Friday, January 06, 2006

Purge of L.A. Times Editorial Page Writers Will Be Almost Complete By Feb. 1

With the departure by buyout of Judy Dugan and John Needham reportedly set for Jan. 27, and Sergio Munoz also due to leave by the end of the month, the Michael Kinsley-Andres Martinez-generated purge of the L.A. Times editorial writers is almost complete.

What an achievement! Three winners of the Pulitzer Prize--Alex Raksin, Bill Stall and Bob Sipchen ousted. Other distinctive writers, Greg Johnson, Molly Selvin, Sandy Banks and Andrew Malcolm, also gone. Cartoonist Michael Ramirez and columnist Bob Scheer purged as well.

Not since Stalin had his sister-in-law executed for showing up late to a family dinner has there been less rhyme nor reason for a massive switch.

And while the editorial pages settle down to mediocrity, with a few exceptions, we'll have to see what the final results are. But it's certainly not excessive to say this was unnecessary, and that no matter how uncomfortable Kinsley, Martinez and publisher Jeff Johnson were with the old guard talent, they shouldn't have wielded their knives quite so dramatically.

Of the original staff, only Karin Klein down in Orange Co. is left, and possibly Mary Engle, who is away but has reportedly told friends she will probably not return to the editorial page.

At the moment, there is little question that the Times' most distinguished columnists are all off the editorial pages. There is Steve Lopez in California, Tim Rutten and Al Martinez in Calendar, Bill Plashcke in Sports and Michael Hiltzik in Business. All present scintillating points of view that are generally lacking on the editorial pages.

It all reminds me of the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who once remarked of reporters he didn't like, that "they can write, but they can't read."

Generally, with such purges, those who undertake them plant the seeds of their own eventual destruction. This process has already begun at the Times, with Johnson giving Kinsley his walking papers.

(Kinsey was my "jerk of the year" for 2005, and today I notice in the New York Times that the firm he worked for for several years, Microsoft, has cravenly bowed to the Chinese government and purged its Web Site in China of blogging journalists who had the temerity to write about a Beijing newspaper strike. Kinsey showed little devotion to democracy as L.A. Times editorial pages editor, and now his firm is an easy touch for tyranny in China).

Also, we see in a Chicago Sun Times article the other day, that Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons is under pressure, because the stock prices and circulation at Tribune papers keep falling. He is struggling to show he has something positive to offer, but experts on American newspapers know better. A change in leadership of the Tribune Co. could ultimately result in even more changes on the LAT editorial pages.

At least Andres Martinez won't have the opportunity to fire somebody who bested him in a Pulitzer competition, as he did Bill Stall. The reason though is that Martinez will probably never be competing for a Pulitzer Prize again.


Blogger Paul Weeks said...

Good review of the ed9itorial page situation, Ken, but you missed listing Al Martinez among the columnists still aboard and saying his piece quite straogjtfprwardly in the upheaval around him.

1/06/2006 11:56 AM  

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