Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A Sunday Los Angeles Times Was Marvelously Entertaining

Reading back issues of a newspaper after a trip can be greatly enlightening, giving you a longer range perspective on how the paper is doing.

Apropos of that, I'm pleased to say that the Los Angeles Times Sunday paper of March 20 had marvelously entertaining features which show certainly that some things are being done right at the paper. for all its recent circulation and editorial problems.

To start with Sports, quite beyond the coverage of the NCAA basketball tournaments, columns by Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers displayed these outspoken journalists at their best.

Plaschke appropriately announced that he would not be voting, when the occasion arises, for steroids suspect Mark McGwire, once known as the home run king, to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

McGuire recently refused to tell inquiring Congress members whether he had used steroids, saying what was in the past should remain in the past.

Plaschke was right on the money when he proclaimed in the column that in 1998, when McGuire was hitting a then-record 70 home runs, "I was certain I was witnessing the last glowing moments of professional sports chivalry." But, he now says, "In the wake of his capitol offensive performance last week, it now seems to be the march of a cheat."

Frankly, I would go even further than Plaschke. Unless McGuire can clear up the suspicions he has done so much to create, I would formally strip the baseball records of his 70 home runs. After all, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Henry Aaron never used steroids. But Plaschke is getting to the right position on preserving the records.

Also, I had to admire Simers for taking on, chapter and verse, the new season tickets policies of Dodger owner Frank McCourt. McCourt, who has stripped some longstanding Dodger loyalists of their perks, adding seats in front of theirs, now is trying to strip all season ticket owners of privileges if they don't buy additional preseason tickets, and he has cancelled shuttle service from Union Station and may have limited privileges at the Dodger Stadium Club, although the Dodgers characterize that as a printing error.

We will see if Simers is correct in predicting the Dodgers, who let some talented players go between last season and this, will not be all that successful on the field in the season just about to start. But his explicit defense of the longtime season ticket owners against the cheap Dodger owner does him honor.

In fact, considering Simers' attitude, I wish Times Editor John Carroll and Managing Editor Dean Baquet had taken Simers with them when they were summoned to the Burbank Airport last spring to hear Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimmons announce they had to cut back the L.A. Times in many respects. Simers may have been more appropriately outspoken on that occasion than Carroll or Baquet. In fact, knowing him, I'd bet on it.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of what was right about the March 20 paper, but the Travel section and a special travel issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine also distinguished themselves that day.

I wrote yesterday that all too often the New York Times is appropriately more skeptical of private enterprise and especially the big corporations than the L.A. Times. But Steve Friess did a marvelous job in the March 20 L.A. Times on separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of Las Vegas attractions.

Choosing some that were worthless, Friess also gave some worthwhile alternatives. Anyone going to Las Vegas for more than the slot machines would benefit from reading this pointed article.

Also enjoyable was travel writer Susan Spano's piece on sleeping well while traveling. At one point, Spano writes, "A sense of personal security is conducive to sleep. That's why women especially are advised to make sure front-desk clerks at hotels are discreet when making room assignments. I've lost count of the number of budget hotels I've stayed in, from French Polynesia to Maryland's Eastern Shore, where I felt it wise to wedge a chair against the door."

The Los Angeles Times Magazine had several good travel articles, but I felt the one on traveling in Greenland by Thomas Curwen was particularly entrancing. Curwen was especially entertaining in describing Greenland food, and, for once in the Times, the map that went with the article was very attractive and well done.

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