Tuesday, March 29, 2005

New York Times Does Better Job of Critiquing Private Enterprise Than L.A. Times

It's pretty routine: The New York Times does a better job of critiquing private enterprise, specific entrepreneurial companies, than the Los Angeles Times, especially in its business section.

Monday, March 28, the NYT had a detailed article on how financial companies like Citibank have been ignoring a federal law that requires them to give special notice and limited interest rates to members of the U.S. active Armed Services and their spouses. Even some courts have been flouting this law, which restricts foreclosures.

A couple of weeks back, the New York Times had yet another of a series of articles raising questions, especially about the Union Pacific Railroad, on how many grade crossing accidents are not the fault of vehicle drivers but of the railroads.

And, day by day, the NYT gives massive, detailed coverage to continuing cases involving criminal violations by various CEOs of huge conglomerates.

In all these areas, the L.A. Times is providing much less scrutiny. The LAT confines most of its more serious investigative pieces to malfeasance by government agencies. Its articles on the Union Pacific have been painfully weak. It has had little or nothing to say about the mistreatment by financial institutions, insurers, etc. of military personnel.

I want to stress, this is not solely a problem since the Tribune Co. bought the L.A. Times. Going back as far as I can remember, the LAT Business section has been loathe to look very skeptically at private firms. As I've mentioned before, it never did a serious story about the business operations of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Comiittee more than 20 years ago.

I used to be critical of private companies as a consumer affairs columnist in the California section, and Steve Lopez does quite a few such articles, and Michael Hiltzik does it in business occasionally. But by and large, the L.A. Times does not cover big business with nearly so critical an attitude as it does government. This is one of the ways in which the paper is not as liberal as some outsiders think.

Now, with Russ Stanton becoming new business editor, will this change? I'd be surprised if it did. There is too long a lacking tradition here, too much to overcome.

Meanwhile, the New York Times continues to set a standard the L.A. Times should emulate.

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