Patterico's Pontifications


The Benefits of Having Lower Standards Than the L.A. Times

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 2:38 pm

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.

19 Responses to “The Benefits of Having Lower Standards Than the L.A. Times”

  1. Jack Dunphy’s a fine writer. Those people are idiots. That sewer pipes story actually is pretty funny now that I’m reading it and less tired. I could use an op-ed credit at the times… I’ll have to look up that spam company and get started.. 😉

    David N. Scott (71e316)

  2. Reading Jack’s piece brought to mind the way people in Iraq might be treated by their neighbors for talking with troops. If we have such a problem here in America, how much more difficult it must be over there?
    Maybe it is because this type of story points out the bankrupt notion of a “failed mission” in Iraq and impossible standards for victory, that the LA TIMES tries to paint.

    papertiger (3a3033)

  3. I didn’t want to continue my rant on the previous thread but …

    “George Orwell” was a nom de plume. And a chilhood writer hero of mine, Frederick Faust, perhaps the most prolific writer in English, who was killed in Italy while working as a war correspondent, wrote under the name of Max Brand.

    nk (95836b)

  4. “lower” standards might not be the right phrase here…

    Perhaps “Standards not held by raging morons” would be more accurate…

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  5. You ought to give the Times a pass on this one. Newspapers generally frown on, if not outright ban, using phony names for bylines. That’s a proper policy, as far as I’m concerned, even for brilliant writers like “Jack Dunphy.” You shouldn’t deny readers the right to know who really wrote the controversial stuff.

    James Fulton (a09957)

  6. You can listen for free to 25 of America’s Top Talk show hosts here at the Internet Radio Network.

    Steve (06ec7b)

  7. “lower” standards might not be the right phrase here…

    I meant it humorously.

    Perhaps “Standards not held by raging morons” would be more accurate…

    That’s harsh. As James Fulton points out, there is a real issue here. And Nick Goldberg is no moron.

    Patterico (e33fb9)

  8. As much as I like Dunphy’s writing, Goldberg’s position doesn’t strike me as unreasonable.

    craig mclaughlin (b2c052)

  9. Thank you, thank you for a sample of Dunphy’s writing – I originally read that essay when it appeared in NRO and later when going back to re-read it, as its depth demanded return visits, I could not for the life of me remember who the writer was. What I did remember, however, was the ache in my heart while trying to absorb the depth of his kindness toward the boy and simple acts of love. I knew this was a man of character. That he writes anonymously causes me to respect him even more as he obviously cares little about accolades or personal promotion. (Don’t the LAT editors see this as a noble and humble quality to value?) It remains one of the most moving essays I have read.

    Bottom line: the L.A.Times is not worthy to have such an important writer printed on their pages. Let them keep the lightweights and left-leaning lollipops who simply take up print space. People of Dunphy’s stature need to be on much more worthy pages – such as, well, such as National Review.

    The LAT remains as clueless and arrogant as ever. When will they learn?

    Dana (c4cff6)

  10. “As much as I like Dunphy’s writing, Goldberg’s position doesn’t strike me as unreasonable.”

    I agree. It’s possible to disagree with a position, while finding it reasonable. That’s how I feel about this.

    Patterico (60de37)

  11. What strikes me about this is their overwhelming, ungovernable need not to have anything in the paper that anybody might actually … want to read. I used to try to imagine the end of the Triassic and the early Cretaceous, but I’m learning a lesson about how restricted my imagination was from the recent editorials in the LAT and from Patterico’s email exchange with Goldberg. You can look at the LAT to see what dinosauring out really means. What I never imagined back in my amateur paleontology days was that while the brontosauri were going down, they were declaiming about their ethics.

    Simon Kenton (b72aee)

  12. Kind of sideways to the main point:

    Will Beall’s story is about the street gangs. Does anyone other than me think that using the actual names of the gangs is a bad idea? They want the notoriety.

    I have proposed referring to them by other names, just to keep them straight. I suggest floral names (Daisies, Roses, Pansies, Orchids, whatever.) Notoriety improves their effectiveness, and I’d like to reduce it instead.

    When I see cops referring to them by name – cops who know the gang scene – I wonder if my position is misguided.


    JRM (355c21)

  13. Why would “Jack Dunphy” be allowed anonymity? Everyone appears to know who he is, except for the all important reader. Nick Goldberg could simply say they do not run anonymous op-eds anymore. It’s a lot easier to get your side out nowadays, and Dunphy certainly has a following so it’s not like he wouldn’t be read elsewhere. It’s just bad practice in general. Maybe if he is a whistle blower, but even then I would want reporters working on the story not an op-ed.

    Edward (fbb6e3)

  14. Fine, they’re not idiots. Man, try to be agreeable `round here and look what happens…

    David N. Scott (71e316)

  15. Ironically, an LA Times reporter would have no problem publishing a story based on statements from an anonymous LAPD source.

    How the heck is the LA Times planning on maintaining their monopoly with policies like that? It’s not like there’s a large barrier to entry into the news market anymore. A budget of maybe a million bucks a year would give them a dandy online competitor. That’s not very expensive as these things go.

    Kevin Murphy (0b2493)

  16. We don’t let people write without using their real name … except, of course, every single time we publish an editorial, an opinion piece which is customarily unsigned. One rule for me, a different one for thee.

    dchamil (f5808f)

  17. The myth of competition: When the price of entry to any business gets too dear, nobody wants in, it is then that you have a monopoly. That was ONE reason that the Big Three signed those insane UAW contracts back in the day. The costs of starting and building a newspaper are more than a billion dollars with no prior record of success. The newspaper business is headed to the trash heap, with most analysts saying that it has five years to live.

    Howard Veit (4ba8d4)

  18. Unless things have changed recently, I don’t think Jack Dunphy’s true identity is generally known, inside or outside the department.

    He is a wonderful writer, I wish he had his own blog (no offense to our host!)

    Susan R (894fba)

  19. Well, Jack wouldn’t have to be anonymous if Joe Wambaugh had not been crucified by the brass at LAPD. Still, his insight into Parker Center, and the streets of LA, is a treasure for the community, even if the suits at Times-Mirror Square refuse to recognize that fact. And, knowing the demographics of LAT subscribers, he probably has a tough time breaking through the engrained prejudices of those readers.

    Another Drew (8018ee)

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