Saturday, September 30, 2006

As Iraq Situation Deteriorates, New Bob Woodward Book Hurts Bush

The Mid-Term elections are only five weeks away, and developments both abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan and at home, where a new book by Bob Woodward, "State of Denial," is coming out, can only hurt the Bush Administration.

It just seems that everything at this point is conspiring against the Republicans. Even yesterday's resignation of Mark Foley, a GOP congressman from Florida, who apparently sent sexually suggestive e-mails to under-age Congressional male pages, will hurt them and help the Democrats, now edging toward a takeover of both houses of Congress.

There is little question but that developments in Iraq are extremely adverse to the Administration. Just yesterday, the tottering government of Nouri Maliki imposed a general two-day curfew on Baghdad, where scores are being murdered every day by sectarian militias he has made no real attempt to control. There were reports of an arrest of a Sunni guard on charges that he was close to pulling off attacks in the heavily-fortified Green Zone, the U.S. and Iraqi Administrative headquarters, downtown. But there were also rumors that the Iraqi Army might be about to stage a coup d'etat.

American military morale in Iraq is down. How could it be anything but, when it is so apparent that the experiment in democracy that American forces have been trying to implement in this squalid, barbaric country is on the brink of total failure? Not since Nebuchadnezzar has Iraq successfully governed itself. In retrospect, what made us think anything but a policy of brute force could dominate this God-forsaken place?

But, unfortunately, the political fortunes of the Bush Administration are inextricably wound up with the Iraq war. It certainly is the main issue in the Mid-Term elections.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban resurgence continues, putting heavy pressure on the none-too-numerous American and NATO forces. The insurgents there have more and more been adopting the despicable suicide bombings being used by the enemy in Iraq. After all, they are virtually all primitive fundamentalist Muslims. Meanwhile, the problem of the privileged sanctuary that the corrupt regime of Pervez Musharraf has allowed to fester in the border regions of Pakistan is only growing. It is from Pakistan that most of the Taliban attack. The efforts of President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to buck up Musharaff this week as an ally in the War on Terror, seem to have foundered, at a White House dinner no less.

In the midst of these depressing developments, the new Woodward book appears, and for the first time the famed Washington Post writer has clearly lost faith in the Administration. His report of desperate infighting at the White House, with both Andrew Card, the chief of staff, and Laura Bush, the wife of the President, fruitlessly trying to get the President to fire his inept Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is absolutely devastating.

As usual, the New York Times' chief book reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, has by far the best-written, most compelling article in the Times this morning, reviewing the Woodward book.

She begins, "In Bob Woodward's highly-anticipated new book, "State of Denial," President Bush emerges as a passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or reevaluate decisions he has made about the war. It's a portrait that stands in stark contrast to the laudatory one Mr. Woodward drew in "Bush At War," his 2002 book..."

On the NBC Nightly News last night, Tim Russert, the Washington Bureau chief, opined that the Woodward book can only "resonate" with the electorate.

That should be evident. The Bush Administration is teetering, and the consequences for the war may be profound.


Friday, September 29, 2006

Phoniness Abounds In California Governor's Race

Both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his challenger, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, are proving themselves to be terrible phonies in the California governor's race, and it is hard to know which of them is the poorest choice.

Schwarzenegger, who has catered to many unsavory lobbies and picked a sleazy executive secretary in Susan Kennedy, now has a mailing out to the voters headlined, "Governor Schwarzenegger Says NO to Higher Taxes." In fact, Schwarzenegger is supporting $37 billion in bond issues that, with interest, would add $80 billion to the state debt, an amount the taxpayers would owe. In short, he wants taxes to go way up.

It may be that at least the transportation bonds in this package are worth it, that's up to the voters to decide. What I object to is the governor's absolutely phony claim that he is opposed to higher taxes when, in fact, these bond issues would ultimately result in the highest tax increase in state history.

As for Angelides, now, he says that if he is elected, he will bring California National Guardsmen currently fighting in Iraq home.

Guardsmen ordered to Iraq have been federalized and are beyond the authority of the Governor's office, while they are serving with the regular armed forces. Angelides absolutely, on his own, cannot bring them back home, no matter how much he chooses to enlist in the "cut and run" crowd that wants to surrender in the war.

Altogether, Angelides has waged a horrible campaign, and is almost certainly going to lose to Schwarzenegger, who in some respects has moved adeptly toward the political center. But, still, the governor does not command much respect.

There are good candidates for state office, including John Garamendi for lieutenant governor and Jerry Brown for attorney general, both Democrats. And U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein certainly should be reelected.

But no vote for governor can be truly satisfying to those who make it. I wonder if there are any decent third party candidates on the ballot.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tension, Speculative Reports, Mount On L.A. Times Future

If Nikki Finke were writing about St. Francis of Assisi, she'd find something nasty to say about him. That must be borne in mind today as Finke speculates in an article in the LA Weekly that Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet is up to shenanigans by attempting, behind the scenes, to encourage a sale of the L.A. Times.

At this point, I'm willing to give Baquet the benefit of the doubt. He is putting his career on the line by resisting the Tribune Company's attempts to further downgrade the Times, and if he and managing editor Leo Wolinsky are out searching for a buyer, or in touch with prospective buyers, I say more power to them. Baquet has not earned the nickname "Dean of Arc" for nothing.

The fact is, there is no sure path, no entirely safe way, to get the L.A. Times out of its difficulties. The Tribune ownership has failed, and now, chances have to be taken to get the Times a more satisfactory owner, so that its traditions of editorial excellence can be maintained.

The Finke article today reports that entertainment mogul David Geffen is determined to buy the Times and feels confident he will succeed. Meanwhile, she says, Baquet has dispatched Wolinsky on a mission to secretly "drum up local support for a local buyer of the Times."

Whether this is true or not, it may be causing consternation in Chicago, among the ranks of Tribune Co. executives. Perhaps, as the New York Times suggests today, Baquet and Times publisher Jeff Johnson, who has supported him in refusing to make further cutbacks at the Times, have their jobs on the line.

But it is also certain that firing Baquet and Johnson would cause a crisis that would put the recent troubles at the Santa Barbara News-Press in the shade. This would be a nationwide sensation, and Baquet and Johnson would become heroes of journalists everywhere, if they are not already. The New York Times portrays the two as heroes in a Business section article by Katherine Seelye this morning.

If there is any chance the Tribune would sell the Times, and I believe there is, then getting rid of Baquet and Johnson could only reduce the asking price. So, since the Tribune directors have a committee working to explore the future of the Tribune, and whether it should be broken up, perhaps the Tribune will hold off on any disciplinary moves in Los Angeles.

There are lots of rumors these days. But we just have to be patient. There are uncertainties, but I have faith everything will come out all right at the L.A. Times. If it does, it will not include continued Tribune ownership.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Baltimore Sun Staff Steps Up; Michael Kinsley Steps Down To Foolishness

When Dennis FitzSimons, the inept CEO of the Tribune Co., visited the Baltimore Sun on Tuesday, nearly 100 employees of the Sun handed him a letter which echoed the concerns of 400 L.A. Times staffers sent to FitzSimons recently.

Both letters protested Tribune plans for further cutbacks at the two newspapers, and the Sun staff letter told FitzSimons curtly, at the end, "We ask that Tribune treat those of us who work here with the respect we deserve and make sure that The Sun has the resources it needs to maintain the quality that has allowed it to thrive. Either that, or sell The Sun to someone who will."

It should be said that Tribune has denigrated the Baltimore paper even worse than it has treated the L.A. Times, closing nearly all its foreign bureaus and repeatedly insulting the staff. To some extent, due to the courage of L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet, the L.A. Times staff has been spared the insults.

The employee letter at the Sun tells FitzSimons how, during negotiations for a new Guild contract at the Sun in 2003, "You spent $3 million of your shareholders' money to launch a blitzkrieg on your employees that included the disruptive presence of so-called 'replacement workers' training in our building, as well as the demeaning comment at the bargaining table that the Pulitzer Prize winning Sun does not have a 'high performance culture.'

Poor FitzSimons. He never says the right thing about anything.

The Sun employee letter notes that the Baltimore paper has had a tradition of excellence dating back to its founding in 1837, and continues:

"We need you and your colleagues in Tribune management to understand that the way to provide a viable product in the information age that is the 21st century is not to cut back on the essential resources of this institution.

"We stand with our colleagues at the Los Angeles Times, both management and workers, in saying to you that you cannot cut your way to prosperity, that sometimes you have to make the tough decisions and fore go short-term returns for long-term gains..."

In another sign of disaffection, Rinker Buck, a writer at the Hartford Courant, wrote an open, 3,000-word article in that newspaper, asking, notably, "How much cash are we shipping on a monthly and yearly basis, to Chicago?"

So the rebellion at the former Times-Mirror papers against stupidity, economic short sightedness and unsavory business practices, continues to grow. FitzSimons, like Chicago cuisine, is a low quality product.


In this week's Time magazine, Michael Kinsley, the goofy writer who was wisely ousted as L.A. Times Opinion editor, weighs in with an unusually foolish essay asking, "Do Newspapers Have A Future?"

Only, apparently, according to this numb skull, if they become more like the extremist left wing English newspaper, The Guardian, which, just coincidentally of course, Kinsley now has sunk to writing for.

One of the remarkable things about Kinsley's silly article, is his assertion that there is no point in the L.A. Times maintaining its network of foreign bureaus or a big Washington bureau. This at a time when the War on Terror has made foreign and national news of greater than ever concern among Times readers. He also takes issue with the defiance to Tribune voiced by Baquet.

Kinsley concludes his essay with this brazen assertion: "Newspapers on paper are on the way out. Whether newspaper companies are on the way out too depends. Some of them are going to find the answers. And some are going to fritter away the years quarreling about staff cuts."

Kinsley is sleeping in the same bed with FitzSimons. Both have lost the way to the future, and both are not only fools, but damn fools.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

At A Gathering Of L.A.'s Legal Elite, Broad Based Sentiment Against Tribune Co.

Monday night, a downtown gathering of Los Angeles' judicial and legal elite met to hear former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and State Appellate Court Judge Richard Mosk discuss the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81 under the auspices of the first annual lecture honoring the memory of Judge Robert Weil.

The Daily Journal, but apparently not the L.A. Times, was present at this $125-per-person Downtown event, and I presume it will have a full report. I did not take notes, but Christopher explained the circumstances under which the Carter Administration struggled to cope with the seizure of American diplomats in Tehran, and the resulting election victory in 1980 of Ronald Reagan to the presidency. With Christopher acting as the main American negotiator in his capacity at that time as deputy Secretary of State, the hostages were eventually released, but America's reputation in the world also took a severe hit. We still feel the consequences of the hostage crisis today.

Mosk later was a member of the Iranian-American Arbitration panel that heard, for years, and continues to hear today, the two sides' financial claims against each other at meetings in The Hague. Mosk served for eight years on this panel.

Of course, Christopher was one of the 20 leading Los Angeles citizens whose letter two weeks ago suggested that the Tribune Co. should sell the L.A. Times, if its executives were not willing to meet their responsibilities in Los Angeles.

It was evident from talking to many of perhaps 200 people at a reception before the lecture that there was very broad based agreement that the Tribune Co. has been bad for Los Angeles and that the Times has deteriorated under its leadership. Many people remarked to me how sad it is what's happened to the Times.

Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons' lame reply to those who wrote, and to the rebellion against further Times cost cutting by Times editor Dean Baquet and publisher Jeff Johnson was accorded little if any respect.

Chicago, unlike Los Angeles, can't boast of having a former Secretary of State among its citizens, and one of the critical problems of the Tribune ownership is the same problem Richard Nixon had when he came to the presidency: Neither was up to the job which had been given. Both suffered from inferiority complexes. In both the Nixon and the Tribune case, psychologically they weren't ready for the big time.

It was an interesting lecture last night and I commend you to its full report. But just as interesting was the sentiment that has gathered in Los Angeles for ridding the city, and Southern California, of the Tribune ownership.


Monday, September 25, 2006

LAT State Insurance Regulatory Story Deeply Flawed

The New York Times on Sunday had an advertising section for its archives, now on sale to the public online back to 1851. The section began with a page from the paper of Sept. 24, 1851, long before Adolph Ochs bought the paper, and it had some of the great headlines of past years inside, such as the Titanic disaster and VJ Day.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times was proving that its institutional memory, its ability to bring back the past, has faded badly under repeated waves of employee buyouts.

The clear illustration pertained to insurance and its malevolent influence over state government. Here, on Page 1, was a long article by Sacramento reporter Peter Nicholas on the industry's strong grip on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his administration. In the Schwarzenegger Administration, the foxes are truly in the chichen coup, and all Californians suffer from it.

Fine, but both Nicholas and his editors seem to have forgotten that every Republican administration going back almost to King Canute has been under control of the insurance lobby.

The article never mentioned this record. It never recognized in short that there is really nothing new in a Republican governor knuckling under to the industry.

Also, Nicholas' article lacked other context. It never mentioned that, on the other side, the Trial Lawyers lobby has a strong grip over most Democrats. Democratic legislation, mostly vetoed by Schwarzenegger, is mentioned in the article, but the Trial Lawyers, who are probably just as malevolent as the insurance lobby, aren't brought into the equation. They are major contributors to Democrats, just as the insurance companies are to Republicans. Of course, they occasionally give across the partisan aisle, because they like to have their evil thongs into nearly everyone, but what is most important on this set of issues is the partisan divide.

Nicholas was probably a baby when all this became evident, and his editors, well when it comes to complex subjects like insurance and energy, they never escape babyhood.

But in the war of insurance initiatives, back in 1988, which I covered for the Times, it became evident that the public, and for that matter the knowledgeable press corps, recognized clearly that neither lobby had the public interest at heart.

That year, there was a healthy 'plague on both your houses,' view in the public and the press, and it was manifest on election day, when both the insurance industry and the lawyers' initiatives went down to solid defeats, and the only ballot measure adopted was the Rosenfield initiative. Harvey Rosenfield was somewhat under the thumb of the lawyers, but he was careful to say he opposed both sides, and he prevailed with a campaign that spent only a pittance of the money that the others spent. That was Proposition 103.

These are the facts, and the long Nicholas article today fails to discuss them. Both Nicholas and his editors need to go to school on California political history .


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Questioning Whether Bush Bashers Actually Hurt The President

There's an outstanding review in the New York Times Book Review this Sunday questioning the one-sidedness of two new Bush-bashing books, "Pretensions to Empire," by Lewis H. Lapham, and "How Bush Rules," by Sidney Blumenthal.

The reviewer, Jennifer Senior, a contributing editor at New York magazine who writes about politics, points out what should be obvious: Johnny One Notes generally do in themselves, because they screech so loudly that few listen to them.

It's become clear that President Bush, to some extent, benefits from all the criticism directed at him. I remember one night, during the 2004 presidential debates, when I was present, in Hanover, N.H., watching one of the debates between Mr. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. Every time the President spoke, a man in the audience made an insulting remark about him. I thought to myself at the time that every time this critic spoke, he was, in fact, steering votes to Mr. Bush.

Now, just for the record, I'm an admirer of the President, although I think nonetheless that he has made many mistakes in his conduct of the War on Terror. I think some correctives are in order, but at the same time I like Mr. Bush for the same reason I like the Notre Dame football team: They continue to fight, as the Irish did last night in their game against Michigan State, regardless how heavily the odds seem to be against them.

Ms. Senior clearly thinks for herself, and I wish the editors of the New York Times, who have allowed their commentary pages to become overly liberalized, would pay some attention to what she says. At least, thank goodness, the editor of the NYT Book Review is paying attention, because he not only has hired her four times to write reviews, but he even gives her a complimentary blurb at the beginning of the Book Review today.

Of Lapham's book, a constant assault on Mr. Bush, Ms. Senior writes, "Well, at least his (Lapham's) point of view is unambiguous. But unless you agree with it 100 percent -- and are content to see almost no original reporting or analysis in support of these claims -- you may feel less inclined to throttle Lapham's targets than to throttle Lapham himself."

Later, she adds, "People who are serious about politics don't just preen. They report, explain, explore contradictions, struggle with ideas, perhaps even propose suggestions. If they do none of these things, they're simply heckling, and if the best Lapham can do is come up with 50 inventive new ways to call Bush an imbecilic oligarch, that's all he's doing: heckling."

The reviewer compares Lapham to Ann Coulter, the right wing polemicist. "He's just another talk show host really -- only this time by way of Yale and Mensa," she writes.

As for Blumenthal, Senior finds that his columns for Salon and The Guardian newspaper in London, are "hardly pitched to win over undecided voters" either.

Senior admires certain things about Blumenthal's writing. "These columns have a certain cumulative power," she writes. "But their content has also been curated with one aim in mind, and that's to cast the Bush Administration in the grimmest possible light."

Senior concludes, "It's hard to trust a narrator who only and always assumes the worst...The left has often complained that what it needs isn't polite speech, but voices as pungent as those on the right. Maybe so. But even the angriest people on the right tend to be funny. Books like this one are a depressing reminder of how important it is for writers to have a slight sense of humor about themselves, if they want to be taken at all seriously."

How great it would be if the New York Times substituted Senior for one of its polemnical left wing columnists, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert or Frank Rich. It would certainly improve the newspaper.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

New York Times Design Changes Mean Softer News

Under Bill Keller, the New York Times is not the paper it was. And that was only further confirmed this week, when the NYT announced "design changes," that mean, so far as I can understand them, that we are going to get less hard news, in favor of analyses, profiles, appraisals, memos, and so forth.

The strength of the NYT over the years has been that it has been a newspaper of record. It's always had features, but, of late, these features have been taking over. The newspaper also has become too introspective, constantly explaining why it has presented news the way it has. Its "public editor," now, Byron Calame, is at the forefront of such efforts to rationalize what the Times is doing. He is often guilty of misjudgments.

The overall result often is that the Los Angeles Times, while it has cut back its news hole substantially under the Tribune ownership, often does a more straightforward report on a specific story than the NYT. This used not to be a common case, but it is now.

The explanation of the design changes on Page 2 ot the NYT of Wednesday, Sept. 20, was a confusing description of articles under different names, both for the news and opinion sections.

The paper used to be a better news operation. Now, it has become liberalized and flabbier. It hasn't got a successful Pentagon correspondent, despite the fact the country is involved in two wars at once. It has columnists like Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert and Frank Rich who are dreary and predictable. They give us a constant dirge of criticism of the Bush Administration, without making any constructive suggestions for a new policy. The paper has taken to concentrating overly on shortcomings of U.S. anti-terrorist interrogations, which make it seem dubious of the American war effort. It's become like the ACLU.

The paper was liberal under the former executive editor, Howell Raines, but also much more informative. The papers after 9-11 were filled with pertinent information published, for weeks, under a special section. Since Raines was ousted, when he should not have been, it has deteriorated.

The paper now needs a rejuvenation. It might start with a new, harder-nosed publisher, and a new executive editor.


Friday, September 22, 2006

As Tribune Co. Explores Sale of Assets, L.A. Times Is In Limbo

The decision in the Tribune Co. board of directors yesterday to establish a committee of the usually Dennis FitzSimons-lining directors, the majority faction, to consider the sale of Tribune newspaper and television assets or breaking up the company by the end of the year could mean almost anything.

There are some grounds, however, for hoping it will presage the sale of the L.A. Times.

The reason I'm hopeful is that the board meeting has apparently left the Times, and its rebellious leaders, in limbo. As of this moment, the Tribune executives have neither fired editor Dean Baquet, nor stated that they will go ahead with the layoffs and cutbacks that Baquet, and, to a lesser extent, LAT publisher Jeff Johnson rejected last week.

A firing of Baquet, it was indicated, would have led to other resignations among senior executives at the paper, and spun the Times into such a crisis that its sale price might well have been reduced.

So if you are planning a sale, the best thing to do is to leave present management in place. That will keep the eventual price up.

But there are many unknowns. FitzSimons' statements yesterday were murky. He said, for one thing, that he thought Baquet was doing a good job, a compliment he probably would have avoided if he were planning to terminate him imminently for insubordination.

On the other hand, it is clear, that with all its troubles the Times remains quite profitable to Tribune and it will presumably be difficult to for the Chicagoans who run the Tribune Co. to admit that their 2000 deal acquiring Times-Mirror papers was such a bust.

So, it's conceivable the reevaluation now being undertaken will result in some continued sales (such as the Boston TV station just sold), but not the L.A. Times.

On the other hand, let's face it, the L.A. Times fits the Tribune Co. about the same way that Poland fit communism. As Stalin once memorably remarked, "Communism fits Poland like a saddle fits an ox." Ultimately, communism withered on the vine there, just as Tribune ownership may wither in Los Angeles.

In the L.A. Times case, it is very clear by now that the Tribune Co. management is not liked in Los Angeles, nor is its acceptance here likely to increase. There are perspective buyers available, the Tribune plan of cutting back to success, such as Jeff Johnson has described it, is not working, and for the future good of both Tribune Co. and the Times, a divorce (sale) is probably best.

We can only hope this is the way it will eventually be seen in Chicago, even if FitzSimons and his cronies have been unwilling to swallow the bitter pill yet.

In the meantime, two things to watch are the next circulation figures for the Times and other former Times-Mirror papers, and whether the Tribune executives do continue to push layoffs at the Times as part of the $200 million in cutbacks they vowed to implement at the time they initiated the stock buyback.

During this period of uncertainty, it is important that the Times editors and staff continue to be the squeaky wheel in this dysfunctional organization -- making plain they will not accept further diminution of Times quality quietly, or at all. If they persevere in their strong stand, I'm very optimistic the Times will be sold, and then the only question is to who.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Being Too Polite To Tyrants: Ahmadinejad, Chavez Deserve Insults, Not Respect

Members of the Council on Foreign Relations were entirely too polite last night
in New York when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the man who cheated his way into the presidency of Iran, figuratively threw bullshit into their faces with his smirks and anti-American remarks. The correct response for the people in attendance at this event would have been loud boos when Ahmadinejad cast aspersions, or even to throw an egg or two in his direction.

Similarly, when the dictator from Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, called President Bush a devil at the United Nations yesterday, he should have been barred by New York police from leaving the UN Building until he made an apology to the American people. There is no question but that Chavez actually helped Mr. Bush politically, since Americans resent having greasy foreigners trying to interfere in domestic politics, and even Democrats were assailing the Venezuelan for his remarks.

The United Nations habitually fails to stand up against dictators, scoundrels and genocide. Why the United States still contributes anything to this worthless organization is beyond all understanding. It stands with every tyranny on the face of the Earth.

As for Ahmadinejad, he has taken advantage of his visit to New York to play all his interlocutors as fools. A Nazi in all respects, and the exponent of the worst features of barbaric Islamic fundamentalism, the Iranian should have never been admitted to the United States, and it is a mistake for news anchors, such as NBC's Brian Williams, or CNN's Anderson Cooper, to give him the opportunity to peddle more of his lies in their interviews with him. Time magazine made him seem handsome on its cover this week, when it should have used one of those monstrously ugly covers it used to reserve for Mao Tse'tung.

The mayor of Chicago once said that if King George came to his city, he would punch him in the nose. That's an upstanding position, compared with the obsequiousness we see in the attitudes by the media and foreign policy establishments toward Ahmadinejad and Chavez.

As the late New York Times columnist James Reston used to say, it's time to call a spade a bloody shovel, in responding to thugs like these two dictators. A day of reckoning is coming with these men and the regimes they represent.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has an article from Vatican City today by Ian Fisher reporting that many Roman Catholics feel Pope Benedict has gone entirely too far in apologizing for his remarks about the frequently violent nature of Islam made in Germany last week.

It is high time, indeed, that we call evil what it is, and assail the evildoers at every opportunity.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

L.A. Times Employees, A Shareholder Suit, Put New Pressure On Tribune Co.

These are critical and inspiring days in the ongoing battle to save the Los Angeles Times from cost and quality-cutting corporate goons in Chicago and encourage a sale of the paper back to interests that will be devoted to its long term quality.

Today, it's reported that more than 400 editorial employees at the newspaper have signed a petition supporting the courageous editor and publisher, Dean Baquet and Jeff Johnson, in their stand against further layoffs and other slashes ordered by the Tribune Co., the negligent owners of the Times and other former Times-Mirror papers for the past six years.

In the past, I've referred to Johnson as a Chicago-toady. I now regret using that label. In the past week, Johnson has proven that he is committed to Times quality, and for this stand, possibly jeopardizing his tenure, he deserves the highest commendation. A second message to the staff today waffled a little but gave no overt ground.

As for the employee petition, the same words might be used about it that were once used to describe Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural address: it deserves to be inscribed in gold.

"We the undersigned staff members of the Los Angeles Times want to state our support and appreciation for the stand our publisher, Jeff Johnson, and editor, Dean Baquet, have taken on behalf of quality journalism in the newspaper we love.

"We hope their message resonates beyond this newsroom and inspires many more to recognize the vital role that a robust newspaper plays in our individual communities and our society as a whole. While more doesn't always equal better, we are concerned that further budget cuts will only serve to harm the integrity of an institution that many of us have labored to build over a number of years, as well as the quality of the product we help to deliver daily. We seek to up hold a tradition of excellence and here reiterate our commitment to pursue this newspaper's unique place in the greater Los Angeles area, California, and beyond."

Every employee who signed the petition will be able always to take pride that at such a critical moment, they took the stand they did. And those who did not sign should rush now to add their names lest they not also be part of the roll of honor. Editor and Publisher names longtime Times reporter Ted Rohrlich as one of the signers this morning. I've known Rohrlich a long time. His wife is a celebrated food writer, and he has long given exemplary service. But he never stood taller than this morning.

Times Media correspondent Jim Rainey, though restrained in his coverage, has also helped to get the word out through the world of journalism that Baquet, Johnson and the employees stand four square with a quality paper. For this, he deserves all of our thanks. His reports have allowed the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Editor and Publisher to come steaming to support of the L.A. Times.

Today, Rainey also reports that a Tribune investor, Frank Garamella of Missouri, has filed a lawsuit against eight Tribune directors, all close to the Tribune CEO, the contemptible Dennis J. FitzSimons, alleging that these board members have pursued a "suicide pill" stock buyback program which has left Tribune Co. saddled with $2.4 billion in additional debt. Not sued were the three dissident Chandler family representatives on the Tribune board who opposed the buyback and were prescient in their warnings that it would neither strengthen Tribune newspapers nor enhance Tribune's depressed stock price.

The Garamella lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court in Chicago to create an independent committee to review Tribune Company's strategy and to consider alternatives. The lawsuit also asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

I suppose it was necessary to file this suit in Chicago, but the Chicago judiciary, like the city's political leadership, is notoriously corrupt. It's too bad this suit could not have been filed in Los Angeles.

If damages are eventually awarded, let's hope that FitzSimon's bloated salary can be attached to pay them.

The Tribune board meets tomorrow and the whole journalistic world will be watching. Let's hope the board will heed the impassioned protests of Baquet, Johnson and the Times staff, and set a new course, agreeing to break up a company that has long since outlived its usefulness and sell the Times back to local owners.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

From The Inept Tribune CEO, FitzSimons, More Double Talk

The L.A. Times, which has been doing a good job reporting the developments in the Tribune Co. efforts to downgrade the Times, and resistance to those moves in Los Angeles, today publishes letters to and from Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons on the Op Ed page.

At a moment when it seems the Tribune Co. may dismiss L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet and publisher Jeff Johnson for opposing further cutbacks at the Times, FitzSimons simply engages in more double talk in his continuing campaign against both the Times and California in general. His tone is occasionally conciliatory, but all in all, his letter amounts to a brusque rejection of the pleas of 20 Los Angeles community leaders that he either cease the cost cutbacks at the Times or sell the newspaper. The LA Observed blog may go slightly too far when it says FitzSimons stated he would not sell the paper, but he comes so close that its interpretation is understandable.

To know that FitzSimons is not telling the truth when he claims that the paper has been improved under Tribune ownership, all you have to do is read the quote in the Wall Street Journal of Sept. 18 from former Times editor John Carroll:

Carroll declared: "I think the Tribune has squandered its good will inside the L.A. Times newsroom. I would say that if you look at the six years Tribune has owned the Times-Mirror papers, all those papers have been badly diminished. It's been a worse talent drain than anywhere I've seen."

FitzSimons is a sour old man. He cares not one jot for the quality of the newspapers he bought, and for him to claim he does, is a foul lie. Everyone at the L.A. Times knows this. His reference to the Staples scandal in the Mark Willes publishership, before Tribune took control, is inappropriate, because what the Tribune paper has done to the Times is far worse than anything Willes ever did.

Now, much attention will be directed at a Tribune board meeting Thursday in Chicago. The Tribune board, aside from three Chandler family representatives, is composed largely of business cronies of FitzSimons' management. But it will be hard put to ignore the criticisms of dissident stockholders who point out that the company as a whole has languished under its present management. Circulation is way off, advertising and revenue are down less, but still off. The stock price is flat after a big drop, and the papers as a whole are losing their good reputation.

Under these circumstances, pressure for a breakup of the Tribune Co. has been growing, and will continue to grow, unless the board takes quick voluntary steps for the breakup.

In his letter printed this morning, FitzSimons cites the glory days under Joseph Medill at the Chicago Tribune. Medill worked actively for the election of Abraham Lincoln, even giving promises Lincoln would not keep. Like FitzSimons, Medill was overbearing, but unlike FitzSimons, in usually a good cause.

The Medill days are long past. He's been dead more than 100 years. The FitzSimons days have been a disgrace. The time has come for him to appoint a liquidator and step aside, I hope without too much of a golden parachute.

In his column in Calendar on Saturday, Tim Rutten pointed out, by the way, that the top executives at the New York Times have been cutting their salaries to put more in the hands of outstanding reporters and other personnel. The very reverse has been happening with FitzSimons. The more he cuts, the larger his salary has grown. A selfish, greedy man!


The Los Angeles County Commission On Human Relations may have dealt a blow to its own future usefulness by voting, although not by a majority, to make a human rights award to Maher Hathout, who has, in the past, been an occasional apologist for terrorism, and an example of all-too-frequent Muslim duplicity. That's too bad. We owe the anti-terrorism expert Steven Emerson thanks for bringing Hathout's record to public attention. But in a letter published in the L.A. Times Wednesday morning, Hathout strikes a moderate tone, and it may be that he, like some other Muslims, is rethinking a philosophy of supporting violence. Hathout commendably now says, "I am also against religious extremists who perpetuate violence and death in the distorted name of their faith. I am engaged directly on a daily basis in countering the ideologies of extremism and nihilism that lead to terrorism and I continue to work closely with local and federal law enforcement to prevent further terrorism on American soil." The hope is that millions of Muslims will follow Hathout in this evolution toward humane policies.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Tracy Wilkinson Slanders Oriana Fallaci In Obit

For a long time now, L.A. Times reporter Tracy Wilkinson has proved herself an Arab sympathizer. I think it's time she's moved to a post where she can't do more harm than she has done already.

The latest example of bias is Wilkinson's obituary in Saturday's paper on the courageous Italian journalist, Oriana Fallaci, For Wilkinson to use pejorative terms as she did in this article is improper, and the editors should not have allowed her to get away with it.

After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, Fallaci began to write more and more frankly about Arab terrorism and the steady infiltration into Europe of Muslim immigrants opposed to assimilation and understanding, and devoted to the kind of violence deplored by the Pope in his recent speech. The Pope, trying to dampen violence which has already resulted in the murder of a nun in Somalia and the burning of churches in Gaza and the West Bank, unwisely, in my view, has backed down from his honest remarks, but it should be remembered that he had the courage to tell the truth in the first place. The violent reaction against him only goes to show he was right.

Wilkinson, meanwhile, calls Fallaci bigoted in her obituary and says her articles were "derogatory, ugly, distasteful."

Shame on Wilkinson. It reminds me of her anti-Israel coverage when she was a Times correspondent in the Middle East, and since she has moved to Rome, she has lost few opportunities to build on her bad record.

Fallaci as a young person resisted the fascists and the Nazis. Now, fundamentalist Islam has taken up the Nazi banner and is, daily, committing grossly offensive actions against civilization.

The United States is at war with these people, and Wilkinson, unfortunately, often seems to be taking the other side. American papers who love liberty should erase the opportunities these fellow travelers like Wilkinson have to denigrate the United States of America and those who have supported it, like Fallaci.

Bigot, by the way, is defined in Webster's New World Dictionary as "a narrow-minded person." By this standard, Wilkinson is more of a bigot than Fallaci, because Fallaci was trying to defend Western values, and Wilkinson continually insults them.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Not Only Notre Dame, But NBC, Drop The Ball

--Written from Norwich, Vt.

It was a disastrous day for Notre Dame, as they gave the ball up repeatedly on turnovers, and Michigan rolled to a 47 to 21 victory at South Bend.

But it was just as bad a day for NBC, which cannot seem to get the idea that when you're showing college football, the audience doesn't want continual promotions of professional football.

Since NBC won a contract this year to show Sunday night football, that's all its announcers talk about, and it spoils the college football telecast. It is representative of the terrible press and broadcasting faults of over-advertising.

Something has to shut these folks up. Maybe the U.S. military should get involved.

Yesterday, NBC didn't even have a real halftime show. They gave a few scores of other games, but then they went immediately into something nobody watching cared about, the next day's pro game.

I've made the point before. Pro football is the most overrated sport since cock fights were started. Los Angeles is very lucky not to have a professional football team. May we never have one. And overhyping is one of the worst sins of the media.

If NBC can't stick to the subject on Saturdays, maybe the Notre Dame game should be moved to cable, not network TV., television.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Pope Shouldn't Apologize For Criticizing Islam

--Written from Norwich, Vt.

Pope Benedict has criticized Islam for its belief in violence as an acceptable way of spreading the religion, generating a new round of vilification of the West from Islamic extremists who oppose freedom of speech. It's a repeat of sorts of the controversy earlier in the year about the Danish cartoons identifying Islam with violence.

The Pope, in my view, should not apologize for telling the truth. Nothing is to be gained by letting a view spread that fundamentalist Muslim conduct is acceptable in the Modern World.

A great deal of the criticicism of the Pope's remarks has come from Turkey, a country that has been backsliding from the secuiar policies of Ataturk and sinking back into primitive aspects of the Muslim faith. The Pope is scheduled to visit Turkey next month, but already the murder of several Catholic priests there had jeopardized the visit, and, for the Pope's safety, it probably now must be cancelled.

It is not going to be helpful to sweep the issue over barbarism emanating from Islamic extremists under the rug. It must be resisted with all the force at our disposal. There is nothing compatible between these forces and the West.

In the meantime, reform of Islamic beliefs that are outdated is essential. There is a way for this faith to live in the Modern World but only if it changes for the better. There are reformists in Islam. We must help them to be heard.

So for the Catholic Church to get cold feet and express regret for the Pope's remarks is not in order. As Henry Adams once said, "You can't use tact with a Congressman. You must take a stick and hit him in the snout." That goes for believers in barbaric fundamentalism as well. The Pope did a service. Now, he should be proud of it.


Friday, September 15, 2006

New York Times Plays Baquet Rebellion Against Tribune Cost Cutting Big

--Written from Norwich, Vt.

The New York Times gives prominent attention in its Business section today to the rebellion of Times Editor Dean Baquet and other members of the Times staff, including publisher Jeff Johnson, against Tribune Co. executives who want more layoffs at the L.A. Times.

But the NYT article by Katherine Seelye ends with a suggestion the Tribune may crack down on the rebellion.

I think though that it might be difficult for the Tribune to get rid of Baquet without throwing the LAT into a crisis that would eclipse the situation at the Santa Barbara News Press, and reduce both Times circulation and its eventual sale price.

It becomes more and more evident that the Tribune ownership's days are numbered and that the L.A. Times must be sold. Chicago just does not have a determination to run a successful paper in Los Angeles,

Also, the Tribune reports that Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons is close to making a deal with dissident Chander family re[resemtatoves on the Tribune board to unravel two partnerships that have impeded a sale. The contents of the deal are not revealed, but a Chandler representative, Tom Unterman, said months ago that ending the partnerships would have to precede a sale.

Baquet, Johnson and others are exhibiting courage in the present struggle and I believe they will eventually reap the benefits in a new, rejuvenated L.A. Times. Let's hope so.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

L.A. Times Sale May Be Nearer, As Times Editors Defy Tribune

--written from Manchester, N.H.

I've been traveling all day by Southwest Airlines back to New Hampshire, so this is my first chance to respond to today's story in the L.A. Times reporting that L.A. Times editors, including Dean Baquet, have defied demands by the reeling Tribune company executives that they continuing cutting back the paper's staff.

This is very heartening. It would have been better had Baquet done a citizen's arrest on Scott Smith when he came to Los Angeles, on the grounds that his company is stealing California money, and failing to honor its promises when it bought the paper. With the L.A. County Jail in the deplorable state that it's in, it would only be fair to give Smith a knife to defend himself while serving a protracted time in prison while the courts sorted out the legalities. No honest California judge would give him bail.

But if this is too much to hope for, still we have to give credit to Baquet and other editors. Also, credit should go to the 20 leading citizens who wrote to Tribune management deploring any further cutbacks at the Times and suggesting a sale of the paper if the Tribune can't live up to those responsibilities.

I agree with Kevin Roderick writing in L.A. Observed that the chances of a sale of the Times are now improving. Tribune stock is not rising, revenue is down, the goals of Dennis FitzSimons' stock buyback plan have so far not been realized. All these facts argue for a sale.

Smith's assertion that the Times has improved under Tribune ownership is laughable. Perhaps time in jail would improve his reasoning powers.

I came through Chicago today, and as usual the food at the Midway Airport was awful. It reminded me of the time, during the 1968 Democratic Convention, when I ordered enchiladas in the Windy City, and they came filled with potatoes. Chicago is a clueless city in many respects, but the Tribune management is even more clueless than the rest of the city.

Take heart, everyone. Better times are coming (unless they sell the paper to Wendy McCaw or Rupert Murdoch).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Angelides Campaign Gaffe Appropriately Highlighted By Michael Finnegan

L.A. Times political writer Michael Finnegan very appropriately points out in a story today that State Treasurer Phil Angelides' gubernatorial campaign "hit the shoals," to quote the headline, when staff members, apparently without his knowledge, circulated a tape of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger making racially off color remarks that they had obtained through sneaky means from the governor's Web site.

Finnegan said the Angelides campaign was "reeling" from the uproar over the tape and went on with the campaign's rather lame excuse. When things go wrong in a campaign, and impropriety becomes manifest, the candidates often blame it on the staff. But it is hard to believe Angelides could have been so stupid as to generate these leaks himself.

As a political writer for the L.A. Times, I found on numerous occasions that campaign shenanigans were major stories, with their fallout often overcoming any positive impressions of the candidate. Truly embarrassing information fascinates the public, and these stories are among the best read of the often humdrum political coverage.

To give just a few examples:

1--When then Los Angeles City Councilman Arthur Snyder circulated letters to Democrats the day before the election, claiming he was more liberal than his GOP primary opponent, Assemblyman Newton Russell, after claiming publicly for weeks that he was more conservative than Russell, the trickery formed the basis for a front page story I had the day of the election. Poor Arthur lost by a few hundred votes.

2--Alan Robbins took a hit, and his winning margin fell, in what should have been a one-sided 1973 State Senate special election after his opponent divulged that Robbins' campaign had plagiarized a letter from Joseph P. Kennedy to John F. Kennedy during a 1946 congressional run, reprinting the same letter, in the same format, as coming from Robbins' father to him. The Times ran this story prominently on Page 3, picturing both letters. Robbins blamed it on his staff, but this was the beginning of various lamentable acts which finally landed Robbins in federal prison at the end of his political career.

3--Donald Segretti's antics on behalf of Richard Nixon to sabotage the 1972 McGovern campaign for President, when revealed in the newspapers, came back to haunt Nixon during the Watergate scandal. I interviewed Segretti, who turned out to be a naive and unscrupulous young man, which the Nixon campaign should never have hired.

4--Sen. Joseph McCarthy, during his heyday, was shown to have falsified a picture of Democratic Sen. Millard Tydings of Maryland in 1950 to make it seem like he was standing next to Earl Browder, the head of the American Communist party. The picture hurt Tydings, but later, when the trickery was revealed, also McCarthy, who died, prematurely, a drunk. I was not in on this one.

5--One of the most devastating stories I ever wrote ran way back in Section Two, and concerned Malcolm Mackey, then a municipal court judge running for a superior court judgeship in Los Angeles. When I was tipped off by an attorney representing Filipinos in L.A. that Mackey had gotten a young woman pregnant, but rather than pay child support, had gotten the INS to deport her to the Philippines, I went to see Mackey about it, without a tape recorder. Well into the interview, however, I heard a click and discovered that Mackey was tape recording our conversation. I demanded the tape and when I transcribed it was able to quote Mackey as saying, "If this woman had been white, this never would have happened." As I say, the story did not run prominently, but from then on Mackey's campaign sunk like a rock. He was not elected then, and he did not finally make it to the Superior Court for a decade.

Now, in the Schwarzenegger case, yes, the governor was embarrassed when he appeared to have made a racial remark in a closed door session with his executive secretary, Susan Kennedy, but the more lasting fallout may hit the Angelides campaign.

Congratulations to Finnegan for writing a telling story about the episode.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Attack On U.S. Embassy In Damascus May Reflect Arab Terrorist Infighting

In his excellent new book, "The Looming Tower, Al-Qaeda And The Road To 9/11," author Lawrence Wright gaves numerous examples of the internecine violence that goes on regularly among Arab terrorist groups. These folks not only detest the rest of the world, and are not loathe to kill other Muslims, but they don't hesitate to kill each other.

Particular reference may be made to two paragraphs on pages 124-25 of the book.

"There is a well known saying of the Prophet (Mohammed) that the blood of Muslims cannot be shed except in three instances: as punishment for murder, or for marital infidelity, or for turning away from Islam. The pious Anwar Sadat was the first modern victim of the reverse logic of takfir.

"The new takfiris, such as Dr. (Jamal al-)Fadl and Dr. (Siddiq) Ahmed, extended the death warrant to encompass, for instance, anyone who registered to vote. Democracy, in their view, was against Islam because it placed in the hands of people authority that properly belonged to God. Therefore, anyone who voted was an apostate, and his life was forfeit. So was anyone who disagreed with their joyless understanding of Islam--including the mujahideen leaders they had ostensibly come to help. and even the entire population of Afghanistan, whom they regarded as infidels because they were not Salafists. The new takfiris believed that they were entitled to kill practically anyone and everyone who stood in their way; indeed, they saw it as a divine duty." Often, they killed off rivals for power within their own organization.

Now, we see why Iraq, Afghanistan and other locales in the Muslim world have become so blood soaked. Arab terrorism is a prescription for endless murder.

It is within this context that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda operate. So when things happen that may be related to al-Qaeda or other strands of Arab terrorism for that matter, we have to ask, first of all, just who are the terrorists trying to get.

That question is certainly pertinent today, as we contemplate the mysterious attack against the U.S. embassy in Damascus. Syrian guards and police came to the rescue, killing all four attackers. There were no casualties among Americans. The Syrian government, normally no friend of the U.S., was quick to blame al-Qaeda.

If this assessment is correct, it would seem that al-Qaeda may have been attacking in Syria as much to embarrass the Syrian government as to do injury to Americans. Suppose they had succeeded and the embassy was destroyed and all the Americans in it killed. Wouldn't there have then been a bitter American reaction against Syria?

Why would al-Qaeda want to cause trouble for Syria? Likely, because in the recent Middle Eastern war, Syria aided Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is a Shiite organization while al-Qaeda is largely a Sunni organization, and Sunnis and Shiites are beginning to fight all over the Middle East, and maybe soon in the rest of the world.

It all helps explain what we are up against in the War on Terror, namely a merciless bunch of bloodthirsty guttersnipes whose hatred knows no bounds.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Bill Richardson Would Make A Good Secretary Of State

After he successfully traveled to the Sudan last week, met with Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and secured the release of Chicago Tribune reporter Paul Salopek from 34 days of captivity on spurious espionage charges, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson lauded the release.

"It was a humanitarian gesture," Richardson declared. "I think this is a triumph of democracy. We can make a difference even if we have wide differences."

Richardson, 59, of course, has long undertaken diplomatic missions. A Democrat and former congressman, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Energy Secretary, he was nonetheless the representative of the Bush Administration in a private mission to North Korea. He has traveled the world, and, unlike some other American diplomats, there is no one he will not talk to.

Should the Democrats be returned to the presidency in the 2008 elections, Richardson, or another skilled diplomat, Richard Holbrook, who negotiated the Bosnian settlement in the Clinton Administration, well could become Secretary of State. Either would be a distinguished choice.

Richardson's statement the other day, as reported in the L.A. Times Sunday, bears repeating. "We can make a difference even if we have wide differences."

This could profitably become a watchword of American diplomacy, and, in light of the fact that the Sudan is one of the most misbehaving countries on the planet, having killed hundreds of thousands in a pointless ethnic war in the Darfur region, it is illuminating that the governor was able to go there and come out with such a fine result.

Salopek, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was actually on assignment for the National Geographic magazine when he crossed into Darfur, part of the Sudan, without a visa, and was seized by Sudanese units.

Richardson was not the only person who went to the Sudan in the effort to get Salopek released. To their credit, Chicago Tribune Editor Ann Lipinski and National Geographic Editor-in-chief Christopher Johns went as well. It is heartening to see these two editors rising to their responsibilities, willing to go to a dangerously unfriendly country to help achieve freedom for one of their reporters.

This in short was a great diplomatic success, and hopefully Gov. Richardson will have other opportunities for a diplomatic breakthrough in the years ahead, perhaps with Iran, where new approaches are needed.

Finally, from the reports, I like the Sudanese judge who presided over the actual release. Hoaham Mohammed Yousif did not waste words, as he ordered Salopek and his two drivers released. "We are stopping the case and we are releasing you right now," the judge declared. For brevity, American judges could well emulate him. It sometimes takes much too long to unravel a worthless case in this country.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lisa Dillman And Jealousy Against Rich, Talented And Glamorous Tennis Players

May God protect Maria Sharapova, the new U.S. Open women's champion, from Lisa Dillman, the tennis correspondent for the L.A. Times.

Just as with a former champion, Martina Hingis, Dillman seems to have conceived a bitterness toward the accomplishments of Sharapova, and is determined to give her a bad time in her stories.

Happily, the New York Times is not so unfriendly toward Sharapova, the 19-year-old Russian and "honorary American" who has been training in Florida since the age of 7 and who is so beautiful and popular that she has sold $19 million this year alone in endorsements. A New York Times column Saturday morning portrayed her finals match against Justine Henin-Hardenne as a case of "beauty and the Belgian." And this morning, NYT columnist Selena Roberts warmly congratulates Sharapova on her victory, remarking that her "commercial (for Nike named "I feel pretty"), came to life last night. On a cool evening inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sharapova proved her game could be as intimidating as her beauty."

There was no such talk from Dillman. She had hardly mentioned Sharapova in her semi-final coverage, concentrating on the less glamorous but resilient Henin-Hardenne. Then, following Sharapova's finals victory, all she could talk about was the star's testiness at a post-match press conference when snotty reporters kept asking her about whether she had "cheated" during the match by eating a banana after her coach had signaled her to."

Sharapova had a good comeback to such an idiotic point. She said she was more than a banana. She had just won the U.S. Open, she said, and there was more to this than eating a banana.

Women's tennis, Dillman should realize, after years of covering the matches, is a game that lives on glamor, and Sharapova is as representative of it as cherry pie is to America.

This was not the first time an L.A. Times staffer had picked outrageously on Sharapova. I think it was T.J. Simers who wrote a column complaining that it was improper that she had appeared glamorously on a billboard advertising an L.A. tennis tournament when she was only 16.

My own daughter, Kathy, wrote once for the London Times that "reporters are too nosy." Reporters who pride themselves on being obnoxious and tearing down the great are doing the journalistic profession no good.

This is not to say that Sharapova isn't strong minded and outspoken. But that is part of her glamor.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Katie Couric Makes A Spectacular Start On CBS Nightly News

Katie Couric is making a tremendous start at the CBS Nightly News, making the executives who chose her to become an anchor look brilliant.

In her first week, Couric was crisp, beautiful, clear and her program showed excellent news judgment, proving from the onset its devotion to foreign news. Of course, CBS also has the beauteous, intelligent Lara Logan as its chief foreign correspondent. Put her together with Couric, and you have a doubly winning combination.

Of course, it's too early to draw any solid conclusions about the ratings, but in the first week, Couric was getting many more viewers than either NBC or ABC. Brian Williams, with all his talents and genuine commitment at NBC, was well behind Ms. Couric last week.

Couric has always been a remarkably attractive personality. At first, when she came to the Today show on NBC mornings, only as a temporary anchor after the Deborah Norville debacle, she did not seem to be anchor material. Her background was only Pentagon reporting for NBC and some reporting for CNN and ABC. But within weeks, it seemed the Today show belonged to "Katie," as everyone came to call her, and in a rare stroke of genius NBC quickly made her a co-anchor with Matt Lauer. It kept the Today program the leader of the morning shows for years.

Couric must still show, as a nightly news anchor, that she believes in something outside the conventional. Williams has done that with his concentration on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans rebuilding, his incisive questioning of even President Bush, and his unquestioned integrity. In the long run, as L.A. Times writer Matea Gold, pointed out not long ago in an excellent article, those assets may keep Williams solidly competitive, although his physical appearance is bland compared to Couric. But in her first week, Couric seemed so skilled as to make it highly likely she will give him a fight for the most audience. We have not even yet seen much of her excellent sense of humor, but we will.

I'm delighted to see Couric advance. It's nice there is a woman solo anchor, a working mother (for $15 million a year) and it's already obvious she's a good choice. She looked fabulous in the post this week.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Macy's Ads Wrapped Around Three LAT Sections A New Low

Since buying the L.A. Times and other Times-Mirror papers in 2000, the Tribune Co. has disgraced itself, letting Times circulation drop by 250,000, laying people off, reducing the news hole and dismissing Pulitzer Prize winners from the editorial pages. But seldom has there been a more offensive single act than the Macy's ads wrapped around the Times' California, Calendar and Sports sections today.

To get to the news, you had to take these ads off and throw them away. They are part of the campaign to let disgusting advertisements more and more overwhelm the newspaper.

Now, I never shop at Macy's anyway. It is a second rate Eastern store that replaced a good store, Bullock's, and there is no reason to patronize it. It offers Southern California nothing. But by intruding on to the reading enjoyment of Times subscribers, Macy's ought now to be positively boycotted. It's changed the names of such traditional stores as Robinson-May and Marshall Field to Macy's and is celebrating the fact with these ads. But it's like changing the name of Perino's to McDonalds; it's not going to fool the public into thinking Macy's is a quality store.

For allowing their sections to be denigrated in such a fashion, Janet Clayton and John Montorio should consider resigning as editors. If they stay, and this becomes common practice, their reputations in the news business will take severe hits. I think that Randy Harvey, editor of Sports, who is clearly struggling to build a better section, should stay, however.

Advertising is slowly corrupting America. It has lengthened football games to nearly four hours. It spoils the nightly newscasts. It may be necessary to support journalistic enterprises, but it gets more intrusive every year. I consciously do not patronize annoying advertisers, and I throw away whole advertising supplements and sections, like the ones that mark the Saturday L.A. Times, every week.

In its constant search for the lowbrow, worst tastes of the Los Angeles public, the Times also has been printing more cheesecake. Such a picture also adorns page one of the California section today. She's a beautiful woman, but it would be more appropriate for her to appear in the National Enquirer, especially because the Times picture makes her appear naked from the waist down. This, as the late editor Nick Williams would have said, is not suitable for a family paper.

What can be done?

The best tactic would be to take today's advertisements down to the Times and dump them on the front sidewalk, or, if one is really ambitious, wrap them up in something really smelly and send them to Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of the Tribune Co., and the man ultimately responsible for these terrible exploitative acts.

Meanwhile, we have to ask ourselves, What's next? Maybe they will take Amy Wilentz's book insulting California and distribute it with the paper to new subscribers. Maybe, they will replace headlines with other ads. Maybe they will add new useless summary pages. Maybe, they will bring Wendy McCaw in to handle staff relations. Whatever they do, it's more and more certain we won't like it.

-- -- --

ESPN's broadcast of Thursday night's football game in Boise, Idaho, between Boise State and Oregon State featured blue uniforms against a blue-colored field and was actually annoying to watch. What a turnoff!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Giuliani, Clinton Considerably Ahead In Presidential Polls

Charles de Gaulle in French politics was always "the man of the 18th of June." Frenchmen never forgot that on the 18th of June, 1940, unwilling to accept a French surrender to Nazi Germany, the great general, "carrying the honor of France in his pocket," flew to England, to carry on the resistance. Eighteen years later, when France faced an army and settler rebellion in Algeria, the country turned again to de Gaulle to save itself for a second time.

And so it is with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. For many, he will always be the man of Sept. 11, 2001, when with calm and decision he stepped forward in the city's most dire hour to lead the response to the Arab terrorist attacks of that day. This made Giuliani a hero, who well might be called upon again, in a national crisis. Besides 9-11, many voters will also remember that when a Saudi millionaire wanted to give New York $10 million, if only America would change its Middle Eastern policy, Giuliani told him, in effect, to take that $10 million and ram it up his ass.

That is why it is so interesting this morning to see that in a CNN poll on the developing 2008 presidential contest, Giuliani is well ahead in the battle for the GOP nomination. He has 31% support, to 20% for Sen. John McCain and 12% for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hilary Clinton seems also to be rather decisively ahead. She leads former Sen. Al Gore, the party's 2000 presidential nominee, 37% to 20% in the race for the Democratic nomination. Sen. John Kerry, the party's 2004 nominee, who has been flaunting his 'cut and run' approach in Iraq, has 11% and former Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, also has 11%.

Since Gore has not (yet) declared a candidacy for 2008, and Clinton has not really begun a presidential campaign, the Democratic race may not be as firmly set in nature as the Republican. Clinton could yet falter, or even decide not to run, although the front-loaded nature of the 2008 primaries would seem to work in her favor.

The Giuliani lead in the CNN poll is more of a thunderbolt. There have been many stories that McCain is well prepared for another run, and a negative book has just appeared about Giuliani, who is said by some commentators to have troubles with Republican conservatives because of his stands on abortion and homosexual rights.

But, assuming a Giuliani effort is well organized, I think the odds he will be the nominee, are good. The GOP is apt to take a beating in the midterm elections, the War on Terror is not going well, and the situation in Iraq may only get worse, All these factors favor Giuliani, because McCain is even more of a maverick and GOP voters may well be desperate for a strong nominee by the time 2008 rolls around.

As New York mayor, Giuliani was often a fractious politician, known as stubborn and hard to get along with. He had a much-publicized affair when his marriage broke up. But none of this counted at 9-11. His conduct that day won him friends he will never lose. And now, as the nation's foreign policy troubles increase, he may well benefit.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Situation In Afghanistan Deteriorates For U.S. And NATO

In his 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Ghost Wars: The History of the CIA, Afghanistan And Bin Laden," Steve Coll of the Washington Post described in detail how, following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States neglected the country, allowing the Taliban to seize power and provide a base for Osama bin Laden.

Now, according to a lengthy New York Times analysis of the Afghan situation since the U.S. deposed the Taliban regime shortly after 9-11, writer David Rohde on Tuesday describes how the situation has come to deteriorate once again, with an inadequate U.S. commitment leading to a resurgence of Taliban forces.

The Bush Administration, according to this well-documented report, put inadequate military manpower and economic assistance into Afghanistan in 2002 and later, allowing the economy and security situation to drift ominously, and now we, and the NATO forces which have come in to supplement the U.S. military, face a battle. Taliban has seized important parts of southern Afghanistan.

The fighting has so much increased in intensity, according to Rohde, that the chances of a U.S. soldier being killed while on duty in Afghanistan have nearly reached the chances in Iraq. Also, 25 Canadian soldiers and 34 British soldiers have been killed in recent months. (On Thursday, the NATO commander, Gen. James L. Jones, asked NATO countries to send several hundred reinforcements to Afghanistan).

There was further bad news this week when it was revealed that the pitifully weak Musharraf regime in Pakistan has agreed to pull its forces out of areas in Pakistan adjacent to the Afghan border which the Taliban and bin Laden have been using as a privileged sanctuary to launch their attacks in Afghanistan. A Pakistani general is quoted as saying this morning that as long as bin Laden lives in peace, there will be no effort to capture him on the Pakistani side.

Supposedly, in exchange for this largess, the Taliban forces have agreed to cease attacking across the border. But this assurance is probably worth just what most Muslim fundamentalist promises are worth: nothing.

Wednesday, in a meeting in Kabul between Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, it was reported that Musharraf had given assurances Pakistan would help fight the Taliban. Musharraf, however, frequently makes promises and does not deliver.

One has to wonder whether the entire struggle in which the U.S. has been engaged since 9-11, to prevent large places from opening in the world to control of the terrorists, is not in jeopardy. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, the terrorists seem on the ascendancy and in Iran, the fascist regime defies a U.N. mandate and continues to try to develop an atomic bomb. Already, as is typical of the U.N., countries such as Russia and China, which voted for the resolution are backing away from any idea of sanctions. The U.N. is about as effective in matters of this sort as the old League of Nations was against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

With the midterm elections in the U.S. approaching, there is every likelihood at the moment that Democrats without stomach for the war will gain sway over Congress and be in a position to put even more pressure on a Bush Administration, which according to these developments have not been getting the job done as it is.

There are many Americans, not to mention Europeans, these days who seem to feel that if only we were to withdraw from Iraq and reduce our commitments in the Middle East, all would be well.

This, in my view, is the greatest folly. The Muslim extremists, already spreading their violence to Europe and beyond, will not accept a U.S. retreat with anything but increased militancy. If they come to control the area's oil resources, American and European economic solvency will be sorely jeopardized.

Can we live safely in a world that sees the terrorists take over in Afghanistan, Iraq and soon, other countries in the Middle East? I don't think so. The danger from a nuclear-armed Iran and Pakistan, and a barbaric Muslim Caliphate in the Middle East would be immense to the American people and to Europe, including Russia, as well.

Yet the political atmosphere in the U.S. and Europe, and the all-too-apparent inadequacies of the Bush Administration create these terrible prospects.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Police Shootings In L.A. Likely To Increase After State Court Secrecy Decision

The L.A. Times reports today that there were three fatal shootings involving law enforcement in this area over the weekend, and, no thanks to a recent State Supreme Court decision, those grim numbers seem certain to only increase.

The court, which has become more and more likely to side with police secrecy over the press and the public interest, recently ruled 6-1 that police disciplinary proceedings be closed to the public even when appeals reach civil service commissions and that the names of problem officers involved in questionable acts need not be released to the public.

This will only lend itself to an atmosphere which has led in the Los Angeles area to more shootings already, and is another instance of the police being allowed to brutalize segments of the public, mainly minorities, without adequate public scrutiny.

Anyone who works with police matters can tell you that hiring and training of good officers is a ticklish task and that a thankfully low but still measurable number of police officers turn out to be psychopaths.

Tracking these problem officers and terminating their employment has been a major preoccupation of police reform efforts, such as the Christopher Commission in Los Angeles.

At the same time, resistance within police and sheriff's departments, and especially from the police unions to the reforms has grown to fearsome proportions. It is not only the prison guards union that we have to worry about; the police unions are just as bad. Attorneys like Richard Shinee in Los Angeles actively seek to protect dangerous officers who have killed and probably will kill again. The law enforcement unions make contributions to politicians which are perverting the political process, introducing dangerous corruption.

This is why I shuddered when I read of the high court decision. In the name of protecting the privacy of officers, the court has thrown out the baby with the bathwater, neglecting public rights to know more about the shootings that occur.

Police shootings of civilians is not at all common in New York, but they are common in Los Angeles, and, often, such excuses as, "he was backing up his car and threatening to run us over," or "we thought he had a gun in his hand," are used to justify shootings, which then often are not subject to adequate investigation.

This is a bad trend, one of several in increasingly overbearing law enforcement. It has little or nothing to do with terrorism. By far, the vast majority of these shootings are against possibly errant individuals who pay with their lives for misconduct that does not justify their deaths.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Whatever Happened To Shock And Awe: A Need For A Plan For Iraq

I read somewhere in the last couple of days where President Bush has plans to visit every sttack site on the fifth anniversary of 9-11 -- the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania where Flight 93 crashed.

But what the President needs more than anything is a new plan to win the war in Iraq. Otherwise his Administration will go down the drain in the midterm elections, and he will fare about as badly in history. He needs to be staying in the White House to fashion this plan and implement it, rather than gallivanting around the country on what essentially are campaign trips.

What could such a plan be? Haven't we tried everything?

Well, not really. The U.S. military, as in Vietnam, has been fighting with one hand tied behind its back. Even the Olmert regime in Israel, despite all the criticism directed to it, had a far more effective war plan in Lebanon in the recent war with Hezbollah, than the Bush Administration has had in Iraq. That war lasted only 34 days, but the Lebanese were taught such a lesson, I would wager they will not repeat their assaults against Israel soon again.

We've been fighting in Iraq for an incredible three and a half years, and under the present policy, there's no end in sight. As our military's morale has sank, U.S. troop levels have actually had to be slightly increased in recent weeks. Whatever happened to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld original plan to shock and awe the Iraqis? We seem to be fighting the insurgents in Iraq with kid gloves, doing just what we are expected to do, fighting the war on their terms.

Yet that war has changed. It's now become obvious that the greatest threat to a pro-Western Iraq is Iran. It is supplying the Shiite militias, and they have become a foe of American forces, perhaps even more than the Sunnis or al-Qaeda.

Pardon me, but what is needed is a firm policy of punishing the Iraqis for their opposition with a massive bombing campaign to destroy cities like Ramadi and neighborhoods in Baghdad which shelter the enemy. We could play fair like the Israelis and warn the civilians to leave those areas before they were bombed, but this idea they have that they can have their cake and eat it too, back the insurgency and get aid from the U.S. at the same time, is not acceptable, or workable.

My guess is that a few weeks of this, and there would be a U.N. cease fire resolution that the other side would accept. The reaction in the rest of the world might be fierce, but this would prove an effective end game.

The President is correct, in my view, in warning that the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq would be far reaching, threatening all of our associations in the Middle East, the regimes like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which have been at least nominal allies, and the vital supply of oil.

If this is indeed true, then we can't just go quietly into the good night, we need to up the ante. And the way to do that, frankly, is to use our B-52s.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

L.A. Times College Football Coverage Has Improved Over Last Year

The new L.A. Times sports editor, Randy Harvey, I presume, is responsible for a major upgrade in Times coverage of college football this year, as evidenced by the special section largely devoted to it last week and then this morning's actual coverage of the games on the opening weekend of the season.

It is clear that more space is being given to the coverage, and there is better coverage of specific games. It was particularly gratifying to me to see this morning Chris Dufresne's coverage of the opening victory of Notre Dame's season over Georgia Tech, and the space given to AP stories about Cal's loss to Tennessee and Oregon's victory over Stanford. The Times always had good coverage of USC and UCLA games last year, but other coverage was truncated, to the point that Notre Dame would only rate a paragraph or two, and the Ivy League teams, to which hundreds of Southern California fans are loyal because they graduated from these schools, rated only a score, not a story at all. The Ivy League season has yet to begin this year, but hopefully we will see Ivy League football covered in the new Times football format. Yale and Harvard may be only 1-AA football schools, but to their graduates, they are at the heart of the college game.

The real glory days of Times football coverage came when I was a boy in the 1950s, with Braven Dyer, Paul Zimmerman, Dick Hyland and other Times sportswriters siding with their favorite teams. In those days, these sportswriters were widely known. to schoolboys. It was a thrill out in our elementary school in Palm Springs when Hyland came to speak to our class, in which his son, Ricky, was a member, and in those days the Times even had great high school coverage about such memorable figures as Harry Edelson, the former USC football player who coached a number of city championship teams at Fremont and Los Angeles Highs. My mother had graduated from L.A. High, and Edelson was the owner of the summer camp I used to go to for eight weeks every year in Lake Arrowhead. He used some of his football players as counselors.

Then, over the years, with the cutbacks affecting the sports section, Times coverage of college football, which is much more spirited than the pro game, languished. It's good to see it making a comeback.

And it was also nice today to read, in Jerry Crowe's obituary of the great athlete, Bob Machias, reference to his 96-yard touchdown run for Stanford in the 1951 USC-Stanford game in the Coliseum. I was present at that game with my father, of blessed memory, and I was looking through the obituary wondering if it would be mentioned. It was one of the best memories of my childhood, when my dad used to get USC tickets from Edelson and take me in to Los Angeles to see great SC games against Cal, Stanford and Notre Dame (but never against UCLA, which we both thought poorly of, for some reason).

With USC, and even UCLA playing great football these days, and the cowardly and greedy NFL staying out of Los Angeles because municipal fathers won't roll over and play dead for them, college football is ever more popular in this area. So I'm glad Harvey has increased the space devoted to covering it this year, and would remind him that there are thousands of graduates in this area of Cal, Stanford, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth and Notre Dame who definitely want to see good coverage of those schools as well as USC and UCLA.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Amy Wilentz Calif. Book Panned By NYT's Kakutani In NYT

One of the oldest dirges in the writing business comes from those who say the California history of gold and splendor is behind us, and that the state and its way of life have come on grim days. I remember a Newsweek cover several years back carrying this claim, just before the Silicon Valley became a new story of golden brilliance in California life.

Now comes Amy Wilentz, a transplant from New York, who, in her book, "I feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen, Coming To California in the Age of Schwarzenegger," takes a dim view of California. Wilentz clearly pines for the liberal dilettantes she knew in New York.

Wilentz is the wife of the Los Angeles Times Op Ed Page editor, Nick Goldberg, a man who can't figure out which side he's on in the Israeli-Arab dispute or the War on Terror. Nick once told me, before I retired from the Times in 2004, that he felt too much was made of 9-11, because Americans, as he put it, are not as used as Europeans to warlike attacks. That may explain why he lets columnists like Rosa Brooks provide puff pieces on Human Rights Watch, as she did on Friday's Op Ed Page, despite the fact that, as she acknowledged, she had been a paid consultant for this organization. The article amounted to shilling for Human Rights Watch, and ended with suggesting that readers send a check to the organization.

This is not the kind of journalism I admire, either Wilentz's book or Goldberg's editing, so I was delighted yesterday when the New York Times chief book reviewer, the talented Michiko Kakutani, wrote a highly critical review of the book. Kakutani comes herself from an Eastern background (her father was a well-known Yale professor), so she can't easily be accused of a pro-California bias.

Kakutani writes that Wilentz has failed "to enliven that familiar and widely-written subject (California), a subject difficult to make fresh in the wake not only of modern classics by the likes of Joan Didion and Reyner Banham, but also by a daily tsunami of musings by novelists, reporters, filmmakers and television writers.

"Once again we are given snapshots of California as the final frontier, as a damaged Eden, failed promised land, dangerous magnet for dreamers and seekers and people on the lam. Once again we are given glimpses of Los Angeles as American Babylon, celebrity factory Magic Kingdom of noir..."

Kakutani adds that Wilentz "becomes convinced that beneath the sun and fun and Juicy Couture glitz, 'Califoria has a dark heart.'"

But, the reviewer concludes, "It is subject matter which has been done to death by others, and in this case even a writer of Ms. Wilentz's talents fails to turn it into a compelling book."

Well, I'm pleased that Kakutani has put this outsider in her place. As a native Californian, the son of parents who were both born in Los Angeles, the grandson of a man who went to Yosemite National Park to camp for 60 years, I'm offended at those who belittle the Golden State, and I like to see them get their comeuppance. Wilentz and Goldberg are excellent candidates for a move back East, where they could wallow in the poor climate and learn what decadence really is.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Controversy Over Maher Hathout: Is He A Moderate Muslim?

Maher Hathout, president of the Islamic Center of Southern California and a senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles, is due to receive on Oct. 5 the John Allen Buggs Award from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations.

But is it right that someone is given such an award by an organization devoted to racial and religious harmony, when he has made the extreme observations that Hathout has in recent years, describing Israel as "an apartheid state," saying "the United States is under Israeli occupation," that Arab governments which have had contacts with Israel would be "flushed down in the cesspools of history of treason," and that American bombing of Afghanistan and the Sudan after the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were "acts of terrorism...illegal, immoral, inhuman, unacceptable, stupid and un-American?"

I don't think so, and I have long been suspicious of Hathout, who can sound like a moderate on many occasions but who also often makes extremist remarks with seeming impunity. He has been treated entirely too respectfully by the L.A. County Commission On Human Relations, not to mention the "enlightened" Los Angeles Times, but Hathout can sound far different, especially when he's talking to Muslims than when he's talking to non-Muslims. It's almost like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Now, Steven A. Emerson, executive director of the respected "Investigative Project on Terrorism" in Washington, D.C., has gone public with tape recordings of some of Hathout's statements over the years. Even, if we assume that Hathout, like many people, can become overly emotional and make rash remarks to those he feels closest to, some of these are shocking.

On tape in a public speech in Washington D.C.'s Lafayette Park in the year 2000, Hathout said of Israel: "We did not come here to condemn the condemned atrocities committed by the apartheid brutal state of Israel, because butchers do what butchers do, and because what is expected from a racist apartheid is what is happening now. We have no talk to the state of Israel."

Or his remark, at a May, 2001 conference at Cal State, Fullerton: "It is obvious that, at least from our perspective, the United States is also under Israeli occupation. And so we have a Congress that beats the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) in being pro-Zionist. And we have an administration that believes in this superiority/inferiority of the Jews."

Also, Hathout has on repeated occasions, according to Emerson's report, defended Hamas and Hezbollah as legitimate organizations, while condemning the U.S. government for terrorism, he has belittled prosecutions in the U.S. of Muslim charities that funnel money to terrorists, and he has assailed the prosecution of a Florida defendant who pleaded guilty to "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad."

All this against two countries, the United States and Israel, who have been defending themselves against terrorist attacks ranging from suicide bombings and kidnappings to the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and damage to the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Thousands have been killed, but Hathout seems to feel nothing should have been done in the way of military action against the perpetrators.

Emerson remarks, appropriately I think, on a broader scale than just Hathout, "There's been a grand deception of radical Islamic leaders and groups masquerading as moderate, insinuating themselves into the political process, and deceiving the American public and the American officials into believing that they are moderate and they are not. They are radical,, they are anti-American and they are pro-terrorist."

His report accurately delineates the political correctness of institutions like the L.A. County Commission On Human Relations which prefer to stick their heads in the sand and not see what is going on around them.