Wednesday, June 07, 2006

L.A. Times Coverage Of Election Results Very Hesitant

In 1948, the Chicago Tribune suffered lasting embarrassment when it printed an election headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman," only to see Truman win the election. Truman triumphantly waved the paper with the erroneous headline above his head. It made a memorable picture.

Last night, the Tribune-owned L.A. Times was taking absolutely no chances. It passed up the obvious headline, which would have said accurately that state Treasurer Phil Angelides had taken an early lead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, over Controller Steve Westly.

The edition I received this morning here in the San Fernando Valley went with a headline on a secondary issue in the election, the preschool funding measure, which was trounced, and it referred in the third paragraph to Angelides having a "narrow edge," but said the race was too close to call.

I was very disappointed when I read all this, because it seemed to me that the Times should have gone with the principal race, the gubernatorial primary, in the headline, and reported an Angelides lead of 26,000 as of press time. In a San Diego congressional race, also reported on Page 1, the Times was not so hesitant, reporting accurately in the head, "GOP Candidate Leads in Pivotal House Race." The story, however, gave no figures whatsover, and the tabulations reported another race in the 50th district altogether.

Also, I noticed that the statewide tabulations the Times ran back in section one showed only 13% of the precincts reporting, which indicated that the paper I was receiving had a very early deadline, before even the 11 p.m. television news. Sometimes in recent months, the Times has managed to get a paper out here to the Valley reporting news that occurred past midnight, such as a late execution. On a vital election night, when most of its readers would be very interested in the election returns, the Times seemed to have gone to bed early and then fuzzed up the situation.

A little checking, and I found out that the Times had gotten a paper to the Pasadena area with tabs showing 41% of the precincts reporting and an Angelides lead of 51,000. It still did not have Angelides in the headline, despite the fact that Angelides led the count early on and steadily was building his lead.

This is too cautious. The headline should reflect the preeminent news, and say as much as it reasonably can. New York Times headline writing on big stories is better done.

The Times, under Tribune ownership, is getting a stodgy reputation. Today's issue fortified that view. I suspect that when Richard Bergholz was writing the Times' election leads, and Frank Haven, then managing editor, was approving the coverage, it would have been better.

Meanwhile, a few observations about the election, with the results nearly complete.

--Westly started sliding as soon as Californians learned he was spending upwards of $30 million of his own money on his campaign. As was discovered years ago when William Penn Patrick ran, such news does the candidate involved no good.

--No GREAT Democratic anti-war tide was evident in this election. A Republican won the special Congressional election in San Diego County, although with a reduced margin, and an anti-war candidate fell fairly flat when she challenged Rep. Jane Harman, head of the House Intelligence Committee, in a South Bay area of Los Angeles County. We'll have another chance to see if the Democratic left can produce victories in the Aug. 8 Connecticut primary, when Sen. Joe Lieberman, who has backed the war in Iraq, faces a challenge from another anti-war Democrat there.

--Either Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer or Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, who won their respective party nominations for state Treasurer and lieutenant governor, might have been stronger Democratic candidates for governor against incumbent Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger than Angelides. But Angelides should not be counted out. If a strong Democratic tide starts running by November, he could win.

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