Monday, January 31, 2005

Both The LAT and The NYT Have To Acknowledge The Iraqi Elections Were A Success

During the American Civil War, the big Democratic newspapers kept predicting Lincoln was bound to fail. They ended up looking pretty silly and weak when the war was over, the South was back in the Union and slavery was a thing of the past. Lincoln's convictions trumped their hesitancy, and, Thank God, the slaves were freed and the Union preserved.

The headline in the Los Angeles Times today was, "IRAQI TURNOUT TRUMPS VIOLENCE," and Patrick J. McDonnell's lead said, "BAGHDAD -- Millions of Iraqis defied violence, calls for a boycott and a legacy of despotism to cast ballots Sunday in the nation's first multiparty elections in half a century."

Inside, writer Ashraf Khalil led, "NAJAF, Iraq -- They came in wheelchairs and on crutches. Some dressed in new clothes as if it were a holiday. Others brought their children along to watch history being made."

Even the usually weak LAT editorial page led its lead editorial, "It takes courage to vote with the sound of mortars and gunfire still ringing and memories of terrorist beheadings still fresh. Whatever the final tally of the turnout Sunday in Iraq, the willingness of millions to defy suicide bombers and killers who threatened havoc at the polls provided some unequivocal good news. Not least, the world could honestly see American troops making it possible for a long-oppressed people to choose their destiny."

The New York Times editorial noted, "This page has not hesitated to criticize the Bush Administration over its policies in Iraq, and we continue to have grave doubts about the overall direction of American strategy there. Yet today, along with other Americans, whether supporters or critics of the war, we rejoice in a heartening advance by the Iraqi people. For now at least, the multiple political failures that marked the run-up to the voting stand eclipsed by a remarkably successful election day."

By golly, could it be the case that George W. Bush is right after all?

The press, as I've remarked before, tends to lack understanding about the nature of war. There are bound to be mistakes, or even horrible screwups. The British have a saying, "England loses every battle but the last." But in the end if what we are fighting for is right, then we can be proud we have tried to defend it, and those who have lost their lives have given them in a good cause.

Saddam Hussein not only gassed the Kurds, murdered countless thousands of mainline Iraqi opponents, but he spread the murder with an invasion of Kuwait and was paying $25,000 to every family who had a suicide bomber die while murdering Israelis in the Holy Land. I persist in the belief the U.S. and Britain were right to go after him, and that if democracy does prevail in Iraq in the aftermath, why that would be wonderful!

The NYT columnist Bob Herbert wrote today, "At polling stations across the country there were women in veils holding the hands of children, and men on crutches, and people who had been maimed during the terrible years of Saddam, and old people. Among those lined up to vote in Baghdad was Samir Hassan, a 32-year-old man who lost a leg in the blast of a car bomb last year. He told a reporter, "I would have crawled here if I had to."

More than 1,400 American and 90 British soldiers have now died in Iraq so that the Samir Hassans could vote and the memory of those who were murdered before they could vote could be redeemed. And as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion..."

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The LAT Opinion Section Goes Downhill Under Michael Kinsley

Under the inept, unqualified Michael Kinsley, the Los Angeles Times Opinion section has hit the skids, going way way downhill very fast. There's only one word for it these days: Terrible.

For some simpleminded reason, Kinsley seems to think the readers want cartoons on Page 1 of Opinion, where they have not been before. And then there are more cartoons inside. There are fewer articles, and they are for the most part less distinguished.

It's a microcosm of what Tribune Co. ownership has meant for the Times. It's in many ways a weaker newspaper that does not take Los Angeles seriously. It is down several hundred thousand in daily circulation in five years. Its TV guide is slimmer, as is its Sports and Business sections. Its Outdoor section is a joke. Only section A has maintained its quality. Even the California section is too filled with regional news as compared with state and local news.

But nothing in the new Times is as lousy as Kinsley. And we see it in the lead editorial today, on the Los Angeles mayor's race. It is very disappointing. Far from the endorsement of a mayoral candidate that the Times should be moving toward, it basically just says there are a few candidates and it makes rather inane remarks about them. It calls for more interest in the election and makes the point that the interest is higher in New York in their municipal election. It does not promise there will ever be an endorsement here, just as in the presidential contest there was no endorsement.

Los Angeles citizens do not want to see a Los Angeles newspaper compare this city unfavorably with New York. The great preponderant majority here does not envy New York and would not want to live there. Such remarks reflect the dismissive view of Los Angeles taken by the strangers who have assumed control over the newspaper.

Today, meanwhile, is election day in Iraq, a hopeful step toward democracy that more than 1,400 American soldiers and dozens of American civilians have given their lives to help the Iraqi people make. There is an article about democracy in general in Opinion today by the able Walter Russell Mead, there's a primer right below it, and there's an article by the cutesy, usually meaningless editorial writer Andrew Malcolm, who at least can engender a nice turn of phrase occasionally.

But there is no editorial today on the Iraqi election. In the whole run-up toward the election, in the sacrifices being made in Iraq by our fellow-citizens, Kinsley has been running the other way. He should run back to Washington state, where he lives half the time and votes. We do not need him running the Times editorial page.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Bush Administration May Have Decided Not To Pursue Media Monopoly For Tribune

The decision on the part of the Justice Department not to pursue the media monopoly so desired by the Tribune Co., in a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court may be a signpost on the way to eventual sale of the L.A. Times back to California interests.

But before we start rejoicing too much, it is possible the Tribune may still secure a waiver from the Bush Administration to allow it to own both the Times and Channel Five in Los Angeles. There are too many caveats in this decision to be confident the nightmare of Tribune ownership may be ending. Sly Tribune attorneys may yet find a way to preserve their media monopolies. They could even try taking the matter to the Supreme Court themselves, if they trusted their own abilities.

There were rumors, by the way, that Tribune hopes to maintain the original FCC decision for media monopolies, had something to do with the Chicago Tribune's endorsement of George Bush for reelection and the L.A. Times' decision not to endorse John Kerry. A high editor in Los Angeles told me in October he felt the Times was under Tribune pressure not to endorse Kerry for fear it could jeopardize the media monopoly..

The decision not to endorse exposed Michael Kinsley, editor of the Times editorial pages, to suspicions of rank hypocrisy, since the Times had blasted Bush for years before the election. It was embarrassing to Kinsley who had personally endorsed Kerry in a column in Time magazine around the time of the party conventions not to follow through with a Kerry endorsement in his own pages..

Which reminds me, what is the Times editorial pages editor doing writing an endorsement column for Time magazine anyway, or living and voting in Washington state, for that matter? I'd be very fond of him if he weren't such a ditz.

The idea that the Tribune Co. might eventually sell the Times may not be so wild as some of my friends seem to think. I was told by a well informed former Chicago newspaperman just last week that he heard the Tribune executives have expressed the opinion buying the Times has turned out to be a bad investment.

Chicagoans are pretty greedy. Anything that doesn't make 25 or 30% annual return is regarded as a bad investment. But still, it would be hard for the Tribune executives to admit publicly they had made a mistake.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Hal Fishman and Leila Feinstein At Channel Five Are Outstanding Newscasters

(Hal Fishman died of colon cancer on Aug. 7, 2007. He was 75. He had broadcast as the anchor on Channel Five for the last time July 30, dedicated to the end to serve the people of Southern California. He will be remembered as a consummate professional. This tribute was written two years ago).

For my money, the best nightly news in Los Angeles is the 10 o'clock on Channel Five with two standup personalities, the veteran Hal Fishman and the relative newcomer Leila Feinstein.

They do what the big cable news channels seem unable to do: Handle a large variety of subjects in a fairly short time, and there is a directness about both that is appealing.It's an hourlong newscast, but it seems to go faster than Aaron Brown on CNN, especially since CNN unwisely put him into more features and doesn't lead any more with even a summary of the biggest news.

"I'm Hal Fishman." "I'm Leila Feinstein," the Channel Five news begins, and then, they are off, often with a good local lead. Recently, they seem to have dropped such frequent repetition of motorist chases that were becoming boring.

With the tsunami, the Metrolink train crash and the Iraq elections, these have been big times in the news in the last month or so, and 10 o'clock is a more appealing time slot for me than 11.

Yes, I know that like the L.A. Times, Channel Five is owned by the Tribune Co., but this seems to have worked out better for Channel Five than The Times. Channel Five staffer Ron Olsen broadcasts from the Times once during the 10 o'clock, usually interviewing a Times reporter or editor on an interesting story appearing in the paper the next morning. They could actually give this feature a little more time.

Fishman, who has been on the air for more than 45 years, tries a little commentary but not too much. Feinstein came to the station from San Francisco only in 2003.

Channel Five has always had good coverage of Hollywood, is great on show business obituaries and has more foreign news than most local stations. So if you haven't given them a try, you ought to.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Lee Romney's Article on Charles Rothenberg In LAT Shows Shortcomings of Justice System

Lee Romney's front-page L.A. Times article Jan. 26 on Charles Rothenberg, the man who set his six-year-old son on fire in 1983 and then served just seven years for the horrible crime is shocking throughout.

It turns out that under a variety of aliases, Rothenberg has continued to commit a large variety of crimes and now is soon to be on trial on weapons and fraud charges that could send him to prison for a long, long time under the state's three-strike law.

But the most shocking thing in Romney's article is reserved for the last two paragraphs when she reports that the jury hearing the case won't be told who Rothenberg is, or even that this is a third strike case. "In fact," she concludes, "the only jurors who will be seated on the panel are those who say that the names Charley Charles, Charles Bocca (two of the names Rothenberg has used) and Charles Rothenberg do not ring a bell."

I've been present as a reporter in other cases when the jurors were kept in the dark about the background of a criminal, only to find out later to their horror that they would have acted differently in reaching a verdict had they known the whole truth. I remember one juror who burst into tears when he heard the facts, well after the trial.

It's why I've believed for a long time that serving on a jury is a sin. It's a sin of complicity with a justice system that all too often is a foul conspiracy against the public interest.

The way such trials are conducted is a conspiracy between judges and defense attorneys to keep jurors in the dark.

So when I've been called as a juror, I delay it as long as possible and then answer any questions about prejudices, etc. in such a way as to insure that I'm never actually selected as a juror. I never have been. In fact, I left Harvard Law School in 1962 after four months there when I concluded that the system was corrupt.

The newspapers, with all their faults, are still far more honest than the courts. I cannot believe that reporters like Lee Romney would ever have let Charles Rothenberg serve only seven years for the permanently disfiguring mutilation of his son or would keep the jury now from knowing who it was dealing with.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Tim Reiterman Reveals Attempted Redwood Ripoff By Pacific Lumber Co.

It takes real gall for a lumber magnate operating on the North Coast to take $480 million from the federal and state governments to limit his firm's cutting of the redwood forest and then turn around and try to blackmail Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger into letting him out of the deal, without, of course, returning the money.

Yet according to the L.A. Times report Jan. 25 by the outstanding investigative reporter Tim Reiterman, edited by the new environmental editor, Frank Clifford, that's what Charles Hurwitz, CEO of Maxxam, Inc., owner of the Pacific Lumber Co., is attempting.

Hurwitz and Maxxam are another example of rapacious Texans out to take California for all they can get. It happened with the energy companies, it's happening with the telephone company and now it's happening with this state's precious redwood heritage. More globalism at work, my friends. First sell the California companies to greasy strangers and then see them rob the state of its patrimony.

In this case, they say that unless they get their way, they may declare bankruptcy and then seek court permission to ignore the deal and go ahead with the cutting. So much for fair dealing.

When the Schwarzenegger Administration was first approached with this proposition, the proper course would have been to punch Hurwitz in the nose and throw him or his emissaries out of the governor's office with instructions never to come back..

Instead, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman refuses to even discuss the matter, calling it a private meeting. This has come to be the attitude of the governor who said he was going to defy the special interests, but instead has cottoned up to them. Schwarzenegger has been behaving like a girlie-man for sometime now whenever the special interests arrive.

When Reiterman went to Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer's office, however, a spokesman for Lockyer told him, "I am sure if Pacific Lumber Co. sought to evade the requirements of the deal with California, there would be a fierce legal battle to prevent it." It is obvious Lockyer is more of a he-man than Schwarzenegger.

So, for once, is the L.A. Times editorial page. Editor Michael Kinsley may vote in the state of Washington, but this morning his section has an editorial which asks pointedly, "Two questions: Why did Pacific Lumber Co. sign on to a deal with California six years ago if it was not going to be able to honor the agreement? And is it too late to get our $480 million back?" It calls Hurwitz's company "either incompetent or dissembling."

The redwoods are worth more than $480 million. This awful company must be made to keep its bargain. But a good first step would be to wrap Mr. Hurwitz in the California flag and keelhaul him -- very slowly --under the Queen Mary, now at anchor in Long Beach Harbor.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Brilliant William Safire Retires At The NYT

William Safire retired yesterday, Jan. 24, from the New York Times, although he will continue to write his language column in the Times magazine. The NYT devoted the entire op-ed page to him, including a piece in which he assessed what his great winners and losers were.

Hiring Safire was one of the best hires Punch Sulzberger ever made, because having a really able conservative on the op-ed page enhanced NYT credibility no end. The LAT could and should do the same thing, but Max Boot so far is no match for Safire.

The New York Times has had other great conservatives on its pages, including C.L. Sulzberger as foreign affairs columnist, a great booster of Charles de Gaulle, and Hanson Baldwin as longtime military correspondent. Having this balance was one of the things that made the NYT a great newspaper.

Safire wasn't always conservative. He wrote independently, not always taking the expected positions, and, as such, he kept his audience. He has to be regarded as one of the country's most successful columnists, almost as successful as the LAT's Steve Lopez.

Safire was a great champion of Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister, and he also championed the Kurds in Iraq and the Baltic states in their quest for freedom. He was right about all these. And with his superb command of the English language, he has been a Godsend to American journalism.

He could be stubborn. I remember he came to the L.A. Times for lunch on the day Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, and he remarked to some of us what an outrage he thought it was that Saigon was being renamed Ho Chi Minh City. But I responded that after all the North Vietnamese had won the war.

Let's hope Saddam is never in a position to rename Baghdad Saddam Hussein City. It could happen, if the L.A. Times editorial pages have their way.

But yesterday I may have been too hard on Nick Goldberg, the LAT Op-Ed Page Editor. I know Goldberg to be sincere. Sometimes, my tone is too sharp.

Monday, January 24, 2005

L.A. Times Op-Ed Page Runs Disgraceful Ramsey Clark

Not content with the ravings of his leftist columnists Michael Kinsley and Bob Scheer, Times Op-Ed Page Editor Nick Goldberg sinks to a new low this morning, Jan. 24, by running a column by Ramsey Clark that suggests that "leaders and military personnel of the U.S., Britain" should be charged with crimes at the same time Saddam Hussein is, for their "aggression against Iraq."

Churchill incarcerated the British Fascist Sir Oswald Mosley and 200 of his followers during World War II for less of an offense in a time of war than Clark is guilty of here.

Clark, an offensive anti-American for many years, has long cow-towed to terrorists ranging from the Ayatollah Khomeini to the leaders of Hezbollah. But his sympathetic treatment of Hussein, the murderer of millions, does not belong in a respectable American newspaper. It perverts free speech to panic-mongering, what Oliver Wendell Holmes once characterized as "crying fire in a crowded theatre."

Goldberg once told me in a conversation that he felt the American people's response to 9-11 was excessive, and remarked that unlike Europeans Americans were not sufficiently inured to the costs of war, because we had not been subjected to attacks such as Europeans suffered in World War II.

And so The Times continues to offend many thousands of its own readers. However, the Times letters column continues to be fairminded, printing a number of letters, such as this morning, that sharply criticize the paper's editorial policy.

Kudos to reader Gregory P. Williams of Lakewood today, who responded to the Jan. 21 editorial calling President Bush "a small man (in our view), who became president through accident of birth and corruption of democracy."

Williams calls this editorial 'an affront to every American," and says it "shows...blatant, obvious hatred of the man and the office and a complete lack of respect for the American people who duly elected the president."

Things are deteriorating at the Tribune-owned Times. How long can it be before a purchaser comes forward to buy back The Times and turn the leftists who have come to dominate the editorial pages out to pasture.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Joan Sweeney, Distinguished Reporter, Dies

Joan Sweeney, one of only three female reporters in the L.A. Times City Room when she was hired in 1971, died of Lou Gehrig's Disease on Saturday, Jan. 22 at home. She was 68. We will all miss her.

Sweeney, a successful novelist after she left The Times in 1984, was a popular member of the Old Farts, the organization of retired Times employees. Just last Wednesday, a card was circulated at the group's luncheon for members to sign, wishing her well.

Dorothy Townsend was the only female reporter in the City Room when I came downtown from the West Side suburban edition in 1967, and she was joined later by the second, Susan (Holly) Stocking.

In those days, women did not have it very easy at The Times. Most often, they were given "women's assignments" and not allowed to do very much on the main stories. Gradually, that changed, with the addition of such hard-driving and well-respected reporters as Narda Zucchino, Nancy Skelton, Myrna Oliver, Janet Clayton, Anna Gorman, Julie Cart, Tracy Wilkinson, Andrea Ford, Becky Trounson, Carla Hall, Tracy Wood, Carla Rivera, Tina Daunt, Julie Tamaki, Stephanie Chavez, Joselyn Stewart, Teresa Watanabe, Tracy Weber, Bettina Boxall, Usha McFarling, Jennifer Oldham and the remarkable Bella Stumbo among others..

Now, of course, The Times women are highly successful and well accepted. Sweeney helped pave the way for that. It wasn't always so, and at one or two times they had to assert themselves, demanding equal treatment.

Joan was a well diversified reporter, even contributing a skiing column to the Sports Section.

Recently, she sustained her most difficult and tragic disease with grace and dignity. We all admired her.

It's always shocking to read of a valued colleague's passing, Just in the past year, we've lost many fine members of the Times family, including Frank Del Olmo, Bruce Cox, Betty Hughes, , John Dreyfuss, Stan Allison, Jody Jacobs, John Lawrence, and Lee Austin, among others.

Joan Sweeney was a talented and wonderful person, friendly to everyone. May she rest in peace. The paper today says donations in her memory may be sent to the ALS Assn., 27001 Agoura Road, Suite 150, Calabasas Hills, California 91301.


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Los Angeles Times Editorial Page Goes Bonkers

I must confess that I was taken aback by President Bush's Second Inaugural. It seemed to me his goal of democracy throughout the world is so all-encompassing that it raises two questions impossible to answer: Where would the U.S. acquire the financial resources to accomplish such a goal, and how big an Army would it take?

So this was one of those rare times I was looking for an eloquent editorial that would take the President on, and raise the questions I had.

But I didn't find it in the Los Angeles Times.

The editorial operation directed by Michael Kinsley can't hit water if it falls out of a boat.

The Friday, Jan. 21 editorial, "No Country Left Behind," compared President Bush at one point to Jimmy Carter and at another point suggested his views were nearly Marxist. These are fanciful comparisons. To be fair, the comparison to Woodrow Wilson, a President who also tried to save the world, was more apt.

The summary of the editorial called Bush's speech "frightening," but finally settled in its conclusion on merely saying the next four years will be "interesting."

This is no way to write a negative editorial. Under Kinsley, the Times' editorial pages have frequently been screeching. In trying this time merely to be cute, Kinsley must have been drinking some of the more polluted waters of Puget Sound in the state where he votes..

Friday, January 21, 2005

George Skelton, Jessica Garrison Political Writings Contribute A Lot

Good examples of political writing in the L.A. Times were the column by George Skelton on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not keeping his promises, and two articles on the Los Angeles mayoral campaign by Jessica Garrison. All three articles ran Thursday, Jan. 20.

Skelton's political writing is consistently outstanding, and his column deserves better positioning in the paper than it gets. George's state politics column used to run on the lefthand side of Page 3 in Section A, before the California Section was created, where he usually runs obscurely at the bottom of the state page.

He protested this positioning strongly at the time, taking the matter all the way up to editor John Carroll, without much effect. It was one of the down sides of sticking most state news in the California section, where it often doesn't get the attention it deserves.

While Page 3 is usually a good foreign news page now, I still feel on balance that the paper has suffered in the eyes of many readers by the compressing of most local and state news into the California section, except on days when something obviously very important does make it onto Page 1.

One critical weakness of the California section is that it compartmentalizes the news too much. Often, it would be better to skip the regional news page altogether in lieu of running either more local news or state news, but there isn't the flexibility under the present management to do this. Orange County is no more important to most Los Angelenos than Eastern Europe. It is getting far too much space on a daily basis.

Positioning means a great deal in a newspaper, and Skelton in the present arrangement simply doesn't get the positioning he deserves. The column on Schwarzenegger was important, because the governor is slowly failing, he is not keeping his word, and the political writers in Sacramento haven't adequately reflected that in their reports, although they generally do a good job.

Skelton is tough but fair. He has reached the stage in life where he lets the chips fall where they may. He may not always have the writing finesse of a Steve Lopez, but he remains a valuable contributor to the paper.

Jessica Garrison, young and bright, has made strides as a writer of politics. Both her Villaraigosa campaign piece starting on Thursday's Page 1, A section, and her article on poison pen letters in the mayoral campaign starting on Page 1 of the California section were excellent.

One small suggestion, however. In the jump on the Villaraigosa story, Garrison allows Mayor Jimmy Hahn's campaign strategist, Bill Carrick, to get away with denigrating the Villaraigosa campaign as if he were an honest observer. It would have been better to use verbs like "claimed" or "asserted," rather than the more neutral "said," were it necessary to use Carrick at all.

Carrick is quoted as saying that the loss of endorsements from organized labor and the Democratic party has left Villaraigosa's campaign "critically wounded." This is not necessarily so, and in any case it would have been better for such judgments to come from neutral parties, or Villaraigosa supporters had they to be used at all.

Still, Garrison generally does a fine job and is getting better. Her experience in this campaign will serve her and the paper in good stead later in state and national politics.

The poison pen letters, by the way, are just not campaign rhetoric. They deserve more examination, because they often get to the heart of the issues in the mayoral campaign.

His uninspiring record as mayor would seem to leave Hahn "critically wounded" in his own reelection campaign, to use the phrase used by Carrick against Villaraigosa.

And is the Times going to endorse for mayor on the editorial page? It should, even though editorial pages editor Michael Kinsley votes in Seattle.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Gail Eichenthal Leaves KNX, As Station Under New Management Gets Softer

KNX scrapped some of its new soft news shows during the big storm, doing a good job of keeping up with road closures and other weather news. They called in extra reporters and were quick to adjust to the emergency.

But now we hear that Gail Eichenthal in leaving the station in protest against the overall drift away from hard news. The L.A. Times quotes Eichenthal as saying, "My discomfort grew over time...It's a difference of philosophy."

Actually, KNX's move away from time devoted to hard news was well underway under the old regime, apparently as a way of reducing labor costs. The station was broadcasting a large number of sports events nobody much cared about, and it had comedy hours, drama hours, anything to get away from what its overall purpose was: to keep Los Angeles up to date with the news, hour after hour. The best course would have been hard news 24-7, but management didn't realize that.

Neither the old managers nor the new seem to realize that the reason one turns to an all-news station is to get the news. The all-news station in San Francisco does realize that and they are doing a far better job.

Now, under the new KNX management, directed by David G. Hall, we have computer news hours, business news hours, "perspective" quotations, anything to wean the station away from straight news.

It's a mistake. I suppose Gail Eichenthal will find a hard-news station and go back to doing what she likes. But Los Angeles listeners will be the losers.

It's not that new management, either at KNX or the L.A. Times, wants to do the wrong thing. They just wander into trouble, too quick to make changes, and abandoning the substance that has made them popular in the past. It's really too bad.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Complaints Against L.A. Times Changes

It does not come as a surprise that hundreds of Los Angeles Times readers have complained through the Reader's Representative at the paper against a new round of cutbacks instituted Jan. 1.

An impressive 347 readers, according to a report in L.A. Observed do not like the latest shortening of TV Times, taking out, especially, the comprehensive listings between midnight and 7 a.m. Now, we only have highlights. And I remember when it was promised that TV Times was going to be improved, not stripped of features as it has been repeatedly.

Another 124 readers complained about stripping the times for movies from the Thursday Calendar section.

And 110 more complaints came in over the latest deletion of some stock listings.

Do the Easterners in Chicago who own The Times expect that Californians are going to take the piecemeal downsizing of the newspaper lying down. At every hand now, we hear complaints about what the Tribune has done to The Times and accounts of people cancelling their subscriptions.

It raises further question as to whether the sale of Times-Mirror to the Tribune was actually legal. Weren't there numerous reports beforehand that according to the will of Harry Chandler, the papers could not be sold until the last member of Otis Chandler's generation had died?

But it takes someone to bring a case for illegality before the worst transgressions can be challenged, and members of the Chandler family then were so eager to be paid off that no one objected.

It's now an infernal cycle. Circulation falls, advertising reveneues decrease, cutbacks are ordered, and then the circulation falls again. The Times has lost more than a quarter million circulation since the Tribune Co. took over, and there have been major declines at other Times-Mirror papers.

California readers should rise up and complain directly to Chicago. Tell these Easterners to keep the paper a quality institution or sell it back to Californians who will restore that quality.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Poisonous Suggestions In The January Media

No wonder so many Americans are growing fed up with the news media, as reflected by subscription declines and less viewing of the network news shows. It seems whereever we look, the most negative suggestions are being made about the U.S. Government and its policies.

I noticed Seymour Hersh, who has virtually never found anything good to say about the USA, not only in the Bush Administration but in every administration going back to Lyndon B. Johnson's.

Now Hersh has written in the New Yorker that U.S. forces are preparing an attack against Iran to head off its nuclear plans. Surveillance of nuclear sites is being secretly undertaken, according to Hersh.

Everytime there is a new Hersh investigatory revelation, it's always claimed that sources within the U.S. military are talking to him, and that's where it all comes from. But I'm suspicious. Where are all these people in the military establishment who are so eager to talk to a reporter who never has anything good to say about this country?

Pardon me, I'm not convinced that Hersh is legit.

Tuesday's Los Angeles Times is filled with lurid negative suggestions. Let me list a few.

--Bob Scheer is tearing down the Bush Administration and its Iraq policies for the umpteenth time. I thought this was a newspaper. What is there new about Scheer? And much of what he says is poppycock. Just today, he remarks, "Although it is true that Bush secured a (very slim) majority of the popular vote..." Very slim, my foot! Bush won by a comfortable 3.5 million votes. He increased his percentage of the vote in virtually every state. Even the New York Times editorial at least had the good grace, which the L.A. Times did not have, to congratulate Bush on his victory.

--The LAT Op-Ed Page is frequently not satisfied with just one negative article about the war. It runs two. The second today is by Michael Keane, a lecturer at USC, carrying the title, "Our Tortured Language of War." The Times editorial pages are a dirge of negativity, which is costing the newspaper its hitherto fine reputation.

--Then, on Page 1, there's an article sympathetic to an Islamic surge in Spain. It's only 500 years since Spanish Catholics completed the reconquest. The headline on the jump is, "Spanish Muslims Proudly Reclaim 'Al Andalus.' Don't hold your breath.

--Page 3 has yet another in a long string of articles over the months essentially taking the Chechen side of the attempt to oust Russia from the Caucasus region. This one suggests that the Putin regime might have inspired terrorism, blowing up Russian apartments, as an excuse for war. But I thought Muslim terrorists just last fall seized a school and were responsible for the killing of hundreds of adults and children.

On Page 7, the headline on the jump is, "Commanders Lose Confidence in Military Victory." The subject is Iraq naturally. Thanks goodness, we still though have a resilient military.

It's a constant refrain in the L.A. Times and a lot of other media as well: Things are going terribly, and we have lost any moral core we once had.

Just like before World War II: The tyrants were going to win, and Democracy was finished.

No wonder many Americans are sick of it all, and Times circulation is down by hundreds of thousands daily. Not that everything is for the best in the best of possible worlds. We do live in difficult times, and there are things to criticize, as I did just yesterday in discussing the Armstrong Williams payoff. It's just that I don't think always being negative is justified.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Armstrong Williams And The Bush Administration, A Disgrace

It is a scandal that has slowly been building -- the payment by the Bush Administration of $240,000 to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to shill for it in relation to the No Child Left Behind program.

As Frank Rich of the New York Times and David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times pointed out in weekend commentaries, this is an outrage of the first order, and we may only be seeing the tip of the iceburg.

Because, if the Administration paid one journalist to do its bidding, to sell its policies, it is hard to believe this was something that occurred only once, and only with Mr. Williams.

No, the suggestion is that this may have happened many times, and what is called for is a broadranging investigation to find out just how widespread this evil is. It is, need I say, far more serious than the questions raised about CBS, Dan Rather and Mary Mapes.

It would be foolish not to recognize that the press has been used in the past by other administrations. There's no question but that news personnel have worked for intelligence agencies, not only American ones, but foreign ones and enemies of the United States.

But the payment to Armstrong Williams is a strong hint that this practice of corrupting journalism is spreading and that this administration might be particularly guilty.

This could be a cesspool, and while I don't normally support an independent prosecutor, one may well be needed here to get to the bottom of it.

Meanwhile, as for Armstrong Williams, he should never be accepted again in journalism. He constitutes a veritable perversion of the First Amendment. It is worse than Jayson Blair, because Blair made up things on his own, and wasn't paid by the Government of the United States to try and put one over on people.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

CBS Situation Works Against Both Network And Rather

Continued reporting and comment in the aftermath of the CBS firing of four staff members in the inquiry into the network's story on President Bush's National Guard service make it plain that the damage to CBS is intensifying. More pressure is also coming onto Rather.

In the background is increasing pressure on all of the mainstream news media to bend over backward to be fair to Bush, who was frequently pasted in the recent presidential campaign.

The Los Angeles Times had a lengthy further story this morning, Jan. 16, on "How CBS' Big Story Fell Apart." This was, incidentally, the paper's new media correspondent, James Rainey's, first big story. He shared the byline with Texas LAT correspondent Scott Gold. Rainey is usually a careful, meticulous reporter, and this story demonstrated that.

I have, frankly, been somewhat sympathetic to Rather in this whole matter. But Rather had comparatively little to say in the wake of the release of the independent panel's report last week, and now new questions have arisen as to whether his announced assignment with "60 Minutes, Wednesday," will actually be available to him after he retires as the CBS news anchor next month. There has been speculation that "60 Minutes, Wednesday" may be cancelled because of low ratings, raising a question of whether Rather would be given much work on the main ^60 Minutes" show appearing Sundays.

LAT media columnist Tim Rutten wrote last week that the main question surrounding the CBS controversy, or, as some call it, the CBS scandal, was whether CBS personnel showed political bias against Bush in doing the National Guard story. Initially, I said the main issue still revolved around whether the story was accurate. However, on further reflection and reading further comment, I now think Rutten may have been right.

Presently, the ball seems to be on the conservative side, with criticism of CBS only mounting and very little public sympathy with Rather and the fired staff members. There seems to be a widespread assumption that the National Guard story was not authenticated, and there have been further suggestions, even from her own father, that fired CBS producer Mary Mapes, was biased.

Even the L.A. Times editorial pages, often a vitriolic critic of the Bush Administration, seem milder in the last week or two. Even editorial pages editor Michael Kinsley seems aware a firestorm is building against the Bush critics in the news media, despite continuation of the President's hard struggle in the Iraq war.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Business Section of LAT Continues To Drop The Ball

Even while the Metro staff of the Los Angeles Times continues to exhaustively report all the ramifications of La Conchita's fatal landslide, and Steve Lopez does his usual fine work, accompanying a Caltech geologist into the landslide-prone San Gabriel Mountains, The Times Business section continues to drop the ball.

Business, which has done two half-hearted stories this past week on the critical problems of the inept Union Pacific Railroad, uses wire service dispatches from Bloomberg and Reuters only this morning, Jan. 14, to report that a Union Pacific main freight line between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City will be closed due to storm damage for "a matter of weeks, not days."

In addition, Amtrak service will be disrupted on Union Pacific tracks between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara for an unspecified period, according to the story, and it adds that the Union Pacific will reduce service this year on another main line, this one between Los Angeles and El Paso, to fix tracks.

Altogether, the story said, the 90 Union Pacific trains a day that normally move freight in the Los Angeles region will be cut in number for an "extended period," although as usual Union Pacific was vague, giving no further specifics.

The New York Times has offered far more explicit coverage on the problems of Union Pacific since it purchased Southern Pacific and descended into frequent chaos. The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, has done little meaningful investigative reporting into the mess, which has lasted several years now and has been materially worsened by the recent storms.

Meanwhile, I am told, Business has failed to report an outage lasting for days in thousands of SBC telephones in the canyon areas between central Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. SBC, a Texas company, has often treated California with the negligence of the Texas energy companies.

When it comes to the incompetencies of government, The Times is quick to give coverage. When corporations are incompetent and begin to fall apart, it often says little or nothing. There is a pro-business bias here which would make Harry Chandler proud.

Or is it that the Chicago Tribune has sent the team responsible for reporting that Dewey had defeated Truman out here to supervise The Times Business section? (Just kidding on this last point), although it is becoming more and more obvious that a change back to California ownership of The Times, the telephone companies, the banks and the railroads would be a good thing for this state.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Promotion of Frank Clifford Is A Good Move At L.A. Times

The promotion of Frank Clifford from editor of environmental news for The Los Angeles Times' Metro section to the post of environmental editor nationwide is a wise move.

Clifford has done a fine job in his environmental responsibilities thus far, taking advantage of such talented and committed environmental writers as Kenneth Weiss and Julie Cart. Now, he's going to continue to supervise those writers, but will also take in hand national coverage which has been less distinguished in this area.

Clifford, a Yale graduate who has been with The Times for more than 20 years, is tough-minded and independent. He believes in the environment and is a hardnosed critic of the Bush Administration in this regard without being an ideologue. He is liberal, but not a mindless liberal. There is a streak of realism in Frank that could be seen in his coverage years ago of the inept Rose Bird in her hapless campaign to remain as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Clifford is also not afraid to speak up in an organization that has too many sycophants.

Clifford's 2002 book, "The Backbone of the World, A Portrait of the Vanishing West Along the Continental Divide," was excellent. It deserves to be read by every lover of the Mountain West. When I took a 4,800-mile drive through the region last summer, Frank recommended a number of places for me to stay, including the fabulous Chico's at Pray, Montana. He also is an expert on Alaska and the Yukon.

Let's hope this move, announced jointly by Janet Clayton, the assistant managing editor in charge of Metro and Scott Kraft, the able national editor, marks a more assertive managerial position by Clayton, who needs to crack the whip among assistant Metro editors, some of whom do not arrive even on the busiest news days until 10 a.m.

I think it is these editors, rather than the writers, who are to blame for such lassitude that it took The Times this week four days to finally do a story on the storm-forced closure of most of the canyon roads between the Valley and the West Side. Even when it finally appeared today, Jan. 13, this story said the roads had been closed for only three days when they had been closed for four, and failed to note clearly the resulting congestion on Sunset Blvd. through Beverly Hills, Westwood and Brentwood. The condition grew so bad Wednesday night that KNX, which has done a far better job than The Times of covering the road closures, cryptically referred to Westwood as being "in gridlock." This is the word when it takes more than an hour to drive from West Hollywood to the San Diego Freeway.

Frank Clifford, I should make clear, has nothing to do with traffic coverage. What he does is done well, even though he is so conscientious, he frequently is overworked. One of his challenges in his new job will be to efficiently manage his time.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The LAT, Including Me, Did Not Fight Sufficiently For Land Use Controls In Hazardous Areas

The article on Page 1 in today's Los Angeles Times (Jan. 12), "Risk Goes Hand in Hand With Beauty," by Daryl Kelley, Catherine Saillant and Steve Chawkins, looking at issues raised by the La Conchita landslide tragedy, does in superb fashion what The Times has not done nearly enough of in the past.

And that is to challenge California Denial, and write extensively and persistently of the need to keep Californians from building homes and living in geologically hazardous areas.

This is time for more than a little mea culpa. As a Times writer on earthquakes for the last 25 years I did not pursue this subject nearly as much as I might have.

Specifically, I now recognize I did not protest as strongly as I should have against editing changes made in a piece I wrote coincident with the 10th anniversary of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. It was published on Page 1 of The Times last January, but only after some of the worst editing changes I was ever subjected to, weakening the piece dramatically.

The article was meant to examine whether the danger to life and property was greater from an earthquake in 2004 than it was in 1994, and I had intended, based on what the great preponderance of experts I interviewed told me, to give a clear warning that it was.

The article, even as written, should have been stronger. By the time the editing was complete, it was a total mishmosh, with negative elements moved down and positive ones up. I was more ashamed of the final product than any other front page story I had in my 39 years with The Times, and I had hundreds.

I violated a cardinal rule in this episode, and that is never to be absent during the editing process. I wrote the article before leaving on a trip to South America and was not present for the editing. An editor who was not responsible for the final editing changes, did send me a copy of early editing by e-mail, but the final editing was not e-mailed to me, so there was no chance to argue about it before the article ran.

I wrote a memo on this when I got home, but I should have been far more insistent on it being it being read by the highest editors and I should have demanded a meaningful response. I never got one.

The fact is that dereliction by state and local officials has actually weakened protections against earthquakes, landslides and other geological disasters since 1994, and as the state's most influential newspaper, The Times should have been covering that story prominently throughout the period.

One problem is that California denial of the dangers in which we live is common not only among officials and the general populace, but at the newspapers and other media as well. The Times is not the only publication to have too brief an attention span in delving into land use issues. As the time since the last disaster grows, the editors and reporters pay less and less attention.

With the state's pitifully weak earthquake insurance system, brought about by the lobbying of the industry, which took a hit in the Northridge quake and was determined to lessen its exposure thereafter, I think I initially did a fairly good job, while the Legislature was caving in, of pointing this out in numerous articles.

But I did less of a good job later, after it was passed. The fact is that the next big earthquake in this state, the victims will find out very quickly that, compared to Northridge, their coverage, even when they have it, is paltry. It was estimated by the first directors of the California Earthquake Authority that on the average, coverage by those who carried it, would only be 43% of that available in the Northridge quake, due to higher deductibles and multiple exclusions. But, even more critical is the fact, that since Northridge many property owners have dropped earthquake insurance altogether. At the time of Northridge, about 30% of homeowners hd coverage. At the time I retired last June, only about 15% did.

Maybe the federal government will come riding to the rescue in the next big quake, but maybe not. Just as with the recent tsunami disaster, terrestial geology is capable of producing an earthquake far more damaging than any California has had in its recorded history, and sufficient federal aid may not be forthcoming.

It's the same with landslides. We could have one in this state far bigger and more devastating than La Conchita.

The newspapers are terribly important in pursuing such issues. Hopefully, my successors at The Times will do a better job than I did.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

At Least Two Of The CBS Remedies Will Not Work Well

At least two of the remedies announced by CBS in the wake of the independent panel report on the network's much-criticized broadcast on President Bush's Air National Guard service are not apt to work out well, in my view.

First, CBS said it will name an independent group of reporters to fact-check the findings of its investigative teams on a story such as this. Second, it indicated it will no longer let the original team respond in broadcasts to later criticisms of its work.

Neither are really practical.

Journalistic organizations must trust the people assigned to do stories, especially entailing investigative work. Continually reviewing their findings will only delay presentation beyond reasonable time limits and introduce backbiting into the newsroom.

As far as responding to criticisms, it is the group that has done the original reporting and knows the story best that can most ably respond to questions. It was not improper, in my view, for Rather to defend the original report, as long as he believed in it. It was improper for him to be forced into apologizing on the air, if he still believed in it, as he now indicates he does.

Unless there is trust within a newsroom, the work cannot proceed expeditiously. If such trust does not exist, then new people must be found to do the work (as CBS is doing now; it has fired four people and it will have to name new ones).

As for the question whether there was bias by producer Mary Mapes, anchor Dan Rather and others in the CBS reporting on Bush and his National Guard service, I do not regard that as the central question. The central question is whether the report was accurate, and it is noteworthy that even at this late date the independent panel will not take a position that it was inaccurate, and Rather states he still believes it was accurate.

The fact is that it is foolish for anyone to assume that reporters don't have biases, either consciously or subconsciously. It has usually been assumed that good reporters can overcome their biases and still report fairly and I know countless instances in which this has been accomplished.

Mistakes will occur in journalism, especially since reporters are seldom on the spot to determine for themselves to a certainty what has happened in a situation.

So I'm not as shocked as many pretend to be that a mistake may have been made in this case. Mistakes are made all the time and frequently have to be corrected. CBS should do so in this matter, if its managers now believe it was wrong. But the network should not allow such admissions to prevent them from doing investigative work aggressively in the future.

A fruitful subject of inquiry in the CBS situation, however, may be whether cost-cutting in the network and its third place position among the nightly network newscasts may have made mistakes more likely by putting their people under more pressure.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Some Good, Some Bad At The Los Angeles Times

Not every great article in The Los Angeles Times is a multi-day expose of the King/Drew Medical Center.

Jean Guccione's article last week on what long sequestered Grand Jury transcripts indicated about the death of actress Lana Clarkson, allegedly at the hands of Phil Spector, was a terrific piece of reporting, written with Guccione's usual skill. Today, (Jan. 10) there's a longer piece on the subject. Kudos also to the lawyers who helped spring these records from a secretive justice system.

Two articles Sunday, Jan. 9, in the Travel section are worthy of congratulations as well. Kenneth Weiss wrote with verve on a trip he and his girlfriend took to Morro Bay. What I particularly liked about it was that Ken did not allow a rainstorm to detract from their enjoyment of this fine town, a mecca for winter bird watchers. Instead, he repeatedly mentioned the storm, but also said the couple had a great time. (I was in Morro Bay myself recently to visit my old friend, retired Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis, now ailing).

Jane Engle's report in Travel, "You're abroad and tragedy strikes. How prepared are you?" was both timely and highly informative, the kind of service Travel should be performing.

Since I'm often critical of The Times editorial pages, I hasten to compliment two editorials of recent days, one on the need to put more U.S. pressure on the Musharraf regime in Pakistan and, another, today complimenting Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State-designate, on a "Promising Start." It is certainly appropriate for the editorial pages to stop screeching so much and start being constructive. A recent editorial urging the importance of going ahead with the Iraqi election was also worthy of note.

However, two reports in today's Times leave quite a bit to be desired. Eugene McCarthy, a presidential candidate whose campaign I once covered, used to say that Monday newspapers weren't as good as they should be and not nearly as good as those the rest of the week.

That is certainly true with weather stories in the Monday LAT. Today's is lengthy, but still leaves out such key details as the total rainfall since July 1 in Los Angeles, and numerous road closures. The Times lists road closures in San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties this morning, where, of course, the paper does have circulation, but it is woefully short on listing road closures in Los Angeles County, particularly in the canyons between the San Fernando Valley and the rest of Los Angeles. KNX radio has been doing a far better job.

It is of vital interest to thousands of Los Angelenos that for long periods during the storm Laurel Canyon, Coldwater Canyon and Beverly Glen have all been closed to through traffic. Why aren't they mentioned this morning, and how can The Times possibly say it has a Valley Edition, without a Valley story on the storm? No wonder Times circulation has been sliding so badly.

Another example of inadequacy in the paper this morning was the lead story in the notoriously weak Business section on the troubles of the Union Pacific railroad. How could such a story be written and not mention the crippling effects that Union Pacific congestion has had on Amtrak service on the Sunset Limited? And how could this story say that Union Pacific "began suffering major bottlenecks" last spring, for the second time in six years?

Our Business section ought to wake up. Union Pacific has had severe congestion ever since it it took over the Southern Pacific Railroad several years ago. The New York Times has detailed these problems much more comprehensively than The Los Angeles Times.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

BusinessWeek Raises Questions About Future of New York Times

In an intensive look at "The Future Of The New York Times," BusinessWeek reports the paper is struggling with its hometown circulation and is considering charging a subscription fee to those who go online to read the paper.

Since 1998, when the NYT expanded its National Edition, its circulation outside New York has increased daily about 150,000, despite hefty subscription price increases, the article reports. But at the same time, circulation in New York has dropped by 96,000, so net circulation has gone up by only 54,000.

The overall 5.1% circulation increase, to about 1.1 million, compares with an average circulation decline during the same period for American newspapers of about 3.5%. Meanwhile, L.A. Times circulation under the dilatory control of the Tribune Co., has dived more than 20%.

The article has an early quote from a Morgan Stanley publishing analyst describing New York Times numbers and resulting stock price as "bordering on the abysmal," and it notes that NYT stock prices are down about 25% and lag many other newspaper companies.

But, of course, this is the usual Wall Street line. Wall Street cares not a jot for quality in business, preferring layoffs, cost-cutting and little investment in the future. Naturally, in short, Wall Street seems to prefer corporate managers like the Tribune Co., even though Tribune Co. stock prices are also well off their recent highs.

In fairness, the BusinessWeek article does acknowledge that the NYT fails to match the profit margins of such lesser-quality newspaper companies as Gannett and Knight-Ridder "mainly because of the Times' outsize editorial spending." Under the Sulzberger family, the NYT would rather take a profits hit in the short run so it can improve the paper and better things in the long run.

The article also refers to ousted NYT Executive Editor Howell Raines as "tyrannical," and never raises any question about publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. being weak-kneed in getting rid of him under news staff pressure. Without Raines, the newspaper does not seem as exciting, although some staffers say that is good.

The article is worth reading, just as long as we are careful not to listen too intently to Big Business's advice as to what should be the longrange future of quality newspapers. If this advice were followed, they would no longer be high quality.

Unmentioned in the lengthy article is the fact that the New York Times has been a leading critic of corporate ethics. Maybe, that was viewed by BusinessWeek as irrelevant.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Tim Rutten Writes A Good But Not Perfect Column

The central point of Tim Rutten's column today (Saturday, Jan. 8) is certainly accurate -- that the main stream media is essential, because of its vast resources to cover a big story, when something like the South Asian tsunami strikes.

But there are two things in Rutten's column I am going to take issue with, as showing weaknesses in both the column itself and the Calendar section as a whole.

Most immediately important is Rutten's report that CNN eventually got more personnel on the scenes of the tsunami and increased its viewers by a greater percentage than Fox. I do not challenge Rutten's statistics for the most part, because I know him to be an honest, careful journalist, although I might point out that since Fox normally has more viewers than CNN, each percentage point gain of viewers over the normal background level comes easier to CNN than Fox. Each 1% of gain for CNN is a smaller number than a 1% gain for Fox.

Where I most take issue with Rutten on the CNN-Fox part of this column is in two areas. First, Rutten, as an earlier Calendar article by someone else, fails to mention that in the first day or two of tsunami coverage, Fox got the jump on CNN. It made the judgment that the tsunami story was huge in the first hours, and had extensive reporting on it while CNN, especially on Sunday, Dec. 26, failed to break into its regular programming and had comparatively sparse coverage. This showed that in news judgment, initially Fox was superior.

I also think Rutten goes too far in making this comparative comment on CNN and Fox: "While Fox is a series of chat shows linked by snippets of fragmentary information, much of it derived from other sources, CNN not only has maintained its domestic and international news-gathering capabilities, but -- in recent weeks -- also has renewed its managerial commitment to the primacy of hard news."

The fact is, Fox is more than "a series of chat shows linked by snippets of fragmentary information." Fox News is often sharper and more comprehensive than CNN, it just depends on the day and the story. Also, Fox is better at handling more than one subject at a time. When CNN did get more personnel on the scene and begin focusing on the tsunami story, Fox still had good coverage, while also covering better a vital period in the runup to the impending Iraqi election.

The fact is that Rutten and the Calendar section in general lose few opportunities to denigrate Fox, while extolling the virtues of CNN. This follows strong criticism of Fox by Times Editor John Carroll. I have to acknowledge, however, that on most days I myself watch more of CNN than Fox.

The other part of Rutten's column this morning that I find some objection to has to do with his criticism of "cost-cutting" in some of the mainstream media.

I agree with Rutten when he observes, "Even the handful of major newspapers that have remained in the hands of family owners face constant pressure from Wall Street to boost their share price," and that doing so involves cost-cutting.

However, in his discussion of "cost-cutting," Rutten fails to mention the Tribune Co. (which is not family owned, by the way) as enforcing "cost-cutting" in an attempt to increase its profit margins and share prices at The Los Angeles Times and other former Times-Mirror-owned papers.

Perhaps it is too much to expect Rutten to run the danger of cutting his own throat by being explicitly critical of the cost-cutting Tribune Co. has done since buying Times-Mirror papers and ending family ownership of those papers. But Rutten, as a deputy metro editor, was courageous in defying the policies of Mark Willes when he was CEO of Times-Mirror and if he is going to write about cost-cutting, the least he and Calendar can do is give a mention or two to the destructive cost-cutting the Tribune owners have forced at The Times. It's the reason I have urged someone else, with a higher sense of journalistic responsibility, to buy The Times and restore California ownership.

Or am I being too Quixotic and holding today's Rutten column to too high a standard? Maybe so.


Friday, January 07, 2005

Steve Lopez, Michael Hiltzik Avoid Screeching But Get Their Points Across

This week, not for the first time, Los Angeles Times columnists Steve Lopez and Michael Hiltzik demonstrate the ability to get their points across without the screeching that too often marks The Times' editorial pages.

Lopez's column on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed cuts in California K-12 education show what well-reasoned discourse can do. I like the way Lopez gets into it: He says, "I keep thinking it's going to be impossible for (the governor) to outdo himself, and he keeps reminding me never to underestimate him."

Later on, Lopez does use such terms as "trample" and "dastardly," but by that time he has the reader on his side. His writing approach is sound.

Same thing with Hiltzik. He doesn't leave it to the New York Times to provide all the meaningful coverage of the sinking airline industry. His column Thursday, Jan. 6, in Business about hjis holiday experience with Delta Airlines actually is often funny.

Contrast the ability of these two wonderful writers with the sickly approach of too many Times editorials, which can get your back up before you are very deep into the subject.

Also, I notice that CNN is canceling its "Crossfire" program, where ideologues have been plastering each other ad infinitum for years, in favor of what new CNN President, Jonathan Klein calls "roll-up-your-sleeves storytelling."

More power to CNN and Mr. Klein, although CNN seems to continue to have trouble handling more than one subject at a time. This week it has been downplaying Iraq a little too much while focusing on the tsunami.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Often, What Races Political Writers Choose To Cover Can Help Bring New Blood Into The System

So, often a newspaper can perform a public service simply by deciding to cover a political race. And I don't mean just one story. Persistent coverage can help bring new candidates to the fore and inform the public much better than television ever can what the real options are. Or, of course, let the readers know what corrupt candidates to avoid.

In my years as a political writer for The Times, it's fair to say that my extensive coverage of certain elections had the effect of touting good candidates or warning the readers about bad ones.

I don't apologize for writing extensively about Burt Pines' race for City Attorney in Los Angeles in 1973, about John Tunney when he was beginning his race for the U.S. Senate out of his Riverside County congressional seat in 1970, about Jimmy Carter when he was starting out as a Presidential candidate in 1975-76, about Ronald Reagan when he challenged Gerald Ford in 1976, about Newton Russell when he was running against Los Angeles Councilman Arthur Snyder in a special election for the State Senate, about Cathy O'Neill when she tried to become the first woman in the State Senate. Also I wrote very skeptically about Alan Robbins during his political career, and even once suggested to Robbins privately that he ought to consider "going straight," becoming less corrupt. Robbins said he was considering my suggestion, but it was too late. A few months later, he was indicted for taking bribes and served time in the federal prison at Lompoc upon conviction. I also was distinctly unimpressed about the political careers of the Calderon family on the East Side, who never saw a corporate lobby they didn't like.

Just in recent conversations, I've run into people who argue that The Los Angeles Times might now perform a useful public service were it to intensively cover an upcoming race or two.

A federal judge and a retired labor leader suggested over lunch last week that Los Angeles might come up with a better mayor, if The Times continued to write regularly about corruption in the Administration of Jimmy Hahn. I agree.

At a private party, West Side television moderator and interviewer Bill Rosendahl told me he felt his chances to be elected to the City Council would improve if The Times regularly covered his race. I agree with that too.

It's obvious on the state level that challengers to the reelection of Arnold Schwarzenegger believe their chances would go up with intensive Times coverage of state politics, which certainly seems in the cards.

William Randolph Hearst, not always a role model for good journalism, nonetheless was right when he remarked that newspapers are at their best when they champion the interests of the people. I never hesitated to try to do that as a political writer, although, I must confess, I thought I was a little over-enthusiastic about Jimmy Carter's virtues. He disappointed me as President, although not as a former President.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

New York Times National Sports Doesn't Give All The Scores, Even A Day Late

On a morning that The Los Angeles Times renders tremendous coverage to USC's National Championship rout of Oklahoma, it is a good time to note that the New York Times National Edition circulated in California found the game too late to cover at all.

Without question, a day late, the NYT will cover the game,

But most often, the NYT sports section doesn't bother to pick up scores of the games in basketball and football that are too late for the previous day's deadlines.

This is a serious gap in New York Times national coverage. If you want those scores, then you're going to have to find them some other way than reading the NYT.

The New York sports columnists are good. But with the exception of separate sports sections Sunday and Monday, the NYT has only a few pages of sports sandwiched at the end of the Business section or toward the end of Section one.

The Los Angeles Times has terminated its National Edition altogether, while the New York Times National Edition continues to grow, taking a bigger and bigger proportion of NYT overall circulation.

Still, it would be a good thing, if the NYT picked up the scores it misses from its earlier deadlines, that is if it does care about being a newspaper of record.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Maybe, Following The Angels, The LAT Should Be Renamed

If the Anaheim Angels can legally be renamed the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, The Los Angeles Times can be renamed The Los Angeles Times of Chicago.

The Times, in a front page article today, makes fun of the Angels name change.

But, after all, The Times is not the traditional Los Angeles Times these days. It is run out of an organization, the Chicago Tribune, whose leaders show so little regard for California interests that they order cutbacks without even visiting The Times' offices. And its Editorial Pages editor votes in Washington state, as he disclosed on Sunday.

A reader, Neil Morchower of Irvine, writes today, "Here is my wish list for 2005. I wish for a new editorial board. I wish for a more moderate opinion writer than leftist Robert Scheer."

How highly appropriate when Scheer, just today, Jan. 4, has another scurrilous column, this time attacking the Latino the President has nominated for Attorney General. On the same day an editorial assaults the only black member of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Times, hijacked on its editorial pages by Michael Kinsley and Bob Scheer, doesn't believe in diversity when the minority members of the government are outspoken conservatives.

No, The Times will not be renamed The Los Angeles Times of Chicago, we all know that. But the paper these days is increasingly offensive to much of its readership, just like the Angels have forfeited the trust of their fans by a nonsensical name change.

And the leading telephone company and leading bank belong to Southern business interests. California is being forgotten, I'm afraid. We live in strange Times, to descend to a pun.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Is The Los Angeles Times an L.A. Newspaper?

Is The Los Angeles Times an L.A. newspaper? You wouldn't know it by these standards:

1. We are undergoing one of the rainiest holiday periods in L.A. history. Yet in the Valley edition of the Monday, Jan. 3 Times, there is no weather story in the California Section. Maybe, it's because only .08 inch of rain fell in Chicago, which owns and neglects The Times.

2. In Sunday's usual ill-written column by Editorial Pages Editor Michael Kinsley, he admits that he actually votes in Washington state. This seems to be his home state, not California.

3. Years ago, long before Otis Chandler became publisher of The Times, the newspaper used to feature several pages of color photos of the Rose parade floats. In Sunday's paper, Jan. 2, it only had one. Other float coverage did come in black and white. The paper is regressing.

No wonder that under Chicago Tribune ownership, daily circulation has slipped by a quarter million to close to 900,000. And there doesn't seem to be much of an advertising campaign to reverse this sorry trend.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

L.A. Times Provides Outstanding Report On Missed Tsunami Signals

In what appears to be the most comprehensive and illuminating report yet of missed signals in the Great Tsunami Catastrophe, The Los Angeles Times today (Sunday, Jan. 2) has an outstanding article detailing how many thousands of deaths could have been avoided.

In the bylined article by Paul Watson, Barbara Demick and Richard Fausset, The Times is able to confirm that the Indian military in Madras had a pointed distress call, relayed from the civilian Madras Airport, from the military airbase on the Andaman Islands an hour and 30 minutes before the tsunami that had hit the Andamans struck Madras, but never reported the mayday, high-frequency call back to other civil authorities who could have issued a warning to the populace. In fact, a civil official in Madras noticed the earthquake on a seismograph, the quake was actually felt in Madras, and the civil official contacted New Delhi. But the article says that "official channels didn't permit" an exchange of information between the official who read the seismograph and the military in the city of Madras, and so the warnings of a devastating tsunami from the Andaman Islands and of a huge earthquake on the seismograph were never passed on to residents of Madras or elsewhere in India. At least 10,000 deaths have been reported in Madras and other points on the Indian coast.

The article also says that Thai and Sri Lankan scientists had some vague warnings but failed to pass them on. On the other hand, warnings (quite a bit later, but still in time) were passed on to residents in Kenya and Somalia, sharply reducing the death toll in East Africa.

The article notes, "Even in Somalia, where little centralized authority exists, word of mouth carried the warnings to some fishing villages and may have saved many lives."

The New York Times examined the warnings issue in an article late last week, but unlike The L.A. Times article, most of its examination was from the point of view of U.S. and other foreign tsunami warning centers, and not from authorities in countries that were hit by the tsunami. The L.A. Times article thus breaks new and valuable ground.

Further examination, however, may be in order, as to the failure of U.S. scientific authorities to quickly grasp the size of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Sumatra, and thus initiate a meaningful worldwide warning. It is true that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii had no Indian Ocean experience. But still, this was a holiday, Christmas night, and it may have caused a fatal slowness in U.S. response which has not yet been admitted. The Times article does note that once the tsunami was evident, after it struck Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, the U.S. tsunami experts were able, through roundabout means, to pass on a warning to East Africa.

Past experience with catastrophes has shown that even the most astute scientists are sometimes too slow to appreciate the magnitude of a really great earthquake or volcanic eruption, or too slow to accurately read warning signs. Dealing mostly with moderate disasters, they are hesitant to quickly reach conclusions about major ones. There is, in fact, just a hint in the L.A. Times article this morning that authorities at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., may have been quicker to appreciate the devastating nature of the Sumatra earthquake than the scientists at the Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.

Also, the Hawaiian scientists are quoted as saying that their first assessment of the quake, as a magnitude 8.0 meant that it was "significant but not enormous" and thus by implication too small to form a tsunami. This is not correct. Many fatal tsunamis have been formed by earthquakes less powerful than an 8.0.

Still, it is the Indian military that had the clearest of signals of an impending catastrophe and failed to pass them on. The Indians would have had more contacts in Sri Lanka and possibly in Thailand than Americans, and thus could conceivably also gotten out warnings there. The Indian military seems no more alert to danger than some of our own military the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack, Dec. 7, 1941

Even some normally quick news personnel were not particularly quick to act on first the tsunami reports to rev up coverage. Hence CNN allowed Fox to get a jump of hours in substantive coverage. An article in the L.A. Times Calendar section last week noting that CNN finally did rev up coverage failed to note the early gap with Fox, but The L.A. Times, particularly its Calendar section, is not at all friendly to Fox.

The New York Times was quicker off the dime than The L.A. Times in emphasizing the story about the sizable numbers of missing Europeans in the tsunami. But The L.A. Times story today about the warnings was a clear scoop over The New York Times and one The L.A. Times reporters and editors can be proud of.

Assisting Watson, Demick and Fausset in preparing the warnings story were staff writers Richard C. Paddock, Bruce Wallace, Mark Magnier, Elizabeth Shogren, Sonni Efron, Thomas H. Maugh II and Monte Morin. They were widely separated in location. This was a marvelous example of journalistic cooperation within The L.A. Times.