I spoke to L.A. Times Op-Ed and Current Editor Nick Goldberg today on the phone about his nixing Jack Dunphy’s proposed piece about LAPD’s anti-gang initiatives. The background is in this post of mine from Thursday. Briefly, Dunphy contacted Goldberg proposing to write an article about (to use Dunphy’s words) “the sham that is the LAPD’s new anti-gang efforts.” Goldberg said no.
I asked Goldberg today why he refused to give a green light to Dunphy’s proposed piece. Goldberg e-mailed me this quote, which he authorized me to use:
We’re reluctant to use anonymous pieces. While I don’t want to close the door to Dunphy forever — he’s a good writer and he brings an important point of view — I want to keep it infrequent and I want to limit it, if possible, to pieces that really are special in some way. The more I think about it, the more I don’t want him just writing on any old LAPD subject. As I’ve told you before, we don’t let people write without using their real name except in extraordinary circumstances.
Goldberg also pointed out that the paper has run two pieces by LAPD officers in the past week: this piece by “L.A. Rex” author Will Beall, and this piece by Central Division Captain Andrew Smith.
I take Goldberg at his word when he says that he hasn’t blackballed Dunphy entirely. I find Goldberg to be a smart and honorable guy. But I am distressed by this part of Goldberg’s quote: “The more I think about it, the more I don’t want him just writing on any old LAPD subject.” That sounds to me like we’re not going to be seeing much from Jack Dunphy in the pages of the L.A. Times. After all, the LAPD is what Dunphy knows best. Dunphy is a capable writer on other subjects, but his best pieces all relate to the LAPD, where his experiences infuse his writing with the sure authority of someone who actually knows what he’s talking about.
I don’t know what “any old LAPD subject” means. I don’t know what it would take for Goldberg to find a Dunphy topic to be “really . . . special in some way.” I hate to be a pessimist, but Goldberg’s quote makes it hard to be an optimist. Dunphy is not just any anonymous submitter of op-eds. He has been published in the L.A. Times many times before. He has met L.A. Times personnel (and he has met me). They know that he is who he says he is. The paper is far less likely to be embarrassed by a Dunphy piece than they are to be embarrassed by some random piece submitted by, say, the owner of a sewer pipe company.
To me, all Dunphy pieces “really are special in some way” — because the quality of the writing, coupled with the insights they convey, are head and shoulders above what most writers in The Times are capable of producing.
Take, for example, Dunphy’s latest piece from National Review Online, titled Where Have All the Fathers Gone? Here is a sample of the sort of writing that L.A. Times readers are missing:
I met the boy one summer day while taking refuge from the heat. I had parked my police car beneath the spreading boughs of a large tree, one of the few spots in the neighborhood that offered a patch of shade. He rode his bicycle down the sidewalk past me two or three times, slowing a little with each successive pass to allow himself a better look inside the car and at all the hardware it contained. I recall doing much the same when I was his age.
On the next pass I called him over and invited him to sit in the front seat, which he did with great enthusiasm. He checked out the car’s computer and my flashlight, but of course he was most interested in the emergency lights, which he delighted in turning on and off and on and off.
We continued to meet in this fashion once or twice a week over that summer, and before long I met his sisters (one of whom was his twin) and their parents. They had moved from Colorado, they said, to be near relatives in southern California. They had heard that things were rough in parts of Los Angeles but they weren’t prepared for the life they found in this building and on this block.
They couldn’t afford much. The father was disabled, and the family got along on government assistance and charity from their church, so when they found the apartment on the tree-lined street they considered it a blessing. But they could smell the marijuana and hear the loud music coming from the other apartments all day and all night, they said, and some of the young men in the building sold drugs on the street.
The kids adopted a stray puppy, a scrawny little mutt they found wandering the street one day. They named him Lucky. But even inexpensive dog food was a luxury beyond the family’s means, so they fed it whatever meager scraps were left from their own table. I took to dropping off cans of dog food from time to time, and sometimes I chipped in for the family’s food or medicine or for some little toy for the kids. When I dropped in my presence was greeted with stony silence from the other tenants in the building.
One day I was parked in my usual spot under the tree and saw my little friend riding down the sidewalk toward me. But instead of stopping at my car as I expected him to, he just kept on riding as if he didn’t see me.
Some of the boy’s neighbors, I came to learn, took a dim view of the boy’s friendliness with the police, and they had dispatched an older, larger boy to teach him a lesson. My little friend had taken a beating, one that achieved its intended purpose. It was many days before the boy would so much as look at me again, and even then it was only when he was safely out of the view of his neighbors.
It’s a good thing that standards are so much lower at National Review Online than they are at the Los Angeles Times, so that writing like this can see the light of day.
Jack, my standards are lower here, too! So please: keep that guest login handy.