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.


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