Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Two Inexperienced Executives, Mark Willes And Dan Frost

The obituaries in the L.A. Times and New York Times on Otis Chandler were good as far as they went this morning, and it was the right thing to give the late David Shaw bylined credit along with Mitchell Landsberg in the LAT.

But obituaries are necessarily somewhat one dimensional. They are better at positives than negatives, and both obituaries this morning did not quite do justice to two ideologically rigid and inexperienced executives who were responsible for undoing some of Chandler's accomplishments at the L.A. Times.

I'm speaking of Mark Willes, who became the last CEO of Times-Mirror, and Chandler's one-time brother-in-law, Dan Frost, the humorless lawyer who worked assiduously to diminish Chandler's influence over the paper before Willes came aboard.

Both Willes and Frost were inexperienced in the newspaper business and it showed.

Willes arrived from General Mills, saying the thing to do was to tear down the wall between editorial and advertising at the Times. This was a disastrous policy and ultimately led to the Staples scandal, that led, in turn to easy sale of the paper to the Tribune Co. of Chicago.

Willes got a big severance. In fact, I was told this morning by a man in a position to know that he got $95 million, about 50% more than rumored at the time, and he even took the soft drinks out of his office refrigerator.

In fact, Willes should have paid Times-Mirror upon leaving for having foisted the even more inexperienced Kathryn Downing on the paper as publisher.

The Times-Mirror stock price had dropped by the time Willes was ousted, and I was also told this morning that the Chandler board would have fired him had the sale to the Tribune not gone through.

All this should be part of the record. Willes was not an evil man, just an ignorant one, but his tenure at the paper was a calamity.

And so was Frost's role. He simply worked to undo some of the progressive direction Chandler had given the Times, and he had the support in this of other Chandler family members who had never been sympathetic to Otis Chandler.

Also, Frost did not have the goals that Chandler had to make the paper the best in the country. It started a long, slow decline as his role grew.

As the LAT obituary commendably made clear this morning, Chandler had many interests in life beside the paper, and he may have faded away even without Frost and the family pressures. But it might not have unfolded the same way.

With the importance of Los Angeles and California, the Times may one day make a comeback under new ownership. There is a line in the obituary today alluding to that possibility, and we can hope and pray for it.

Otis Chandler was in many respects a man of vision. Bob Rawitch's story today about the formation of the now sadly defunct San Fernando Valley office is a demonstration of it. Also enjoyable was Bill Dwyre's story of taking Chandler to the fights.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Otis Chandler, Former Head Of Times-Mirror, Dead At 78

It cannot be without strong emotion that we heard this morning of the death of Otis Chandler, who as head of Times-Mirror and publisher of the Los Angeles Times built the paper into one of the nation's strongest. He was 78.

His greatest achievement was to craft such a strong, independent newspaper on the West Coast after years of partisan mediocrity.

The tragedy was that due largely to rivalries within the Chandler family, he could not maintain control of the paper. It gradually slipped from his grasp and fell finally into the wrong hands, the lackluster Tribune Co. of Chicago.

Los Angeles being a great city and California remaining the most populous and prosperous state, this is hopefully not a situation that will last. We can still look forward, when the paper is sold once again, for it to recover the greatness that Chandler gave it.

The essence of Chandler's success was that he realized the L.A. Times had to have independent political and foreign coverage, with strong bureaus in Washington, other American and foreign cities, in order to make its mark, and he was successful at giving the paper the wherewithal to accomplish this.

Like his distinguished, if partisan, father, mother, grandfather and great-grandfather, Chandler worked hard and with dedication to develop the Times as a quality product. He had the assistance particularly of two distinguished editors, Nick Williams and Bill Thomas.

No shrinking violet, Chandler also sought to become more politically respectable than his forebears. He fought, though not always effectively, such political scoundrels as Mayor Sam Yorty who would have held the city back, and, to his credit, he believed in a tolerant policy that allowed all the city's vibrant ethnic groups to prosper in potential equality.

Chandler was a major figure, as were his forebears, in building Los Angeles as one of the major cities of the nation and the world.

Later, when family division and occasional personal mistakes cast a shadow on some of his accomplishments and caused trouble for the paper, with the eventual accession of Mark Willes as CEO of Times-Mirror, it was to Chandler's great credit that he came back out of the shadows to try to keep the Times on an even keel.

For this reason, he commanded the love and respect of much of the Times' staff, even though he had lost the authority that would have permitted him to become leader of the recovery.

It was a further tragedy in Chandler's life that his son, Norman, who might in time have developed into a great publisher, fell to a fatal brain tumor, had to leave work and finally succumbed a few years ago at the age of only 49. The situation at the paper might have developed differently had Norman remained healthy.

Still, Chandler remained a formidable personality. It is for his aspirations and honest strivings for greatness that he will be fondly remembered.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

L.A. Times Editorial Page Shows Again How Crippled It Is

Today, compounding stupidity with stupidity, the woebegone L.A. Times editorial page again bows to globalism and again supports bringing Arabs in to guard U.S. port security.

Again, the Times shows it is unworthy of its readership, cares not a jot for the safety of the country and yields to liberalism and all its dangers regardless of all other considerations. This is the nicest way I can say it.

Shame on you, Andres Martinez and Nick Goldberg, the editorial page and op-ed page editors. They are the architects of the purges of the editorial pages writers, under the Chicago publisher Jeff Johnson.

Now, today, they take on California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has had the temerity to question the deal whifh would make Dubai Arabs the masters of six U.S. ports at a time when Arab Madrassas throughtout the Middle East openly speak of using atomic weapons against the American people.

Fortunately, Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor would not be among the six. But, surprise, I am just as opposed to seeing New York, Newark, Miami and other cities nuked as Los Angeles.

It is high time that either the L.A. Times, under the squalid Tribune Co., puts the national interest above globalism, recognizes that the world is a dangerous place and becomes, at long last, patriots for once, or confesses openly it is not publishing a worthy newspaper and gets out of the business.

Big business doesn't just quit, I know. A reasonable group of people would sell out to the highest bidder.

In the meantime, for heaven's sake, stop favoring Arabs over Americans. Stop disgracing yourselves.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Iraqis Burning Mosques By The Scores As Situation Deteriorates

If the U.S. military had destroyed scores of mosques and blew up one of the most historic Muslim shrines, can't you imagine the reaction in the Muslim world?

Yet when the Muslims blow up their own mosques, there is little protest or reaction. Too much of Islam is insensitive to the most barbaric acts. It prefers to protest cartoons and tries to destroy the freedom of the rest of the world.

These people in Iraq show themselves to be the dregs of the earth. It may become inevitable to dismember the country, give the oil to the Kurds and the Shiites, and let a rump Sunni Iraq starve.

In an ediorial Feb. 24, the London Times commented, "Until now, Iraq's neighbors have pretended the turmoil on their doorstep was none of their concern, while giving covert and deadly support to some of the extremists leading the insurgency. Now all can see where such irresponsible meddling leads to polarisation, desecration and the brink of civil war. The reaction has been as depressing as it is familiar. Most of the Arab world, so angrily denunciatory of the insult perceived in the Danish cartoons, has remained silent. Iran's deluded President has gone further: the destruction of the golden dome at the Askariya shrine was the work of "defeated Zionists and occupiers," he ranted to a crowd, insisting that the Americans had bombed the mosque because "they oppose God and justice."

"If others in the region hope to halt such reckless incitement before it spills over into their own countries, it is time to edo something now..."

I favor this solution. The U.S. policy of placating Sunnis hasn't worked. We ought now to pay some attention to what is in our interest above all others. The Kurds are willing to be our allies. They should be given all of the country they want. And unless the Shiites are willing to fight for themselves, we shouldn't lift a finger for them.

It was a mistake in retrospect to try to preserve or improve a country which has a 4,000-year-old record of tyranny. After going along with one foul dictator after another, the Iraqi people as a whole deserve nothing, and its constituent parts might be better able to make something out of themselves.

The U.S., again in retrospect, should have reacted decisively when the rebellion began, with a broad pattern of bombing the most recalcitrant areas in the so-called Sunni Triangle to teach this woeful collection of undeserving religious fanatics the same kind of wholesome lesson the Germans and Japanese got in World War II.

By comparison, Afghanistan, with its tradition of independence deserves better of the world.

So we may have come to a decisive point. U.S. understanding of the Iraqi people and their desires, if they have any that are rational, is not fundamentally necessary. There is no reason for that country continue to survive as a whole. The danger, of course, is that a dismembered Iraq could lead to a dismembered Middle East.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Keep Dubai Arabs Away From U.S. Ports

There we have that unusual sight this morning: L.A. Times editorial page editor Andres Martinez and President George W. Bush are on the same side.

Both want to put Dubai Arabs in charge of six U.S. ports and their security.

In this respect, both are nuttier than fruitcakes.

If there is any likely place where Osama bin Laden and his friends would try to smuggle an atomic bomb into the U.S. and blow it up, it's our ports, particularly such places as New York, Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Baltimore and Newark.

I would certainly expect the Times editorial page, doing whatever the sad sacks in Chicago want them to, to support such a foolish gesture to global tolerance. After all, read the editorial pages, Nick Goldberg and all the rest, and realize that these exponents of world understanding never saw a terrorist they didn't like, ranging from the Hamas movement to the Sunnis blowing up sacred mosques in Iraq, as happened just today. If Nick Goldberg had been Indira Gandhi, he too would have hired Sikh security guards and, as she did, paid the price.

But President Bush? What could be the explanation for his sudden departure into lunacy? Maybe, it was George W. Bush who was shot by Vice President Dick Cheney out on the quail hunt the other day, and we still haven't gotten the full story.

No, folks, while I'm not normally an admirer of Sens. Frist and Gov. Corzine, I would stick with their judgment on this one.

And so does the New York Times. Its editorial this morning questions letting the Arabs take over the ports.

Everything in balance, I believe it would be better to turn our ports over to these Danish newspaper editors who believe in calling things what they are.

Not that Dubai doesn't have its charms. I once had a dinner there which featured all the caviar you could eat for $30.

That should remain its contribution to world peace.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Wall St. Is Closing In On Dennis FitzSimons

Thanks to Kevin Roderick's L.A. Observed, we can see that Wall St. is steadily closing in on the inept Dennis FitzSimons, the always clueless CEO of the Tribune Co.

Surely, some time this year, FitzSimons will be through, and I would guess it might happen the next time the L.A. Times posts its circulation numbers. A continuing fall of circulation could well result in the ouster of a witless leader who might be better qualified to run a Chicago hot dog stand than the Tribune Co.

L.A. Observed reports there is "tough talk in Crain's Chicago Business about the L.A. Times being a serious drag on the Tribune Co.--and charging way more for ads than the waning circulation numbers justify."

I like pungent quotes, and there is none more pungent in Crain's than from Edward J. Atorino of Benchmark & Co.

"They've been throwing anything they can think of at that paper (the Times) and nothing seems to work," says Atorino. "Wall St. likes the company (really????), and we love Dennis (like the Italian people loved Mussolini at the end), but if results don't start improving...it's going to be merciless."

I was trying in my mind to define "merciless." I would guess it means FitzSimons would be rendered to a meat grinder, feet first, as he screamed all the way.

And doesn't he deserve it? Isn't he the man who pays himself more each year, as he fires people and destroys careers?

The same Crain's report tells us that Tribune Publishing President Scott Smith, another nebish of the first order, in a recent conference with Wall St. analysts, said the pace of advertising revenue in L.A. slowed in the first nine months of 2005, and declined 3% during the fourth quarter, with total ad lineage dropping 13%.

No surprise there, when you consider the Tribune Co. employes absolutely the most spiritless ad salesmen L.A. has ever seen, according to what I'm told.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Weekly reports its ad revenues grew 8% in 2005.

No really late word here about circulation. But there is very little evidence that FitzSimons, Smith or their L.A. flunky, publisher Jeff Johnson, really have an effective circulation drive under way.

The Tribune board has to be unhappy. They've got to be getting the long knives out for these fellows' necks.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ron Brownstein Column In LAT Gives GOP Committee Its Due

Kudos (for once) to the L.A. Times' Washington columnist Ronald Brownstein for his excellent Sunday column paying tribute to the special committee of House Republicans which tore the Bush Administration to pieces over its dilatory handling of Hurricane Katrina.

It shows once again, among other things, that the LAT's best columns are written outside the editorial pages, where the weeks and months go by with little or nothing distinguished under Andres Martinez, the editorial page director who fired Pulitzer Prize winners as part of a Stalin-like purge.

Brownstein gives credit where it's due to the report of the committee headed by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). This is the investigatory committee which the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, refused to appoint any Democrats to, because she said it would be a whitewash.

Brownstein suggests this raises some questions also about Pelosi's competence. Those questions should have been raised long before, because Pelosi gives very little sound leadership in Congress to the Democrats, a party that certainly needs it.

When the secretive Bush Administration refused, as might have been expected, to cooperate with Davis' committee, the Virginian went right ahead anyway with his investigation and was able to document how the Administration was caught napping by the hurricane.

The sharply-worded report shows how the disastrous levee breaks in New Orleans were observed and reported to a sleeping White House, which did nothing while President Bush was on vacation.

Brownstein concludes, "The strong work by Davis and his colleagues shouldn't be the last word in Katrina inquiries. Pelosi was myopic in boycotting this panel, but she's right that a government failure this profound deserves an independent commission. In the meantime, Pelosi should remember that even when Democrats suspect the deck is stacked, they retain an obligation to represent their constituents. Seeking to undermine the credibility of Davis' investigation, she only tarnished her own."

This is probably not the last time in this mid-term election year where the Republicans in Congress join in maligning an administration which in many respects has hardly been a model of good government. Without a little independence, the Republicans in Congress are likely to lose out in the elections, and they know it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Don't Close The Guantanamo Camp For Terrorists

As I read "Ghost Wars" by Steve Coll, on the history of CIA involvement in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion in 1979 until the 9-11 strikes by Osama bin Laden, one of the most striking pictures is the hesitancy around Bill Clinton's White House in the efforts to go after bin Laden.

Time and again, U.S. operatives had him pinpointed, yet Clinton, a weak president if there ever was one, held off. Three thousand hapless victims in the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington paid the price on 9-11 of this fatal weakness on the part of the President and his closest associates.

And now, we have to ask ourselves, is the Bush Administration all that more decisive in the War on Terror? Months go by, and yet there are only a few known strikes at the area of Afghanistan and Pakistan where bin Laden is believed hiding, still plotting against the U.S. and European interests. Perhaps planning a nuclear or biological attack.

Now, we hear from Kofi Annan and his fellow appeasement advocates at that sickly and worthless organization, the United Nations, telling the U.S. we ought to close the prison camp for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

This would be a signal to the whole world that we really don't mean to kill off the Muslim fanatics led by bin Laden.

The Coll book makes it plain that the U.S. has many persons in its military and intelligence services who are strong fighters, devoted to the national interest.

Yet what can they do, if, when the moment comes, their commanders are overly hesitant?

Why is it that a few newspaper editors in Denmark turn out to be more aggressive at identifying the characteristics of Islam than the leaders of the Bush Administration?

The fire of terrorism continues to burn. Just today, mobs attacked the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Scores have died in extremist riots in Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere in the past two weeks in the cartoon controversy, while U.S. editors decline to even print the cartoons.

What kind of war is this, when the U.S. is reluctant to defend itself?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Olympics Covered With Too Much Emphasis On Americans

I'm in solid agreement with the letter appearing in the L.A. Times Sports section today from Carol Weissberg of Chatsworth.

"I don't know what constitutes a 'champion' in the eyes of the journalists reporting on Michelle Kwan's withdrawal from the Olympics," Weissberg writes, "but the last time I looked she had won two medals, a silver and a bronze, in the 1988 and 2002 Games. The overemphasis on winning the gold is an affront to the Olympic experience."

Indeed. Whatever happened to the idea that participation, not winning, was the mark of nobility in the Olympics?

Instead, the way the Games are covered on NBC, you'd think that the only thing that counts is the American gold medal winners.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Mayor Villaraigosa And His Police Commission Are Making A Disappointing Start

To its credit, the L.A. Times editorial page takes a clear stand this morning for the public identification of LAPD officers involved in shootings or other violent acts, and the editorial is backed up by an op-ed page column by former USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, who is now at the Duke Law School.

Chemerinsky notes, "Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa campaigned for office, in part, on promises to reform the LAPD. It is particularly disappointing to see him break this promise by caving in to pressure from the police union and supporting reinstatement of a secrecy policy that was rejected more than a quarter of a century ago."

As a supporter last year of Villaraigosa's election, I too am very disappointed that what was supposedly going to be a progressive police commission, with such members as civil rights activist John Mack and Andrea Ordin, begins its tenure with such a retrogressive step.

I remarked to a friend in the judiciary this morning that it smacks of a behind-the-scenes deal and one that should, indeed, be strongly resisted. It seems to me that maybe a new police commission had been snowed into a stupid decision by a city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, who is running for higher office and may have made a foolish promise to the police union. Delgadillo, no great city attorney, is running against Oakland Mayor and former Gov. Jerry Brown for state attorney general in the Democratic primary, and very likely wants to use all this to assail Brown.

A more sophisticated L.A. Times editorial than the one written this morning might very well have raised a question about Delgadillo and the Police Commission action in this context.

Openness about police conduct is far more important than a politician's aspirations for higher office, and there is every likelihood that the prospect of bad personal publicity serves as an important deterrent to unsavory shootings by police officers.

This is a matter which deserves, indeed, more than a Times editorial. Progressive elements of the community, including the minorities and civil liberties spokespersons need to be speaking out in a strong way, to provide counterbalancing forces within the Los Angeles Police Commission, so that it will reverse itself.

The Times editorial this morning calls for legislation to make the law clear that identification of police officers in such matters is a matter of public policy. Yet legislation takes time, and it is worth noting that we have a governor who has already shown a weakness for catering to special interests.

In short, it might be a long time, under the present political environment, before corrective action is taken to reestablish in Los Angeles a policy which has been followed for a long time anyway. The way to reestablish it is for Villaraigosa to intervene and send a clear public signal to his police commissioners that they should act in the public interest in this situation.

Given Los Angeles history, two terrible riots and a record of discrimination and brutality on the part of the LAPD, a reestablishment of secrecy to protect possibly errant officers is a very bad policy. It should not be re instituted.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Russia, France Put Pressure On Iran On Nuclear Arms

Late news dispatches this morning make it clear that the U.S. is not the only great power to have very serious concern about Iran's nuclear program. Both Russia and France are pressuring the Iranians.

First, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared in Vienna that Moscow will only host Iran's uranium enrichment program (as an alternative to the Iranians doing it themselves) if Tehran agrees to re-impose an indefinite freeze on enrichment at home.

In Paris, meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Philipppe Douste-Blazy said directly that Iran's nuclear program is a cover for clandestine military activity.

"No civil nuclear program can explain the Iranian nuclear program," the French minister said. "It is a clandestine military nuclear program. The international community has sent a very firm message telling the Iranians to return to reason and suspend all nuclear activity and the enrichment and conversion of uranium, but they aren't listening to us."

What has become evident in recent weeks is that the other big powers, notably Russia and China, have adjusted their position closer to the American one re the Iranians.

Meanwhile, Iran gives contrary signals. One day, it seems more reasonable, the next not so. There is every reason to believe Iran is being deliberately duplicitous. No one believes the Iranians because the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly found it was trying to keep secrets about what it was doing to develop atomic arms. Just today, it was revealed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's spiritual advisor had issued a fatwa saying it was entirely permissible under religious law to use nuclear weapons.

The Iranians, by the way, have been putting pressure on the French in the cartoon controversy, associating the Danish cartoons somehow with the French. This after French President Jacques Chirac made the remark that France does not rule out responding to atomic terrorism by using its own nuclear arms.

This is only the beginning of a long test between Iran and the big powers. But at least the Bush Administration has a fair chance to gaining the support it needs to keep Iran in line. The rest of the world powers are beginning to wake up to the dangers of Iranian extremism.

Iran, meanwhile, goes from nukes to silliness. Today, there's a report that Danish pastries in the Iranian capital have been renamed and are now being sold under the name, "roses of the Prophet Muhammad." I'm not sure I would be rushing out to buy any.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

It Was Time To Do Something About L.A.'s Police Problems 40 Years Ago

If there's been anything persistent in Los Angeles area life over the past 40 years, it's been police and sheriff's problems. We were in need of reform back in 1965, when I became an L.A. Times reporter, and we still are.

Just in recent weeks, new trouble has erupted in what is, frankly, a history which has consistently been sordid. Los Angeles has had two major riots related in part to problems of poor and/or brutal policing, and the situation in its jails remains a violent one, with many unnecessary inmate deaths and gross mismanagement over the years. Not even the ordinary health of inmates is being adequately cared for.

During all that time, the L.A. Times has backed police reform, although it did so, I believe, more strongly in periods before the present outsider-controlled editorial page staff took over.

Two issues have dominated law enforcement news coverage recently. Both reflect problems that over 40 years have not gone away. Both have a lot to do with racial tensions in a city where they are never absent.

We learn that the Los Angeles Police Commission, a group which has often traditionally been weak on disciplining errant police officers, now wants to stop identifying officers involved in shooting citizens, not to mention a host of other violent offenses. A murky state law is cited as the excuse.

Given the fact that police-involved shootings and beatings over the years have frequently been a cause of some of the worst controversies, this would simply not be a prudent step. To the extent that publicity serves as a deterrent to police violence, and I believe it does, ending the practice of identifying the officers involved could easily lead both to more shootings and poorer investigations of those which do occur. This would be a step, to say the least, in the wrong direction. The paper, I believe, has a civic duty to forcefully oppose it, and we should not rely on a few publicly-spirited minority representatives, such as legislator Gloria Romero, to lead the way. A policy of openness in police shootings and other violence is a need of the whole community.

Also, there have been, in recent weeks, a series of racial fights within the county jail system, which has been mismanaged for a long, long time by the rinky-dink Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, under the inept Sheriff Lee Baca. There have been deaths in some of these fights.

The County Board of Supervisors has for a considerable time now had a private attorney, Merrick Bobb, monitoring such issues at the Sheriff's Department as a whole and its jail system in particular. Bobb does a good job, but often his reports are not accorded enough attention.

One problem is that the Sheriff's Department has both a policing and jailing function, and young deputies often start their service in the jails. It's not, I feel, the best introduction to law enforcement.

The opinion within the department, which I used to cover part time for the Times, is that Baca is not really up to the job of Sheriff, and the department could be in better hands. Unfortunately, it is usually difficult to defeat an incumbent sheriff at the polls.

In this case, if there are to be improvements, the Board of Supervisors, is going to have to step in and assume a stronger regulatory position, and funding is going to have to be increased. Perhaps, this will not happen without a court order.

There have been far too many instances of violence within the prisons which have not been rectified by the authorities. Some of the issues concerning it are devilishly difficult, such as segregating prisoners of different ethnic groups and keeping the most violent offenders isolated from less violent ones.

Yet doing something about these problems must be a high priority. The Times, as a paper, and other news media in the L.A. area, can help the situation by covering the problems intensively and editorializing for constructive change. But the community as a whole probably needs a new Christopher Commission to reconsider police and Sheriff's reform.

Matt Lait and Scott Glover, the L.A. Times' main investigative reporters on the LAPD, do a good job. They deserve the support of the editorial pages and in the community.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

NYT Says Domestic CNN Shows Glimmers Of Success Vs. Fox

A lengthy New York Times article by Jacques Steinberg Monday, Feb. 13, finds some glimmers of competitive success for domestic CNN versus Fox News in the vital 25-54 age group, though Fox retains a big edge overall.

The issues raised could also provide grist for Matea Gold, the able media writer in New York for the L.A. Times, since it's obvious that the American political situation is influenced in the competition between the two cable channels, with Fox continuing to be a mouthpiece for Bush Administration views, and CNN much friendlier to the Democrats.

Steinberg's argument at times seems a little tortured. He acknowledges that the ratings contest between the two news outlets remains lopsided, with Fox last year drawing on the average during prime time 2.05 million viewers, compared to only 936,000 for CNN.

Recently, writing from India, I gave CNN International horrible marks for its coverage of the Hamas victory and other topics. It seems that CNN attention to its international outlet has languished. Fox is much less a factor in the ratings overseas since few foreign media buyers are interested in such a onesided presentation of the news.

But domestic CNN, under the leadership of Jonathan Klein, head of CNN domestic operations, seems to be chopping a bit into Fox here at home, especially with Anderson Cooper, the replacement for Aaron Brown, in nightly news, and with Paula Zahn a bit earlier in the evening. Cooper is picking up more of Larry King's audience and Zahn has cut a bit into Bill O'Reilly's lead, especially among the younger viewers.

This comes at a time when the Bush Administration has fallen into many difficulties emanating from both the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and developments in the Middle East, where we seem to be going from turbulence to turbulence with, especially, little or no difference occurring in the Iraq war.

Steinberg seems to see CNN faring quite well in breaking news, pushing hard on the big stories.

Fox continues to be very favorable to the Administration, but the regular news networks, NBC, ABC and CBS, are much more balanced. All in all, with the midterm elections approaching, it begins to look as the Democrats may get a fair shake in some coverage.

With some stories, such as the UN report critical of U.S. interrogation policies at Guantanamo Bay, there is natural sympathy domestically for the Administration. The UN does to the U.S. as it does to the Israelis. It is overwhelmingly against everything we are trying to do, and Fox gains an edge in covering such stories.

Monday, February 13, 2006

It's Much Too Early To Count Hillary Clinton Out

"At the Lectern, Critics and Admirers Agree, Hillary Clinton Is No Bill Clinton," is a headline today on the New York Report page of the New York Times. And the article goes on to denigrate Hillary's speaking style versus that of her husband. It's the latest Hillary-bashing to appear, ranging from former presidential aide Dick Morris to a whole host of critics of a presidential campaign that remains more than two years away.

To put it mildly, I think it's too early to write Hillary Clinton off.

When she ran for U.S. Senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton turned out to be a persuasive campaigner. She did better than expected in traditionally Republican upstate, she worked hard in her campaign, and she has established herself as a prominent, hardworking member of the Senate.

So why is it that she draws so much negative ink? I suspect it's because her political opponents fear her more than dislike her.

Some political families, the Bushes, the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, the Tafts in Ohio seem to draw as much invective as Abraham Lincoln, and yet, in the end, he fared fairly well in public opinion.

At this moment, we have little knowledge under what conditions the 2008 Presidential campaign may unfold, and it is only speculation who will be among the most potent candidates.

Yes, Hillary Clinton, is working to become such a candidate, but in the end, like Mario Cuomo several times, she may decide not even to run.

The New York Times today, in the article by Raymond Hernandez, says she is not as inspiring a public speaker as Bill Clinton.

So what? Jimmy Carter was not a very good public speaker when I followed his 1976 Presidential campaign, yet it does not seem to have kept him from the Presidency.

As a Republican, I do not find Hillary one of my favorite politicians. But I like her better than Bill. I like her open mindedness on the War on Terror and her support of the U.S. military. She has traveled to Iraq, she has become a friend of Sen. John McCain. In short, she is preparing herself far better on foreign affairs than her husband ever did.

We'll see something in the mid-term elections this year, but I suspect the American people will feel, after eight years of George W. Bush, that it will be time for a change. In that case, as I say, it is far too early to count Hillary Clinton out.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Tim Rutten Shows Outstanding Grit in Columns On Cartoons

Tim Rutten has shown just what a tough, outstanding columnist he is for the L.A. Times in his two most recent articles, both on the furore conjured up by fanatic Muslims over critical depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.

Rutten would be a distinguished editorial page editor in a Times freed of the mediocre grip of the Chicago Tribune.

His latest column yesterday, "Let's be honest about cartoons" takes on Times Editor Dean Baquet as to whether the Times should illustrate its articles about the cartoons by actually reprinting samples of the original work by courageous Danish cartoonists.

Baquet, who has unwisely given up control over the editorial pages of the paper to minions from Chicago, says no. Rutten argues yes. Baquet, falling victim to a too-frequent tendency to want to have it both ways, tells Rutten, no he can't run the cartoons, but he should write the toughest possible column.

The Times, acccording to Rutten, will print all kinds of reviews critical of the Catholic Church, and allow fulsome reports of anti-Semitic cartoons emanating regularly out of the Arab World. But it will not show its own readers even a sample, inside the Calendar pages, of the cartoons that appeared in September in Denmark.

It used to be said that Rutten could be too complex in his writing, lose his readers in indirectiveness. This is not the case in recent months, in which Rutten has turned in the most incisive writing on media topics in the American press today. One aspect of the cartoon controversy is its pertinence to reform from within Islam. Without challenge by moderate Muslims, the extremists flourish.

Ruttin has always been independent and honest. At a time when the Times has too often been going down hill, Rutten has always leveled with the readers and never, as an editor and a columnist, showed an unwillingness to practice what the late columnist James Reston of the New York Times termed calling "a spade a bloody shovel," in other words calling things what they are.

In his columns last Saturday and this Saturday, Rutten has devoted himself to pointing up the glaring discord between complaints and threats coming from the Muslim world over mildly-critical cartoons about Muslim reform and the willingness in the Middle East to slander Jews and Christians.

The thugs who lead Iran and Syria have called for punishing the cartoonists and craven apologies from the Danish and other governments, while themselves pursuing a policy of venomous invective against other religions and cultures.

Meanwhile, too many leaders in the American media have failed to give their readers any clear sense of what the controversy is about. As Rutten says, they have allowed themselves to be terrorized. Rutten gives the New York Times and CNN as examples, but he could just as well name Time magazine, which is under new, characterless direction.

These are the same publications who are about to allow the Catholic Church to be slandered in the phony, I do not use the mere word fictional, Da Vinci Code movie.

"Give me liberty or give me death," said the Virginia patriot, Patrick Henry. The service Tim Rutten has been performing is not to allow American media gurus such as Wolf Blitzer get away with saying, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Muslim Fanaticism, as long as the Fanatics Don't Go After Me."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Munitz Resignation At Getty Shows True LAT Investigative Instinct

The resignation in what amounts to disgrace of Barry Munitz as head of the J. Paul Getty Trust shows once again the true instinct displayed by L.A. Times editors in choosing their subjects for major investigative pieces.

Congratulations to the authors of these pieces, which began back in June. They are Jason Felch, Ralph Frammolino and Robin Fields.

I should acknowledge at the outset that I personally did not show that true instinct when first commenting on the reports on Munitz.

Initially, I took the position that there had not been enough concentration on whether the heavy spending by Munitz was justified by the quality of acquisitions for the Getty.

As further reports, and an attorney general's investigation, verified, however, the spending was not justified, and that was the position taken by the writers from the beginning.

It demonstrates that leaders of these charitable institutions do offend the public when they live high off the hog and, as in the Munitz case, hire unqualified people to do the good work with which they are charged.

Los Angeles is surely entitled to have responsible direction of an organization as important to the community as the Getty, and just because these organizations are private does not absolve their directors of acting correctly. Tax and other laws on philanthropic institutions restrict the way such organizations can operate, and the Munitz affair shows the validity of thosee laws.

In the denouement of this affair, Munitz, while not admitting wrong doing, nonetheless has agrered to pay back $250,000 and forfeit any severance.

Now, if only Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of the Tribune Co., gives back some of his exorbitant salary while headed out the door, this will really be a great week.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Cartoon Controversy, Some Willful Misunderstandings

Written from Auckland, New Zealand--

There is a saying that New Zealand is more like Great Britain than any other country, and it's clear when you're here that right down to the food, which is none too highly spiced, there is a marked empathy between this country and its people and the British.

So, it was interesting and rather inspiring to see here this week that the leading New Zealand newspapers gave very extensive coverage to the trial, conviction and sentencing to seven years in prison of the British imam, Abu Hamza al-Masri, for hatemongering.

One paper printed three long articles, including a compilation of just what this man has been saying, as recorded by British security services and testified to at his trial.

Among other things he declared was that Allah loves the shedding of blood, espeicially of Westerners and other infidels. There were many other statements urging murders and veritable genocide.

Anyone reading this coverage must take it seriously. This imam and others like him, in Syria, Iran, Iraq and other havens of Islamic extremism in the Middle East, literally intend to destroy freedom. For them, the War On Terror is a war to destroy free societies, like Denmark, Norway, Britain, France and the United States.

That's why I believe those who belittle the American response, or believe we have a choice whether to respond or not, are fooling themselves badly. If we do not respond, it is going to give our enemies a far greater chance to prevail. And prevailing could mean the atomic destruction of American and European cities.

Someone who comments on my blog remarked this week that I had written enough about the cartoonist controversy.

With all due respect, I don't think so. What happened with the cartoons was a serious warning. We ignore it at our own peril.

A group of Danish cartoonists prepared some mildly critical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. With suicide bombings rife in the world, it was not excessive to depict him with a bomb in his turban, since some of his followers seek to extoll that part of his character.

But, as Steve Emerson, the terrorist expert, has documented, a group of imams then drew up some more outragewous cartoons, including one depicting Mohammed as having the head of a pig. When these were circulated in the Middle East, there was an explosion. Mobsburned down the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria and Lebanon. There were murders in Afghanistan and demands in Iraq and Iran that Western countries take steps to abrogate their own press freedoms. In London, demonstrators urged the execution of the cartoonists and called for more suicide bombings.

This bears a distinct resemblance to Kristallnicht in Germany in 1938, when the Nazie took a shooting of the German diplomat, Von Rom, in Paris and used it to commit widescale outrages against Jews in Germany that presaged in a real way the Holocaust.

What is going on today represents in my view a new threat. That is why I have been so persistent an exponent of U.S. and British policy in recent years. As the New Zealand papers pointed out, the U.S. and Britain, are carrying on the fight for freedom, and they deserve the support and sympathy of us all.

Now, a huge demonstration has been called for this weekend in London. Those who participate, it is not too much to say, represent the threeat we face.

"Be ye men of valor," Winston Churchill admonished us in 1940. His call to the gallant soldiers defending our freedom is pertinent today.

Not Such A Big Surprise; FitzSimons Pays Himself Handsomely While Firing People

Written from Hamilton, New Zealand--

Geoff Dougherty of the Chicago Daily News does us all a service in taking a look at the excessive compensation being paid to Dennis FitzSimons, the woebegone CEO of the Tribune Co.

This is the same man who has the gall to send out company messages beseeching everyone to believe Tribune is one unified company, when he disunifies it by paying himself $11.3 million, as the profit dives 38%.

What is adequate compensation for such folks? They work hard, but they show their incompetence day by day.

At the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, Peter Ueberroth and Harry Usher took handsome bonuses, but only after they had made a big profit. On the way to that profit, Ueberroth didn't take any salary at all.

FitzSimons lives, it seems, also to do Wall Street bidding. Every time he fires employees, he hopes the stock market will appreciate the price of Tribune stock. But the market has been disappointing.

Of course, I hate to be too negative about him. It could be that FitzSimons will eventually learn how to run a big newspaper chain, although he has not shown any such talents so far.

FitzSimons got $11.3 million, but that still wasn't generous enough for him to take a taxi downtown to personally deliver the word of cutbacks at the L.A.
Times. Instead, he stayed at the Burbank Airport.

So, his salary should be cut, and then, those who sympathize with him can send him the two cents he is worth.

This calls for some Danish cartoons.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Those Who Urge Suicide Bombings And Beheadings Have No Place In London

Written from Hamilton, New Zealand--

The British Government has properly declared that those who demonstrated at the Danish Embassy in London over last weekend, calling for beheading Danish cartoonists who depicted the Prophet Mohammed, or new suicide bombings, will be prosecuted under British law.

This is what we should expect. It is important that those Muslims and others who have immigrated to Western countries understand they must live by the democratic standards of those countries. If they are violent, or advocate violence, they should be deported without question, even if large numbers are involved.

In the aftermath of the cartoon riots and burnings, the fanaticism of Islamic extremists is clearer than ever. These people have no place in the West, and they are, increasingly, a menace.

It is striking on my visit to New Zealand how the newspapers here are filled with reports that New Zealand is somehow to pay a penalty for reprinting of some of the cartoons in local newspaers. New Zealand emissaries have been called in to see Iranian officials, for example, who tell them that trade pacts are being cancelled, costing New Zealand interests a potential of more than $100 million. Iran, as in the past, cannot wait to be rude and uncivilized.

This is tantamount to an attempt by Iran to still free voices in New Zealand.

It is striking, indeed, that such threats are being made against the world's most civilized countries, Austria, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden.

And the answer from Western powers such as the U.S., Britain and France should be clear. We should denounce such threats in plain language. We should notify the perpetrators they will not be permitted to spread such tactics.

There is something of the early Nazi machinations in all this. When Nazism was not crushed it grew more virulent and finally had to be crushed.

Fanaticism is rising once again, as Albert Camus foresaw at the end of his book, The Plague. While not giving way to prejudice, both Europe and the U.S. must make it clear we will fight back against suicide jihadists. Otherwise, what happened over the weekend in Damascus and Beirut, just as the suicide bombings in Israel, Iraq, Pakistan and Jordan, are sure to intensify.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cartoons Are Purposefully Exaggerated By Muslim Conspirators

Written from Mumbai, India--

As good as Tim Rutten's column on the Muslim cartoon controversy was in the L.A. Times Calendar section Saturday, Feb. 4, it did omit the discovery by Steve Emerson, the U.S. terrorist expert, that the original Danish cartoons on the Prophet Mohammed were exaggerated horribly by a team of Muslim conspirators before they achieved such notoriety.

Between September, when the cartoons first appeared, and this past week, when thugs from the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad burned down the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, these people circulated cartoons that extended the insult and excerbated feelings among many Muslims. They showed, among other things, Mohammed with the head of a pig.

This is what the War on Terror increasingly is all about, an attempt on the part of the worst fanatics to build religious tensions to the point there will be an explosion of cataclysmic proportions. They want to complete Hitler's work.

The situation in the world is alarming. As the UN battles ineffectively to curtail dangerous Iranian nuclear aspirations, there are many who work to rouse Muslim anger.

Who are these people? Spiritually, they are the same people who attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

When the U.S. responded to these acts of war as it had to, launching attacks to wipe out the nests of the vipers, some misguided people accused the Bush Administration of overresponding.

But the fact is that uncivilized forces are running amuck in the world and we see them in work again in the cartoon issue. They seek to convince us we should curtail our own freedoms in the interests of political correctness.

Just this morning, we see pictures of Muslim mobs in London, and fanatic clerics in Iraq, joining in a call to behead the cartoonists and take other diabolic action.

It's important not to become too excited or give way to fanaticism ourselves. But Western freedoms must be retained. No values are more important.

When the embassies of Denmark and Norway are attacked for any reason, the world must sit up and take notice, lest barbarism win the day and a new Dark Age descend on us all.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

International Herald Tribune Could Run More U.S. News

Written from the former Portuguese Colony of Goa, India--

It takes a day for the International Herald Tribune, the American paper now owned wholly by the New York Times, to arrive in Goa in South India. The Indian edition is printed in Hyderabad in the center of the country, and it costs 30 rupees, which is about 75 cents. It is one of the best bargains in the newspaper business, no matter what they charge. In Germany, the Herald-Tribune costs 2.10 Euros, which is nearly $2.50.

I like the Herald-Tribune, and always read it when I'm abroad. It is an excellent paper on world affairs, perhaps the best.

But its America coverage is insufficient. Rarely, is there any California news, for example, except of the movie business, which gets good coverage even in the Indian newspapers.

I think the rest of the world would understand America, and its passion for equality, a little better if the Herald Tribune printed more American news. America is important, more than the Herald Tribune editors seem to think it is. No one need be apologetic about the importance and example of America.

The Herald-Tribune has an excellent editorial page, with many sophisticated columnists, and it knows what the story is, day by day, except I wish the Iranian nuclear story would move more rapidly. As appropriate, it is paying lots of attention to it, but nothing really ever happens.

It may be time for a dialogue between the U.S. and Iran, although such a dialogue is bound to be slow and filled with obstacles.

The Herald-Tribune has good American sports coverage, and I can even find the Gonzaga basketball scores, which is a blessing. The Australian Open coverage was excellent, but tennis seems to fare fairly well worldwide anyway.

The greatest foreign affairs columnist of all for my money was C.L. Sulzberger of the New York Times, who, of course, is long gone. I always remember, however, his great sources, his knowledge of the Middle East and his faith that Charles de Gaulle would one day return to power. When de Gaulle did return, Sulzberger, who lived in Paris, was in the driver's seat, much more than any columnist today, although William Pfaff, who writes in the Herald Tribune, is fairly sound.

Sulzberger was not exciting, usually, but he was sound, and he had what might be called a "giant's" view of world politics, which was that the de Gaulles, the Stalins and the Churchills counted exponentially more than some of the pipsqueaks who normally strut the world's stage.

When a cabal of French rightwing generals thought, for example, that they could push de Gaulle into maintaining an untenable position in Algeria, Sulzberger never doubted who would win, and he was right.

But even de Gaulle was wrong in letting so many Algerian Muslims who had sided with France into the French Republic after the war. France, unlike the U.S., is not a couuntry that assimilates its minorities very well.

The Herald Tribune is based in Paris, but it now publishes in numerous cities, and its distribution is one of its most admirable characteristics. Still, financially, it is said to be in a difficult position.

Eventually, I continue to believe, the big internet firms, Google and Yahoo, must invest in the newspaper business, because newspapers are important and all serious people read them rather than watch television. Google and Yahoo, of course, are California firms, thank goodness, so the days when the biggest California-owned newspaper publisher is McClatchy should be limited. The best solution would be for the L.A Times to be sold to one of the internet giants, although I acknowledge that Yahoo and Google's recent cowtowing to the Chinese government is not a good sign. Their owners must acquire a little more fiber.

The world is a big place I've found in traveling, so far, to 85 countries. But press control must remain, for the planet's good, in a few sophisticated and toughminded hands. More than that, they must be free hands, and not bureaucratic ones, like the rulers of China.

In the meantime, the world is blessed by such institions as the Herald-Tribune, and, I'm also inclined to say, the Roman Catholic Church, although that's a different subject.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Miriam Pawel Departure, If True, Is Too Bad

Written from the former Portuguese Colony of Goa, India--

I'm sorry, if it's true that Miriam Pawel is leaving the L.A. Times, especially since her worthwhile articles on the UFW, the Farm Worker's Union. The Times dropped its labor beat last year. It needs writers who are interested in the issues of organized labor, even if they are sometimes critical of organized labor.

Pawel may not always have been a warm personality, but she was a competent Metro editor and, I think, deserved better than she received from Tribune Co. management.

Management for some years now, even before the lamentable purchase of the Times by Tribune, has been too quick in some instances to make personnel changes. This goes all the way back to Noel Greenwood, who changed things around as quickly as Joseph Stalin, and almost with the same degree of justice.

Pawel came out from Newsday in a rather mysterious selection by John Carroll as Metro editor. She began with careful interviews of the staff and reached her own independent conclusions as to whom she wanted to be close to.

But I personally found Pawel to be fair. On occasions I had something to say to her, she listened and, I felt, acted wisely. On the big stories, she was responsible. She asked the right questions. I had some qualms about the way she handled the energy crisis, but the Times, as a whole, did not do a particularly good job on that story.

The Times needs always to be fair and independent, and Pawel was, at least in my estimation. I have nothing against Janet Clayton, but I still felt that Carroll's sudden decision to give her Pawel's position was peculiar and may have been more closely related to Carroll's desire to bring Michael Kinsley to the editorial page, where Clayton had served ably.

Anyone can make mistakes and the selection of Kinsley, as it turned out, was a doozy.

Often, when someone is cast aside, as Carroll did with Pawel, they end up with a meaningless job and do nothing worthwhile again. It is best, ultimately, if they leave the paper rather than simply pull down a salary.

But Pawel went to work on a worthwhile project. The Times should have, over the years, paid more attention to the UFW, and there is nothing to indicate that Pawel's view of the organization was not accurate.

Also, I might point out, the evolution of affairs in the Latino community in California is of capital importance. I've felt before that the Times has not given enough attention to the subject, and, besides Pawel, management allowed George Ramos and Frank Sotomayor, who had great pride in their Times jobs, to go. I don't know if they agree with Pawel's view of the UFW. That is not so important as that the Times contribute substantively and frequently to a needed dialogue on Latino subjects.

Did Dean Baquet seek to keep Pawel or Sotomayor? Or did he let them go either by commission or omission? This is a question that needs to be asked.

In the meantime, I'm sorry to see Pawel depart, if indeed she is going. I tried before leaving on my present trip to Germany, India and New Zealand, to call her to discuss her situation, but she did not return my call. I would be happy to talk with her at length about her Times experience when I return.