dumping water.

    Russ Yelburton (0b2493)

  4. The LA Times was built to make revenue, but made to make a loss. Do the math.

    God (e89cee)

  5. The fake Gittes quote is funny enough. The speed with which some local brainiac remembered the name of Gittes’ antagonist in a 34 year old film, even with Google assistance, is proof what a classy readership this site has. Congrats, Patterico, on what appears to be another solid score re the Times.

    Gary McVey (af935e)

  6. Gary,

    Make no mistake: this story belongs to I just repackaged it with some screenshots and an embedded video.

    Patterico (04465c)

  7. I . . . don’t get your point, after reading the post twice.

    The opinion piece credited the guy at the end with this tag: “THOMAS ROONEY is president and chief executive of a large sewer, water and oil pipe repair company.” That’s enough disclosure for me to understand who is parading these particular horrors.

    It’s no different than reading an opinion about the need for birth control education by the head of Planned Parenthood, or the need for ethanol by the head of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, or the need for wind power by the head of Windmills R Us. You see these opinion articles all the time by interested parties on every op-ed page. The whole point of the guest opinion writers is that they are especially involved in the issue and have a certain stake and perspective they’d like to get across.

    So when you say “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?” you kind of miss the whole point of the opinion page. They would put reporters on the story for the dispassionate take and put it on the news pages if they wanted a neutral story about the alleged sinkhole problem.

    Here, on the opinion page, they put a guy with a huge financial stake in the repair of sewers alerting us to a possible issue concerning deteriorating sewers, while noting he is the CEO of a sewer repair company. How is that different from most opinion pieces written by someone connected to a corporation or public interest group with a stake in the issue?

    aplomb (4c3235)

  8. My point is not inadequate disclosure. They’ve had that problem in the past. Not so much here.

    It’s just rather comical — especially in light of the handwringing over Grazergate.

    It’s sort of one of those posts where you get it or you don’t. You don’t. That doesn’t really surprise me.

    Patterico (04465c)

  9. Yeah, Patterico. Why do you hate business, anyway? Businesses are made of people, you know–corporations aren’t self-perpetuating entities!

    David N. Scott (71e316)

  10. leaking sanitary sewers can be a problem however, no more than the run off from storm sewers directly into water ways. a far greater danger, in my view, is the lead water service pipe connected to millions of homes primarily located on the east coast.

    james conrad (7cd809)

  11. Patrick,
    Te LAT guys must look on you as akin to an inflamed hemorrhoid.

    Corwin (dfaf29)

  12. Solved: declare your local sewer a national monument. Screw this guy and his profit motive. BTW I actually do know more than a smidgen about these decaying and broken pipes; they really are a menace and if one starts leaking without your knowledge and your kids get very sick you may want to read this editorial. When I worked construction we used to dig up sewer pipes that had already leaked plenty into the surrounding dirt. I hate the LA Times more than anything besides liberals, but I don’t have a problem with this particular piece. There was more than enough disclosure. Broken or leaking pipes ARE a national concern.

    Howard Veit (4ba8d4)

  13. Didn’t any of the “ethical mavens” at the Times look at this and say “something smells”?

    Mike Myers (4a5728)

  14. She’s my sewer and my daughter!

    Evelyn Mulwray (7be12c)

  15. She’s my duaghter too, Evelyn!

    Noah Cross (af935e)

  16. Geez, what a “crappy” topic!!

    This isn’t an op-ed, it’s an advertisement folks.

    Bill M (94ef88)

  17. The really, really amazing part of this editorial is that the LAT missed its obligatory opportunity to take a shot at Bush and did not blame Bush for crappy sewers.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  18. The pipes passed their expiration date on his watch!

    Patterico (04465c)

  19. Your post made me curious, so I went digging. Other news agencies to have carried this are- (Boston Times as op-ed) (Civil Engineering News as featured article) (Roanoke Times as editorial) (Toledo Blade as op-ed) (The Washington Times as commentary) (National Center for Policy Analysis who qoutes the Washington Times w/o noting it was a commentary) (The Daily Independent op-ed)

    It is very intresting.

    Becky (0fe45a)

  20. Becky,

    That is indeed fascinating, and will probably be worth a separate post when I get home.

    Could you possibly leave a comment or send me an e-mail (patterico AT gmail DOT com) with more direct links to the piece as it appears at those sites?

    If you found it through Nexis, maybe you could forward me the articles via e-mail. I’m interested in seeing the dates they were published, and how similar the pieces were to the one published in the LAT.

    Patterico (df1733)

  21. Its not called the SMELL A TIMES for nothing i mean major stink that would gag a skunk

    krazy kagu (e70d3d)

  22. Sure P,
    I’ll have to use this email though. Yahoo is shooting craps this week. I’ll forward them to you shortly.

    Becky (0fe45a)

  23. I guess next is an op-ad about the need for a new generation of fighter planes by the CEO of Lockheed.

    Or a piece about fully funding the reconstruction of Iraq by the president of Haliburton.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

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