Thursday, April 14, 2005

Correction On Earlier Hertzberg Endorsement Report And An Apology to L.A. Times And Michael Finnigan

I'm paying too much attention to headlines and leads and not enough to the fine print further down. Rick Orlov and the Daily News did properly emphasize former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg's forthcoming endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa for Los Angeles mayor, before it happened Thursday morning, leading their story with it, but it was not a scoop. It was mentioned in advance very deep into the L.A. Times lead political story as well, and I owe the Times and its writer, Michael Finnigan, an apology for saying in this space earlier that he and the paper had been embarrassed by an Orlov scoop..

The endorsement was also foreshadowed in a report by Howard Fine in the L.A. Business Journal.

There was, however, I believe, an embarrassment for the Times and Finnigan. It was in allowing Hahn to get away with a more and more racist campaign against Villaraigosa with little challenge, leading the main political story in the California section with Hahn dredging up a 13-year-old charge that Villaraigosa was soft on gangs and not immediately emphasizing the denial..

I believe that aspect of the story was a violation of one of the cardinal rules of political reporting.

And that is don't report nonsense without very quickly giving the other side a chance to blow it straight to hell. It took Finnigan eight paragraphs today, almost to the jump, to give the Villaraigosa
side a chance to say anything.

By contrast, Orlov very properly left this horseshit to the bottom of his story. Orlov knows what all political writers should realize, and that is that one of the most important things about political writing is to handle contradictions skillfully and fairly.

How very sad it is, and how unfortunate for Los Angeles as a city, that Hahn is following up his father's great political career as a champion of racial underdogs with a racist campaign. He is going to lose, that is sure, but Kenny Hahn must be turning over in his grave today to see how his son is campaigning against the Latino Villaraigosa.

The Times editorial page too has, as yet, failed to call the Hahn campaign for what it is, It had a very weak editorial recently tepidly examining this question, and it accurately accused Hahn this week of pandering on the King/Drew Medical Center.

But it is very important, particularly in a city that has had two deadly race riots in separate generations to jump on anyone who tries to wave that bloody shirt again. Its failure to do so shows, among other things, the folly of hiring an editorial page editor from out of town.

It's not too late for Hahn to end his career on an upbeat note by renouncing his own campaign arguments. I hope he does, but candidates seldom do.

I remember a couple of local campaigns where scurrilous tactics were very effectively denounced by neutral parties who had a right to speak, and their actions then are instructive now.

In 1977, when felon-to-be state Sen. Alan Robbins was running for mayor, Robbins opened a Valley headquarters by accusing incumbent Tom Bradley of trying to do to the Valley what Hitler had done to the Jews. The next day, the B'nai B'rith denounced him and compelled him to apologize.

Similarly, Bob Ronka was forced to take a step back by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. when he tried to make hay in another campaign of his opponent, Ira Reiner, having once represented one of the Manson defendants.

There is a time for political reporters to go out and give the decent elements in a community a chance to speak out when campaigns run out of bounds.

Enough mud has already been thrown in a hopeless cause by the incumbent mayor. Does he want to go down in local history as another Sam Yorty?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken:

Once again you are right on target!

Michael Kinsley is an embarrassment to the Times.

Whatever is the matter with your buddy, John Carroll? Does he read his paper?

It is time for Michael to go back to Oregon, or wherever else he chooses to live.

He sure doesn't live here, and has no idea what makes LA tick.

4/14/2005 3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken,

You are right that Orlov is a good reporter, but he didn't have a Hertzberg scoop. He had the news in the morning, as did the Times (down deep in a campaign story), but the L.A. Business Journal, KNBC and L.A. Observed all ran with it the day before.

4/14/2005 10:15 PM  
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