Saturday, April 30, 2005

Judy Woodruff, One Of The Best On TV News, Retires From CNN

Judy Woodruff is retiring from CNN after a career in television that goes back before Jimmy Carter's campaign for the Presidency.

Quiet, unassuming, responsible, Woodruff, 58, is one of the best TV has to offer. She was NBC's correspondent on the Carter campaign, later its White House correspondent during the Carter and Reagan administrations, later worked for PBS and went to CNN in 1993, where among many assignments she anchored the cable network's Inside Politics show.

It quite well could have been Woodruff who Carter had in mind when he told Bob Scheer during the 1976 campaign that he had "lust in his heart" for someone he had met, but had put it aside in accord with his religious convictions.

It seems too frequently that what comes to attention when someone leaves a network or retires is some transgression or mistake.

There is no transgression or mistake with Woodruff. As CNN made clear, it will miss her, and, in fact, she will be coming back for occasional specials. Jonathan Klein, president of CNN's domestic networks, said, "We're sorry to see her go. She's one of the most brilliant and consistent and respected Washington journalists that there has ever been."

One of Woodruff's most memorable telecasts was taking over as CNN anchor of the 1996 Olympic Park bombing during the Atlanta Olympics by the domestic terrorist Eric Rudolph, who just pled guilty to this and other fatal acts of terror in Birmingham, Ala..

It was my privilege during 1976, as the L.A. Times correspondent covering much of the Carter campaign, to be a friend of Woodruff. She was one of the reasons I had so much respect for television political coverage. The TV reporters work long hours over vast distances and must be ready always for unexpected developments. They have to say in 30 seconds or a minute what we have hundreds of words to write for newspapers.

Woodruff has long been one of the brightest and most intelligent. But she says she's going to be around for documentaries, so we'll be watching her hopefully for years to come.

Friday, April 29, 2005

As Political And Military Reverses Grow, The World Situation Becomes More Ominous

Any careful reading of the newspapers or watching of television these days makes the world situation look ominous.

The Iraqi war seems to have entered a more intense phase. It now appears that the elections were not as hopeful an event as they first seemed. The strong vote for the Kurds created a situation where it was all the more difficult for agreement to be reached on a workable Iraq government. The delays of the Shiites and the Kurds in forming such a government have encouraged the Sunni insurrection. Just today, April 29, reports say 27 persons, including three Americans, have been killed by the insurrectionists in acts of violence.

Also in the news today are reports of North Korean progress in developing missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons as far as the continental United States. Despite efforts of the Bush Administration to keep the situation on a low key and bring about new talks, concerns about the Korean prospects, not only in this country but in Japan and South Korea, are growing. Without much news coverage, there has been a buildup of American nuclear strike forces on the island of Guam against an eventuality of provocative actions by the regime of Kim Il Jong. Meanwhile, the North Koreans have repeatedly warned that sanctions against them would mean war.

The failure of the U.S. to find an effective way of either controlling the North Koreans or the insurrectionists in Iraq can only encourage the Iranians from going ahead with their work on a nuclear weapon. There is no certain information as to how far they have moved toward achieving this.

Meanwhile, at home, not very deep into his second term, President Bush is in political trouble. He has had to bring forth, at last night's news conference, a backup position on social security. With the market very soft, it has become apparent that his proposal for private social security accounts is in deep trouble, with Republicans in Congress as well as Democrats. His second idea, to cut benefits for the wealthy while increasing them for lower-income workers is not going to be popular either, particularly when it becomes apparent that a majority is going to get at least a lower rate of future benefit increases.

The ethics trouble the House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, has fallen into, the potential defection of key Republican moderates on the Bolton nomination for U.N. Ambassador, and a steady decline of the President's position in the polls all add to the somber situation. Even though oil has slipped back under $50 a barrel, the high gasoline prices compound them.

Even the situation in Venezuela, where the Chavez dictatorship has turned ever more unfriendly to the U.S. and is seeking an oil deal with China, is a bad sign. Is it unthinkable that we could face a crisis in the Caribbean? I fear not. And though there is little notice of it in the American press, the British people vote next week in parliamentary elections, and some polls indicate the turnout may not be favorable to the Laborites, which have been a staunch ally of the Bush Administration.

It is a determined, in some ways ruthless administration, which has proved before its willingness to use military means to gain foreign policy ends. But in the present situation, due to the war in Iraq, the American military is strained. It would not be easy for the U.S. to have war erupt elsewhere in the world. Indeed, if that war were on the Korean peninsula, it could quickly turn nuclear because there are few other alternatives.

Even editorial pages, such as the L.A. Times and New York Times, that are critical of the Bush Administration have kind of been giving it a holiday, holding their punches and scarcely assessing the situation in the pessimistic terms it may well deserve.

Events could lead to a quick alteration in prospects, violence and new controversial policies by the hard-pressed President.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

R.W. Apple's Review Of The Closing Uglesich's Restaurant In New Orleans Is A Classic

R.W. Apple's writing in the New York Times is never better than when he is visiting an unusual, classic restaurant for a special meal.

One of his best efforts appeared in the NYT yesterday, April 27. And it was about a restaurant that won't be around much longer. Uglesich's, in what is almost a New Orleans slum, will be closing soon.

Apple's review of this restaurant, dating back to an illegal Croatian immigrant who opened it in 1924 and now operated by that immigrant's son and his wife was enough to make you want to make a special trip to New Orleans for the restaurant's closing days.

Unlike Galatoire's, Brennan's and others down in the French Quarter, this restaurant is not particularly expensive, it is not fancy, and it is open only for lunch.

But its oysters, its lump meat crab dishes, its po'boys, its sea trout, etc. are the standard by which much Louisiana food is judged. The lines for lunch start at 9 a.m.

And the same high standards can be found in Apple's food writing. Whenever one of these articles appears and I notice it, it is the first thing in the New York Times I read that day. And usually it puts all the articles in the paper in the shade.

Apple is not one of these restaurant critics who sneaks into the restaurant, wearing a false beard and no one knows who he is. No, his arrival is often set up well in advance, and he goes, as he did at Uglesich's, for a special meal where the proprietor has put on all his best efforts.

Apple does not appear at lousy restaurants. He only goes to the best, and the NYT sends him and his wife, Betsy, who is usually present, all over the world at its expense. It falls into the category of a public service of the first water.

And it's just as well in his senior years that Apple has moved toward more and more food and restaurant writing, because his political judgment is not as infallible and hasn't been for some time.

He doesn't seem to know his wars too well. In the Iraq war of 2003, Apple, like President George W. Bush, had it won for good in the first weeks. And in the Falklands war in 1982, he hazarded the guess that England would quit, before it went ahead to smash the Argentine Army and win the war.

But when it comes to food, Apple's judgment does seem infallible, and he writes so pungently, the reader almost invariably can only wish he or she were there.

At a time when the Tribune-owned cost-cutting L.A. Times seems to have cut back, as it has in so many areas, on its out-of-town restaurant writing, the New York Times is going at it full bore. That's one of the things that makes it a great newspaper and keeps its circulation (slowly) rising.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Andres Martinez Shows Someone On The LAT Editorial Pages Can Write A Good Column

Just as soon as I thought it could not happen, Andres Martinez, second only to Michael Kinsley on the L.A. Times editorial pages, shows this morning, April 27, that someone on these pages can write well.

Martinez has a nice touch in his column, "Next: The Google Street Journal," about the future of newspapers.

Although Martinez confesses that sometimes working at a metropolitan newspaper these days feels like serving on the East German Politburo in 1988 (the year before the Wall came down), he finds some rays of light in that future.

Maybe, he speculates, "It's only a matter of time before a Yahoo or a Google decides to buy an old media company in order to differentiate itself by offering high-quality, proprietary news." And, he says, he suspects "the L.A. Times owner, Tribune Co., can probably be had for about $15 billion."

There, I have to disagree with Martinez. Yahoo or Google wouldn't have to buy the whole Tribune Co. That would be pointless. It could buy the L.A. Times for less and get everything it would get by buying all the Tribune papers. After all, one plus zero is still one.

But the idea is tantalizing, and, I have to say, Martinez is a better writer than his usually-absent boss, Michael Kinsley, who I suggested just yesterday should either resign or be fired.

Martinez hazards the opinion this morning that "much of the angst here at the corner of 1st and Spring is overdone." Newspapers, he says, are in for change, but it's not exactly like selling "the equivalent of horse-drawn-buggy manufacturers at the dawn of the automobile era."

Certainly not. With American auto producers like General Motors and Ford in the business, even the horse-drawn-buggy manufacturers might be able to make a come back.

Still, the newspapers have a great deal to offer, as I never tire in pointing out. For their detailed analysis and reports, much more than television or Google can ever muster, they give something to American readers they can't get anywhere else.

Now, if only Martinez can prevail upon Kinsley and other higher-ups to follow through on their Feb. 20 endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor without further ado, I might have something even nicer to say about him.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

It's A NEWSpaper And Michael Kinsley Should Catch Up

The mayor of San Diego, shortly after being rated one of the worst big city mayors in the country by Time magazine, resigns. It's the lead headline the next morning in the L.A. Times. But there's no editorial on it the next morning in the paper.

The Republican leadership in the Congress is going after the filibuster, in the present American political context the biggest bulwark for liberalism that exists. A balanced judiciary is at stake. Typical of his ersatz liberalism, Michael Kinsley's editorial page takes a purist position AGAINST the filibuster, because at other times it has been used to butress conservative positions, such as on civil rights.

This man is too weak to know what he should think. He has forgotten that the American system is properly one of majority rule, but minority rights and that for the safety of the Republic one must balanced the other.

Los Angeles has a mayoral race. But more than a month after he endorsed one of the two candidates in the runoff, Kinsley holds off endorsing him in the general election, even though he long ago concluded in print that the candidate he didn't endorse was unfit to be elected.

It is reminiscent of the presidential race last year. Now, Kinsley can't follow through with an endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa. Then, he criticized George W. Bush, but wouldn't endorse John Kerry.

This is a poor editorial page. It is not timely. It is not consistent. It doesn't know what it thinks. It's a waste of pages every day.

And that hurts the paper. At a time when circulation has been sliding, the readers need a strong editorial page. As the former Times national editor, Ed Guthman, has stated, the editorial page is the soul of the paper. Its duty is to tell the readers what the editors think. But with Kinsley, who can tell what the editorial pages believe?

Is it that Kinsley lives half or more of the time in Seattle? Perhaps, this has something to do with his long delays in taking a position or failure to take a position at all. But a tough, strong editor would be able to give directions no matter where he was, Los Angeles, Seattle or Copenhagen.

The night in 1898 that the battleship Maine blew up in Havana harbor, the editor of his New York newspaper called publisher William Randolph Hearst at home. Where have you put the news?, Hearst asked. "Page one, of course," the editor replied. "Take everything else off Page one," Hearst directed. "There's only one piece of news tonight."

If someone were to call Kinsley with such dramatic news, he would dither. No editorial, until I think about it, he would direct.

As I've said before, this hopelessly indecisive character should resign, and if he doesn't, he should be dismissed. The mayor of San Diego, Dick Murphy, at least knew when his time was up (although there is no reason for him to delay his departure, as he has, until July 15. He and Kinsley should go today).

Monday, April 25, 2005

Ronald Brownstein Once Predicted Dean Would Win

Ronald Brownstein, a political writer for the Los Angeles Times, remains just as starry-eyed as he was early in 2004, when he predicted that Howard Dean would win the Democratic presidential nomination, even if he lost the Iowa Caucuses.

Brownstein writes a fairly uninteresting column once a week for the Times. Steve Lopez, he is not. Hell, he's not a George Skelton either.

He's been a political writer for a long time now, and occasionally he does have good judgment. The night before the 2004 election, he hinted that George W. Bush would probably win.

But often he wildly overestimates the power of liberal ideas in the current American political spectrum. He's inclined to believe the Internet has changed everything politically, or, if it hasn't, it's about to.

Brownstein is back in the old rut this morning, April 25, saying the Internet could generate a potent Third Party movement in this country, and fairly soon.

He cites Dean's success in raising money on the Internet, and he quotes Dean's old campaign manager, Joe Trippi, as saying that maybe next time, it will be able to ignite a voter's surge for a Third Party.

Well, I confess that as a Times political writer I occasionally indulged in Third Party fantasties as well. Once I went up to Oregon to interview a former governor who had Third Party thoughts. Of course, nothing came of them. The Third Parties in American history have sometimes had men of talent as their candidates, like the socialist Norman Thomas, but usually they were well out of the political mainstream. Henry Wallace comes to mind as a Third Party candidate who did far less well than predicted in 1948. Even George Wallace fell short of his potential.

The two-party system has, in fact, often proved to have resilience in the nation, in part, as Brownstein to his credit does mention this morning, because the electoral college voting system tends to keep Third Parties from assembling the critical mass necessary to win.

What usually happens is that when one party takes a bath, as the Democrats did last year, it develops new faces, or the political situation changes, and the party in power falters.

We saw that after the Goldwater debacle in 1964. Some predicted the demise of the Republican party after Lyndon Johnson won so handily, and Goldwater carried only the Deep South and Arizona. But then Johnson sent a half a million troops to Vietnam, and Reagan emerged as a new face in the Republican party. The very next election, the old Republican standby, Richard M. Nixon, won the presidency, and Reagan was already governor of California, in waiting for the presidency.

No, Brownstein is not apt to be right with his Third Party prediction. And, in his career at the L.A. Times, he hasn't even been right in predicting developments at the paper. He was one of the few members of the Washington bureau who wouldn't sign the petition questioning the policies of CEO Mark Willes shortly before Willes had the paper sold out from underneath him to the Tribune Co.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

At NBC's Today Program, They Act When The Number Of Those Tuning In Drops

When I've chastised the Tribune Co., and the publisher of the L.A. Times for not acting to keep circulation up, often I've heard the old saw about quality subscriptions leading to more advertising, so, it is said, it doesn't matter all that much if circulation drops. Bushwa!

I rmember, when many years I worked at the old Life magazine, they said the same thing. Let the circulation drop, the directors of Time, Inc. said. We'll have higher quality subscriptions and the advertisers will come. But they didn't, and the magazine died.

It's the same thing, I'm convinced with The Times. If we ignore the circulation decreases, it will be used to justify cost savings, and cost savings mean a lesser quality paper. It's a downward spiral that doesn't stop.

They don't exhibit that attitude at NBC's Today program. When viewership slipped 10%, and ABC's morning show began creeping up, to within 350,000 watchers of NBC's Today, the heads of NBC got a new executive producer of the program. And not only that, they talked loudly and publicly about their problems and their action to correct them.

None of that at the L.A. Times. When there are problems at the paper, the publ;isher and the editor, and their bosses in Chicago, seem to say as little as possible. They bury their heads in the sand like a bunch of ostriches.

When NBC named Jim Bell as the new executive producer of the Today program, the president of NBC News, Neal Shapiro, said Today had become too predictable and "didn't sparkle enough."

And Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television, was explicit as to why a change was being made. "Because of the ratings," he said. "I'm being honest about that."

"We've been too reactive, and not sufficiently proactive," he added. "We thought the show needed a jolt." Another executive was even more blunt. "The show has become boring and stale," he said.

All these quotes come from the New York Times story about the new executive producer, by Bill Carter.

The Los Angeles Times story, by Matea Gold, didn't use such negative quotes at all.

That's one trouble with the L.A. Times these days: It is not as blunt and pointed with its coverage quite often as the New York Times.

But the main point is that NBC acts on its problems. The Los Angeles Times has had a much larger drop off. But it doesn't. The Tribune owners are as sleepy as Rip Van Winkle.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Hector Tobar Goes to Mexico City for LAT, Another Triumph For The Metpro Program

The news that Hector Tobar is being assigned as an L.A. Times correspondent in Mexico City, moving from the Buenos Aires bureau, is another triumph for Times-Mirror's Metpro program.

This program has developed wonderful correspondents over 21 years. The New York Times even benefitted, with Somini Sengupta and Ginger Thompson, Metpro graduates, serving on its foreign staff.

Sengupta, now a NYT correspondent in India, is the outstanding correspondent of the lot at this point. I think she has come to rank with John Burns right at the top of the NYT's foreign staff. She is one gutsy reporter and her work in Kashmir, Liberia and other Third World points has already been magnificent.

But Tobar is no slouch. It was a privilege for me last year to meet with him when I was in Buenos Aires. He looked totally in command in the LAT's spiffy bureau in BA, and we had a wonderful lunch. I see on the Metpro website that he is just one of seven foreign correspondents in all who are Metpro graduates.

Now, Mexico City is going to be a bigger challenge. Mexico City, no question, is a difficult place to cover, and Tobar is walking into a tense situation, not only with the many questions that have already arisen with the Mexican elections, but just helping to shepherd Sam Enriquez to stardom as a reporter.when he joins Tobar there.

Mexico is one of the Times' most important bureaus, because, obviously Mexico is critical to California, but our correspondents there have frequently found it a frustrating and, I daresay, even a dangerous place. There is not the tradition with a free press that would make work there easy.

Tobar has come a long way as a reporter. He is not so foolishly idealistic as he was in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots when he naively wrote that Latinos and African-Americans were as one in spirit in the riot residue of South L.A. He's been seasoned, and he did a good job in South America.

There have been other outstanding Metropro graduates, and Richard Kipling and Frank Sotomayor have done terrific jobs directing what is a demanding program which necessarily must weed out a few who do not prove to be up to the program while advancing the rest.

I can't think of Metpro without paying tribute to the former editor of the L.A. Times, Shelby Coffey, who really believed in diversity and worked assiduously to advance it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Eric Slater Does Blame Poor Editing For Some Of The Events That Led To His Firing At L.A. Times

As I suspected when I wrote the first blog yesterday about the termination of Eric Slater at the Los Angeles Times, there may be an issue of poor editing in the events that led to his demise.

Slater, who has not yet responded to an e-mail from me yesterday, did give an interview this week to the Chico Enterprise Record, and he tells a story about editing changes that led to some but not all of the faults and mistakes in his story about a fraternity hazing death at California State University, Chico.

According to his statement to the local newspaper, Slater said he was supposed to write a story about 1,300 words long, but that he turned in a much longer version. And he alleges several of the problems in the article are the result of the editing, a process that cut the story in half.

"It had grown from a story about Chico State University to a story about hazing in the United States, the world, and the history of the rituals going back before the ancient Greeks," Slater told the newspaper.

Slater said the unedited version of the story had quotes from a Chico State official, and also had the correct population of the city of Chico, both of which were omitted in the story as published.

Also Slater acknowledged that he had made mistakes in the story, but he said, "I've admitted every single one of them."

Slater said he told Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet and other top Times editors about the unedited version of his story and disputed implications that he never went to Chico and was told the editors would look into what he had said.

"They obviously have not done that and they won't unless forced," Slater is quoted as telling the Chico paper.

I might say here, this is par for the course at the L.A. Times and has been for some time under the Tribune ownership. Particularly, the metro desk has deteriorated, especially since the departure of Bill Boyarsky as city editor..

It is frequently the case that a story handed in, I had several instances of this myself, is expanded with questions and then, since it exceeds the length wanted, it is cut back, often in such a way as to omit key facts.

The reporter is usually consulted during this process, but it proves impossible to restore the story to a reasonable order, and the story, as it appears, varies in significant respects from the story as handed in. This is where errors sometimes creep in. Certainly the tenor of the story has changed. This was the blatant case in a front page story on the earthquake danger in California I did on the 10th anniversary of the Northridge quake. The editor responsible for what I thought were some very unfortunate changes in that story was David Lauter.

The Times sent editor Jim Newton to Chico to investigate what happened with Slater's story. My own experience with Newton is that he is ambitious and may not be, in such an instance, the best person to investigate independently and let the chips fall where they may.

It is also not surprising to me that Baquet was involved in the events leading to Slater's termination. Baquet was intimately involved in the events leading to my retirement a year early last year. Editor John Carroll was naturally informed, but held himself back at some distance.

I was really at 66 ready to leave and the Times gave me a very generous retirement, much more than I was expecting. Slater is younger, and may fight this one legally. Because he was fired, he may not get the extensive benefits I received for agreeing to leave "voluntarily."

One other small point. Slater had worked during a significant part of his 11 years with the L.A. Times in Chicago. I kind of wonder whether his experiences there, in the Tribune Company's home city, may have something to do with his ultimate termination.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

There Are Questions About The Eric Slater Firing At The L.A. Times

I'm taken aback and disturbed about the firing of Eric Slater, as I'm sure other L.A. Times veterans are. If he made up quotes, did a consciously poor job, or never spent much or any time in Chico at all, as is implied, then he may deserve being fired, although another option would have been counseling.

But it strikes me there may be other possibilities here, and some of the experiences I had with the assistant metro editors stir some thoughts I'm going to put down here. If they stir things up, so be it.

The editor's note in the Times is not very revealing. This is nothing like the New York Times lengthy revelations about the Jayson Blair affair, and that is probably not a coincidence, since the comprehensive piece the NYT did about Jayson Blair stirred up so much feeling it led to the publisher ousting the executive editor. In short, it was a process that exceeded all reasonable bounds, and I'm sure John Carroll and Dean Baquet did not want to stir up some such process at the L.A. Times.

I referred to the assistant metro editors. The editing process at the L.A. Times for a second tier story such as the Chico story is nothing like the comprehensive effort put in on the major investigative pieces that have recently led to Pulitzers. In fact, editing on both the national and foreign desks is vastly superior to the routine metro desk editing.

I say this, because of experiences I had in my final years at the L.A. Times. The metro editing on second tier stories is so slapdash, so filled with editors' feelings and changes that don't make any sense that it is a struggle often for reporters to ride the process through without bowing to gross errors being inserted into their stories. And when errors do appear, they are often not corrected, at least not in a way as to imply gross incompetence as was the first correction in the Chico case.

One of my last experiences with a front page story at the Times was a piece I did on some minor quakes that were occurring near Lakeport and Geyserville in Northern California. That story last year was a struggle throughout. I thought the metro desk had its agenda on that story, and nothing I could do to indicate that I felt it wasn't they way they saw it was availing. They had their desires for that story and the facts of the matter be damned.

Now, I don't know what happened with Eric Slater and the Chico story. I did exchange a couple of small messages with Eric on this, mainly to say at the initiation of the inquiry I wasn't going to write about it in my blog. Now that he's been fired, and may sue the paper, I don't feel bound by that earlier decision.

I do feel that Eric's "apology" was poorly done. It's as if he was trying to pass this off as a humorous or perhaps minor matter, when it's obvious now his job was at stake. So whatever he wrote in his apology was obviously a mistake.

But I'd like to know whether Jim Newton, in his investigation of what went on in Chico, bothered to check to see what went on in the editing of this story in Los Angeles, what changes were made, how Eric was relating to his editor during this process, whether the errors in the story were all his or not.

It used to be the Times was a writer's newspaper. Beginning with Noel Greenwood that changed, and it came to be with many stories that the assistant editors weren't satisfied with a story until they had changed virtually everything. This reflected the desire of Greenwood and other senior editors that the assistants "take the writers in hand." That has not made the L.A Times a better paper, I assure you, since by and large the reporters are better writers than the assistant editors, although I can think of some exceptions, such as Frank Clifford and others..

So what happened here? The results make me uneasy, as I said. But I know Eric Slater did some good work for the L.A. Times in Chicago and elsewhere, that he was well liked by many, and I hope he has been treated fairly.

If there are further developments in this matter, you can be assured I will write about them.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

L.A. Times Magazine Blasts Away At Proposition 13, Just What You Would Expect

The Los Angeles Times Magazine is said to be about to be revamped, for the umpteenth time. But the revamp, as all the previous ones, is apt to be quite half-hearted. Not until the Times puts much more effort, much more courage and somehow sells much more advertising for its magazine, is it likely to be much better than it is now.

It's still before the revamp, but the lead article in the magazine last Sunday, April 17, on California's Proposition 13, is just what we have come to expect from the magazine, a mishmosh of the glitzy, the inconsequential and the inane.

It's certainly no surprise that the L.A. Times is opposed to Proposition 13. That's been the case for a long time. Yet it's worth recalling that the Times' late prize-winning editorial writer and columnist, Phil Kerby, actually supported Proposition 13 when it was on the ballot in 1978. Kerby had noticed that the state government was getting too big and bloated, and that frequent reassessments were taxing some people out of their homes. He hoped the voters would send a signal to the government.

Sunday's article was by a Lee Green. The magazine never explained who Green is, other than saying he had last written on the U.S. Forest Service. What background he had to even try such an article was never mentioned. Yet, I think, when an argument on a serious issue is presented, the readers deserve to know just who is presenting it, and how exactly he is qualified to speak.

Green wrote one of these cute little articles filled with the conventional liberal wisdom. He called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to summon up the courage to do something about changing Proposition 13. But he never said exactly what, nor did he ever acknowledge that Schwarzenegger is the last politician one would expect to adopt a new course and try to do anything about a ballot measure which still commands substantial loyalty from the very Californians who voted both for Proposition 13 and for the governor in the Recall election.

If the editors of the magazine wanted a realistic article, they might have asked the Times' state political columnist, George Skelton, or one of the other writers in Sacramento to write it. Then, they might have gotten something that more realistically assessed what the current prospects are for a major change in state government.

Yes, the writer they selected, whoever he is, might have been right that Proposition 13 contains blatant inconsistencies, that it allows commercial property to get away with paying little in taxes and that homes of equal value are treated unequally.

But since it requires a popular vote to change the measure, what really can be done with it at this time? And if nothing can be done with it, then what about changing other tax laws, or adding a value added tax and replacing much of the property tax system altogether? That's one way to change it without a vote of the electorate, by going around it.

The Times, as so often, was naive. And don't think its readers don't know it!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Sensitivity Grows On L.A. Times Circulation

*(I draw your attention to a most thought-provoking second comment on this blog, from "Transit Nerd," but obviously someone who knows something. See below).

A statement by Tribune Co. chairman Dennis FitzSimmons on Los Angeles Times circulation is stirring new concern, although the concern might be misplaced.

FitzSimmons told Editor and Publisher that a new figure out next month would show Times circulation down 5.5%.

But it was not clear whether this was a reference to a 5.6% decline, down to 902,000 daily, that was actually first reported last September.

Another 5.5% decline would really be bad news. Let's hope FitzSimmons was referring to the last figure and not actually the next one.

Under the Tribune, circulation losses at the Times have been more pronounced than any other large paper in the country. Some of it is blamed on the 'Do Not Call' lists that cut Times telemarketing to a shadow of what it had been in the past. Some of it is a conscious, and I think badly mistaken decision, to save money by pulling out of outlying areas and cut back the National Edition, which was never efficiently distributed. Some can be attributed to circulation declines affecting many newspapers as the Internet spreads and becomes more important. Some also is due to charging 50 cents for the daily paper on the newsstands instead of 25 cents. And some has to do with conservative antipathy to the liberal views of the paper. Thousands of conservatives have cancelled their subscriptions.

It should be noted that even the New York Times, which has built up a huge national edition, has had trouble building circulation, in very small increments. The NYT has been losing circulation in the New York area.

It could be that marketing through the Internet, charging something to read the paper online, might, in time, reverse the LAT circulation declines. This would especially be true, if the other major newspapers began also charging for reading online.

When Mark Willes became CEO of Times-Mirror, and the Times' problems really began, he had the expressed goal of doubling Times circulation to two million.

Later, he found out, as he once acknowledged to me, that simply keeping circulation up to the existing level was a struggle. Many people, he remarked ruefully, cancelled their subscriptions when they went on vacation, and then never resumed them. Some of the strategems Willes adopted to boost circulation, such as the deal with La Opinion, later came to be questioned as falsifying actual circulation.

One thing we do not know is whether the present editors of the Times, John Carroll and Dean Baquet, have remonstrated with the Tribune to put more effort into maintaining circulation.

The time has come now, though, to pay attention to this and spend the effort and money to rebuild circulation. Otherwise, the paper's future is not assured.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Sonni Efron Doing A Good Job Covering Bolton Nomination For L.A. Times

Sonni Efron, the L.A. Times' diplomatic correspondent in Washington, is doing an outstanding job covering the ongoing controversy over the nomination by President Bush of John R. Bolton for UN Ambassador.

The more we hear about Bolton's record of browbeating intelligence personnel, the more the questions about this nomination, and it obviously hinges, as these things often do, around the small number of Republican moderates in the U.S. Senate. Should they develop further questions about this nomination, it might not go through.

Efron's experience in Japan, her academic background and her experience in Washington all are helping her cover this issue, and her articles have been careful and temperate. She has avoided creating an impression of an agenda, which has hurt the credibility of the press in the current high pressure atmosphere in Washington.

As I've noted earlier, there are signs of a change in the political climate in Washington, and it's not inconceivable the President could be approaching more serious problems, even in the Republican-controlled Congress.

For one thing, hubris has become a GOP problem, with Rep. Tom DeLay blasting the courts and having his family collecting large sums of government money. There are reports even Bush himself has cool feelings toward DeLay.

Second terms are often difficult even for the most popular Presidents. Bush is anything but the most popular.

Even if the Democrats have problems of their own, the polls indicate the President is suffering from public skepticism of his position on social security, the situation in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East has many complications, and continued high gasoline prices and a weak stock market all have created an unsettled political atmosphere.

Those issues create opportunities for the opposition, and the Bolton nomination could provide the occasion for striking at the administration. even from within the Republican party.

That's why this is worth writing a great deal about, and Efron is bright, she knows what is significant and is writing away.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

L.A. Times Must Use All The Talent It Has To Preserve The Paper

According to L.A. Observed, a useful service to us all operated by Kevin Roderick, Stephanie Simon has rejected an offer to go to the New York Times and will move to Denver and stay with the L.A. Times as a national reporter with a wide portfolio.

This is obviously good news, because Simon is a wonderfully talented reporter. Her story on the new Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ill., runs this morning. But every week Simon, a Yale graduate with particular abilities in crime reporting and so many other areas, is contributing a great deal to the newspaper.

George Skelton, the state political columnist of the LAT based in Sacramento, meanwhile, continues to hold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to a high standard. His column this week reminding us that the governor has not been honest with the state's teachers on giving education back $2 billion he "borrowed" last year, is just one of many public services he performs all the time. Skelton is not easy to con. His knowledge about government and ability to call things the way they are is of inestimable value to the paper.

Skelton could retire at his choice any time. Let's hope he stays on indefinitely, because he is needed and will not be easy to replace. Simon, by contrast, is young. Let's hope she has a long and distinguished career with the L.A. Times.

Yes, the newspaper has a talented editor in John Carroll and managing editor in Dean Baquet. I don't agree with them all the time, but under pressure from Tribune Co. owners who may not always have the paper's interests at heart, they are vital to the paper's continued success.

However, they are obviously not the only talented people the Times has. There are many Simons and Skeltons at the paper, and their talents too must be used, and not just as reporters, if the paper is to prosper.

The L.A. Times' long-range survival is not guaranteed if its circulation continues to slip and if advertising is not retained. And it strikes me that all these people of talent must have ideas that would help the paper in other ways than just reporting.

It may be that a revived and revitalized council of senior writers could provide ideas, could consult, could help the top editors and even the publisher keep this paper going, could help figure out how to use the Internet in new way. And the new publisher, Jeffrey Johnson, should, I believe, try to establish a more prominent position in the area's business life than John Puerner was able to do.

Friday, April 15, 2005

FitzSimmons Says No Factual Errors Have Been Found In Times Stories or Columns on GM

The Tribune CEO, Dennis FitzSimmons, is quoted in Editor and Publisher as saying that no errors have been found in Los Angeles Times stories or columns about General Motors.

But as quiet talks go on between the Times and GM over GM's pulling of ads from the Times, no one has yet defended the tone of Dan Neil's celebrated column last week calling for the ouster of GM chairman and chief executive Rick Wagoner and saying the company has sunk into a morass.

That column was shrill, let's face it, and, although it has not been cited as the only reason for GM's decision to suspend advertising in the Times, I suspect that after GM has been allowed to vent and the Times looks into its coverage of GM, Neil may be advised to tone it down a little and GM will come back with its ads.

As the New York Times remarks in a lengthy article this morning, April 15, on the troubles at both GM and Ford, GM has taken its ads out of the largest newspaper in Southern California, which constitutes its weakest market. My guess is that won't last.

Although, as usual, the New York Times article, by Danny Hakim, was sober, not nearly so flashy as Neil's commentary, the fact was this was a very negative article on the big auto companies. Reference is made to their entrenched bureaucracies, dull cars, and union contract problems. Basically, the New York Times is saying what Neil did in a somewhat nicer way.

General Motors has to realize by this time it's in trouble, and its trouble is not simply that the Los Angeles Times and New York Times have been running critical reports.

This is a company that has been losing market share, because its cars aren't as appealing, it hasn't emphasized new technology, such as the hybrids, enough, and it seems stodgy to the people most interested in cars and trucks. Ford, of course, has the same problems.

The Japanese are selling more and more vehicles, because many American consumers are discerning enough to recognize a better deal when he or she sees one. So the bottom line is that GM and Ford have got to change. Chrysler, as the New York Times remarks in its article this morning, has changed and is doing better with some new products, although the NYT doesn't mention that Chrysler is mainly a German company these days. In other words, the Chrysler experience simply fortifies the notion that Americans aren't successfully competing with either the Japanese or Europeans at present.

FitzSimmons, by the way, seemed to indicate to the analysts that L.A. Times circulation will dip sharply again in figures to be announced next month, although if those figures are annual ones, then much of the decrease may already have been publicly disclosed.

Maybe, as is stated, Times telemarketing has been below par. But I don't think the move to the left on the hapless editorial page is helping either, and neither is the Times pulling back on its circulation areas, relying ever more on a metropolitan area whose changing demographics are not helpful to the success of the mainstream press.

Quite simply, to keep up circulation in the age of the Internet, big papers like the L.A. Times have to become more national in sales. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have been doing that. By sharply paring back its national edition, the L.A. Times has been going in the opposite direction.

It may be the new publisher will change things. Everyone is waiting to see.

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?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Kinsley Chickens Out Again, Still Holds Off On Villaraigosa Endorsement

Astonishing as it is, Michael Kinsley continues to hold off on following through on his Villaraigosa endorsement for mayor in the primary. Everytime you think this ersatz liberal can't do more to prove his inadequacy, he shows once again he is totally not up to the job.

I still expect the L.A. Times to endorse Villaraigosa before the May 17 runoff, but for this endorsement to take so long is contrary to the interests of the newspaper. It's may be part of the price we pay for greasy Eastern ownership.

The polls by both us and ABC unveiled in the last couple of days show this election is not going to be close. Los Angeles is, thank goodness, going to have a more dynamic mayor.

And the same polls indicate widespread dissatisfaction among the populace with the progress L.A. has been making on such matters as traffic, crime and economic growth.

Under these circumstances, the Times should have acted weeks ago to show where its hearts and minds are. It has said the obvious, that Mayor James Hahn is inept. It has thoroughly reported that the black community, a key to the election, is falling behind Villaraigosa.

So why does Kinsley hold back on the endorsement? Maybe, he hasn't ventured south from Seattle in recent weeks and doesn't know what's going on here. But that is unlikely. His contract calls for him to come to Los Angeles half the time and I imagine he is..

So, here's a man with no political sense. He doesn't realize in politics that once you've given your word, as he did in the primary, you're expected by all to stick with it.

In the editorial this morning, the Times accurately describes Hahn's latest "pandering" on the King/Drew Medical Center to be "desperate and shameful." But then it goes on to accuse Villaraigosa of doing his share of pandering.

What nonsense. It reminds me of the last months of Jimmy Carter's presidency, when he could not decide which side of bed to get out of every morning and did nothing about the nation's inflation rate and other problems.

Kinsley isn't deciding (yet), and he's making the Times look more inadequate every day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

L.A. Times Needs To Be Comprehensive In Printing The Numbers As High Gas Prices Bring More Riders To Public Transit

The L.A. Times has a short story on the front of the California section this morning, April 12, reporting that public transit ridership in the Los Angeles area has been increasing as gas prices soar.

But the story is incomplete. It gives percentage increases, but provides no exact numerical figures, which leaves one wondering just what the increase is.

On Page 2, there are comprehensive numbers for Metrolink's San Bernardino line only. Ridership rose, according to a Metrolink spokeswoman, from 10,978 commuters in March a year ago to 12.031 commuters this March. The story neglects to say if this is a daily or a monthly figure.

Overall, according to the story on the California front by Sharon Bernstein and Nicholas Shields, Metrolink ridership is up 7%, Red Line subway nearly 12%, Green Line light rail 8% and the, already crowded, Blue Line light rail by 3%. But exact numbers aren't given.

Times Metro editors often don't require such details. That's a mistake, since a 7% increase in 100 riders would be seven more riders, while, for 100,000 riders the increase would be 7,000. We need such details to know precisely what's going on.

Still no detailed reaction from the L.A. Times to the General Motors decision to suspend its advertising, because they don't like what auto columnist Dan Neil and other Times writers have been saying about them.

I'm going to have more to say about this in the next few days, but for the time being, I think there ought to be a boycott on SUV purchases from all vehicle producers in Southern California. I notice that last week's Time magazine has a huge opening ad from Mercedes Benz for the gas guzzling SUVs. This is not a time to quietly accept such ads, no matter where they come from.

Today, by the way, is the 60th anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. I was on my way home from school, a boy of seven walking across Tahquitz Creek in Palm Springs, about 3 p.m. that day, when someone gave me the news. Roosevelt, like Pope John Paul II, was a holy father to many, and he is still remembered with love and respect.

It was also 60 years ago today that my father's flagship, the USS Rall, was attacked by five Japanese kamakazis off Okinawa. Two were shot down, two hit the water and one hit the ship below the bridge, killing or wounding a third of the crew. My father survived the attack and died in bed in 1982, but many of his crew did not make it through April 12, 1945. May they rest in peace, as may FDR.

It was also a year ago today that Denise Smith, who with her husband the late Times columnist Jack Smith, was in Pearl Harbor the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, died. She was the mother of Times reporter Doug Smith, and we all remember her most fondly.

So April 12 anniversaries are significant. Time passes, but our memories of these people and events are as alive today as when they were with us. On my wall at home is a Bronze Star Medal my dad won on April 12, 1945, as is a picture of Roosevelt, with Churchill and Stalin, the architects of the World War II victory, conferring at Yalta that same year.

Monday, April 11, 2005

David Shaw, Gasp, May Be Right About Us Bloggers And Our Rights

It's begun to occur to me that L.A. Times columnist David Shaw may be right, after all, about us bloggers not having the rights of full-time, paid journalists. I hate to admit it, but I think he has us in a kind of a cul-de-sac.

The fact is, if there are eight million bloggers, as some say, it's going to be impossible to give all of them the right to protect their sources. If this were done, the criminal prosecution system would fall apart, wouldn't it?

Shield laws, such as already show signs of crumbling under assault by the courts, necessarily have to be restricted to fairly narrow cases, otherwise anybody can claim to be a blogger and get away with telling criminal prosecutors nothing, isn't that so?

I do believe it's important for journalists to be able to keep their sources secret. Otherwise what we have known as the free press is not going to be nearly so free. And that in turn would adversely affect our democracy.

The trouble is, and maybe David Shaw should write more about this, how do you write a shield law that will shield the paid journalists and not include the bloggers? What about equal protection of the laws? I think this is going to have to take some inventive thinking. And the courts, hidebound as they so often are to the thinking of the legal profession, may not be on the press side.

Bloggers, like the printing press centuries ago, are going to change many things. We are spreading free speech into corners where it has not gone before. But we have to take care that the traditional prerogatives of the free press don't get impinged by it. And, frankly, I don't know how this is going to be done.

So I'm suggesting that Shaw and others write more on this topic, and tell us what they think ought to be done and can, feasibly, be done..

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Best L.A. Times Columns Are Certainly Not On The Editorial Pages

When I was perusing the LAT Opinion section this morning, April 10, I couldn't help but reflect that the best Times columnists by far these days are not on the Opinion or editorial pages.

Just think, in the past week we've had Steve Lopez dealing with Cardinal Mahony, Al Martinez eulogizing the Pope, Dan Neil bashing General Motors and Tim Rutten delving into why there haven't been, outside of photographers, many Pulitzers devoted to Iraqi war subjects.

I think in some ways Rutten's column was most interesting, and there is really nothing in it to take all that dramatic exception to, although I wonder whether he is implying that the American press isn't being tough enough on the Iraq war or on what I view as the fairly gallant and efficient American military.

At the swearing in last Monday of Fran Rothschild as a justice of the California State Court of Appeal, Jim Adler, an acquaintance, chastised the press. "Why isn't the press more critical of President Bush," he asked me.

I answered, "Well, after all, the President was reelected." And I could have added that some even felt all the bashing he got from the press last year helped reelect him.

There may be some indication in recent polls, the rise in gas prices, antipathy to the President's Social Security proposals, the continuation of the insurgency in Iraq and the slow progress with assemblying the new Iraq government that the bloom is off the rose already with the second term of George W. Bush.

But another way to look at it is that the American people remain, on the whole, fairly satisfied with the progress in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, where it seems democracy is gaining. Even the delays in organizing the new Iraqi government may simply reflect the fact that the Islamic fundamentalists didn't do as well in the vote as had been expected, and that the high Kurdish turnout actually forced the Kurds into the ruling coalition. Of course, the Sunni failure to vote in any numbers helped bring about this result, another example of the Sunni tendency in several Middle Eastern countries to cut their own throat.

In my own view, there haven't been many Pulitzers in Iraq, because the situation hasn't jelled yet. The Pulitzers in Vietnam that Rutten writes about developed, by and large, as the American position deteriorated, and the press got more and more pungent in its criticisms.

But in Iraq we deposed an awful regime and the insurgents are really much less admirable by any standards than the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. There also seems more strategic value in our being in the Middle East than there was in our being in Vietnam. It could just be that we are on the right track in Iraq and the Middle East and this doesn't make for the incisive critical journalism that marked the Vietnam war.

Rutten concludes by referring to what he sees as "the inherent conservatism of the Pulitzer jurors."

But it can't be that that has prevented the awarding of many Pulitzer prizes on Iraqi subjects. Let's face it, the Pulitzer jurors are a pretty liberal group and most of the Pulitzer prizes go to fairly liberal writing.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

General Motors Will Strike Out In Trying To Stop L.A. Times Criticisms

General Motors, a poorly-run company which has been producing lousy products for a long time now and hurting America in the process, is trying to shut up the Los Angeles Times by stopping its advertising purchases at the paper.

In fact, GM will only hurt itself. Californians scarcely need be told that buying its products at present is a dumb thing to do. At a time when gasoline price records are broken every week, this is a company that is pushing SUVs and trails the Japanese car makers in producing hybrids that can reduce gasoline consumption. GM disregards this country's most important interests with its policies, including making cars that don't last as long as they should and don't get the gas mileage they should. As Dan Neil, the Pulitzer Prize-winning auto writer of the L.A. Times, said this week, it has fallen into a morass, and it needs to change leadership. But this is not really a new argument. It has been evident for some time.

If the L.A. Times responds to the advertising cutoff as it should, it will sell Toyota and other automobile and truck manufacturers more ads, allowing them to take advantage of the absence of GM from California's largest paper, and putting more pressure on the woebegone GM auto dealers of Southern California.

But what will the Times do, a friend asked me today. The Times unfortunately has been owned for the past five years by the Tribune Co., a poorly-run Midwestern corporation like General Motors that scares easily and could, conceivably, become even more nervous now.

Maybe Dennis FitzSimmons, the Tribune CEO, will make another flying trip out to the Burbank Airport to counsel a Times surrender.

But I hope not. This would only compound the Times circulation and morale problems. California readers will expect the Times to stand up to General Motors.

As I remarked in a recent blog, the biggest story these days, especially in California, is the price of gasoline. The unwillingness of American auto producers to make adjustments in their products to cope with this is a an issue of great importance too.

Change is coming, and those who do not live with it will die with it. General Motors has got to change for the good of the country and it is hard to do that without getting rid of inept leadership such as represented at GM by CEO Rick Wagoner and his sidekick Robert Lutz. They probably don't have the qualifications to run a tire dealership in Toledo, much less one of the world's biggest vehicle producers.

As for the Times, this is the price one is going to have to pay from time to time by having Pulitzer Prize winning writers on the staff, such as the paper has had in increasing numbers for several years. It won five Pulitzers last year and two more this week.

Winners of Pulitizer Prizes are apt to tell the truth. They certainly aren't going to abide with dummies like the General Motors Corp., without speaking up about them.

Already, of course, this morning, we have Morgan Stanley and the big Wall Street stock analysts ready to say how big a hit this is going to be to the Tribune Co. in terms of their profits per share. These are the folks that are running American investors down the rathole of losses we have been seeing in recent months. They are part of a business community that is proving itself unable to compete successfully in the world with the Chinese, the Indians and other countries that are on the economic march.

The Times, the Tribune Co., other representatives of the news media across the country, should gird up their loins and tell these businessmen to shape up and improve their products and their general performance, in other words to resume doing things the American way.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Congratulations to Edmund Sanders Upon Becoming LAT's New Nairobi Correspondent

It seems sometimes that with all the cutbacks at the L.A. Times that it's in danger of losing its essential virtues, but appointments to new positions seem to be coming thick and fast these days, and that's all to the good.

I was particularly glad to hear this week that Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller is announcing the appointment of Edmund Sanders to the refilled post of Nairobi correspondent, restoring a full complement to our African reportage.The paper also has a writer in Johannesburg, and Megan Stack spends considerable time in Cairo.

Sanders is a top reporter, with a wonderful background of significant stories in Orange County and more recently reportage in Baghdad. Nairobi is a significant post for the Times, just as New Delhi is, because it puts Times reporting into the heart of the Third World.

Throughout the long slog in Baghdad, the LAT has maintained a great team of reporters there. Obviously, this remains a key story in world affairs, and we've had very comprehensive coverage there, and, I think, it's been quite straightforward by and large.

Kim Murphy's Pulitzer announced this week for Russian reporting is a boon to the foreign desk, obviously. Foreign coverage is very important to the future of the L.A. Times, no doubt about it, and the Sanders appointment will enhance it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Maybe Losing "Nightline" Is Not Such A Disaster

Sen. Eugene McCarthy, whose presidential campaign I covered back in 1968, used to say that "reporters are like birds on a telephone pole. When one flies away, they all fly away; when one comes back, they all come back." Maybe, he got this quote from somewhere else.

But I was reminded of it when it seemed that everyone in the news media lamented the fortunes of Ted Koppel and his program "Nightline" last week on reports of his retirement and its possible demise.

The fact is that "Nightline" has been with us for 25 years, and its original purpose, the Iranian hostage taking coverage, has long been superseded.

Since "Nightline" came on the air, we've had 24-hour cable news, so much news that no one can follow it all, and the Internet. Right now, the fastest way to get the news is to look at the Internet.

It just might be it's time for ABC to look at other alternatives for the 11:30 p.m. time slot and that "Nightline's" time is past. I won't say the program has exactly grown stale, but it's not so great every night these days.

The fact is, if the news is big, as it has been this past week wiih Pope John Paul II's passing, then everyone throughout television steps up the coverage and there's more than enough. We may not miss "Nightline" that much.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Peculiar Article In The Jewish Journal On The Mainstream Press And Mayor Hahn

The Jewish Journal carries a lengthy article reporting that the mainstream press has ducked a story about Mayor James Hahn's private life, that at the Valley News and L.A. Weekly, reporters rebeled and wouldn't pursue it, and at the L.A. Times there was no thought of pursuing it.

But I've been told what the rumor is, and it seems to me that Rick Orlov and his colleagues at the Valley News and Weekly and the editors at the Times were entirely correct in not pursuing it. I wonder why the Jewish Journal even thought this was worth a long story.

The mayor's divorce has been reported. This rumor is an elaboration on that, but it has nothing to do directly with the mayor or anything he has done.

"All the news that's fit to print," long the motto of the New York Times, is applicable here. There is nothing here that the public need be concerned about. This is contemptible gossip.

It seems now that every major election is accompanied by wild stories, rumors and sordid nonsense. I'm not supporting Hahn in this election and have been critical of the Times editorial pages for not following through thus far on their primary endorsement of City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

But that is not to say that Hahn deserves being smeared with inconsequential nonsense, no more than the first President Bush did with campaign rumors he had had an affair.

The Times, the Daily News and the L.A. Weekly are reacting to this rumor honorably, by refusing to print it. More power to them.

Now, on the other hand, I think Times columnist Steve Lopez was entirely on point this morning, April 6, by suggesting that Cardinal Mahony was in error in flying first class to Rome, and that Jesus certainly would have flown coach. Steve Lopez is always the epitome of good taste.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

L.A. Times Pulitzers Show Traditional Excellence At Newspaper Continues

All congratulations are due to the reporters, photographers and editors of the Los Angeles Times who yesterday, April 4, won two Pulitzer prizes.

At a time when the direction of the company in Chicago is not as supportive as it should be to the Times, congratulations should also go to editor John Carroll, managing editor Dean Baquet and outgoing Publisher John Puerner, who have struggled to keep the paper on an even keel, maintaining its excellent qualities, during a time of staff and cost cutbacks.

The Pulitzer public service award, the most prestigeous, goes to the paper for the splendid work of the team headed by writers Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber and the dedicated deputy Metropolitan editor, Julie Marquis, for their series on the crisis at the King Drew Medical Center in South Los Angeles. Other members of the team included writers Steve Hymon and Mitchell Landsberg, photographer Robert Gauthier and editorial writer Mary Engel.

Ornstein and Weber have been at the heart of reporting King-Drew, an extremely important story in Los Angeles for years. The struggle to correct tragic defects at the South Los Angeles hospital has had to be undertaken against the will of a politically correct county bureaucracy which has dragged its feet at virtually all necessary steps. The real friends of the people of South Los Angeles who have suffered at the hands of this hospital proved to be the staff of the Los Angeles Times.

Meanwhile, Kim Murphy, the Times' outstanding Moscow correspondent, won an international reporting Pulitzer for her courageous reporting of the situation in Chechnya and other parts of Russia, a country threatened with continued autocratic rule. Murphy was present to cover the world's single most horrible terrorist attack of 2004, the murderous assault against Russian children and their parents at the school in Beslan.

Murphy also in the past has done wonderful work in Cairo, the U.S. Northwest, Alaska and elsewhere. She has made many sacrifices for excellence, and the picture showing her with Carroll in the paper this morning will bring tears to the eyes of many who know her, she looks so happy.

Times Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller, a champion of Murphy and the able director of Times foreign coverage, said of Murphy yesterday, "She is so incredibly dogged and so good at what she does and has what I always think of as news in her blood. She just knows where to go and how to get there ahead of everyone else." She also paid tribute to Murphy's superb instincts.

Jim Rainey's story this morning made the point that the Times has now won 13 Pulitzers in the last five years, coinciding with Tribune Co. ownership.

But this may be as much despite it as because of it. The Tribune did name Carroll, Baquet and Puerner who have a lot to do with it, but then the company's Chicago managers have not made their task any easier.

Rainey also made the well-taken point that the King-Drew coverage came from identified sources, not the unidentified sources that sometimes mark such stories.

The Pulitzers are great news for the Times. Everyone in Los Angeles can rejoice in them.

The Wall Street Journal also won two Pulitzers yesterday. The Chicago Tribune and Newsday, the Times' sister newspapers, each won one, as did the New York Times, still in my view recovering from the ouster of its talented executive editor, Howell Raines..

Monday, April 04, 2005

Kinsley Drops The Ball Again, With An Awkward, Negative Editorial On Pope John Paul II

Abraham Lincoln had a supreme ability to say a great deal in just a few words. Lincoln took just 272 words at Gettysburg to refocus the United States on the Declaration of Independence and its majestic theme that all men were created equal. And it took him just 703 words in the Second Inaugural Address to depict the Civil War in starkly moral terms, pay tribute to God's justice and call for a postwar policy of reconciliation: "Malice Toward None, Charity For All."

I was reminded of this the other day when a Times reader, Amy Huggins of Los Angeles, took just 33 words in a letter to the paper to sum up the work of Michael Kinsley, editor of the editorial pages.

"Who says there aren't diverse voices on your Op-Ed page?" wrote Ms. Huggins. "Kinsley was fawning, offensive, defensive, hostile, arrogant, righteous, contrite and acquiescent all in one lousy column. And still he had nothing to say."

A few days later, on Sunday, April 3, the Times editorial on the death of Pope John Paul II managed the same inadequacy. We can't be sure Kinsley wrote this. He may have been in his beloved Seattle and not even have realized what his staff here was doing. But he is responsible for what appears in editorials.

Times coverage of the Pope's death, under the guidance of the newspaper's outstanding obituaries editor, the sensitive Jon Thurber, was, as usual, superb. This has grown to be one of the outstanding parts of the entire paper and it had one of its greatest moments Sunday in a special section.

But the editorial, published with the rest of the coverage because of the timing of the Pope's death, struck a discordant and inappropriate note.

Was the Pope a Catholic? Could anyone expect that he would not defend the doctrinal positions of the Roman Catholic Church?

But, more than that, what was missing from the obituary editorial was adequate appreciation of the Pope as an outstanding world personality, a man who had worked so effectively for so many years to advance his beliefs. It was certainly appropriate to mention that in important respects those beliefs were not those of the Los Angeles Times. But the mood of the Times editorial was far too negative. The whole world, Catholic and non-Catholic, was in mourning, but, it seemed, not the Times editorial writer.

The issue evoked here reminds me of the masterful editorial the New York Times published in November of 1970 when Charles de Gaulle died. The NYT was not in agreement with de Gaulle in important ways, yet it managed to pay him the homage he greatly deserved.

"Charles de Gaulle was a legend and his name a prophecy: Charles of Gaul," the editorial began. "His life was constructed on a mystical conviction that he was to save France."

Later on, in the editorial, the NYT writer declared:

"His method alienated his neighbors more than it united them and it severely weakened the cohesion of the Atlantic alliance. But his instinct often was a sure one. Winston Churchill, who in a famous aphorism groaned that the heaviest cross he had to bear was the Cross of Lorraine (the emblem of the Free French), also said on Aug. 2, 1944, in the House of Commons: 'I have never forgotten, and can never forget, that he stood forth as the first eminent Frenchman to face the common foe in what seemed to be the hour of ruin of his country, and possibly of ours.'

The de Gaulle editorial went on for quite a while, and ended, as could have been said in another context of Pope John Paul II: "He died as he lived, an austere, tenacious, brave, inflexible man...It is for some of the great enterprises associated with his name that he will be remembered, and for the extraordinary character and personality that often angered but always intrigued the world."

We see this week the outpouring of the whole world in tribute to the striking life of the Polish Pope, the foe of Hitler and Stalin, the exponent of peace in the world and the fortunes of his own Church. And once again, the regrettable failure to adequately articulate noble sentiments by Michael Kinsley as Times editorial pages editor is just plain out of touch with all of that.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Oil Price Crisis May Dictate Focus Of LAT Business Section

Some experts are predicting a "super-spike" in oil prices, with the high going to the $105-a-barrel level, before declining demand sends the price down once more. This could mean a gasoline price reaching $5 a gallon at the California pump before the summer is out, with all the ramifications that would mean for Los Angeles life.

If this takes place, and not all agree it will, it seems clear that the L.A. Times business section, under the new direction of Russ Stanton, will have oil prices as its main story for the foreseeable future.

For the Times' business section, this concentration would be to the good. Under the relatively brief tenure of Rick Wartzman, the business section drifted further toward irrelevance. Under an oil crisis, it at least would be relevant to the concerns of most of the readers.

I was told last week that it was Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet who advised Wartzman, when he replaced Bill Sing as business editor, that he ought to focus the business pages more on California stories, (oil being an international story). If this is correct, then Baquet made a mistake. The New York Times business pages meanwhile kept their eyes on the ball; their concentration was on malfeasance by CEOs, and they always played the oil pricing story for the very important one it has been and is today. Even the forecast of a $105-a-barrel price spike was relegated to only the lower part of the L.A. Times business page, while it was the lead story on the New York Times business page.

It seems obvious in retrospect that oil prices already have kept the markets down or even, while holding employment down and slightly (thus far) spurring inflation. All these trends will be exacerbated if the "super-spike" in oil prices now proceeds, and Stanton would have little choice but to follow it with the sizable daily stories it would deserve.

Given the size of the business staff, and the feeling in business itself that it has not been doing the job it should for Times readers, under its new editor, business should have both the resources and will power to do a better job.

And a better job covering a crisis will definitely help the newspaper maintain circulation.

The Wartzman era, encouraged by Baquet or not, is over. We can't help but be glad that the Stanton era has begun. He has every incentive to do a better job, focusing on the crisis that may now only intensify..

Parenthetically, American relations with Venezuela and the unfriendly Chavez regime there may too become subject to more attention, both on the foreign and business pages. Venezuela is an important oil supplier of the U.S.

And, at the same time, the four-corner struggle for energy resources in the Far East, between China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. at no little distance may also command more attention.

I once gently mentioned to Wartzman he ought to be paying more attention on the business pages to the oil business. He kind of laughed it off. Stanton won't be able to, thank goodness.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Story Told By NYT's Joseph Lelyveld In His Book Raises Questions About Journalists and Neutrality

In his recently-published memoir, "Omaha Blues, A Memory Loop,"Joseph Lelyveld, the retired executive editor of the New York Times, tells a poignant story about events following the bludgeoning of his father, the late Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, by white racists in Mississippi.

On assignment as a reporter in that state following this horrible incident, the younger Lelyveld attended a church service for three slain civil rights workers.

He writes, "The network reporters, the wire service reporters, the Time magazine correspondent and other newspaper reporters were all holding hands and singing. Having the idea that reporters weren't supposed to show their feelings or take sides, I was one of the abstainers. It was an uncomfortable moment."

I'll bet. Here we have the son of a noted civil rights campaigner and religious man, and a writer for a newspaper that campaigned vigorously and effectively in those years for civil rights throughout the Deep South, and he adopts an ersatz neutrality that belies his own deepest feelings.

Is this admirable? Is this loyalty to the highest standards of the journalistic profession? Pardon me, but I don't think so.

Journalists too must be human beings. We cannot pretend to have no feelings, and we cannot try to assume an attitude of neutrality between right and wrong. This episode is similar to the political reporter, and I knew a few, who not only would not reveal their political affiliation, but in some cases abstained completely from even voting in U.S. elections.

Since few outsiders will believe in the sincerity of a reporter being neutral in the circumstances of the episode reported in his memoir by Lelyveld (reviewed in the New York Times Friday, April 1, and reviewed at greater length in the paper's Book Review on Sunday, April 3), I don't think his abstention from joining in the singing at the service would enhance either his own reputation or the reputation of the newspaper business.

Should we have expected William Shirer and William R. Morrow to be neutral toward Hitler in World War II, or Morrow to be neutral toward Sen. Joseph McCarthy when he did his great investigative program about him? I think the answer is no.

What is essential is that reporters be fair, even if they cannot be neutral. In his own memoir, Joseph Lelyveld acknowledges that he now feels he was too distant from his father, although the lengthier review Sunday gives some powerful reasons for that..

During his father's funeral, Lelyveld writes, "Suddenly I imagined a little boy with curly blond hair, a projection from pictures taken when I was three or four, running up a slight slope, through high grass on a summary day. The little boy was calling, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy...' I've no idea whether there was a trace of memory in that scene imagined by the 59-year-old executive I'd somehow become. But I knew at once, as the service ran on and the little boy kept calling, that it was a feeling I'd suppressed practically all my life."

Why? Couldn't Lelyveld have been an honest newsman and loving to his father at the same time? I believe he could have, and I'm firmly convinced as journalists we cannot be saints, nor does the reading public expect that we would be..

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Pope Is Near Death, Necessitating A Step-Up In Religious Coverage

As certainly was appropriate, the newspapers and television networks gave massive coverage today to the dramatic deterioration in the health of Pope John Paul II.

If, as now appears likely, this great man is near death, and a new Pope will soon be chosen, the choice and its impact on the world will be of profound importance. That really goes without saying.

In these circumstances, I believe the L.A. Times should send additional reporters and columnists to Rome, and two are preeminently suitable. Both have long served the newspaper capably. Both have a high degree of religious knowledge. Both happen to be Catholic, though that is not by any means their sole religious qualification.

Tim Rutten, the media columnist in Calendar, is extremely knowledgable about the Catholic faith. His column just a few days ago about the circus-like Schiavo affair was possibly the best written anywhere in the country on the matter and it had a profound Catholic perspective. Rutten is particularly well-attuned to progressive tendencies struggling to make themselves felt in the Church. He is also greatly respected throughout the newspaper for work he has also done in Opinion and Metro. He would be of outstanding value in Rome during this period. He has family obligations, of course, but I think he could make adjustments that would allow him to go for awhile.

Teresa Watanabe, former Times Tokyo bureau chief and a longtime writer on religious topics, also would greatly enhance Times coverage in Rome during a Papal selection process. She has a young daughter, but perhaps her husband and child could go to Rome with her for a limited time.

The Church may be nearing a moment when the pressures for change, on such matters as celibacy of the priesthood, birth control, homosexuality and child abuse could be immense. Because of his preeminent position in the world as a moral guide, the man chosen as the next Pope will immediately be a crucial figure. This is one of the vital stories the Times will be covering in the next year or more. There is certainly nothing wrong with our present correspondent in Rome, Richard Boudreaux, but he will need assistance.

Pope John Paul II has been a resolute, often conservative figure, but also a great humanitarian. His background in Poland, his direct experience with the two most awful tyrannies of our time, those of Hitler and Stalin, gave his Papacy much of its value. No one can view his departure from the scene without great emotion. As a Jew, I was particularly admiring of the strides he made against anti-Semitism, and I was naturally appreciative of his comments on a trip back to his homeland that Nazism was "an ideology gone mad." He was also one of those most responsible, Gorbachev, Walesa and Reagan being the others, for the fall of the Communist Empire.