Monday, December 13, 2004

David Shaw -- Giving Editors Too Much Credit

L.A. Times "Media Matters" columnist David Shaw gives editors in general too much credit in commenting Sunday, Dec. 12, on James Goldsborough's loss of his column in the San Diego Tribune. George W. Bush critic Goldsborough quit the Tribune after a column he wrote on Jewish voting in the recent Presidential election was killed.

Shaw writes (, "I've spoken with editors about (killing columns) often over the 30 years I've been writing about the media, and I spoke with several again this week in response to the situation in San Diego. All agreed that columnists are given wide latitude in what they write about, and none could recall ever having killed a column by a regular staff columnist."

This creates a false impression. Shaw should have interviewed more widely. The fact is that column-killing is not all that uncommon in the nation's press.

I resigned, as a consumer columnist, but not from The Times, in 2001 after then-City Editor Bill Boyarsky, backed by higher-ups, killed a column I had written about irregularities in UCLA's kidney dialysis center. In discussing the situation, Boyarsky told me that as a columnist on city and county affairs he too had had columns killed and had learned to accept it.

In 1985, the New York Times killed altogether the column written by Sydney Schanberg when editors didn't like his commentary on New York City real estate matters.

Shaw is an outstanding columnist on food, wine and restaurants. His columns on the poor quality of food at Dodger Stadium and the high prices in Paris restaurants are just two of his masterpieces. But sometimes on "Media Matters" Shaw can play fast and loose, all it seems with the apparent object of overglorifying journalism.

I remember one time when Shaw, who has long disliked the use of confidential sources by reporters, wrote an article saying he had interviewed a number of journalists and not one favored the practice. I immediately sent him a note reminding him that he had interviewed me on the subject and I had strongly supported the necessity of occasionally using confidential sources, in order to get out the truth about sensitive subjects.

Shaw replied imperiously that his discussion with me had been "not an interview but a conversation." When I complained about this to then-Times Editor Bill Thomas, he just laughed, but I didn't think it was so funny.

Certainly, I know that Paul Conrad occasionally had his cartoons killed by Times editors. Once, during the 1969 mayoral campaign between incumbent Sam Yorty and challenger Tom Bradley, Conrad did a cartoon showing Yorty, who was waging a racist campaign, peddling snake oil. The cartoon was approved for The Times' Preview Edition, but when Conrad added a flask to Yorty's back pocket, the cartoon was ordered killed in the regular editions.

Shaw tries to honor journalism. Unfortunately, editors' courage is not so high, although about Conrad's flask the editors might have been right.



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