Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Californians Would No More Vote To Put Themselves Under Cultural Neanderthals Than The French

If Californians could only vote whether to accept the direction of their newspapers, banks and telephone companies from cultural Neanderthals such as Chicagoans or Southerners, the result would be a foregone conclusion. We would kick these outsiders in the rear until they beat a retreat..

Of course, we would be just as quick as the French were on Sunday, and the Dutch will be on Wednesday in rejecting the proposed Constitution of the European Union, to vote down such a ridiculous proposal. We know that Chicago Tribune ownership of the L.A. Times makes no sense, and we know that the Bank of America has no business being run by corporate interests from the Deep South, and that the old Pacific Bell has no sensible reason to be owned by Texans.

It's as much of a no-brainer for Californians to put themselves under the heel of the Chicago Tribune as it was for the French people to seriously consider whether to let Germans, Poles and Romanians have a decisive say in running France or moving there in large numbers..

There was something deliciously instinctive in the French vote on Sunday. These people naturally don't want to ruin France, just as Californians don't want to ruin California.

That's really what's wrong with the whole idea of globalization. It accepts control by the lowest common denominator. It elevates the lowest over the highest, and there's no way in the long run that's going to be accepted by the people at the highest rung on the ladder. The French will never trade Chanel for hog swill.

Of course, the proposed European Union Constitution, 448 pages long, was also bureaucracy run completely out of control. But more than that it was like putting Bell Gardens in charge of Santa Monica. The people in Santa Monica, given a chance to say yes or no to that would never say yes.

So, not for the first time, French President Jacques Chirac, made a mistake. He might have gotten this through a parliament he controlled, but never through the French people. The Chandlers knew enough not to put the sale of the Times to the Tribune up to a popular vote in Los Angeles.

When the great Charles de Gaulle lost a referendum, he did the right thing: he resigned immediately. And that's what Chirac ought to do now. But he probably won't. He'll probably stagger on, although his political career is in tatters. Later Tuesday, Chirac compounded his problems by appointing the rank anti-American Dominique de Villepin as new prime minister. The Euro promptly sank further, and Chirac had dealt himself another setback.

These unnatural orders of things have to give way, even though, as someone observed in the New York Times today, the thing to be said for the European Union is that it keeps Europe out of wars. It's just that in the long run, it's impossible.. Europe is just too diverse.

And, in the long run, the Chicago Tribune won't own the biggest newspaper in Los Angeles. Either it will sell it back to local interests, or the L.A. Times will continue to sink the way it has in the last five years. What a sad thing that would be.

So the French vote reestablished the natural order, and, another good thing about it was that it also let Britain off the hook. Now, Great Britain need not pursue becoming part of Europe. It can be as distinctive as the Swiss, which, more sensibly than the British in recent years, have never even flirted with the idea of joining up with the bureaucrats in Brussels in letting the Germans run Europe.

Monday, May 30, 2005

On This Memorial Day, Lincoln's Letter to Mrs. Bixby

Executive Mansion
Washington, Novembar 21, 1864

Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Massachusetts
Dear Madam:

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solumn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Have L.A. Times Editors Gone Batty With Some Of The Nonsensical Articles And Editorials They Run?

It just seems, when you read today's Sunday L.A. Times, that the editors are losing all their good judgment.

Why would they lead the paper with a long story suggesting that, jeez, we're angering the Iraqis by holding prisoners too long in Iraqi prisons?
Here's a country where hundreds of people are being killed month by month in suicide bombings, where innocent foreigner hostages are regularly having their heads chopped off, where murderous ethnic groups are slaughtering one another, where a war rages against rampant terrorism, and all the L.A. Times can think of primarily is criticizing the United States military for trying to keep some kind of a handle on the situation.

Why am I being so unreasonable? Because the stakes are so high. Because if we don't succeed in Iraq, the terror is going to spread. It started against Americans in Lebanon with the taking of hostages and the bombing of U.S. Marines. It continued in Iran with the wanton seizure of American diplomats, and, later, the assault on the USS Cole in Aden Harbor. It led to monstrous terror attacks that took down the Twin Towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon. And it could continue in the future, unless we crush our enemies, with atomic, chemical and biological attacks against the U.S. homeland, Europe and other free areas.

Yet this morning, in addition to keeping up a drumfire of criticism against American soldiers, sailors, air and intelligence personnel who are trying to protect us, the Times editorial pages can't make up their mind whether immigration controls are a good thing (see the lead editorial) and run two articles by women who disagree with one another only to the degree they are willing to accept discrimination against women in Pakistan, one of the most uncivilized countries in the world, and one which not only has developed nuclear weapons of its own, but has been selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and other countries. Islamic schools in Pakistan call for a nuclear attack on the U.S.

The L.A. Times is too understanding, too willing to tolerate despicable behavior, as weak as Britain and France were in the 1930s when an earlier generation of Fascists were gaining strength, getting ready to plunge the world into war.

This weakness has contributed to the moral uncertainty in this country as millions of people fail to appreciate the dire nature of the threat or think they can temporize with it, appease it, and it will somehow go away.

There are heroic Americans who are fighting and dying in the war on terror. Just this morning, starting at the bottom of the L.A. Times obituary page, is the story of the death in Iraq of a 39-year-old Marine reservist from the Santa Monica Police Department, in the midst of serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Major Ricardo A. Crocker was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in the Sunni area of Al Anbar Province, where the Syrian government has been supporting the terrorists. He will be buried on Thursday.

Meanwhile, all too many journalists seem more interested in assailing our protectors rather than those who would turn the world back toward the dark ages. And this, of all times, on the Memorial Day weekend. The New York Times strikes a different tone. In an article today in the New York Times magazine, the redoutable Cynthia Gorney, examines "A Mother's War," a story of the hopes and fears of the mothers of U.S. Marines. That paints a grim picture of the war, but at least it is supportive of U.S. troops.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Even The New York Times Is Putting Forward A Buyout

These are certainly challenging times in the newspaper business. Now, even the New York Times is resorting to a buyout, although not as big a one as is customary at the Los Angeles Times.

Pleading "the problems of sluggish gains in circulation and advertising and the rising cost of newsprint," the NYT announced this past week that it would eliminate about 130 jobs, including "fewer than two dozen in the newsroom." Another 60 jobs are being eliminated at the NYT-owned Boston Globe.The cuts are less than 2% of the papers' work force.

In a memo to NYT employees, Executive Editor Bill Keller, said the voluntary packages would be offered in the newsroom to "a limited pool of staff members, including some reporters, some editors and some support and administrative staff."

Keller, however, added that the newspaper would continue to hire as needed to maintain the strength and competitiveness of the news staff.

"That being said, we have also concluded we can tolerate a slight contraction in staffing in certain parts of the newsroom, by reorganizing and consolidating duties in a way that will not damage the paper," Keller said.

What a relief! At the Los Angeles Times, the many buyouts have damaged the paper.

Unlike the L.A. Times, which has seen circulation drop sharply and has cut back national distribution of the paper drastically, the New York Times continues to try to build a national publication, adding constantly to the cities where there is daily delivery of the paper. Still, with all this effort, the NYT daily circulation continues to hover between 1.1 and 1.2 million and in recent years has grown only slightly.

The NYT recently announced it would start charging subscribers to its website $49.95 a year to see the columnists and certain features, plus have access to the paper's immense archives.

Several years ago, the NYT purchased the other half of the International Herald Tribune from the Washington Post and continues to develop that well-known international paper. It now has circulation of about 240,000.

Daily and Sunday New York Times circulation now is offered at a cost exceeding $500 a year.

Friday, May 27, 2005

It's High Time That Dan Neil Started Writing About Lousy GM Cars Again; Damn The Torpedos, Full Speed Ahead

In Dennis McDougal's book, "Privileged Son," about Otis Chandler and the Los Angeles Times, there's a wonderful passage about Robert McCormick, long-time publisher of the Chicago Tribune, before that newspaper sunk into its present mediocrity.

"Once," McDougal writes, "when a wealthy department store owner filed to divorce his wife, he asked the Tribune editors to downplay the story. McCormick was called at home and asked what to do--the department store owner, after all, was a major advertiser.

"Keep the story and throw out the advertising," McCormick ordered. "A kept newspaper is like a kept woman: no good.

"The department store owner groused for a few weeks, but came back hat in hand. To reach his customers, he had to advertise in the Tribune."

Well, I'm becoming afraid that John Carroll and Dennis FitzSimmons are no Robert McCormicks. Since General Motors pulled its advertising from the L.A. Times, the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize-winning auto writer, Dan Neil, hasn't written about an American car.

Week after week, Neil has been writing about foreign cars, and the appearance is the Times is scared stiff of General Motors.

I said when all this started that the Times should react by selling more ads to Toyota. I would now go beyond that: The Times should start helping to sell Toyotas, which, after all, produce much better cars and trucks than General Motors.

Under Tribune ownership, the Times is sinking fast. All too often, its editors don't stand up on their own two feet.

And if Neil is being prevented from engaging in the full sweep of his writing, he ought to quit and go somewhere he'll be appreciated.

General Motors, I'm sure, will recover from its present difficulties, even if they have to follow Chrysler and put Germans (or Japanese) on their board. But will the Times recover its reputation?

Let's hear from Neil again on American cars, or on at least what passes for cars, like GM's Pontiac G6, the car Neil was, if anything, too kind to when all this started.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The International Olympic Committee and the NFL Still Think They Can Con American Cities

The International Olympic Committee and the National Football League still seem to think they can con American cities into giving them a free ride, build stadiums with public money and guarantee that these smug organizations won't have to spend any of their own money to put on their events.

There should be no free ride for sporting events. There are too many more worthy causes to spend public money on.

The L.A. Times editorialized again this week against spending public funds to lure an NFL team to Los Angeles, and advised the NFL to take the existing L.A. Memorial Coliseum for a new Los Angeles franchise and stop dithering.

The trouble is that after selling a bill of goods to so many other cities, the NFL doesn't want to admit it can't do the same in Los Angeles. It fears this would set a bad precedent. Since they are determined to be pig headed, the chances of bringing a team back to L.A. are less than most football boosters in the city would like to pretend.

I don't think this is all bad. Big time pro sports are something we can easily live without, as we've proved with football for a decade now. Maybe we couldn't stand not having the Dodgers or Lakers, but we certainly have done fine without pro football.

Now, with a July 6 date looming for the International Olympic Committee to choose a city for the 2012 Summer Games, the IOC is confronting New York with the same ridiculous demand it once dmade in the case of Los Angeles -- namely to promise that the city will guarantee the IOC against any losses.

This should be rejected just as firmly as Los Angeles voters once did, in relation to the 1984 Games. The IOC recently told the New York Times that a letter Los Angeles signed with the U.S. Olympic Committee provided such a guarantee. It did not, since the U.S. Olympic Committee had no money to provide for such a guarantee, and Los Angeles wasn't giving one.

The New York Legislature has been balking at agreeing to pay, at least partially, for a new stadium on the West Side of Manhattan. So, at this moment, it seems as if Paris or some other city will win the July 6 vote. Maybe New York, not the stubborn city Los Angeles is, will want to put some public money in a stadium, to save the Olympics. But if not, it's the IOC's loss, not New York's. It doesn't need the Olympics to prove it's a great city.

Basically, however, there is no reason to let these plutocrats at the IOC live off the taxpayers to put on an event that can be financed privately, as Los Angeles did.

Henry Adams once observed, "You can't use tact with a Congressman, you have to take a stick and hit him in the snout!" The same admonition is appropriate in dealing with national and international sporting authorities.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Fox's Bill O'Reilly Goes Obscenely Too Far On Michael Kinsley

There has been bad feeling between Fox News and the Los Angeles Times for a long time, but now Fox's Bill O'Reilly has committed a gross impropriety in suggesting that terrorists might "grab" Kinsley "out of his little house...and cut his head off."

This is hate speech, and should be repudiated forthwith by the network, as well as those of us who have been critical of Kinsley's work. Kinsley has every right to do his job without being subjected to what amounts to death threats.

In an editorial Tuesday, May 24, the L.A. Times concluded, "O'Reilly should be careful. Any further decapitation fantasies could get him in serious trouble with the Secret Service."

I don't know about the Secret Service, because Kinsley is not, thank goodness, President of the United States. But the FCC might well step in here, and fine Fox and O'Reilly for indecent speech. If O'Reilly doesn't withdraw his remark and apologize, he should be taken off the air.

Ir was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who once rightly observed that freedom of speech doesn't give anyone the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre.

And at a time when terrorists do roam the world, killing the innocent, we don't need such fools broadcasting in the United States.

Incivility is an increasing phenomenon both on the airwaves and certainly on the Internet. Just last week, it was revealed that the Ventura Star Free Press had removed an opportunity for readers to comment on public issues, after a wave of obscene, despicable remarks. Now, the paper has suggested it may restore the service, with an appropriate filter to prevent such observations from appearing.

I hope the Star Free Press is successful. A filter is definitely necessary on the Internet to prevent the scum of the earth from posting instructions on how to make a bomb, how to organize a suicide bombing, or how to decapitate anyone.

This is not freedom, it's license, and it is dangerous to civilization and to us all.

Attacks such as O'Reilly made against Kinsley are terrorist threats themselves. They are obscene. In the modern world, we should not, we must not, abide by them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Time Magazine Editor-in-Chief Doesn't Lose His Cool, Makes Sound Argument For Using Anonymous Sources

It almost goes without saying that journalists are frequently too defensive. As soon as criticism rises, as it's been doing of late, too many journalists go into disorderly retreat. I don't think that's a very good way to defend the First Amendment.

Newsweek, in particular, since the Koran-to-the-toilet allegations it made and later retracted, has gone much too far toward abandoning more ground than it need give up by saying that it made a mistake in that case. Now, it's adopting much greater apparent restrictions on the use of anonymous sources in the future than are merited by the present situation. They seem to have fooled themselves into thinking they are Wendy's and a customer has just found a finger in their chili.

I am much more impressed by the strong, definite language used this week in a note in Time magazine to the readers by Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time, Inc.

Pearlstine seems to realize what a disaster it would be for the media, for the First Amendment and for the American people, if use of anonymous sources were to be dropped and he is not on the retreat. To the contrary, Time is taking its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Let me quote Pearlstine at some length, because (1) I agree with him and (2) he has spoken as well on this matter as anyone.

"It is our editorial policy," he writes, to identify sources by name whenever possible. But sometimes we can obtain information only by promising confidentiality to a source, because many persons with important information won't speak to the press unless they are assured anonymity. Information given in confidence is especially valuable when it contradicts or undermines public positions asserted by government or powerful individuals or corporations. Without confidential sourcing, the public would never have learned the details of many situations vital to its interests, from Watergate, to Enron, to Abu Ghraib."

Pearlstine goes on to say that Time has gone to the Supreme Court and is asking that it rule that its Washington correspondent Matt Cooper "may not be jailed and Time Inc. may not be fined for refusing to disclose confidential sources to a federal grand jury.

"The District of Columbia and 49 states now protect confidential sources," Pearlstine observes. "We think those protections strongly support our contention that the First Amendment (which protects freedom of the press) and common law should be held to extend the reporter's privilege to federal cases.

"We believe the Supreme Court should recognize a reporter's privilege under federal rules of evidence adopted since 1972--rules that have led federal courts to recognize a psychotherapist-patient privilege, a spousal privilege, a cleric-communicant privilege and many others.

"We argue further that jailing or fining a witness based on secret evidence submitted by the prosecutor violates a constitutional right to due process. The Supreme Court held last year that accused enemy combatants have a right to confront the evidence against them. We cannot understand how journalists doing their jobs should be denied that same basic right.

"We believe we must protect our sources when we grant them confidentiality, an obligation we take seriously. We also believe we must resist government coercion. Put simply, the issues at stake are crucial to our ability to report the news and inform the public. We hope the Supreme Court will hear our case and rule in our favor. As it said many years ago, freedom of the press was established 'not for the benefit of the press so much as for the benefit of all of us.'"

This confirms my long-held opinion that Time is superior to Newsweek. Here, we see, Newsweek is running for cover, and Time is defending the interests of the American people.

I think also that Stephen Engelberg, an editor at the Portland Oregonian, was right when he told the New York Times today, "Right now, the pendulum is swinging too far in the wrong direction. Most newspapers, if they are honest, would say that all of this taken together has probably created a climate that is not encouraging for the type of reporting that we need to be doing."

A salute to Pearlstine and Engelberg. They point everyone in journalism in the right direction. And where exactly is the Los Angeles Times in this fight?

Monday, May 23, 2005

Many Watching Reaction To New York Times Charging For Part Of Its Website Beginning In September

The New York Times announcement that it will start in September charging $49.95 a year for part of its website, specifically for reading its columnists, getting an advance break on certain features and for using its archives is naturally sparking a lot of interest throughout the newspaper business.

Will this work, or will it be yet another false start in trying to develop new revenue sources for newspapers?

Just Sunday, coincidentally, the NYT's departing outside observer, called a "public editor," Daniel Okrent, winding up an 18-month assignment, was quite critical of such NYT columnists as Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and William Safire for persisting in expressing views in their columns that Okrent suggested were not supported by the facts.

Safire has now mostly retired, but Krugman persists with a column that rivals the L.A. Times' Bob Scheer for determined anti-Bush Administration invective.

The question is, will sufficient numbers of readers be willing to pay for this to make the website a financial go?

But Okrent was quite pointed in his adverse comments about the three columnists, and concluded that section of his article by observing:

"No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards."

Okrent added, "I didn't give Krugman, Dowd or Safire the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist."

Not all the details of the new website operation are clear, and those going to NYTimes.com these days, as in many other websites, are asked to register, give their e-mail addresses, etc.

The NYT reports it has been getting 1.7 million readers daily on its website, and users will still be able to get NYT headlines and parts of leading stories free of charge.

The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times of London have been charging subscriber fees on their websites with what is reported to be some success, although, of course, these are specialized papers that appeal to elite readerships. To some extent, the NYT is a specialized publication too, although the L.A. Times certainly rivals it in many aspects of its foreign coverage.

My guess is that to make a success of this, the NYT will have to charge for its news coverage too, that just the features to be offered will not be enough to draw a substantial clientele..

But, in time, it may work out. I buy the NYT every day out here in Los Angeles, and I subscribe to it for my son back East as a present, so I'm one of their best customers. I'm paying almost 10 times a year more for the New York Times than the Los Angeles Times, which has a year-long subscription fee at a considerably advantageous cut rate of $104

Sunday, May 22, 2005

It's Nice That The L.A. Times Editorial Page Has Room For Dissenters, But It Would Be Better If It Took Consistently Sound Positions

In principle, it seems nice to see that the Los Angeles Times editorial pages have room for dissent, such as the piece today, May 22, by Judy Dugan, opposing the U.S. Senate doing away with the filibuster.

But it would have been better had the Times, which supposedly has a liberal editorial policy, taken a majority editorial board position consistent with that policy and opposed doing away with the filibuster, period.

It was nice that the Times endorsed Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor of Los Angeles. But it would have been nicer had the Times editorial page been more definite and more persistent in its support of Villaraigosa and taken a firm position against the scurrilous campaign the inept incumbent, James Hahn, waged against him. The editorial page shouldn't have left it to columnist Steve Lopez this morning to take the ringing position he did for tolerance. It should have taken that position, before the election, itself.

An editorial page should choose clearly, and not be the mishmosh the Times as a newspaper is today. The paper, rather than commanding admiration for reflecting all views and trying to do everything, has sadly ended up by disgusting many of its readers by such seeming inconsistencies as noted above.

Similarly, I must admit, Michael Kinsley finally put it on the line today with an eloquent column defending stem cell research. It turns out he can write a good column. I'm glad to see it. But a ringing Times editorial on the stem cell question would not have been out of place today, either.

I'm glad he gave Judy Dugan a chance to put on the editorial page a rational argument for keeping the filibuster, because, at its best the filibuster is consistent with the sound American principle of majority rule but minority rights.

But then why did he remove Molly Selvin from the paper's editorial board? She has been a consistent living exponent for many years now for good judges and rational, humane principles. It's one thing to take the position, as Kinsley did, that nobody should be on the editorial board forever. It's another to remove Selvin just at this unfortunate moment, when she's so needed.

One other matter, about the paper in general.

There's a letter on the editorial page today from Ray DiPietro of Rancho Santa Fe Springs making another point that the Times ought to be adhering to more than it does, and that is sticking with the American side of the War on Terror, at least in some fundamental respects.

DiPietro writes to object to an article that ran in the news pages last Thursday, titled, "In Brothers, Two Faces of the Iraq Insurgency." That article ran on Page 1.

DiPietro writes, "This article completely overlooks the pain caused by the Iraqi insurgents to our American soldiers and their families. Buried within the story is the comment that one of the terrorist brothers had orchestrated the suicide attack on a U.S. base that killed 22 U.S. and Iraqi troops and civilian contractors.

"The Times' never-ending quest to report both sides of a story is misdirected when it comes to this war, in which America is fighting terrorism. Printing a story such as this one is the same as having The Times interviewing family members of SS soldiers or Kamikaze pilots for their side of the story -- during World War II. I don't believe that would have happened."

Amen! I wonder how my father and mother would have felt in 1945
had The Times interviewed the family of the Kamikazi pilot who struck my father's ship, the Destroyer-Escort Rall, off Okinawa killing or wounding one third of the crew. They didn't think there was a good side to suicide attacks that needed to be presented to Times readers.

Both on the editorial pages and in the news pages, certain defining choices must be made. The paper can't take all sides in an imperfect world and expect its readers to stay loyal to it.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Two Great Writers, John Balzar At L.A. Times And Michiko Kakutani At N.Y. Times

Some newspaper writers are always good, and we see that in the work of John Balzar at the Los Angeles Times and Pulitzer Prize-winning senior book reviewer Michiko Kakutani at the New York Times.

Balzar's long article on the latest about Jerry Brown, former governor of California and now mayor of Oakland, just about to get married for the first time, reminds us what a fine political writer and columnist Balzar used to be in other L.A. Times incarnations. He certainly never loses his touch.

I cannot forget that on the eve of the Iraqi war, more than two years ago, Balzar, then a columnist on the editorial pages, said that if it were up to him, he would give going into Iraq second thoughts, that even as a former U.S. Marine, he felt hesitant about plunging into the war. My own support for the war looks now as if it may have been over enthusiastic, to say the least. His caution seems fully justified by the events that have followed, although that does not mean, probably, that we can afford to bail out now.

In 1999, Balzar's book, "Yukon Alone, The World's Toughest Adventure Race," got fine reviews. His outdoor work, in Alaska, the Yukon and the Great Northwest, is as distinguished as his foreign and political writing.

Balzar who was a thoughtful columnist and just as thoughtful a correspondent for the Times in East Africa, is now writing in the Calendar section, and has unfortunately been replaced on the Times editorial pages by Michael Kinsley and others who do not write either as well or as intelligently.

But when he writes, Balzar, regardless where he is in the newspaper, is worth reading. His article May 18 on Jerry Brown was up to his usual high standard.

It is a tribute to Brown in a way that 37 years after he began his political career, he remains interesting. Now, he is planning to run next year for state attorney general. At the age of 67, he maintains his grip, and his marriage to fellow lawyer Anne Gust June 18 at the Oakland City Hall, with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein presiding, will be, I'm sure, a heart warming event.

Balzar has captured it all, and he seems to have been around almost as long as Brown, enlightening us all. In fact, Balzar may have a more consistently enlightening record than Brown, who did not win the nickname of Gov. Moonbeam for nothing.

By happenstance, two of Kakutani's recent reviews have been on books written by L.A. Times writers, Terry McDermott and Azadeh Moaveni. McDermott's book, "Perfect Soldiers: The Hijackers, Who They Were, Why They did It," is on those who pulled off 9-11 and Moaveni 's book, "Lipstick Jihad, A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American In Iran," reflects back on her work for the LAT in Iran.

Another recent review by Kakutani, who has been reviewing for the NYT since 1983 and won her Pulitzer in 1998, was on the latest potboiler about the life of Frank Sinatra, "Sinatra: The Life," by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan.

Nobody can be more appropriately dismissive and even scathing, when she wants to be, than Kakutani. Her front page NYT review of Bill Clinton's memoirs put that vastly overrated President in the place he deserved for writing a disappointingly shallow book, and her review of the Sinatra book points out how the authors manage to ignore Sinatra's great singing and wonderful voice while exploiting and sensationalizing all the embarrassing things that happened in his life. There is a no-nonsense quality to Kakutani's reviewing which we don't often see in such a fundamentally intellectual pursuit. Very heartening.

But Kakutani also can be highly encouraging and wonderful to aspiring authors like McDermott and Moaveni, who really have something worthwhile to say. Her review on their books will, I'm sure, increase their sales.

As far as Moaveni is concerned, "Lipstick Jihad" seems to have given her more of a chance than her coverage of Iran in the L.A. Times to capture that country in all its contradictions and cultural diversity. I hope her career at the Times is not over. Kakutani calls her book "compelling."

Kakutani, 50, daughter of an eminent late Yale professor, will, I'm sure be enlightening us for many years to come. She's the best reviewer in the business these days.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Eric Slater Says Tribune Co. Will Give Him A Hearing

Eric Slater telephoned to say that the Tribune Co. has agreed to give him a hearing into his firing by L.A. Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet.

Slater was fired after a Times inquiry ruled that he had misperformed in a story he did earlier this year on a fraternity hazing death at Chico State University, and that, specifically, he could not satisfy management that he had interviewed the sources he said he had.

One issue in the hearing, according to Slater, who had worked for the Times 11 years, including five years in its Chicago bureau, is whether he deserves severance pay. Slater says the Times cut him off without a dime after the firing, and did not even permit him to take all his files away from the paper.

He reports that when he approached the Tribune Co., owners of the Times, he was told that its employee relations department had not received any report from Los Angeles on the events leading up to his termination.

This, in itself, may not mean much, however, since editors at major newspapers often hire and fire without much notice to their employee relations departments. On the other hand, under the Tribune, many employee relations operations have been centralized in Chicago.

Any inquiry by the Tribune Co. into the Slater firing by Baquet could be of considerable interest, if only because the exact relations between the Tribune Co. and Times management are somewhat cloudy. While the Tribune owns the Times, it said when it purchased the paper in 2000 that it would give local Times executives considerable autonomy. However, since last year, after circulation and advertising declines became manifest, Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimmons has required the Times to cut back both staff members and other costs in an attempt to improve profit margins at the Times.

In fact, FitzSimmons and a colleague flew to the Burbank Airport in the spring of 2004, soon after the Times won an unprecedented five Pulitzer Prizes, summoned Baquet and editor John Carroll to the airport and curtly informed them of the cutbacks, without so much as ever coming downtown to the Times offices.

A number of employees have reported that the cost-cutting at the Times has severely impacted morale. Among the persons to have lost their job is the Tribune-appointed publisher, John Puerner, although he depicted his departure as voluntary.

Slater has confided that he first became aware that Baquet was dissatisfied with his performance in 2003, when he received a nasty message from the managing editor complaining that he had left Benton Harbor, Mich., too soon after being sent there to cover race riots.

Baquet, while cultivating a reputation in some circles as easy going, can be sharp in both his judgments and actions regarding personnel. There have been a number of reassignments and de facto terminations at the Times.

Possible high-handedness extended last week to the Times editorial pages when their director, Michael Kinsley, suddenly informed five editorial writers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning Alex Raksin, that they were being transferred to other jobs.

Even before the Tribune took over, and Baquet, formerly with the New York Times, was installed as managing editor, some high-level reassignments resulted in what reportedly have been sizable legal settlements. This was the case with the longtime national editor, Mike Miller, and the woman in charge of Metro for awhile, Carol Stogsdill.

Both Miller and Stogsdill retained attorneys to bargain with the Times. Now, Slater says he too has retained an attorney.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Reflections On Steve Wasserman Leaving L.A. Times, And Changes On Editorial Board

Steve Wasserman was editor of the L.A. Times Book Review for eight and a half years, and has now departed to take a job with a New York literary agency. He will be missed, since; he accomplished a lot at the book review in terms of making it a more professional product. But under the circumstances, this is probably best for him.

There seems to be a natural length to such jobs, and when Wasserman found himself being second-guessed on what to include in the review and then discovered that he hadn't been told about some cutbacks of distribution of complimentary copies of the review to a list of 2,000 outsiders, it was obvious that he should look elsewhere.

I didn't always agree with the liberal bias of some of the reviews he commissioned, but Wasserman ran a good section. He had the courage to give reviewers enough space to make their arguments, and there were very few complaints about editing from his contributors. He ran a considerate staff.

Could the review write about more popular books, as associate Calendar editor Tim Rutten reportedly suggested to Wasserman. Perhaps, but whether this would necessarily lead to more readership is somewhat problematic. Wasserman may well have been right that the book review is going to appeal primarily to an intellectually sensitive group and not to the general readership.

Wasserman's friend, Narda Zacchino, now an editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, was kind enough to commission two articles in that newspaper about his departure. She could certainly empathize with Wasserman not being informed of changes affecting his work, because much the same thing had happened to her when she was at the L.A. Times, and the Tribune people came aboard. The change she eventually made, leaving the paper, certainly was the right thing for her to do, and we can hope this change will be beneficial to Wasserman.

Once top management starts going behind your back and making changes, like cutting the comp list, without so much as informing you, it's certainly time to go. But I'm not talking about Rutten here. He put his views on the line with Wasserman. In fact, the two were often good friends in their careers at the newspaper. Wasserman was very sympathetic with Rutten when he had his own reverses at the paper.

I reviewed books on earthquakes and occasionally other topics for the book review and also found Wasserman and his staff to be careful editors and nice to deal with.

The same may not be true of Michael Kinsley, editor of the editorial pages, who has just purged another five editorial writers, including the talented Alex Raksin, a Pultizer Prize winner, and Molly Selvin, sending them to other jobs at the Times.

Does Kinsley have good judgment? Almost never, in my view. The changes he has made in the editorial pages have been deplorable.

Who will he hire to replace those he has gotten rid of? More Easterners who don't understnad Los Angeles would be a reasonable guess.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Despite Ghastly Coverage And A Grudging Times Endorsement, Villaraigosa Wins. A Great Day For Los Angeles

City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa has won an impressive victory and it seems it will be a new day for Los Angeles, with a dynamic, ambitious mayor.

But in view of its ghastly political coverage of the mayor's race and the very grudging endorsement the Los Angeles Times gave Villaraigosa, the newspaper's editorial on his victory seems inappropriate.

Adopting a peremptory tone, the Times editorial this morning makes assorted demands on the new mayor and tells him, "Learn something from this election, even if the lesson is ultimately about humility."

There is absolutely nothing, based on his campaign, on which to assume that Villaraigosa will be anything but appropriately circumspect in office. In any case, a 59% victory is, as the Times headline said, a "landslide," not a lesson in humility.

I've said before, and do not hesitate to repeat here: The Times is presently, very regrettably, owned by outsiders. It is not the newspaper it was under the Chandlers. It has an editorial page editor who apparently has little knowledge of politics and has precious little claim to make demands on anyone in the city, much less the new mayor.

Just underneath the mayoral editorial, the Times again this morning takes the absolutely silly position of supporting Republican ideologues on altering the American system of majority rule but minority rights by abolishing the filibuster in the Senate. If there ever was clear evidence, the editorial page editor, Mike Kinsley, is a phony liberal, this is it, because he is, in effect, supporting the opening of the court system to religious and political fanatics of deplorable stripe.

I referred to Times political coverage of the contest by the regular writers as "ghastly." It ignored the most serious issues of the race for the most part. It took the day after the election before the writers gave the question of the city's first election of a Latino mayor in more than 100 years the prominence it deserved. It sacrificed meaningful coverage to many mundane stories, some of which ran on Page 1. I suspect this was mainly the fault of the political editors, who have grown weak and tremulous, when they used to be highly competent. Only Steve Lopez, the columnist, distinguished himself for the most part in the coverage.

Perhaps, there should be important personnel changes before next year's gubernatorial and Congressional midterm elections.

Most citizens of Los Angeles will wish the new mayor good fortune, because our own destinies as Los Angelenos are tied to his. He is well qualified through experience to do a good job, and, knowing him, I'm sure he will bend every effort in that direction.

It is a cause for satisfaction that the divisive campaign the incumbent mayor, James Hahn, tried to wage to maintain his own inept administration in power was not successful.

Also, I believe, the election, by a good margin, of the dynamic Bill Rosendahl in the contested West Side councilmanic district represents a gain for the City Council and the city, and shows the independence of the electorate in that part of the city.

On Thursday, when all the election results were in, the Times by the way doesn't seem to have had any story on the Rosendahl victory. At least, I looked through my edition of the paper repeatedly and couldn't find such a story. Another example of either bias at the paper against Rosendahl or just mindless editing by the hapless Metro desk.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Increasing National Coverage Is A No-Brainer, And, Yes, Newspapers Should Evaluate Attacks Against Them

This is the last of six blogs evaluating the principal recommendations of a New York Times panel that studied ways to improve the credibility of the newspaper.

I think the last two recommendations, which I'll discuss today, are in many respects the easiest to endorse -- to increase coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion, and to establish a system for evaluating public attacks on the NYT (and other papers) with a view toward determining whether and how to respond.

The NYT has wisely in recent years expanded its national circulation, thereby slowly increasing its total circulation at a time when many other papers have lost readers. It should go without saying that if a paper is going to become a national one and be delivered daily in wide areas, it is going to have to improve coverage far and wide.

The L.A. Times, on the other hand, by cutting back on national circulation has been losing circulation overall fairly drastically, since newspaper reading has become less popular with the population as a whole, and, to be successful, the paper must appeal to a more widely-scattered elite.. Those who care for the future of the paper are worried. For that matter, as a part of cost cutting, the L.A. Times has even cut back to some extent on circulation in other parts of the state and is failing to cover the entire state of California. I believe and have written repeatedly that this is a bad mistake. The paper has become too Hollywood-oriented. It is filled with the movies and weak on coverage outside Southern California. It's not, in short, the wideranging paper it once was. Even as the New York Times extends its coverage.

The implication of the NYT panel's recommendation about increasing coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion is that that paper will pay more attention to areas and segments of the population that provided the majority for the victories of George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

To the extent that this would increase general understanding of the forces at work in assembling the democratic majority in the country, I think it's a good idea, although I tend to think the Democrats may make something of a comeback against the Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections, unless there's a renewal of terrorist attacks within the U.S. borders.

In any case, such increases in coverage should not be done to win more neocon readership, but simply because it's the right course to follow for any national newspaper.

It is, meanwhile, apparent, that the mainstream press is living through controversial times, and it's not a bad thing to carefully evaluate the criticism, although I caution against undue panic about criticism. The press must go ahead and do what it has to do, and that means covering liberals as well as conservatives, foreign affairs, stories both favorable to and unfavorable to the United States.

The job in journalism is to tell the readers what is happening without fear that news need be slanted to please public opinion. But when papers are criticized, oftentimes they should respond when necessary to explain what they are doing and why.

The danger, with all steps taken to improve credibility is that there is sometimes a tendency to cater too much to the mob. We need not do that to stay in business, but, as always, we have to take due precautions to report as accurately as we can.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Within Limits, I Favor Tracking Errors and Checking For Plagiarism

This is the fifth of six blogs commenting on the principal recommendations of a New York Times panel that studied steps to make the paper more credible with its readers. Since, the NYT is a model for many practices in American journalism, there is no question the panel's views will be carefully scrutinized far and wide.

Today, I'm taking up the panel's recommendations for setting up an errors tracking system, and developing software capable of detecting plagiarism when accusations arise.

This is an opportune day to talk about such subjects, since we are right in the middle of a furore over an apparent Newsweek error that has resulted in at least 17 deaths in riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan, after the magazine published a report from an anonymous source that U.S. soldiers may have flushed a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, down a toilet at the Guantanamo facility for suspected terrorists in Cuba. The New York Times publishes a story on this controversy today on Page 1 and the L.A. Times has a story on Page 3.

Newsweek has published a rather turgid half-apology, suggesting its source has now altered his story. The Pentagon, meanwhile, expresses anger at the publication of a report that has put the U.S. military in such a bad light, especially since they say it is wrong and may never have been solidly confirmed. One of the Newsweek reporters involved. incidentally, is Michael Isikoff, who had an important role in breaking open the Monica Lewinsky story during the Clinton Administration.

Monday afternoon, after much stalling and explaining, Newsweek formally retracted the original Periscope item that led to the controversy. By that time, it was obvious that the magazine had been badly damaged by the episode.

At a time of war, when the interests of the nation are so clearly at stake, journalistic errors can obviously have unusually far reaching consequences.

But one thing that ought to be made clear is that journalistic errors are going to be quite common, since, as I've said before, journalists are seldom right on the spot when things happen or decisions are made. It is a profession that necessarily uses many second and third hand reports, and everyone has to realize that journalism is not a perfect science.

Keeping track of errors, detecting plagiartsm and punishing it, are obviously important, but so is trust in a newsroom. Editors and reporters cannot always be looking at each other suspiciously, or the daily work of newspapers will be impeded. No one advocates that papers appear every three days, so that journalists will have a longer time to check for errors.

So I am glad to see that the New York Times panel, in making its recommendation for the development of software to detect plagiarism has seen fit to suggest that such software only be employed when accusations of plagiarism arise, and not just willy-nilly all the time.

Most people at the L.A. Times, where I worked for 39 years, tried honestly to do their best, I found, and the suggestion sometimes made outside journalism that journalists are running about all the time printing sensationalistic reports and plagiarizing are, I firmly believe, far too extreme.

Yes, there can be excesses, and we had a few at the Times, but I want to emphasize, these were uncommon occurrences. Inadvertent mistakes may be more common.

Like police departments keeping track of complaints made by the public against police officers, there may be good reason to keep track of how many errors reporters and editors make, so that the most frequent offenders can be identified and their practices improved.

But errors will arise and just because someone makes an error is not, in and of itself, sufficient reason for punishing them.

Plagiarism is a different story. You don't want plagiarists on the staff, and when they are identified, their employment ought to be terminated.

Tomorrow, I will take up the remaining two major recommendations, these for increasing coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion, and establishing a system to evaluate attacks on the newspaper's work..


Sunday, May 15, 2005

How Is The Hahn Campaign Racist In Nature? Let Us Count The Ways.

A reader, commenting on my recent blog on the L.A. Times falling down in its coverage and editorializing on the mayoral campaign, raises the fair question: "Please explain how the Hahn campaign is racist in nature? That's a serious charge to be floating without evidence."

But there is evidence, plenty of it, and to find the racism in the Hahn campaign against Villaraigosa, all you have to do is look at the Hahn advertisements and listen to his speeches. They are designed to fix Villaraigosa in the voter mind as a stereotyped Latino, soft on crime, easy on corruption, untrustworthy. It is a desperate campaign that fixes on the notion that Latinos are still very much a voting minority in Los Angeles, and they can be targeted and treated in a discriminatory way, with the view of reelecting a white man who otherwise would stand no chance.

All these charges, soft on crime, easy on corruption, untrustworthy, are code words. They do not describe Latinos as a whole in Los Angeles or elsewhere, and just as Sam Yorty tried to do with Tom Bradley, saying in 1969 and 1973 that he was soft on crime and a black power advocate, they do not fit the challenger at all -- they play to the prejudices of some Angelenos. They are designed to give people an excuse to vote for an incumbent, in this case, Hahn, who has done little to actually deserve their votes.

It's fairly easy to find, in any past legislator's record, votes that can be distorted or taken out of context. That's certainly the case with Hahn advertising, trying to make something out of a single Villaraigosa vote years ago against a child abuse bill in the Legislature. For one thing, anyone who knows the record of the Legislature in this state knows that simply authoring bills lengthening prison terms isn't effectively fighting crime.

Villaraigosa has had the courage to be a member of the Southern California ACLU and to try to fight crime in more expeditious ways than simply voting for every higher prison sentence that comes along.

The Hahn mail, with its simplistic evidence for the mayor's "crime fighting," by using the endorsements of police and fire unions, is an insult to the public's intelligence and implicitly racist in itself. Anyone who knows about the police and fire unions know they usually support candidates who are going to give them higher pay and pension benefits, at the expense of the taxpayers, and that has nothing to do with fighting crime.

The police and fire unions also support Hahn because he got rid of Police Chief Bernard Parks for them, and why didn't they like Parks? Basically, because he was tough on police misconduct, a black police chief who was out of sync with the white police and fire unions. He didn't treat misbehaving officers with kid gloves.

So, this mail is just more of the Hahn racist campaign, set up by his cynical managers, Bill Carrick and Kam Kuwata. Can't my questioner recognize this for what it is?

And the Hahn phone campaign, directed mainly at Republicans and whites, that's just more of the same. The same thing as the Yorty campaign against Bradley.

Who do they think we are in the Los Angeles electorate? Naive simpletons?

And the really scurrilous thing about this racist effort is that James Hahn is descended from a man, Kenneth Hahn, who fought all his life for minority rights and who hated stereotypes. I've written before that Kenny Hahn must be rolling over in his grave to see how his son is campaigning now.

When any such campaign is waged, it is certainly the obligation of a newspaper, and an editorial page editor, which claim to be liberal, to struggle against it, and more effectively than a weak editorial calling Hahn a "ho hum" mayor and not explicitly naming the kind of campaign he is waging.. But of course, the Times, under absentee Chicago ownership, editors from the East, and the half-absentee editorial page direction of Michael Kinsley, isn't the newspaper of Dorothy and Otis Chandler any more. Again on Sunday morning, its "Times Endorsements" editorial refuses to call the Hahn campaign for what it is.

And who does my questioner think I am? An inexperienced political novice who can't tell racism when he sees it?

No, I have some political writing experience, going back to 1967 for the L.A. Times. I personally covered the Yorty campaign. Both before and after going down South as the paper's Atlanta correspondent, I covered George Wallace. In college, I read V.O. Key's "Southern Politics in State and Nation." I was in the South in 1970 when Richard Nixon formed his Southern strategy, and again in 1976 when Jimmy Carter ran in the Florida presidential primary against Wallace.. I covered those campaigns. Here, in Los Angeles, I covered the disgraceful Robbins campaign against Bradley, who was then the incumbent mayor.

I know racism when I see it, and I see it right now in Los Angeles in the Hahn campaign. Let's hope the electorate doesn't fall for this crap again, as it did in 1969 when Yorty came from behind and beat Bradley in Bradley's first bid for mayor.

I hope that answers the question that has been posed.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Anonymous Sources Are Often Necessary If Reporters Are To Find Out What Is Going On. Reading Stories In Advance To Sources Is A Good Idea

This is the fourth in a series of six blogs on recommendations made by a panel at the New York Times for making that paper more credible to its readers. Today, I take up the panel's suggestions that use of anonymous sources be "further curtailed" and that reporters check stories for accuracy with their sources before publication and seek feedback from them afterwards.

As a longtime reporter of government and politics, I feel that often the use of anonymous sources is absolutely necessary and cannot be curtailed if reporters are serious about seeking to find out what is really happening and conveying it to their readers.

I readily acknowledge that many readers feel unnamed sources are not reliable, or even that reporters are making up quotes. So, I agree that to the greatest extent feasible sources should be quoted by name.

But the sad truth is that many government officials and in politics many participants in the campaign process simply will not speak except on a not-for-attribution basis. It is virtually impossible to get many to change. They feel there is too much likelihood they will be publicly embarrassed or get in trouble with their superiors if their names get into print. On diplomatic missions, virtually no one from the Secretary of State on down has anything to say for quotation except in the most bland terms. In politics, it is usually impossible to get a Democrat to say a Republican is winning, or right about anything, for attribution, and the same is true in reverse.

So, if this recommendation on the part of the panel was to actually be carried out, the amount of news the papers could print would be severely restricted. The papers would become bland and unrevealing.

This point should be made to the readers: You're going to have to trust us, or someone else, when you read the news. If you can't trust us, find someone you can trust. He or she will be using their own anonymous sources.

This has proved true throughout my career. When I was reporting on the Olympic preparations, for example, in 1984, I was able to tell the readers months in advance of the Games that the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee was going to have a large surplus, exceeding $100 milli9n, at a time when its leader, Peter V. Ueberroth, was swearing up and down that the surplus was and would be less than $10 million. This came from a source at the committee who I trusted implicitly and still do. It was confirmed by two others. Times editors in their usual timidity printed this significant story on Page 3, not where it belonged on Page 1. As it turned out, the eventual surplus exceeded $220 million, and Ueberroth, after the Games, gave me a T-shirt inscribed, "Ken Reich Was Right." Without use of my anonymous source, we never would have had that news.

Similarly, in covering state and national politics, I frequently used a group of political insiders, who would tell me from their vantage points what they expected to happen in a race and/or what was going on behind the scenes. These insiders always went unidentified. Since some of them are now dead, I feel free to reveal that among them in California politics were Democrats Jesse Unruh, Ken Cory and Cranston aide Lu Haas. In the 1978 race for governor, they told me on Oct. 1, a month before the election, that Evelle Younger, the Republican candidate, was out of money, and that Gov. Jerry Brown would win reelection easily. They said the only serious remaining question in the election was whether Brown would follow Ronald Reagan's 1966 example and turn his campaign funds over to other candidates in his party who were in political trouble in the election. Unless, he did this, they promised, Brown would win but Democratic candidates Mervyn Dymally for lieutenant governor and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke for attorney general would go down to defeat. Brown did not, in fact, help Dymally and Burke very much, and both were defeated. Reagan's greater political acumen in helping Republicans like Houston Flournoy to win election in 1966 by advertising heavily in their behalf was one reason I always had more respect for Reagan than for Brown, Jr.

The political insider stories often allowed me to tell Times readers what was really going on in various races. Many of my Republican insiders are still alive, so I'm not giving them as examples now, but they were very important to me as well, and as I've mentioned before in blogs, during most of this period I was a registered Republican, and everyone knew that, so my Republican sources were excellent.

Today, the Times does not carry such "insider" stories, at least not so explicitly as I used to write them. The paper's political coverage is poorer on account of their absence. In their place, the Times writers frequently interview Sherry Bebich Jeffe of the Claremont Colleges, whose political expertise is that of an outsider, not an insider.

Facts of this kind must be conveyed to readers who wonder about the usefulness of anonymous sources.

Are quotes sometimes made up? I suspect the answer is yes. But there is nothing perfect in life. Curtailing use of anonymous sources would, on the whole, disarm the press and make it less effective. At a time when there is so much secrecy in government and big business, we cannot afford not to use them, no matter what purists like my friend, David Shaw, a press columnist for the Times, may say about it. Shaw and I have disagreed about the importance of anonymous sources for many years.

Now, as to the New York Times panel's recommendation that reporters be encouraged to confirm the accuracy of articles with sources before publication and solicit feedback with sources after publication, I not only am thoroughly in favor of both, but I often actually did this at a time long ago when it was forbidden by some editors to do so.

I very frequently read stories to sources before their publication, and, based on their advice altered those stories to bring them more into accord with facts they gave me. This was particularly true of scientific stories, when I knew my sources were much more knowledgable than I was and I felt I could easily make mistakes. But I did so in political stories also. Those who heard stories in advance did not have a veto power. I did resist weakening a story unless I was fully convinced there was a good reason to do so.

But I assure you that if, as a reporter, I had always adhered to the ground rule of not reading stories in advance to some interested parties, I would not have ended up as good a reporter as I was. However, I assure you, I did not read stories by other reporters to outside sources in advance. That would have been a serious breach of confidence. The only times I used to give out the news in advance to trusted confidants was in the case of the polls. I always would divulge poll results to outsiders who I felt confident would not run to other papers with them, because, I found that such favors built up my relationships. I think other political writers frequently use poll information in this way.

Similarly, I often sought feedback after stories ran. I needed to know, in the interest of future stories, what people who were involved thought about what I had written. And, of course, I listened, when outsiders told me that other reporters' stories were wrong, or contained, at the least, significant errors. Rather infrequently, I would pass such criticisms along in confidence to either the other reporters or their editors.

So I am in total sympathy with this recommendation of the NYT panel.

Tomorrow, I'll take up the recommendations for error-tracking systems and software to detect plagiarism.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Los Angeles Times Falling Down In Its Coverage, Editorializing Of Mayoral Campaign

The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper owned by outsiders who do not have the city's interests at heart, is falling down badly in both its coverage and its editorializing of the campaign for Mayor between City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa and the inept incumbent, Mayor James Hahn.

Although the Times finally endorsed Villaraigosa last week, it was a very weak endorsement, and now, as usual, the ersatz liberal Michael Kinsley, editor of the editorial pages, hasn't followed through on the endorsement with any editorializing on the racist nature of the Hahn campaign.

Hahn isn't an effective mayor. All he can do is smear, the way Sam Yorty smeared Tom Bradley 35 years ago. The Times wasn't very effective in its support of Bradley in his first run for mayor, against Yorty, in 1969, but at least it did try to point out the nature of the Yorty campaign. Now, the Times, keeping the absentee Seattle resident Kinsley in a position he doesn't deserve, hasn't even done that.

Just as serious is the illogical placement of stories in the Times on the campaign. This morning, May 13, for example the lead campaign stories are an innocuous feature on the campaign managers on Page 1 and another innocuous one leading the California section on the telephone campaign by Michael Finnigan and Jessica Garrison, while the significant story, the one about Hahn's ad, resurrecting a four-year-old attack against Villaraigosa, by the more trenchant writer, Richard Fausset, is buried in the back of the California section.

This is an old trick of weak newspapers, keep the hard news at the back. Harrison Salisbury, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent, used to point out how Pravda, the Soviet Communist paper, would relegate its really significant news, such as the latest Stalinist purge, to paragraphs at the back.

The Daily News in the San Fernando Valley has been doing a better job overall of covering the mayoral campaign than the Times.

The voters of Los Angeles have succumbed to racist campaigns before, in part because the Times did a poor job of pointing out what was going on.

Is Los Angeles going to have the courage to elect an able mayor who happens to be a Latino? We'll know next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, gutsy reporters at the paper should be pointing out to management that the coverage is falling down.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

No, The New York Times Should Not Have Its Own Blog

This is the third of a series of six blogs examining recommendations of a New York Times panel last week for improving the credibility of the paper. Since the NYT often takes the lead, if it adopts these ideas, other newspapers will follow, making the whole subject consequential for journalism throughout the country.

Today, I'm going to support, within a few limits, the idea for putting documents and transcripts used in stories in the paper on the Web, so things can be viewed more completely and in context by the readers. But I'm going to oppose the recommendation of the panel that the NYT consider establishing its own blog to promote interaction with readers.

The New York Times already does a much more comprehensive job of printing transcripts and excerpts of documents than the L.A. Times or other newspapers do. When the LAT prints excerpts, they generally are far more briefly presented than in the NYT.

Obviously, the Web is a way to do this without using up all the space and costly newsprint that are used now. Already, Time magazine does put supplementary materials on its Web site. For instance, Time recently published an additional chapter of the Jane Fonda book on the Web. And newspapers are doing this more and more.

I must confess that I personally seldom go on the Web to read lengthy resource material. However, presumably some readers will, and the use of the Web in this way is probably bound to increase.

The only caveat I have is that the newspaper staff, particularly reporters, not be forced to transcribe lengthy transcripts that would not be used in their regular stories simply to facilitate putting them on the Web. This could prove to be a fresh burden on people already pressed to get their reports out in a timely way.

Also, I might mention that while the aim is to build better understanding by the readers, the result might well be to generate more controversy, since it''s inevitable that not everyone will agree with the reporter's judgment as to what to report out of a transcript. This could actually fuel even more controversy tha exists now.

Doing transcripts often is worthwhile for the reporter. When I was covering the Yorty campaign for Mayor back in 1969, both the editors and I were concerned that everything be accurate since it was known that the newspaper editorially detested Yorty and was backing his opponent. I found that in taping all of Yorty's speeches and then transcribing them, I did pick up a lot of things I would have missed in taking notes, and that my reports were a better reflection of what Yorty had said.

The most important single example of the utility of taping and doing transcripts in my own career, however, came in a judicial race. This was the attempt by then-Municipal Court Judge Malcolm Mackey to win a Superior Court seat. Mackey fell afoul of his own record of impregnating women, and there were charges that in one such case he had arranging for a Filipina to be deported back to the Philippines, before she could have the baby.

I went to interview Mackey about this without a tape recorder, but in the midst of the interview, I heard a click and it turned out that he was taping our conversation. I then demanded and received the tape. When I transcribed it, I found something that was not in my notes: a statement by Mackey that this whole thing would not have become an issue had this woman only been white.

When that was published in the newspaper, Mackey's campaign began sinking like a rock, and he did not successfully reach the Superior Court for another ten years.

So transcripts have their place, although this quote certainly belonged in the newspaper, not just on the Web.

As to the idea that the New York Times should establish its own blog, I tend to think not. Blogs, at their best, represent a kind of free flow of expression by people like me who cannot afford to own their own newspapers and otherwise are limited in their ability to write and make their feelings known..I think the danger here is that a blog would become simple spin for the paper, and would be so watered down by collective judgments as to frequently not be worth reading anyway.

There have been disputes over reporters doing blogs on the side. Should their editors have the right to edit them?

Just for the record, I'm enjoying doing this blog with myself as editor. I've been quite willing to correct mistakes or revise blogs later if I think criticisms are justified or I have been intemperate in something I said. But I just can't see why a newspaper,. with all the space available to it, should do its own blog.

There are already, some say, eight million bloggers. That's enough, in my view, without adding the New York Times to the list. And I do have the fear that a blog by the newspaper would end up being written by a public relations man, possibly compounding the paper's credibility problems.

Tomorrow, I'll deal with the recommendation for curtailing use of anonymous sources and going back to sources and allowing them to preview and comment on articles before and give feedback after they are printed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Regular Columns By Highest Editors Not A Good Idea; E-mail Access Should Be Limited

This is the second of six blogs on the recommendations of a New York Times panel for steps that would purportedly increase the paper's credibility. As stated yesterday, I favor three of the recommendations, support partially four others and am opposed to three. This blog discusses the first two recommendations as listed in the NYT.

I do not favor the recommendation that the executive editor and the two managing editors ought to write a regular column dealing with matters concerning the newspaper. And, in only a limited way, would I support making reporters and editors more easily accessible through e-mail.

There is, very rarely, a reason for the top editor to write a column. John Carroll has done this twice, to my knowledge, at the L.A. Times. For instance, he defended the paper's decision to publish an article exposing Arnold Schwarzenegger's passes at women five days before the Recall election. Later, he spoke critically about Fox News, and that speech was published in the Times in what amounted to a column.

In extraordinary circumstances, such columns have their place. As a regular feature, however, they take up a lot of the editor's time, they become just another column in a paper filled with columns, and, unless they are extraordinarily well-written, they threaten to become mundane. In other instances, they could stifle other views, since some columnists and reporters are inclined to give too much deference to what they perceive as the top editor's opinions.

They also can become embarrassing. For many years, the Hearsts wrote personal columns in the Hearst papers, usually on Page 1. Some, such as William Randolph Hearst's account of his 1934 meeting with Adolf Hitler do not read well today. Meeting with Hitler a few months after the Blood Purge, in which Hitler ordered the execution of some of his closest associates, Hearst wrote that Hitler had assured him he was moderating his anti-Semitic policies, and he also remarked on Hitler's popularity among the German people, even former Communists, who, he said, viewed HItler as a Moses.

Neither John Carroll at the L.A. Times, nor Bill Keller at the N.Y. Times would ever, we can feel confident, write such a column. Keller, in particular, wrote some outstanding longer columns for the New York Times before he became executive editor. Still, I do not think a regular column by the top editor is justified. Even the famed Scotty Reston, when he was an editor in New York, tried to continue his Washington column, but saw it deteriorate in quality.

Columns by the top editors should be relegated to extraordinary circumstances, at which time they will get the reader attention they deserve.

As to the suggestion by the New York Times panel that reporters and editors be made more easily available to e-mail, I think, with columnists, and at the end of a few specific articles when a mass response is wanted, this is justified, but not as a regular practice.

E-mail tends to grow in quantity as one goes on in life, and, barring a change in your e-mail address, it can in the end become stifling. In this blog, I am open to free comments, and receive some. But I do not readily make my own e-mail address available except to friends.

Even so, an extraordinary amount of my personal time in retirement is devoted to answering e-mails. And, as I remarked yesterday, at times, when I wrote a consumer column for the L.A. Times, I received 200 e-mails in a single day.

A few of these e-mails were insulting. But by and large, most of the e-mails I received were constructive, and a few even contained ideas for columns that I later decided to write. Still, they became very time-consuming.

At papers like the New York Times, with a national circulation easily exceeding a million, the danger is that too much of the editors' or reporters' time would be allotted to reading and answering such communications. In some instances, even, they could result in undue pressure being exerted on people who should be free to do their work.

Reporters, often, it must be said, are quite defensive about what they write. It would not be long, if all were made freely accessible to e-mails, that there would be e-mail writing campaigns generated against them. I think the opportunities for such skulduggery should not be made too great.

Even now, just recently, an L.A. Times reporter told me of being subject to hate e-mails. This is the dark side of the Internet, and it must be limited. Some reporters and editors even now change their e-mails to addresses not too obvious, so that the ordinary reader can't readily reach them.

In short, I think this recommendation of the NYT panel was made without sufficient consideration of the downsides.

Tomorrow: Should transcripts of interviews be placed on the Web? And should papers like the New York Times establish their own blogs?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

NYT Panel Proposes Steps To Increase Credibility, First of Six Blogs Evaluating These

I'm going to try commenting in the next five days on proposals made by a special panel of the New York Times for improving the paper's credibility with readers.

I find I only back three of the 10 proposals mostly and four partially. Three, I don't favor at all.

My main concern is that the New York Times and other papers which may follow its lead may only be shackling themselves while not materially increasing their credibility with readers, and certainly not stilling the controversies that, in the age of blogs and the Internet, increasingly are enveloping newspapers.

Sometimes, it's just best to do your job and let the readers think what they will. They certainly already have the right to write letters to the editor, complain by e-mails and in other ways, and ask questions. If they really don't like the paper, no one forces them to subscribe or read it.

Some of the ideas seem, on first blush, to be good ones. But they may work out with unforeseen bad consequences.

To the extent, also, that they distract reporters and editors from their regular work, such ideas as making newspaper personnel more available to readers' e-mail might turn into a nightmare. Having been entirely open to e-mails when I was writing a consumer column for three years for the L.A. Times, I know that on some days I received as many as 200 e-mails and just coping with them took up most of the day. E-mail has done a lot for us all, but it also can be a royal nuisance.

This is not a perfect world. Reporters and editors can't satisfy everyone all the time. And our forefathers who wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States did not include a proviso requiring everyone's complaint about what was written to be heard and carefully evaluated..

I suppose I agree with New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller in general that there is "an immense amount that we can do to improve our journalism." Newspapers certainly can always become better. But an unmeasured effort to do so, and all at once, is utopian: it will drive us all to the nuthouse.

In the next five days, barring some sensational distracting news development, I plan to take up two of the main proposals of the New York Times panel each day in detail. If I'm interrupted, I'll return to the series as soon as practically possible.

In the meantime, let me say, I support three of the 10 ideas for the most part. These are 6, 9, and 10. Six, is to "Encourage reporters to confirm the accuracy of articles with sources before publication and to solicit feedback from sources after publication." Nine, is to "Increase coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion." Ten, is to "Establish a system for evaluating public attacks on The Times's work
and determining whether and how to respond."

I support ideas 2, 3, 7 and 8 partially. Two, is to "Make reporters and editors more easily available through e-mail". Three, is to "Use the Web to provide readers withcomplete documents used in stories as well as transcripts of interviews." Seven, is to "Set up an error tracking system to detect patterns and trends." Eight, is to "Encourage the development of software to detect plagiarism when accusations arise."

I oppose ideas 1,4 and 5. One, is to "Encourage the executive editor and the two managing editors to share responsibility for writing a regular column that deals with matters concerning the newspaper." Four, is to "Consider creating a Times blog that promotes interaction with readers." Five, is to "Further curtail the use of anonymous sources."


Monday, May 09, 2005

German Pope Loses No Time Purging The Progressive Editor Of The Catholic Magazine America

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is, unfortunately in my view, the first German Pope in more than 1,000 years, and he has lost no time beginning a purge of progressives in the American Catholic Church.

That is the inevitable conclusion to reach from the sudden ouster of the distinguished Jesuit Rev. Thomas J. Reese as editor of the Catholic magazine America.

It is also worth recalling that Ratzinger purged a leading progressive in the German church. Ratzinger, a former member of the Hitler Youth, seems to be making a bad start as Pope, and it remains to be seen what other reactionary steps may be in the offing. Good Catholics should resist them. There have been bad Popes before, notably in the last century Pius XII, and the Church survived. It must make sure it survives such a palpably bad choice in this case.

As Editor of America, Reese brought honor to himself and his magazine by publishing both sides of a number of issues critical to the Church in America and elsewhere.

Among the issues honestly examined were same-sex marriage, Catholic-Muslim relations and whether Catholic politicians who support abortion should be given communion. Not too many months have passed since reactionary prelates tried to pressure Sen. John Kerry and other American politicians on the abortion issue by threatening to withhold communion from them.

In a restrained statement on his ouster, Father Reese declared, "I am proud of what my colleagues and I did with the magazine, and I am grateful to them, our readers and our benefactors for the support they gave me. I look forward to taking a sabbatical while my provincial and I determine the next phase of my Jesuit ministry."

Father Reese, in addition to editing America for seven years, was also the author of several books that examined the Church as a political in addition to a religious institution.

Ratzinger, who served briefly in the Nazi Army while the Pope of that time, Pius XII, sat placidly by as the German state murdered millions of Jews, Russians, Poles, gypsies and others in its concentration camps and on the battlefields of Europe, has long had a reputation of resisting progressives in the Church like Father Reese.

These are critical times and it's bad news for the world if the Church slips into a more reactionary posture. Pope John Paul II was conservative on many of the same matters, but he avoid a purge like has just taken place.

It's also a story of the greatest significance, and it's worth noting that the New York Times put this story on Page 1, while the Los Angeles Times foolishly stuck it on Page 21.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The L.A. Times Endorses Villaraigosa For Mayor, Later Than It Should Have

The Los Angeles Times' endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa for Mayor has finally come, much later than it should have. The same exact arguments could, and should, have been made just after the March 8 primary.

It's one of the costs of having out-of-towners own the paper. In the days of General Harrison Otis and Harry Chandler, the Times put its feelings on the line, and reaped the advantages of influence that came along with them.

In this day and age, the leaders of the paper hardly assert themselves as leaders of Los Angeles. And the residents of the city pay much less attention to them than they did before.

But, at last, it's been done, and it's been an inevitability for some time that Villaraigosa was going to be elected.

At least, it can be said, the incumbent Mayor, James Hahn, has backed off of the racial and ethnic themes that threatened to end his career with disgrace.

Still, for the Times editorial never to mention that Villaraigosa will be the first Latino mayor since the 19th Century doesn't make much sense. The Times should have a little more sense of history.

This blog endorsed Villaraigosa back in February, and it endorsed Bill Rosendahl for City Council after the primary. Both candidates would bring more dynamic government, more capacity for meaningful change, to city government.

Just to show he can't do two things right on the same day, editorial pages editor Michael Kinsley has his own inane column this morning on the decline in circulation some newspapers are suffering. Kinsley, however, is incorrect when he implies there is a general plummeting of circulation. Some papers, such as the New York Times and New York Daily News, continue to improve their circulation, although its a struggle. Only the Tribune-owned papers are really "plummeting," and that's because they hire absentee editors like Kinsley.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Caltech Holds A Significant Briefing On Tsunamis, But L.A. Times Doesn't Cover It

As it does from time to time, Caltech held a meeting of its Earthquake Research Affiliates yesterday, this time for a briefing on latest research developments regarding tsunamis.

There were four hours of significant discussions. Kerry Sieh, just back from Indonesia, showed the patterns of recent earthquakes off Sumatra. Tom Heaton discussed the tsunami danger in Seattle. Ken Hudnut talked about proposed new GPS buoys that could give Southern California beach cities better tsunami warnings. There were videos showing the surging tsunamis that did strike in South Asia last December.

The Pasadena Star News and Associated Press were there to cover it, but not the Los Angeles Times. Caltech invited me, and I went as a retired newspaperman. Caltech scientists expressed disappointment the Times wasn't there.

Quite a bit of what was said was of obvious interest to Southern Californians. But not a word of what transpired appeared this morning in the Times.

Before retiring last year, I told Managing Editor Dean Baquet and the metro editors that I would be glad, free of charge, to brief a new earthquake reporter for the paper when one was named and introduce him or her to the key scientific sources..

So far, no one has been named, nearly a year later. This is on top of the changes made in my 10th anniversary story on the Northridge earthquake early last year that removed many strong statements about the ongoing quake danger here.

It's what I grew to appreciate the more I knew the new Tribune owners: They have no appreciation of the earthquake (and more remote tsunami) danger that exists in California. They're not keeping up with earthquake safety developments. There even was an editorial last year opposing needed changes in the Field Act protecting California schools against earthquakes. They have little or no interest in these quintessential California issues.

Of course, occasionally there are earthquake stories. They have paid some attention recently to the burgeoning costs of the new spans of the San Francisco Bay Bridge being built to make this vital Bay Area bridge safer in a major quake. But by and large, geological coverage has dropped way off.

Heaton yesterday again stated publicly that he and his associate, John Hall, feel Los Angeles high rise buildings could be in danger if a magnitude 7 earthquake were to be centered downtown. The Tribune-owned L.A. Times doesn't apparently think this is a story worth covering.

People ask why a home-owned paper is an advantage. The failure to cover yesterday's meeting gives us one good reason why.

We're suffering because the top editors of the paper came from Baltimore and New York and the owners are in Chicago..

Friday, May 06, 2005

It May Not Be All To The Good, But Columnists These Days Provide Most Of What's Best In The L.A. Times

Bill Thomas, when he was editor of the L.A. Times, did not particularly believe in columnists and sought with some success to limit the number the Times printed every day. In those days, it was a reporter's paper, and the editors often left what the reporter wrote pretty much alone.

Since then, a lot has changed at the Times. Now, the columnists dominate, and often the rest of the paper is fairly mundane. The effect of more editing is to water the paper down, since the assistant editors often don't have a lot of imagination, like many bureaucrats they are over-cautious, and their editing takes out some of the most interesting points in story after story.

The paper still has many fine reporters, and, occasionally, as this week's Richard Serrano stories about the Oklahoma City bombing, the most interesting thing in the paper is a news story.

But many days, it is a column, or more than one, that is the most interesting story in the paper. This is not all to the good, since many people whip through the news pages and then feel the paper isn't worth the money they're spending to buy it. This is part of the Times' circulation problems, it seems to me. The paper would be doing better with fewer editors and more offbeat news.

But still many of the columns are thought-provoking, and that honor goes this morning, May 6, to the Op-Ed Page column by Molly Selvin, an editorial writer for the Times..

Selvin would make a better weekly columnist, I'm sure, than Michael Kinsley. And it would give the editorial pages another much-needed woman columnist.

But putting that question aside, what Selvin had to say this morning was worth reading. She found on a weeklong visit to Washington, D.C., a pervasive atmosphere of security and fear among the security people who watched her every step.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, guards debated among themselves before grudgingly allowing members of Selvin's visiting party to even go to the restroom, and when Selvin stopped to look at a portrait of a former justice on her way back, a guard shouted, "No. You may not stop."

At the Justice Department, it was all very unfriendly. Selvin found that questions about the department's domestic spying activities were unwelcome.

She notes in the column that her group had arranged its visit to the department in advance and those in her party were considered VIP guests. "Just try dropping in at the Justice Department unannounced," she suggests.

I go to Washington quite frequently and after a recent visit I remarked to Doyle McManus, the Times Washington bureau chief, that just the security arrangements in the Capitol Hill area merited a story.

But none was done. I suppose Washington reporters have gotten used to the atmosphere in which they live, although just in the last week, a number of Washington's leading media representatives suggested there were entirely too many background briefings in the government, with nobody permitted to be quoted by name.

In this case, it took Selvin, an out-of-town visitor, to write what our Washington correspondents ought to be writing about themselves.

Selvin says in her column this morning, "Yes, the terror threat is real and yes, in California, it's hard to appreciate just how vulnerable those in Washington feel." But, she adds, "Courts and other federal agencies do themselves no favors with the hostile attitude now routine in Washington."

It may not be quite as new as Selvin suggests. I remember, as a Life magazine reporter more than 40 years ago, entering the Oval Office when President Lyndon B. Johnson was standing beside his desk. A Secret Service man stared at me so intently, I got the impression he was ready to go for his pistol in an instant. Yet I had been invited into the room.

But, of course, that was the Oval Office. The oppressive atmosphere has now spread widely in Washington.

Certainly, Selvin is right when she says the terror threat is real. It certainly occurs to many of us that the scoundrels ready to execute 17 proprietors in an outdoor market in Baghdad, as happened just today, would be ready to wreak havoc in the American capital if given the chance.

But stopping Selvin from looking at a portrait in the Supreme Court building? That's unnecessary, and the atmosphere she remarks upon should be of continuing concern to all in this democracy.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Bush Taking A Bath In The Press On Social Security

When Napoleon and Hitler crossed into Russia, they set themselves up for the falls of their lives, and it's beginning to look like the same for President Bush when he took on the social security issue.

Everything in the newspapers these days, the news stories, the editorials and the letters from readers, makes it clear that there is no easy recovery for the President from the devastating hits he is taking on social security.

But the New York Times, with its more skillful editorial page, is really cutting him up.

The NYT's May 3 editorial, "Hitting the Middle Class, Again," was basically unanswerable with its point that it is the heart of the President's own constituentcy that stands to take the biggest hit from his second social security alternative, a cutback in the majority's benefits so that the very poorest workers can get more.

It is very doubtful the Republican majority in Congress will ever vote for this, because it hurts the people who are its most loyal voters. These are the people who have been paying social security for years, and expect to get their investment back out of it. To substantially cut them out of the program would ultimately, I believe, mean the end of it as anything but a dole to the poor.

It all shows again how treacherous the second term can be for an incumbent President. He wins a sizable majority for reelection, he thinks anything is possible, and then everything seems to come apart.

It makes you wonder where his "architect," Karl Rove, has been during all of this. Didn't this genius tell him to avoid these pitfalls? And, if he did, why didn't the President listen?

Yes, such pro-Bush, pro-drug industry conservative groups as USA Next are taking the Administration's side of the fight. Back on Feb. 28, L.A. Times political columnist Ron Brownstein took on that group's planned campaign against the AARP, a foe of Bush's social security plans. Brownstein aptly called the USA Next campaign "offensive, objectionable, odious, repulsive, repugnant, revolting, disgusting, sickening, loathesome, foul, nasty, contemptible, despicable and noxious." Brownstein sometimes seems too mild, but in this case, he is barking up the right path.

The press has actually been taking it in the ear quite a bit for not having taken Bush on more on Iraq, the War on Terror, etc., since his reelection. But on social security, the coverage has been extremely negative, and there has not been much of a White House response. Of course, the President has been traveling, making his points, but this is one of these issues where, no matter what he says, he can't make headway.

The letters columns have been even worse than the editorials. It seems the President has very few friends out there on this issue, and there is no prospect for a turnaround. It is affecting everything else he does too.

Bush is normally resilient. On Iraq, he has fought back against his enemies, often effectively. On social security, he seems at a complete loss what to do. My feeling is, it won't get better.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Richard Serrano Of L.A. Times Sticks With The Oklahoma City Story

More than 10 years after the dread Oklahoma City bombing of a federal office building, Richard A. Serrano of the Los Angeles Times is still on the story, and he produced another Page 1 humdinger this morning.

According to that story, Terry Nichols, a friend of Timothy McVeigh who is serving federal and state life terms for the bombing, has written the grandmother of two of the victims that a third person was in on the conspiracy and saying he (Nichols) has more to tell.

Nichols' implication of Arkansas gun collector Roger Moore in the bombing, saying that he provided some of the components used in the bomb, may well inspire Congressional hearings and a reopening of the Oklahoma City investigation.

Colleagues know Serrano, who joined the L.A. Times staff in 1987 and moved to the paper's Washington bureau in 1993, as the ultimate in dogged investigators. He never tires, he never rests, and he has become one of the foremost authorities in the country on domestic terrorism, plus an invaluable reporter also on ramifications of the War on Terror worldwide.

Serrano in 1998 wrote a book on the Oklahoma City bombing, "One Of Our Own," about McVeigh, who was executed for the bombing that killed 168 persons on April 19, 1995.

There have long been unexplained aspects of the bombing, such as whether there was a second conspirator, a "John Doe," present in Oklahoma City that day.

This was the worst terrorist act in American history up until the events of 9-11, and it is clear it cannot be laid to rest until every last of the guilty, if there are other guilty parties, is brought to justice. It's not all that uncommon that mu rderers are sometimes brought to justice many years later. We see that in the Mississippi civil rights killings.

Serrano's latest story also reports that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, has been gathering new evidence on the bombing and may call hearings.

Moore has denied involvement in the bombing in the past, although he could not be reached for new comment this week by Serrano. He claims explosive components belonging to him which were used in the bombing were stolen from him.

The latest reports are a fresh indication that vaunted FBI investigations may not be as comprehensive as first advertised.

It took the authorities 10 years, in fact, to discover the latest explosives underneath Nichols' home in Kansas. What an unpleasant surprise, and now there may be others.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

New Circulation Figures From Los Angeles Times Not As Bad As Some Expected

The new circulation figures from the L.A. Times for March are not as bad as might have been expected by listening too carefully to Dennis FitzSimmons, the Chicago Tribune chairman.

FitzSimmons had indicated there would be a further hit, but it turns out that Times daily circulation is actually more than 5,000 higher than it was last September, when it was reported as having sunk to 902,000.

The year-to-year figures still aren't good. According to information the Times has given to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, daily circulation in March was 907,997, down 6.5% compared to March, 2004, and Sunday circulation was 1,253,849, down 7.9% from a year ago.

This remains a more dramatic drop than reported by almost all other American papers during the same time frame. But not far behind to the L.A. Times in a drop was the Chicago Tribune, which fell 4.7% on Sundays, to 953,815 and 6.9% daily to 573,943. The Baltimore Sun, another former Times-Mirror paper, now owned by the Tribune Col, was down 11.5% in daily circulation and 8.4% in Sunday circulation.

It's not a surprise, certainly, that they're poor at keeping up circulation not only in L.A., but in Chicago and Baltimore as well. FitzSimmons operations have been dumb operations, which is what one would expect, given some of the statements FitzSimmons is prone to make.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues elsewhere. The Washington Post is down 2.4% on Sundays to 1,000,565, the Philadelphia Inquirer is down 3.3% on Sundays to 744,242 and the New York Post is down 4.1% to 427,039. But the New York Times, which continues to develop its national sales and is bucking the trend, is up 0.2% Sundays to 1,680,582 and up 0.2% daily to 1,114,000.

The New York Times managers are brainier than the ones at the L.A. Times, which has folded much of its national circulation. The NYT has expanded home deliverry to homes in 318 localities this year, compared to 266 last year, and will expand to seven more localities this year.

Judging from what the L.A. Times implied in the Eric Slater matter, Times employees may not even be able to find their way to 318 localities, much less deliver the paper there.

My son, a Navy Lieutenant JG, gets home delivery of the NYT in Washington, one of that newspaper's young readers.

But at least the new L.A. Times publisher, Jeff Johnson, has put out a more encouraging statement than the former publisher, John Puerner used to about the paper's circulation plans.

In a bulletin to the staff, Johnson said the Times is undertaking a $10.5 million circulation campaign and "is moving on many fronts to improve these circulation trends." He spoke of $8 million for a direct marketing campaign.

"We expect to see results (next) September," Johnson said.

I take this at face value. If Johnson can't bring about results, that would be bad news, but his apparent determination to do so strikes a welcome new note as far as the Tribune ownership is concerned.

The do-not-call restrictions implanted nationwide last year have clearly had an adverse effect on newspaper circulation. Still every paper had to confront these, and most have not done as badly as the L.A. Times.

The thing to remember is that most telephone users don't want to get these calls. In fact, beyond signing up for the do-not-call commercial lists, I've taken myself to hanging up on all charity callers and most political callers. I only respond to mailed charity solicitations. Most annoying are calls from politicians who aren't actually on the phone, but merely have a tape recorded message to deliver.

The L.A. Times, as others, is simply going to have to live with the new rules.

In the meantime, Johnson also reports the Times "deliberately reduced third party bulk sales." He doesn't explain why, but I would say the paper shouldn't be giving up on any circulation no matter where it is and how it's made as long as its legal and in accord with sound accounting practices..

The bottom line is, there is reason for concern, but not for panic, providing Johnson moves aggressively in the months ahead to reverse the trend. The small hike in daily circulation over the last six months is grounds for some limited optimism at the LAT.