Friday, June 30, 2006

New York Times Science Sections A Superior Product

If there is anything that clearly marks the New York Times as a superior paper these days, it's Tuesday's Science Times, a weekly section that contains fascinating stories on both science and health.

By contrast, since the relief of Joel Greenberg as science editor in the first days of Tribune Co. control over the L.A. Times, the LAT science coverage has been very sparse indeed. The paper still can run an excellent science story, such as Lee Hotz's piece on the melting Greenland ice cap, and it has good environmental coverage.

But for diversity and depth in science coverage, nothing these days can match the New York Times, which obviously is putting its tremendous resources to good use in this area.

This is one section of the NYT I always look forward to, and am seldom disappointed.
In just recent weeks, its stories on global warming alone have made me feel the high purchase price for a year's Times subscription (six times what I pay to subscribe for a year to the L.A. Times) makes it well worth the price.

Just this week, the Science Times ran a tremendous piece on some long range solutions to global warming, including the possibility of putting sunshades into orbit to cool the planet, or tinkering with clouds to make them reflect more sunlight back into space, or tricking the oceans into absorbing more greenhouse gases.

As this article said, these long range proposals are presently "on the fringes of climate science,...but now, in a major reversal, some of the world's most prominent scientists say the proposals deserve a serious look because of growing concerns about global warming" and lagging international efforts to legislate restrictions on greenhouse gases.

The week before, in the June 20 issue, Science Times led with another global warming article, on the threat rising sea levels pose to beaches around the world.

Coverage in this section of space science is also far above anything other papers are doing. And Jane Brody's weekly column on health issues is usually better than anything the L.A. Times is doing in its entire weekly health section, which continues to be a disappointment.

There is no doubt that good science coverage is a service to the reading public. It is a shame that when John Carroll changed the Metro section into the California section of the L.A. Times, the space for science coverage slipped drastically.

The LAT has fine science and medical reporters, not only Hotz, but Usha McFarling and Tom Maugh among them, but they are no longer given either the direction or the space to do their jobs as they once did. Earthquake coverage alone has slipped since I retired. There are still occasional good stories, but the Times has simply stopped printing reports of most magnitude 4 and larger quakes, which occur usually at least once a week and should serve to keep readers alerted to the quake danger.

A retired senior editor remarked to me recently that the L.A. Times' slippage under the Tribune ownership had not meant that good stories were no longer being produced. The difference, he said, is that the paper these days is uneven and parts of the coverage has slipped.

Meanwhile, the New York Times, with its national edition selling hundreds of thousands of copies a day, is always providing new dimensions of coverage. Science Times has been getting better and better.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Israel Acts Appropriately To Crush Hamas Terrorism

All we need to do to determine that Israel has acted appropriately in its attempts to crush Hamas terrorism and force the safe return of a kidnapped Israeli soldier is to ask ourselves what we would do, were Mexicans for months on end be firing rockets at American territory and then kidnaping Americans on American territory.

Suppose also that the Mexican government was giving its open support to such operations, and, then, having kidnapped an American soldier was telling us that we had to release Mexican prisoners just for information about him, with no assurance that he would be safely released. Suppose also, that a second kidnap victim, an 18-year-old American, had been murdered and his body left on a Mexican street.

Who can doubt that we would send the U.S. Army into Mexico and take all steps necessary to end these acts of war against us?

All these kinds of things have been happening to Israel. The only difference is, the perpetrator is the Hamas "government," not Mexico.

The New York Times goes part of the way to understand the Israeli actions in its editorial this morning, but the Los Angeles Times, under the contemptible editorial direction of Andres Martinez and Chicago-lining publisher Jeff Johnson, puts its prime emphasis on calls for Israeli restraint.

But restraint would only encourage Hamas and lead to even worse attacks. Both of these papers are not only failing to fully stand by beleaguered Israel, they are not supporting the United States in its efforts to subdue Arab terrorism.

In fact, L.A. Times editorials on the current conflict are so cravenly weak that they may create the impression among our enemies that they could launch a terrorist strike against Los Angeles, and we wouldn't react very forcefully. Thus, I don't believe I'm overstating things when I say the weakness of the L.A. Times editorial pages endangers Los Angeles.

For many years now, adherents of barbaric Islamic fundamentalism have undertaken outrageous actions -- kidnappings, suicide bombings, assassinations -- without an adequately forceful response from either the U.S. or Israel.

What we have done, vigorous as it appears to us, has not been enough to bring these acts to an end. In fact, the psychopathic violence is only increasing and spreading to new parts of the world. This is not really surprising, because psychopaths often react to restraint by increasing their violence.

It is not too much to say there is a very great danger that these people, if they were to acquire nuclear weapons or deadly chemicals or biological weapons, would use them against us.

Therefore, there can be no restraint in our responses, unless we want to see the present situation worsen and the threat grow.

We must hope the Israeli actions will show the religious thugs and extremists that they must halt their actions, or face destruction. If they return the soldier, Gilad Shalit, safely and stop all other attacks, then we can all return to the negotiating table.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Fight Over LAT Future Will Go On, After Tribune Buyback Falls Short

As the Wall Street Journal noted this morning, the Tribune Company's stock buyback offer ended yesterday with "weaker-than-expected shareholder participation," and the Chandler family fight against the cost-cutting and debt-assumption strategies of CEO Dennis FitzSimons will go on.

Altogether, 85% of the shares in Tribune were not offered, even though the Tribune Co. ended up paying the top price of $32.50 a share it had offered in the buyback. Not only the Chandlers but other big institutional investors in Tribune did not accept the tender offer.

Although FitzSimons now says the Tribune will buy 20 million more shares on the market, the price will almost certainly be above $32.50, as the recalcitrant investors' bet on a higher stock price is fulfilled. This means even more debt for Tribune, if, indeed, the buyback does continue. Should Tribune Co. realize its buyback goals, the Chandler family would own 16% of the remaining stock and continue in even a stronger position as the biggest stockholder.

The latest word is that Tribune may sell about $500 million of its "non-core" assets, which apparently is taken to mean various television stations and other properties but not including the L.A. Times. Two TV stations have already been sold.

However, in its article on Tribune this week, Fortune magazine noted that sale of the Times would bring a very substantial reduction of the Tribune debt. This could ultimately prove enticing to the Chicago businessmen who dominate the Tribune board and who are exceedingly uncomfortable with anything west of the Mississippi.

The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the Chandler family interests vow to continue their struggle for a change in Tribune policies, and my sense is that FitzSimons has not succeeded in stabilizing the situation. More developments are to be expected.

Meanwhile, the Times editors this morning have moved foreign news from the tail end of Section A to Page 4, in the front of the section, which is a welcome move restoring part of what the foreign bureaus suffered when their position on Page 3 was lost to a second summary page and they were shoved back in the section.

With new intense Iraq war news, and crisis developments in Gaza, Iran, North Korea, and Somalia, it seems clear that foreign news should indeed be given the most prominent location in Section A. In fact, to reiterate a point I've made before, the second summary page ought to be dropped as a waste of space and foreign news restored on Page 3.

It is also reported today that the longtime Times personnel manager under both Otis Chandler and Tom Johnson, Robert L. Flannes, died last Saturday at the age of 85.

Flannes, both pleasant and competent, presided over the very generous personnel policies of the Times which characterized the Norman Chandler, Otis Chandler and Tom Johnson publisherships, including an in house medical staff at three plants, free parking for employees, and an annual wage adjustment which kept employee salaries above national averages in the newspaper business.

Bill Dwyre this morning paid tribute to Flannes as "this kind, wonderful and important man. He was my tennis buddy for years, and my sense was that he was driven by a desire to make sure the employees at the L.A. Times ALWAYS had the best of everything...and for many years they did."

Under the Tribune Company's shortsighted, cost-cutting policies, not to mention Mark Willes, the medical staffing and free parking were dropped, and the wage increases sharply reduced. The Tribune-owned Times no longer keeps up with the standards it once adhered to.

Flannes was present during the halcyon days of the Times, which might return again, if FitzSimons was to admit failure, sell the paper back to local owners and resign.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Taking Issue With NYT, LAT And WSJ On Banking Surveillance Articles

During World War II, there was military censorship, and, in any event, the nation's press was careful not to publish information that could compromise the war effort. Even the number of casualties at Pearl Harbor and the loss of so many ships went unreported in the press for many months.

But in the present War on Terror, with, I believe. stakes that are just as high, perhaps higher with a serious prospect of nuclear, chemical or biological attacks against the U.S. and other Western countries, the press has come dangerously close to undermining the war effort.

In L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet's explanation this morning of the newspaper's decision to follow the New York Times, and publish last Friday an article about the U.S. Treasury Department's program to secretly monitor worldwide money transfers in order to track terrorist financing, he remarks, "We are not out to get the president."

But this strikes me as rather disingenuous. It has been very clear reading the NYT and LAT these past months that there is an undercurrent of antipathy to President Bush and his Administration, in not only the editorial pages but the news sections as well. This underlies repeated decisions by the editors to publish information which, frankly, may be deleterious to the war effort.

Yes, I realize there are important civil liberties issues here. I tended to support, for instance, publication of information about federal surveillance of domestic telephone calls, because that did appear to have a direct effort on routine communications, despite assurances that it was mainly aimed at communications from abroad.

But I think that with the banking article, the newspapers may have crossed a line. This had less of a direct effect on ordinary American citizens, and publication of the reports threatened, as the Administration said, cooperation from skittish Europeans in preventing possibly fearsome attacks.

These are, as both Baquet and NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller have said, difficult decisions, and I'm not saying either editor willy-nelly is out to subvert the war effort. But that may have been the effect of their decisions.

The president yesterday sharply assailed the publication, saying, "The disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America."

This is the president's judgment and in time of war the newspapers should give some deference to it, in my view.

Baquet in his article this morning makes a strong argument when he writes that the papers "have an obligation to cover the government, with its tremendous power, and to offer information about its activities so citizens can make their own decisions. That's the role of the press in our democracy."

Yes, but the question here is one of degree. The newspapers and the nation must also recognize that were our enemies to prevail in the war, their freedom to publish could be drastically curtailed. Their freedom, were religious fanatics to take over, could even be lost totally.

Brutality surrounds us in this war. In Iraq, two U.S. soldiers were crudely murdered last week after falling into the hands of the enemy. Four Russian diplomats were also murdered. In Iran, the religious chief of the state just this morning said he doesn't want negotiations with the United States over Iran's nuclear program. In Somalia, Islamist victories have been followed by the order, by the newly designated leader, to stone to death five rapists, rather than simply imprisoning them. The L.A. Times today contains a report on life in Somalia which tells the gruesome story of the murder of a cinema owner by religious thugs in Mogadishu for having the temerity to show the World Cup. In Gaza, the Israeli withdrawal, an attempt to generate a more peaceful relationship with the Palestinians, has been followed by persistent rocket attacks on an Israeli town and other aggressive actions.

There ought to be little doubt that such barbarism will spread unless the war is successfully prosecuted.

That the Administration has an anti-press attitude cannot be denied. Some times, as in the Judith Miller case, and threats now that the New York Times might be prosecuted for publishing various articles, the Administration too has stepped beyond a reasonable position.

But for me the bottom line is that the press, on its side, should go back to its World War II policies and, fundamentally, side with the war effort.

That may not be a popular position with many readers of this blog. But I'm going to stand by it.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Chandler Family Is Indeed Dollar Conscious, But Still Right About FitzSimons

In a frank and, so far as I know, accurate and commendable story, L.A. Times writer Mitchell Landsberg made it clear in the Business section Sunday that pecuniary considerations underlie the Chandler family's split with the Tribune Co. CEO, Dennis FitzSimons.

As the late Times editor, Nick Williams, reportedly said years ago, "Nothing stands between the Chandlers and a dollar." (But, of course, this was not true of Otis Chandler, who would rather have had a great newspaper than cut costs. He was shoved aside by more mercenary elements of the family, which have become dominant).

Despite all this, it should be noted that if the present representatives of the family ultimately prevail, and the mediocre Tribune Co. is split up or many of its parts sold, there is little danger that the right wing views of the family will result in the Times becoming, again, a right wing newspaper.

The reason is capsulized in this quote from the Landsberg article of Otis Chandler, in a 1996 interview with Vanity Fair: "If we turned the paper into the far Christian right, as they (other members of the Chandler family) would like us to, we'd be out of business in a year, if not sooner."

Given the political character of Los Angeles, any responsible, publicly-spirited owner of the Times, who did want to stay in business, could not afford to adopt the John Birch-lining views of Jeffrey Chandler's branch of the family, and any sale would most likely go to such a party.

If they indeed follow the dollar, the Chandler family, in the present controversy, would have to follow those parameters. They are not newspapermen, they cannot run the paper themselves, so they would have to sell it if they were to prevail in the fight with FitzSimons. And FitzSimons and the Chicago businessmen who dominate the Tribune board may decide to sell it anyway. As Stalin once said, "Communism fits Poland like a saddle fits an ox." And Chicago control of a Los Angeles paper is not a good fit either.

A story in the Times this Monday morning, by Joseph Menn and Thomas S. Mulligan, reports, meanwhile, that FitzSimon's stock buyback is likely to succeed in the near term, thus assuring a further degradation of the quality of Tribune Co. newspapers, but particularly the Times and the other former Times-Mirror papers. The buyback offer has today as a deadline, and it seems likely to be met.

However, in the longer term I don't believe the FitzSimons strategy will prevail. The Tribune Co. will remain in a crisis, the Chandler family will persevere in its concern about the strategy, the stock price will stay far below what it was two years ago, and, ultimately, the company will have to be broken up, and, thankfully, the L.A. Times sold, hopefully to local interests.

FitzSimons is bad news. He doesn't have a grasp on what it takes to make a company successful. Continual layoffs and other cost-cutting won't do it.

It may take awhile, but I'm convinced FitzSimons is going to fail, and I remain hopeful the Times will be saved for a better day, under a better owner.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Internet Should Be Policed, To Prevent Fraud And Terrorism

I don't often agree with censorship in China, but when it comes to the Internet, the Chinese have the right idea. They don't permit destructive web sites. They filter them out without compunction.

Even the L.A. Times blocks its employees from access to certain websites, because the executives understandably don't want them wasting their work day looking at pornography or other junk.

The same thing should be done everywhere. I believe either the technology exists to do it, or it can be developed. Already, my Yahoo account diverts many fraudulent or menacing offers to the Bulk basket. If they can be filtered, they can surely be erased.

Hardly a day goes by when I don't receive a message from some criminal in Burkina Faso, Nigeria or a similar country offering me a good share of $15 million or so, if only I will send back a deposit to facilitate handling the money. These are frauds, which always prove injurious to the gullible. There is never any money.

The same thing is true with less frequent messages that you have won a worldwide lottery. It's all fake. A variation is calls from an official-sounding website advising you to send in your credit card numbers so as to protect their security. This is a means of facilitating identity theft. It's happened to me several times in the last three weeks.

For some time now, I've been receiving a message that a transaction in some foreign country seeking to use my Visa card number has been refused. I don't have a Visa card, and in any event the authentic big credit card companies never communicate with their cardholders in this way. They all advise to ignore such messages.

It is not usually feasible to send law enforcement to the places where these scoundrels operate to imprison them for life. So it seems plain to me their messages ought simply to be blocked.

Then, there are the sexual predators. We read all too often, as we did last week, about the 16-year-old girl who was enticed to Jordan to marry a Palestinian she had fallen in love with on the Internet without ever meeting. Quite aside from the fact that marrying an Arab in the Middle East is liable to subject the woman to a life of semi-slavery, these kinds of communications should also be blocked.

Then, there are the terrorist websites. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and all the other sinister groups associated with fundamentalist Islam are using the Internet to send messages to their followers and to make propaganda. No sooner is some poor victim beheaded in Iraq or Pakistan, that a video is on the Internet showing the bloody carnage. The aim is to create fear in this country, and soft heads like Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts may be all too impressed.

All this should be cleared from the Internet. If the U.S. and Britain are indeed serious about the War on Terror, there is no reason to allow these modern day Nazis access to us electronically.

There are some households in this country which either have given up the Internet or never gotten it in the first place, because they are desirous of keeping all this trash out of their homes and away from their children.

A violation of freedom of speech? No. It was Oliver Wendel Holmes who once said that freedom of speech doesn't give one the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre, and that's what happening here. These terrorists, criminals, predators and low-lifers are taking advantage of us. They can't be permitted to do so.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Anderson Cooper Is A Huckster, As Jolie Interview Proves

Alessandra Stanley, the New York Times' television critic, can say a lot in just a few words, as was demonstrated again this past Thursday when she so artfully skewered CNN's Anderson Cooper for his mainly self-promoting two-hour interview with Angelina Jolie.

"It must be a law of celebrity physics," Stanley started out. "When journalists act like movie stars, movie stars act like journalists."

Jolie, to her credit, showed up for the interview wearing restrained clothing, unlike the hooker style adopted by Britney Spears when she was interviewed by Matt Lauer on NBC. Jolie still looked beautiful, but not sluttishly beautiful.

Cooper showed up to promote his book, to talk about his past experiences, even getting in a mention of his role in covering Hurricane Katrina. Jolie was more down-to-earth.

"Humble Celebrity And Eager Interviewer," was the apt headline run by the New York Times.

Stanley wrote, "Mr. Cooper...did not conduct an interview with the elusive actress; he held a conversation in which he seemed a little too eager to put himself on par with his guest as if the two of them belonged to an elite club of the concerned and caring."

This is an all too common fault of journalists, anxious to bask in the reflected glory of the real celebrities. Time magazine is particularly guilty. Maybe, it's a Time Warner modus operandi. After all, Time and CNN are both part of Time Warner.

I confess I'm a skeptic of the talents of Cooper. He is not nearly as perceptive or skillful a journalist as the CNN anchor he replaced, Aaron Brown.

But he's on the top of the journalistic world these days, and he lost no opportunity to drive that point home.

As noted, and mentioned specifically in the Stanley review, "He even managed to wedge in a mention of Hurricane Katrina." 'One of the stories that we're doing in this program is about Niger," he said. "And I was there last summer right before Hurricane Katrina.'"

Well, whoop dee do. As I recall in any event, the brave Cooper stuck to the peripheries of New Orleans in the first days after the hurricane, while the able and not so self-promoting anchor of the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams, was right downtown.

"(Cooper) praised Ms. Jolie for doing the interview solely to draw attention to the plight of refugees and not to promote a movie," Stanley concluded. "He then seamlessly moved on to vigorously promote his best-selling book. With journalists like that, it's a small wonder celebrities are starting to do their own reporting."

The L.A. Times this morning joined the NYT in writing about the Jolie interview, but Gina Piccalo, like most of the LAT's Calendar reviewers, isn't quite as penetrating as Stanley.

Still, she described Jolie as "looking positively transcendent just weeks after the birth of her daughter, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, wearing an elegant, black calf-length dress" for what she called "Cooper's fawning interview."

"Cooper even dredged up his own 1993 piece about one dying Sudanese boy, all so that he and Jolie -- star to star -- could share a knowing look," Piccalo noted.

And to think, the deteriorating CNN is proud of Cooper!


Two personnel moves are in the news this morning. First, the L.A. Times announces that Rick Paddock is coming back from Indonesia. Paddock, a talented Sacramento and then foreign reporter, will cover higher education for the Times out of San Francisco. Indonesia has been a challenging assignment for him and his family. His two children saw their school in Jakarta closed for a lengthy period after the 2002 Bali bombing, and Paddock, in addition to traveling the sometimes dangerous South East Asian countries, also served in Iraq.

Second, Michael Kinsley will go to Britain's anti-American Guardian newspaper as an American reporter. This is a good place for the goofy Kinsley, former ill-starred editorial pages editor of the L.A. Times.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Schwarzenegger Gives In, But, So Far, Angelides Hasn't

I wonder if the electorate is aware of this: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly gives in to big Sacramento lobbies and blatantly political considerations. But his Democratic challenger, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who some now view as the underdog in the race for governor, so far at least, hasn't. He seems more principled.

I'm speaking about two reports much in the news this week. One involved the malignant influence on the state of the prison guards lobby. The other involved the "compromise" on Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to take over the Los Angeles schools.

In both cases, bald politics clearly induced Schwarzenegger to take the position he has, supporting both the prison guards and Villaraigosa. In the school case, so far Angelides is holding to principle, opposing the Villaraigosa plan despite indications that an angry and ambitious Villaraigosa, a Democrat, may not back him for governor.

By supporting Villaraigosa on the schools issue, Schwarzenegger is supporting a partial takeover of the schools by the mayor, and also increasing the chance that the mayor will continue to hold to his position of no endorsement of Angelides to unseat him. Villaraigosa reportedly wants to run for governor in 2010, and by that time Schwarzenegger would be term limited out, while, if he is elected this year, Angelides would undoubtedly stand for a second term.

The school plan in its latest form does not call for any vote of the people on this major change in the schools, and the terms of the "compromise" are such that, as the L.A. Times has noted in an editorial, actual control of the schools would revolve uncertainly between the mayor and the school board, leaving outsiders to wonder where the final responsibility would lie.

I find Angelides' position, so far, the better one. Villaraigosa is attempting a power grab, and Angelides seems to be endangering his own prospects by not going along with it. That may well be a solid indication that he would be a strong, principled governor.

The Times article on the schools, by the way, was deficient. The non-politically-oriented reporters who wrote it neglected to mention either the issue of a popular vote or the politics of Schwarzenegger's position.

On the prison guards, the fine story by Jenifer Warren in the L.A. Times yesterday tells how Schwarzenegger, after saying he favored prison reform, now is supporting the guards in their opposition to it. As a result, one state prison superintendent quit, and another lasted in the job only three months.

The courts have weighed in on this issue, and they do not support the governor's new position. Judges have been concerned that the guards are backing what amounts to corrupt practices in the prisons and have had undue influence over two governors now, Gray Davis and Schwarzenegger, in the matter of salaries.

In Warren's story, we see that the governor's executive secretary, Susan Kennedy, met with representatives of the guards over lunch and subsequently the governor backed off on reform.

The prison guards have made millions of dollars of contributions to political candidates in their effort to maintain a stranglehold over the prison system. Now, that money is liable to go to Schwarzenegger for his accommodating stand.

It's just not in the interest of California, that's all, as prison conditions deteriorate. Fighting, drug use and other corruption is endemic in the prisons, and the not-so-infrequent brutality of the guards goes unchecked, because their code of silence about wrongdoing effectively keeps it from being prosecuted.

Kennedy's role is also to be lamented. This "public servant," partially paid out of the governor's campaign funds, has knuckled under to big lobbies in two governorships. First, under Gray Davis, she used an appointment to the Public Utilities Commission, to support the big utilities in their efforts at price gouging. Now, she is apparently backing the prison guards. Kennedy should absolutely never have been placed in a position of public trust.

Schwarzenegger has overall moved toward the center since his defeat in the special election last November, trying to isolate Angelides somewhere out on the liberal left.

But he is still primarily a governor of the special interests.

Angelides has supported a tax increase, a rather courageous position given the fact that he may put himself at an election disadvantage in doing so. Now, he has, so far, bucked Villaraigosa.

I'm not a liberal, but guess what, I am for honest government, and right now Angelides looks to me like the better candidate.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

FitzSimons Apparently Trying To Remove Chandlers From Tribune Board

A New York Times profile of Thomas Unterman, the Los Angeles lawyer apparently coordinating the Chandler family fight against Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons, reveals this morning that under terms of the stock buyback plan promulgated by FitzSimons, the Chandlers could lose their only three seats on the 11-member Tribune board.

This would occur, if the Chandlers were to tender 15% or more of their outstanding Tribune shares in the stock buyback.

Under these circumstances, no wonder the Chandler family has declined to tender any of its shares, and has, last week, sharply assailed FitzSimons.

Given his past policies, there can be no doubt that FitzSimons hopes to use the buyback to consolidate his position in the faltering Tribune Co. And that consolidated position would in all likelihood be used to discriminate even more than he has already against the interests of the Los Angeles Times.

Just two days ago, FitzSimons strongly hinted in a New York speech that the Times' foreign and national bureaus would be subordinated in his scheme for future management to Tribune-wide interests, with the content of the foreign and national news reports being standardized in all Tribune newspapers. Since it could not be expected that the Chicago Tribune would close any of its own bureaus, this is a strong indication that some of the Times' bureaus would be closed under his plan.

Since news of the rift between the Chandler family and FitzSimons and his fellow-Chicago businessmen on the Tribune board surfaced last week, it has become abundantly clear that if the CEO gets his way, the Times is under dire threat of becoming a second-rate newspaper.

As is well known, Californians do not like losers. Times circulation, down by a dreadful 350,000 since the Tribune bought out Times-Mirror six years ago, will go into a further nosedive if readers in Los Angeles perceive the Times to be losing quality, which has already happened to some extent.

That's why, putting all the tax consequences of this dispute aside, the interests of the Times staff, their readers and in fact all of Los Angeles and the state of California will be severely compromised if FitzSimons prevails and the paper is not sold back to local interests. But perhaps the next development is a Chandler family lawsuit which could put the CEO under even greater pressure.

The New York Times profile of Unterman, incidentally, is rather thin, since he would not agree to be interviewed.

More than a month before word of the Chandler-FitzSimons rift got out, I received a call from a lawyer in New York indicating that disaffected investors were contemplating a lawsuit against Unterman for allegedly usurping total control over an investment firm he headed, without any consideration for the interests of the investors.

Since then, however, I've heard nothing of this. That Unterman, based on his past record of arranging the sale of Times-Mirror to Tribune without the knowledge of then-Times Mirror CEO Mark Willes, is a key figure in the present drama, we can have no doubt. My suspicion is that if anybody can do FitzSimons in, he is that person.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bad News From both FitzSimons And The New York Times

Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimon's speech yesterday in New York at the Mid-year Media Review Conference contained strong hints of very bad news for the future of the Los Angeles Times, including a threat to the autonomy of its foreign and national bureaus.

Both Tom Mulligan's story in the L.A. Times this morning, and a story by Jon Fine put out by Businessweek quote FitzSimons as saying that $200 million in further cutbacks he envisions if his stock buyback program goes through will include sharing of national and foreign news content between Tribune Company-owned newspapers and television stations.

This ominous statement was backed up by Donald Grenesko, Tribune's senior vice president of finance and administration, who was also present at the New York conference. He is quoted by BusinessWeek as saying in the matter of newsroom cutbacks that one way the company would achieve its goals would be to centralize some "content" across its newspapers, especially with regard to foreign and national news. He said this would include "staff reductions through attrition and position eliminations."

Given Tribune Company's shabby treatment of the L.A. Times since it purchased the paper in 2000, any amalgamation of news content between Tribune papers would, I think, very likely mean the closure of some Times foreign and possibly national bureaus and their subordination, in any event, to a lower common denominator of assignments probably coordinated out of Chicago, a less talented and vibrant city than Los Angeles.

Already, with the foolish inclusion of another summary page in the Times' A section, Page 3, foreign news content in the paper has been shoved back to the end of the A section. This now looks like a means of smoothing the way to a diminution of the foreign news presentation.

At a time of war and crisis developments in the Middle East and East Asia, when foreign news should have a certain priority, the corporate interests in Chicago are, in short, getting set to deliver a new body blow to the quality of the L.A. Times.

FitzSimons, in his New York speech, did open the way to the sale by Tribune of
"publishing assets," meaning newspapers, in addition to television stations. {The faltering company has already sold its TV stations in Atlanta and Albany, N.Y). But BusinessWeek said the implication was that smaller Tribune papers located in Allentown, Pa. and Hampton Roads, Va., might be put up for sale, while the company would keep its more prominent papers.

The revolt of Chandler family members of the Tribune Board of Trustees could yet doom the buyback plan, (though FitzSimons yesterday said it would go forward), and force a breakup of the company.

But if FitzSimons and his coterie of Chicago businessmen on the Tribune board have their way, it seems likely from his and Grenesko's comments yesterday, the L.A. Times is sure to suffer.

Meanwhile, for those who love newspapers, as I confess I do, there is further bad news this morning from the New York Times, which announces through a Business section story by Katharine Seelye that it plans to sell advertisements on the front page of its Business section beginning two weeks from now.

Also, the executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, said the width of the paper may be shrunk to reduce costs. The L.A. Times has already done that.

Keller said he would prefer to make these changes rather than reduce the size of the reportorial staff. So, unlike FitzSimons at Tribune Co., he is at least trying to avoid further layoffs.

But reducing the size of the NYT, and putting ads in prominent places they have not been before is something we might have expected from Mark Willes, the former publisher at the L.A. Times, but not from the New York Times.

Keller replaced the talented Howell Raines, when Raines was dismissed by the weak-kneed publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., and things at the New York Times have gone slightly downhill from there. It's not as bad as what has happened at Tribune papers, but it is a depressing development.

Steve Lopez, in his L.A. Times column this morning, quotes developer Eli Broad here in Los Angeles as saying he would be interested in at least exploring a purchase of the L.A. Times, "if it became available."

He added that profits wouldn't be his main priority if he owned the Times, that public service and education would be. "If you bought it and were profit-oriented, you wouldn't have the same quality newspaper that the city deserves," Broad said. "You'd be pushing for bigger margins and cash flow, and how far would you cut before you hit the bone?"

At least, Lopez is showing the courage to write about the Times' present situation. He leads his column today, "The possibility of my newspaper being purchased by someone with no experience and no earthly idea what he's doing is quickly becoming rather appealing."

Now, I wonder, will the Times' media columnist, Tim Rutten, weigh in on this topic? So far, he hasn't shown Lopez's courage.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

FitzSimons Mistreats The LAT, And The Employees Know It

In the evenhanded story by Thomas S. Mulligan this morning on the Tribune Co. CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, in the L.A. Times it's revealed publicly that in a survey of Times employees last summer, with 84% responding, only 34% felt the Times was "highly regarded" by Tribune Co., and only 27% felt they were "appreciated" by the Tribune.

It was Abraham Lincoln who once said, "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time."

That is obvious at the L.A. Times. Only a minority feel the Times is well treated by the Tribune, the low quality company that bought The Times in 2000.

But it may be not only Times newspapermen who doubt FitzSimon's dedication to newspapers. Mulligan quotes an anonymous high-level journalist who has worked for the Tribune CEO as saying, "He seems uncomfortable with discussions about the public-service mission of newspapers."

Other journalists are quoted as saying that FitzSimons "can be difficult to engage in conversation about their work."

Howard A. Tyler, a veteran Tribune executive who retired as a corporate vice president two years ago, is quoted in Mulligan's story as describing FitzSimons as "a very pragmatic, bottom-line guy who sometimes thinks journalists use that 1st Amendment argument to get away with things -- such as ignoring the bottom line."

This is no surprise. It means what has become obvious, that FitzSimons cares far more about making money than he does about journalistic quality. He has even selfishly raised his own salary, while Tribune fortunes sink.

It may also explain why the L.A. Times editorialized against Judith Miller and a reporter's right to maintain the confidentiality of sources last year.

With this bull-headed former broadcasting executive in charge, it is no wonder that things have gone downhill at The Times, with many employees laid off or forced into buyouts and circulation down by 350,000.

But in a New York Times story Monday about the failure of Tribune Co. to realize its goal of creating synergy between its newspapers and television stations, as it said it would do at the time of the acquisition of Times-Mirror, the status of the Tribune's business in Los Angeles is revealed to be even worse than had previously been reported.

The NYT, in a story by Richard Siklos and Katharine Q. Seeley, reports that while the L.A. Times has lost 5.4% of its circulation just in the last year, "the biggest drop among the top ten dailies and more than twice the industry average," its ad revenue was also down by 3% in the first quarter and its total revenue slipped 1.6% from 2003 to 2005.

The other big Tribune property in Los Angeles, KTLA (Channel 5) has, meanwhile, lost a remarkable half of its audience between 2001 and 2005, down, according to Nielsen Media Research, from 202,000 to 105,000.

This too is no surprise, since Channel 5's news programs have degenerated into a mish mosh, the announcers jumping from one kind of news to another without rhyme nor reason. It used to have a great 10 p.m. news program. It no longer does.

Other former Times-Mirror newspapers have been treated by the Tribune Co., even worse than the Times. Newsday, the Long Island newspaper, with its staff shrinking by hundreds in the last two years. has, according to a former editor, Howard Schneider, seen "a shrinking of editorial ambition back to where it was 30 years ago," leaving it essentially a local newspaper.

The Baltimore Sun has also fared miserably. A former Tribune executive was quoted last week in the Columbia Journalism Review as saying, "What's happened at Baltimore and what's happened at Newsday in terms of the bleeding of talent is staggering. It's like a purge of journalistic talent that's gone on in Tribune Co. It's really an amazing story."

Tribune has terminated 900 employees in the last year, and now, according to the ill-conceived stock buyback plan announced by FitzSimons will cut expenses another $200 million, which means further layoffs and a further diminishing of Tribune-owned newspapers.

FitzSimons cannot reasonably blame business conditions for these failures, since other newspaper and broadcast companies have fared far better. No, he is responsible and, if he were to do the right thing, he would agree to the independent advice the Chandler family urged he take on, and then, without a golden parachute, resign.

Mulligan quotes people this morning as saying he is a fighter who doesn't quit. So was Gen. Westmoreland, when he was commanding U.S. forces in the Vietnam war. Finally, there is no excuse for incompetence.

The facts are clear. We must all hope that the Tribune Co. will be broken up, the Times sold back to local investors, and FitzSimons perhaps take a teaching position at Fordham University, where he seems to have been so poorly educated.

All of California has been insulted by the policies of this man. It is high time, he goes.

Monday, June 19, 2006

United Nations Useless In Preventing Nuclear Proliferation

As reports grow that North Korea intends to test fire a three-stage missile that could hit the United States, the U.S., Japan, Australia and New Zealand have all warned the regime of Kim Jong Il that there would be harsh but otherwise unspecified adverse consequences if it was to go ahead.

But if by that, the U.S. and its allies mean taking the matter to the U.N. Security Council and seeking sanctions, then nothing of substance would be accomplished.

The fact is, when it comes to stopping North Korea or Iran from developing nuclear weapons and long range missiles, or when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur and other places, the United Nations is utterly useless.

Russia and China can block any meaningful action with their veto power in the Security Council, and the General Assembly is dominated by countries that are as fundamentally unfriendly to the U.S. and its allies as they are to Israel. The Israelis have learned they can expect no protection from the U.N., or even a lack of bias. A U.N. "peacekeeping" force in Lebanon has done nothing to prevent missiles from being fired into Israel.

The U.S. Japan, Australia and New Zealand are powerful countries. Were they to undertake a naval blockade of North Korea, it would have an effect. Lesser sanctions would only exacerbate the situation without bringing any solid result.

Just as before World War II, when Germany left the League of Nations and Italy defied it, no world body that requires a consensus before it can act is any use at all in preventing a build up of tensions that, in today's world, can lead to a nuclear war.

We have to assume that the U.S. could ultimately become the target of nuclear attack by North Korea and perhaps Iran. Using the U.N. to try to prevent this would be in the end hopeless. Already, it should be noted, however, the U.S. has not waited for the U.N. to act, before undertaking continuing surveillance of North Korea. This surveillance allowed us to detect North Korean preparations for a missile launching and it is so pervasive that we learned this morning that the North Koreans have fueled the missile, allowing a launch at any time.

Also in the news this morning is a lengthy L.A. Times report that the U.S. is battling to try and keep Venezuela, whose dictator, Hugo Chavez, has been developing ties with both North Korea and Iran, from obtaining a seat on the Security Council, where it could become even more obstructive to American interests than it already is.
The battle is a close one within the Latin American countries that must make the primary decision. If they are deadlocked, then the matter goes to the General Assembly where it is clear the U.S. does not command a majority.

My own view is that the U.S. should drastically cut its contributions to the U.N., with the exception of such sub-groups as the World Health Organization, and prepare to make alliances with like minded nations a primary focus of our foreign policy. NATO, despite its divisions, is a far better organization for us.

We cannot leave to the U.N. any capacity to determine U.S. foreign policy. If we do, we might as well invite North Korean ships, uninspected, into U.S. ports.

The bottom line is we cannot rely on a body dominated by Third World countries in the General Assembly to stop anyone from an atomic attack on Los Angeles. We have to be masters of our own situation.

(A short time after this was posted, someone in effect put an ad on the bottom in "comments" for a TV program. Either they should not have done it, or they should pay me for advertising. Please ignore this particular comment. The implication is that I may endorse this program. I have never heard of this channel, and I certainly do not).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

When Is It Time to Retire? Dan Rather and CBS

In a poignant Page 1 story Saturday, New York Times writer Jacques Steinberg interviewed the former CBS News anchor Dan Rather and told how he is being forced out of CBS after 44 years with the network.

Rather is 74 years old. He clearly doesn't want to retire, and he is working out a deal with a high-definition television channel called HDNet to continue broadcasting, although before a much smaller audience.

It is sad when a long and distinguished career with a single employer comes to an end, particularly so when the employer, as in this case, encourages the person to leave by simply not giving him any assignments. For the last six weeks with CBS' 60 Minutes program, Rather was given nothing to do. Before he went to 60 Minutes, Rather was eased out of being anchor of the CBS Evening News after the fracas over an apparently inaccurate report on President Bush's military service during the Vietnam war period. Rather had defended the report much longer and more vehemently than CBS executives liked.

The age of 74 may have been time for Rather to leave CBS anyway. Gen. De Gaulle once called old age "a shipwreck" and it is frequently disheartening to see an old newsman or any kind of employee hang on beyond a time when he or she is truly useful.

But it is much better for the executive in charge simply to say it is time for the employee to go, as publisher Arthur Sulzberger did with A.M. Rosenthal at the New York Times, rather than to humiliate him by giving him no assignments, or make disrespectful remarks, as CBS CEO Les Moonves also made about Rather.

At the L.A. Times, a number of employees were humiliated late in their careers. The former metro editor, Noel Greenwood, was particularly guilty of this tactic. The way he treated the late City Hall reporter Erwin Baker, and Chuck Hillinger, the traveling features reporter, was a disgrace, but ironically Greenwood himself fell victim to similar mistreatment when Shelby Coffey, then the editor, stopped giving him anything to do. I well remember Coffey's speech at Greenwood's farewell, and his almost certainly dishonest remark that Greenwood would be welcome to come back any time he felt like it.

Greenwood went on to an apparently satisfying career as a book editor. He has been much more relaxed and pleasant on the occasions I've seen him in recent years than he was at the end of his Times career.

In my own case, L.A. Times editor Dean Baquet simply told me the time had come for my retirement after I loudly chastised a secretary. I was not mistreated at the end, except for a seriously negligent editing of one of my final earthquake stories, and Baquet was not responsible for that. In fact, weeks after I retired, the Times management included me in an announced buyout, and I collected a year's salary I was not expecting. I was 66 when I retired, and it took me only a few days to accept the fact and begin enjoying myself. Then, my son-in-law suggested doing this blog, which I have been enjoying immensely. I used to express my opinion freely at the Times, but the blog gives me even more freedom to express my views at least semi-publicly.

Since I had a bad knee and other ailments, it had been increasingly uncomfortable for me to go into the office each day, and I was tending to doze off on the job. I was in bad temper much of the time. Here at home, writing the blog, my schedule is my own, and although I do the blog every day I find life is relaxing. It is very nice too to see my children and grandchildren.

I've noticed among my Dartmouth classmates, many of whom have been self-employed, that retirement is often a matter of choice, and that choice is made at different times. Many of the classmates have gone on to part time work, or less strenuous second careers. I have one classmate, Sid Goldman, who retired as an orthopedic surgeon in Detroit and moved to Key West, Fla., where he now drives a taxi part time, something he always had a hankering to do.

Of course, some people, like Shav Glick at the L.A. Times and Shirley Povich at the Washington Post, work on into the mid-80s as Glick did, or into the 90s, as Povich did. In fact, he wrote a column for the Post the week he died. Jim Murray and Jack Smith, the great LAT columnists, also worked up to the end in their 70s, even though Smith was diabetic and Murray had severe eye problems, and both were fine columnists even at the end. The editors of the Times did not feel they could get along without them, and they encouraged them to stay on.

Murray Fromson, the USC journalism professor and former CBS correspondent, drove Ed Guthman and me to the Harry Bernstein memorial service yesterday. Of course, Guthman remains vibrant and working, also at USC, in his mid-80s, and Fromson says he is planning to retire from teaching soon, but is planning on writing a book. He is enthusiastically looking forward to doing the research.

My own father, a retired Rear Admiral and Hughes Aircraft employee, thoroughly enjoyed his retirement, writing a novel on Japanese-Americans in World War II California, and taking a round-the-world voyage on the Holland-America line. He even authored a few travel articles for the Times, and he went out to dinner three nights in the week before he died of a heart attack at 77.

That is the way to go, active to the end, and we can certainly wish Rather a lot of good times ahead.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Congress Again Endorses The War

Since I have on occasion extolled the New York Times for having better judgment on what to place on Page 1 than the L.A Times, I should say at the outset that the L.A. Times correctly placed the House vote backing the Bush Administration's Iraq policy on Page 1, in fact in the headline, this Saturday morning, while the New York Times erred in putting a rather short story on Page 7.

The Iraq war and the issues enveloping it are quite clearly central at this time to American politics. That is obviously true with regard to the midterm elections this fall, and it probably will be true in the next Presidential election as well. The Congressional votes, in the Senate earlier and now the House, will have considerable influence. It is an important story, and obviously should have been on Page 1 in both papers.

I should also reiterate what will be known to all frequent readers of this blog: I support the American campaign in Iraq unreservedly, because I think it has everything to do with our security and our future position in the world, and I flatly oppose any proposal to set a date for an American pullout.

That said, I have to acknowledge that the position of some Democrats for such a pullout almost certainly has more support in the country than the paltry six votes that Sen. John Kerry was able to muster in the Senate this week.

A test of antiwar sentiment will come in the Connecticut primary Aug. 8, when Sen. Joe Lieberman, a supporter of the war, faces a challenge from an anti-war candidate who has achieved considerable standing in the early polls.

It is possible, but I think at this moment unlikely, that a McGovernite candidate could win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. If one did, I think the ultimate result would be similar to the 1972 election, when Richard Nixon easily turned aside the McGovern challenge (but not before foolishly sparking the Watergate scandal).

The reason is that regardless of discouraging news from difficult wars, the American people from World War II on have supported the nation's preeminent power position in the world, and if put to a clear test, I believe they would do so again.

However, a more centrist Democratic candidate in 2008, somewhat skeptical of the war and promising some change, could well prevail, if the Iraq war has not changed materially for the better by then.

The Democratic party, like the British Laborites who opposed the British Empire in the 20th century, is split on the pullout question, with the majority, as reflected in the 150 Democratic votes in the House yesterday. upholding an eventual retreat from Iraq, or at least a lessening of the American commitment. Forty-two Democrats crossed party lines and supported the majority Republican position backing the Administration, and I was pleased to see my own Congressman, Rep. Howard Berman, was among them. However, another nearby Democratic Congressman, Brad Sherman, showing the singular lack of courage which often characterizes him, refused to take a position, merely voting "Present."

Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts was joined by five other Democrats who voted against the pro-war Republican position in the Senate. They were Barbara Boxer of California, Bob Byrd of West Virginia, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Kerry pretended to be ambivalent about the war when he ran for President. But ever since, the former war hero has firmly opposed the Administration position.

I notice that one of the most prominent anti-war Democrats, the former Marine John Murtha of Pennsylvania, is quoted in the L.A. Times this morning as saying, "We support the troops. It's the policy we don't support." He sounds like Andres Martinez, the editorial page editor of the L.A. Times.

I take rather violent exception to this remark. Supporting the troops without supporting the war they are fighting and dying in is meaningless.

In the Civil War, 1861-65, most Democrats opposed the Lincoln war policy and early in 1864, as he prepared to run for reelection, President Lincoln feared he might lose the election. But then, on Sept. 2, 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman took Atlanta and cabled the President, "Atlanta is ours and fairly won." That was it, Lincoln won handily.

Some such development is possible in Iraq, and it's clear that if the U.S. was to be seen as winning the war by the 2008 elections, the American people would rally to the pro-war position. Also, if there were a major terrorist attack on the U.S., there would be a rallying too, but the terrorist Osama bin Laden knows that, and probably will not initiate an attack inside the U.S. so as to not fire up the American people. He made that mistake once on 9-11. He probably will not repeat it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Three L.A. Times Writers, Including One Retired, Distinguish Themselves

Good individual work is often what makes a newspaper. This is all the more true when the newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, is undergoing hard times, owned by the wrong people in far off Chicago and subject to repeated cost-cutting decisions.

But the paper has been redeemed in part of late by the work of many individual writers, certainly Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber, Mike Goodman and William Rempel in investigative pieces on Kaiser Permanente and Las Vegas judges, and the great columns by Steve Lopez and Tim Rutten, but also by the work of three other writers I want to discuss today.

--Grahame L. Jones is coming into the limelight in his incisive coverage of the World Cup in Germany. Jones was raised in Great Britain and worked for years for the Times as a copy editor in Orange County and Los Angeles. He always wanted to cover soccer, a sport he loves, but for a long time soccer was of such little interest in the U.S., he was only permitted to cover it part time.

Now, soccer seems to be coming into its own in this country. The television ratings in the World Cup have been nothing short of spectacular, especially in Spanish-language broadcasting, but also, increasingly, in the English language coverage. Sometimes, the audience for the present competition has exceeded that for the NBA or NHL finals.

Jones is frank. His article in Tuesday's Times on the loss by the United States team to the Czech team minced no words. It was a disappointment, and Jones said so in unsparing language.

On Saturday, the U.S. team plays again, against Italy, and Jones told the readers directly that if it loses, it is "almost certainly" out of the World Cup. But in that event, his coverage will still go on, and the best matches lie ahead. Los Angeles has immigrants from all the countries that will still be playing. It is good that the Times is represented in Germany by such a dedicated and knowledgeable reporter, and Jones can take pride in his coverage.

--Bill Dwyre stepped down recently as Times Sports editor, a position he had held for a quarter of a century. All too often, people in his position would take it easy until retirement, writing only infrequently. But that is not true of Dwyre, who in columns and articles has been showing himself to be a really superb writer, working hard, traveling widely and choosing his topics with care.

In Thursday's Times, he had yet another article that probably should have been on Page 1, about Ellen Quarry, the loyal wife of a broken-down boxer, Mike Quarry, whose last years, before he died at only 55, had been miserable. His injured brain made him like a child, yet his talented wife, still a beautiful woman, stuck by him, cared for him and is truly a hero. When I saw a slutty-looking Britney Spears being interviewed by Matt Lauer on NBC this morning, I thought that I would much rather meet Ellen Quarry.

Dwyre was on hand at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore recently when the race horse, Barbaro, suffered a broken leg at the beginning of the race. His column, like the incident, was unforgettable. It too should have been on Page 1.

Dwyre is pleased but not surprised that Randy Harvey has taken over for him as sports editor, with obvious aplomb. But Dwyre himself is providing him valuable support by his excellent writing. He has once again demonstrated how great he is.

--Kevin Thomas was taken aback and almost crushed when he was forced into retirement by the cost-cutting Tribune Co. But the movie critic now has a second professional life, writing for the Times from the outside. His article last Sunday on the great actress Olivia De Havilland, who is about to turn 90, was touching. De Havilland was quoted as telling Thomas, about to be 70, "I'm old enough to be your mother."

Thomas wrote, memorably, "Generations of De Havilland's fans would recognize her instantly. The expressive dark eyes, the lovely complexion, the apple cheeks, remain unchanged." And to show that, the Times ran a terrific picture of her, taken by Damon Winter, that proved the point.

Jones, Dwyre and Thomas, all resilient writers. There is hope for the Times yet, particularly if it is sold to new, local owners willing to invest in the future of the paper.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

After The Chandler Letter, What Can Force A Sale of The L.A. Times?

After months of uncertainty, the position of the Chandler family in the Tribune crisis was made clear in a long letter yesterday filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

My favorite paragraph in this indictment of the inept regime of Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons by Chandler family members who belong to his own Board of Directors read this way:

"Management's operational response (yet another new round of cost-cutting) is subject to serious execution risk and offers little to spur revenue growth and invigorate the newspaper franchises. As is shown in detail below, management has been and is once again acquiescing to sub-par growth in return for short-term cash flow. Morale at many of the newspapers is already quite low and will be driven lower with a new round of cost cuts."

Yet, crawling figuratively into his bunker, FitzSimon's short response yesterday promised more cost-cutting. FitzSimons seems determined to further reduce the quality of the L.A. Times and other former Times-Mirror newspapers in the pursuit of a business strategy. He wants to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

But this obstinate wrong-headedness may contain a hint as to the eventual outcome of the present drama.

Just like the Pharaoh in ancient Egypt, FitzSimons and the Chicago businessmen who form the majority of the Tribune Board of Directors, may ultimately decide to let the Jews (read in this case, the Los Angeles Times) go, because it is so much trouble. If they do, then it is only a case of negotiations to see on what terms. There are plenty of prospective buyers of the L.A. Times, and I'm sure the Chandler family tax concerns could be met.

In Phil Rosenthal's column this morning in the Chicago Tribune, there is indirect speculation along these lines.

For instance, Barry Lucas, senior vice president and analyst of Gabelli & Co., is quoted as saying of the Tribune Company's situation, "Two of your (old Times Mirror) properties -- excuse me -- have been the boat anchors around (Tribune's) neck here, the L.A. Times and Newsday. But again that doesn't change the fact that Tribune management owns them and something should have been done."

This points the way to a possible change in the FitzSimons position, dutifully echoed by the L.A. Times' Chicago-lining publisher, Jeff Johnson, that the Times will not be sold, because if the Tribune board majority concludes that the Times and Newsday, with their smaller profit margins, really have been "boat anchors around (Tribune's) neck," what better policy can they follow than to get rid of those newspapers by selling them? Sale of the Times would go a long way toward resolving Tribune's immediate debt problems. Entertainment mogul David Geffen, for example, has reportedly said he would be willing to pay as much as $3 billion for the Times.

Rosenthal also usefully quotes Fred Kalil, vice president of Kalil & Co., a radio and television brokerage firm, as saying, "The best case for (the Chandlers) is maybe round up some private equity players who potentially could act together and maybe make a hostile (takeover). That would be one way of seeing an outcome."

That is another route by which the Chandlers could force the breakup of the company that their letter says they want.

The situation of the Tribune Co. and FitzSimons is deteriorating, somewhat like MacBeth's position deteriorated in the famous Shakespeare play as powerful negative factors impacted upon him. Just this morning, Moody's downgraded the Tribune credit rating to junk status, and the Tribune stock price through market speculation rose to the uppermost $32.50 level that was envisioned in the foolish FitzSimons stock buyback plan that sparked the present crisis as surely as the convening of the States General in 1789, as a means of dealing with fiscal problems, initiated the French Revolution.

If indeed the stock price, which closed at $32.51 Thursday, was to go persistently above the limits of the buyback offer, then it seems likely there would have to be another Tribune Board of Directors meeting to consider whether to raise it, and in that event, the Chandler family position that the buyback offer entails Tribune Co. taking on too much debt, might prove a more powerful argument with other board members than so far they have been able to make. We have to assume that Chicago businessmen are not blind, just because they are Chicago businessmen.

In other words, under what I have no doubt is the skillful Chandler maneuvering being advised and possibly led by Tom Unterman, could lead to a consensus board decision to change position and put the Times, or maybe the whole company, up for sale.

In one comment this morning, Rem Rieder of the American Journalism Review called the Chandler letter "tacky." It will not be tacky if it forces a change of policy by the Tribune board majority. In that event, FitzSimons might fall on his sword by resigning and the way would be opened to a more glorious future, at least for the L.A. Times, a reversion to California ownership.

(Judging from the comments made on this blog, some of my readers are not too fond of the Chandler family and fear that a resale of the Times would lead to them coming back in control of the paper. But this is not threatened. If there is a resale of the Times, the paper will go to someone else, although the Chandlers conceivably could still hold a good share of the stock).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rising Talk Of A Sale Of The L.A. Times

There is, God be praised, rising talk of the sale of the Los Angeles Times back to local interests, as it becomes clear that the Tribune Co. is a failure in Los Angeles and is under such pressure the company may be broken up.

The dispute between the Chandler family members of the Tribune board and the board majority represented by Dennis FitzSimons, the Tribune CEO, is the continuing subject of widespread media coverage, including articles in the L.A. Times and New York Times just today.

Perhaps the most significant paragraph in either article was the one in Joe Menn's piece in the L.A. Times reporting that one of the perspective buyers of the Times, Los Angeles developer Eli Broad, had approached Chandler family negotiator Tom Unterman "and was told that nothing would happen before this fall. That is when the second and larger of two investment partnerships that hold the Chandlers' stake in Tribune can be dissolved without a tax penalty."

Fall is not that far off, and the implication of Unterman's remark is that something may happen then. Unterman was instrumental in the sale of Times-Mirror to the Tribune Co. in 2000 when he was Times-Mirror's chief financial officer.

Menn quotes the Chicago-lining publisher of the L.A. Times, Jeff Johnson, as saying the L.A. Times is not for sale. However, that really has all the value of Pierre Laval of Vichy France saying the D-Day landings in Normandy would not be successful. Laval was eventually hung for treason against France on behalf of Nazi Germany, and Johnson would not last in his job a week, if the Times were sold. Unlike John Puerner, the first Tribune publisher sent to Los Angeles, he does not appear to have been acting so much in the interests of the Times while he's been here, as he has been interested in doing just what Chicago and FitzSimons told him to do. Publishers' statements in all the former Times-Mirror newspapers show signs of being coordinated out of Chicago. They are suspiciously alike.

The Menn article names three men who would like to buy the Times. They are billionaire investor Ron Burkle, U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth and Broad, who may be allied with entertainment mogul David Geffen. Geffen made an offer to buy the Times earlier, but was rebuffed by FitzSimons.

Ueberroth, who has headed both the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Games, and Rebuild L.A., after the 1992 riots, is quoted by Menn this morning as saying in an interview, "The L.A. Times is a world class brand...We're always attracted to quality brands."

Burkle, in a written statement provided to Menn, said his Yucaipa investment company, "has been interested in exploring the opportunity to purchase newspapers for some time. The chance for the L.A. Times to be locally owned again is an opportunity that should not be missed."

It's also reported by Menn this morning that while the Chandler family members constitute only 25% of the Tribune board, there also is a separate board for the L.A. Times formed at the time of the Times-Mirror sale to the Tribune upon which they constitute 40% of the membership, and thus would have a veto power over any sale of the Times if they chose to exercise it.

The exact attitudes of the Chandler family representatives on the main Tribune board are not known. However, Jeffrey Chandler, one of them, is described by former Times executives as not particularly bright or well attuned to the newspaper business. On the other hand, Unterman, who is representing him and the others in present negotiations, is well attuned to the business.

Since Otis Chandler was eased out as publisher of the Times by more conservative members of the Chandler family, the Chandler interests seem to have been chiefly interested in their stock values in Times-Mirror and later the Tribune Co. However, FitzSimons has been making such a mess of things lately that a sale of the L.A. Times might be viewed by them as financially advantageous.

It is always possible too, as I've speculated before, that the Chandler family representatives have some feeling of loyalty to California, in which case they may resent the way FitzSimons and his cronies have treated the Times as a poor stepchild in the Tribune Co.

In what seemed to be a plant by Tribune Co. executives, an article last week in the Chicago Tribune said FitzSimons was determined to hang in there and maintain his position.

The New York Times article this morning is an examination of what is called the "starkly different views" of the Chandler family and the heirs of the old McCormick ownership of the Chicago Tribune, as to the future of the company.

What is to be made of all this? I think that it is that the Tribune Co. is "in play," as Wall Street likes to say, and major developments probably lie ahead.

A restoration of the L.A. Times to home ownership would be a boon to California as a whole and, naturally, to the beleaguered Times staff.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Going After Dysfunctional L.A. County Government

In his latest column on L.A. County's Board of Supervisors, the great Los Angeles Times columnist, Steve Lopez, reported on the costly mailings of Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose often loony right wing views are circulated to numerous recipients at taxpayer expense.

This follows up on a recent Lopez column on all the supervisors wasting their time during official meetings on commendatory resolutions when major problems, such as health care, fighting in the county prisons and poor hospitals and children's' services go mostly untouched by needed action.

That Antonovich can say anything he likes, and all the Supervisors can commend anyone they wish to commend is without question. This is a free country, and if an elected official wants to make a damn fool of himself or herself, he or she is free to do so.

But there are elections, and it's high time more substantial opposition comes forward to give the electorate a real chance to change the five-member board.

This board of supervisors, I must freely acknowledge, is not as corrupt as it was a few years ago, when what Times Political Writer Bill Boyarsky called "the five little kings" ran county government. In those days, to an extent greater than at present, each supervisor was a king in his or her own district, and nothing could happen in a district without that supervisor's consent.

In time, the five kings all died or were retired. One of them, Kenny Hahn, was a commendable public servant who backed civil rights and fought effectively for the black community when it had few champions.

But then and now, the supervisors as a body did not usually accomplish much good for the public. The county government was on the whole much less able in its ability to bring constructive solutions to governmental problems than Los Angeles city government.

While Boyarsky, Ray Zeman and other Times county reporters have had the most to do with covering the supervisors, I, as a political writer, mostly left the field to them, with one exception.

That was the case of Ernest Debs, a perennial glad hander who was long one of the least desirable members of this, I might say again for emphasis, dysfunctional body.

Debs served on the board from 1958 to 1974, when he was finally replaced by Edmund D. Edelman, who was an unexciting but honest member of the board from 1974 to 1994.

Debs, like most board members, had been easily reelected time and again, because, as is presently the case, he and other incumbent supervisors were seldom opposed by any well-financed or well known candidates. It is expensive to run for these positions, the districts sprawl all over the place and the board simply does not get the attention of other levels of government. Therefore, it can accomplish very little of anything without arousing much public distaste.

But in Debs' case, his virtually free ride, came to an end when my longtime close friend, Jake Stuchen, then the mayor of Beverly Hills, told me one day that the supervisor had solicited a bribe to rule out the building of a high-rise tower right on the Beverly Hills line in West Hollywood, which was part of Debs' district. The high-rise would have literally put some homes in Beverly Hills in the shadow.

My story ran prominently, and although it took awhile, that was the beginning of the end of Debs' political career. Under the attentive reporting I now lavished on him, Edelman, then a Los Angeles city councilman who was well known and well financed, came forward to say he would run, and Debs abruptly retired.

He explained his health was instrumental in his decision not to stand for reelection. "I want to live," Debs said. He then retired to Palm Springs, along with a substantial amount of unused campaign funds, and actually did live to the age of 97.

Immodestly, I might say, I did feel a sense of achievement.

Debs really did not want to go. He fought hard after the bribe allegation to preserve his position, and one way he did it was to try to answer every article I wrote. In fact, during this period, Debs, who had been hard for me to reach earlier, was quick to answer every one of my telephone calls. One time, I called him and his office patched me through in minutes to the Arctic, where Debs was taking one of his junkets to view energy sources.

This is part of what political writers should do, focus attention on the shortcomings of officials who have probably lasted too long in office, and I seldom was loathe to do it, although, to be honest, I probably did not do as much of it as I should or could have.

Now, however, is the time for further reform. As I say, the present supervisors, so far as we know, are not corrupt, although Antonovich should not be sending out these mailings at public expense, but they are not doing their jobs very well either. Fortunately, the Times now has Lopez to point that out.

Let's hope he, and other Times writers, pursue the subject as diligently as Mike Goodman and Bill Rempel did in examining dysfunction in the Las Vegas courts last week.

Monday, June 12, 2006

As Special Issues Proliferate, A Warning From A NYT Reader

The New York Times Book Review is usually a joy to read, and Sunday's issue was excellent, with a review of a book about a former British diplomat walking across Afghanistan in the lead, a good review of a biography of author Harper Lee, a review by Joe Klein of the new book by Peter Beinart and an essay on Western authors writing about terrorism.

But the NYT Book Review this week also contained a letter from a reader, Henry Halsted of Racine, Wis., that expressed the reader's dislike of the special issues that have occasionally come to mark the Book Review.

Halsted declared, "How I yearn for the Book Review of old that did not try to push particular books or categories of books on me but always stimulated me with a careful selection of reviews of outstanding and important books on a wide variety of subjects, along with eye-catching book ads. Perusing The New York Times Book Review is a habit difficult to break. Please no more special-interest issues other than the year-end best books of the year..."

Halsted said he had thrown a May 28 special issue of the Book Review devoted exclusively to food into the wastebasket. And he said he felt "robbed" by the May 21 issue devoted exclusively to fiction.

Amen! More and more, it seems the nation's editors seem to be pushing special issues on the reading public. And in most cases, it is just too much.

The L.A. Times Magazine this Sunday had a special arts issue. Not being an arts devotee, I tossed it away without even opening it, when normally I read at least part of the magazine.

Time magazine, which like the L.A. Times has been having problems of sliding circulation, has become big on special issues, or packages of articles on a single subject that take up pages and pages. The magazine's own food issue a couple of weeks ago was just too much of a good thing. Though on a topic fairly interesting to me, I didn't read all of it.

It's one thing when there's a mammoth news event, like 9-11, that provides a subject that is so compelling, readers want more, more and more. But Time has become addicted to issues of the 100 most influential people, who seem to change every year, and marks them with tedious essays about how wonderful most of these people are.

I side with Halsted, who began his letter to the NYT Book Review, saying, "For more decades than I will enumerate I have hugely enjoyed the layout and approach of the Book Review. I like to scan the table of contents and then read the reviews whose titles and reviewers attract me, both fiction and and nonfiction categories. I liked the fact that each issue contained an interesting combination of fiction and nonfiction reviews as well as other interesting features. My mind was stretched by the diverse reviews in each issue."

So, he said, he was "dismayed" by the special interest issues.

Letters like this provide a real service. The L.A. Times letters columns seem to have dropped printing many critical letters, which I think is a mistake.

Avoiding special issues, incidentally, does not mean that editors should seek to truncate long articles or not run series of articles. There is a distinct place for them, and a good example was the L.A. Times series of three articles last week by Mike Goodman and Bill Rempel on corruption in the Las Vegas court system.

Such series might not be read by everyone, no article in the newspaper is, but they bring important facts to the reader's attention. The Las Vegas stories were an example of what the LAT does best and I was particularly happy to see Goodman return to the paper.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Columbia Journalism Review Assails Tribune Co. Management

Powerful and direct language is used in the Columbia Journalism Review Daily to describe the lack of coherent strategy at what it calls "the intrigue-wracked Tribune Co." in another acid outside critique of the administration of Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons.

This passage drives the CJR point home:

"...The vision guiding Tribune since it bought Times Mirror Co. in 2000 -- of 'a local-media conglomerate with a stable of TV stations complementing one of the nation's finest collections of newspaper titles,' as the (Wall St.) Journal put it, 'is now widely perceived as a failure."

"The hoped-for advantages in synergy and national print advertising haven't paid off," a former company executive told CJR Daily, leaving serious cost-cutting in the former Times Mirror papers to pick up the slack. For the Times Mirror papers, said the former executive, "it's been a journalistic catastrophe these past five or six years."

"What's happened at Baltimore and what's happened at Newsday in terms of the bleeding of talent is staggering," the executive said. "It's like a purge of journalistic talent that's gone on in Tribune Co. It's really an amazing thing."

I wonder if the former executive quoted is John Carroll, the former editor of the L.A. Times and Baltimore Sun, who quit in disgust last summer.

Regardless who it is, it has become abundantly clear that the only strategy FitzSimons is using is to cut back, cut back and cut back, no matter what the cost to the quality of the newspapers he runs.

No wonder there is a virtual rebellion in Los Angeles, as staff members not so covertly seek a buyer who would reflect local interests and growth priorities.

The CJR Daily article says the problem is, "There is no vision, only piecemeal strategies -- no reassuring explanation of how Tribune will navigate journalism's rocky transition and emerge from it triumphant."

It is all somewhat reminiscent of Benito Mussolini, who plunged Italy into World War II without any reasonable strategy to prevail. But FitzSimons may not actually have his talent. After all, as has been said, Mussolini at least made the trains run on time.

This is why, if he won't voluntarily retire, FitzSimons ought to be retired, with a stockholder-forced breakup of the Tribune Co.

And in the process, the L.A. Times would stand a good chance of recovering from its present slump in circulation and its poor editorial pages.

One amazing thing in the CJR article was the statement that the Tribune Co., as a whole, remains highly profitable, with a 2005 plus margin of 20.5%. Yet at the same time, the obtuse FitzSimons continues to preach further layoffs.

The only people who should be laid off at Tribune Co., are FitzSimons, Publishing President Scott Smith, and maybe that Chicago Tribune columnist, Phil Rosenthal, who cravenly said last week that FitzSimons had a "bold strategy."

It's not bold to fire journalists right and left while increasing your own salary, as FitzSimons has done.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Another Strange Editorial In The L.A. Times

Sometimes, you'd swear that Michael Kinsley was still editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times. But, after all, Kinsley hired Andres Martinez, and he continued the Kinsley tradition by dropping from his staff every Pulitzer Prize winner the LAT editorial pages had.

Now, in the wake of the killing of the gross terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Times comes out Friday with another one of those curious editorials that are trademarks of both the Kinsley and Martinez editorships.

In an editorial entitled simply, "The news from Iraq," the Times begins, "The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may not have been the most important news from Iraq on Thursday. That designation may fall to the appointment of three new security ministers..."

Neither the news editors of the L.A. Times or the New York Times thought so. Both papers bannered the news of the Zarqawi killing and left to the inside news pages the Iraqi cabinet appointments.

The truth may be that Martinez and company simply couldn't stomach an American win in the War on Terror, which the elimination of Zarqawi was. God forbid, they seemed to be saying to themselves, that the Bush Administration was to reap any advantage.

The New York Times editorial was more rational. Under the headline, "Death of a Terrorist," the NYT started out, "It is good news for Washington and even better news for Iraq, that the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was finally killed on Wednesday by an American airstrike."

The L.A. Times editorial position was reminiscent of other goofy editorials, such as its anti-press stand in the Judith Miller case, failing to uphold the press use of anonymous sources, and its recent editorial extolling Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales' raid on a Congressman's office, the first such action in the history of the Republic.

Also, it should be pointed out, the letters column of the New York Times is more timely, by a day, than the L.A. Times.

The NYT, probably using e-mailed letters on its page, was quick to print six letters the same day as its banner headline on the subject of the killing of Zarqawi, who the lead letter writer accurately described as "one of the most barbaric, savage creatures to rear his ugly head in the modern era." All six letters welcomed the killing of the monster.

The NYT published five letters related to the killing Saturday, the second day, and all five raised questions about it, or its significance.

By contrast, the L.A. Times ran no letters at all on the Zarqawi killing the first day and today, the second day, ran five, of which three are negative about a killing that thrilled the American public.

The first letter chosen by the L.A. Times continues the slashing at the Administration that the LAT editorial page and op-ed page editors seem to love. "Zarqawi," writes Nik Green of Isla Vista, Calif., "sounds like either a manufactured nonentity or a figure of relative unimportance, built up and subsequently taken down to gain cheap political brownie points for the Bush Administration's failing war."

Tell that to the families of those al-Zarqawi killed in his ruthless attempt to cause a Sunni-Shiite war throughout the Middle East. Tell that to the thousands of U.S. troops fighting and dying in Iraq.

The Times editorial pages are, to use a good word, disgraceful. Martinez ought to follow his Pulitzer Prize winners to other pages of the paper or retirement.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Chandler Family Members On Tribune Board In Rift With FitzSimons

There remains some doubt as to the exact nature of the rift that has been exposed between the three Chandler family members of the Tribune Co. board and Dennis FitzSimons, the grasping CEO of the company, who has been treating the Los Angeles Times so miserably.

Joseph Menn, the able L.A. Times writer who reported on the rift in the Times, said in one lead this week, "A boardroom split over Tribune Co.'s stock buyback plan had investors wondering Wednesday whether the disagreement was the first move toward putting the media giant into play for a possible takeover, or simply a negotiation between the company's most powerful players."

Then, this morning, both Menn in the L.A. Times, and Richard Siklos and Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing in the New York Times, report FitzSimons' buyback plan is in jeopardy, due to a speculative rise in the Tribune stock price, stemming from stockholder feelings that the company may be broken up. Since the stock buyback plan was first publicized, Tribune stock has risen from $27 to close to the $32 level, near the most Tribune said it was willing to offer in the stock buyback.

The New York Times article reports that three investment firms -- the Blackstone Group, Thomas H. Lee Partners and Providence Equity Partners -- have approached the Chandler interests to inquire about either buying the 12.2% the Chandlers own of the Tribune Co. stock, or joining with them, to mount a takeover of the company.

Menn quotes analyst Paul Ginocchio of Deutsch Bank as saying that if not enough stockholders come forward to accept the buyback terms so far offered, Tribune directors would have to consider breaking up the company.

Three options being discussed today have the Tribune selling some or all of its 26 television stations, taking the company private, or selling some of the 11 Tribune newspapers as well.

Another option, not discussed in the articles, could entail a takeover that would move the company headquarters to the old Times-Mirror corporate headquarters in Los Angeles, now partially empty. It would only be fair California revenge, if the Times became the flagship of the company and the Chicago Tribune the poor stepchild, a reversal of the present situation.

The New York Times article on the rift by Katherine G. Seelye quoted "a person with knowledge of (the three directors') thinking," as saying that the Chandler board members who opposed the stock buyback "believed the company first needed a strategy to create value before it took on significant debt, which they worried could limit the company's options."

There is also indication the dispute may revolve around differing valuations of certain property that was part of the original deal under which Times-Mirror was sold to the Tribune Co. in 2000.

Regardless, the important fact, it seems to me, is that there is a dispute, which the Chandler members of the board insisted be officially reported, as it was, to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

We also learn this morning from Menn that the Chandlers are being advised by Tom Unterman, who as chief financial officer of Times-Mirror was instrumental in arranging the sale to the Tribune Co. in 2000. This may be an indication that a major restructuring or breakup of the Tribune Co., is a possibility, because Unterman is too skilled and sly an operator to waste his time on FitzSimons and the present Tribune board majority unless he was going to assist in doing them in.

It does seem clear that in initiating the $2.4 billion stock buyback, FitzSimons was trying to protect his own position as the high-paid chief executive of a company that has been faltering. He doesn't want to sell the Times back to local investors. Rather, he seems to hope to continue to mistreat it and its employees.

Just this week I was told that some Times employees are hopping mad, because the Tribune Co. has welshed on an earlier commitment to give employees who joined the Times from other Times-Mirror papers pension credits for their prior service. Also, I'm told, another complaint at the Times is that efforts to improve the Times web site and its marketing have been vetoed on the grounds they would cost too much.

Under Tribune control, circulation of the L.A. Times has dropped by nearly 250,000, and there is little effort to build back circulation or even stop the slide.

As I said in a blog last week, we can hope that the Chandler family members on the Tribune board, Jeffery Chandler, Roger Goodan, and William Stinehart, Jr., might have some residual loyalty to California that leads them to oppose FitzSimons' attitude and conduct toward the Times.

The Chandler family trust's share of the Tribune Co. stock is not enough to force a sale of the Times back to local interests, but certainly is enough to put some pressure on the board for such a sale, especially given FitzSimon's poor performance.

Meanwhile, I note that in communicating with the employees, FitzSimons has taken simply to signing himself as "Dennis," without giving his last name.

FitzSimons may be psychologically comparing himself in this gesture with Napoleon and Michelangelo, great geniuses who became universally known by their first names. Or even Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California Assembly, who was often known simply as Willie.

However, to paraphrase the late departed Texas senator, Lloyd Bentsen, we know a lot about Napoleon and Michelangelo, and even Willie, and FitzSimons can't lay an authentic claim to be like any of them. He is certainly no genius, except when it comes to raising his own salary.

FitzSimons, in fact, has lost all claim to be on familiar terms, such as using only his first name, with employees he continues to layoff or otherwise mistreat.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Al-Zarqawi Is Eliminated

In his great play "Richard III," Shakespeare concluded with the memorable phrase, "The bloody dog is dead!"

The same thing can appropriately be said today of the al-Qaeda terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Thanks to a coordinated effort including U.S. military forces, the new Iraqi government and Jordanian agents, this evil man was discovered at long last in a house near Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, and a precision air strike killed him and seven of his followers.

Let's hope it will at least partially curb the sectarian attacks in Iraq which have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

L.A. Times Coverage Of Election Results Very Hesitant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

With Exception of NYT, Press Failing To Adequately Cover Afghanistan

In an excellent lengthy review of three books on Afghanistan in the June 22 issue of the New York Review of Books, the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, by far the world's leading journalistic expert on Afghanistan, raises very directly the inadequate American press coverage of developments there.

Rashid, whose 2000 book "Taliban" foreshadowed the attacks on the U.S. by terrorists based in Afghanistan on 9-11, raises the question of why CNN has no correspondent in Kabul, as a resurgent Taliban expands its attacks, and also dwells on lack of coverage there by the U.S. media in general.

Rashid quotes an unidentified senior reporter at CNN as saying the lack of many resident American correspondents in Kabul has less to do with cost than an unwillingness of many young American journalists to volunteer for Afghan assignments.

He quotes the CNN reporter as explaining, "Americans, especially young Americans, do not want to travel to Asia or the Islamic World, anywhere there may be danger. It's a sad time for American journalism."

By contrast, he reports, British journalists are more than willing to seek such assignments.

It may be that the British, with their colonial tradition, are more intrepid, and more interested, in far off wars. But with modern technology of warfare, far off is not, practially, so far off any more.

Nonetheless, I suspect that where there's a will, there's a way, and if more effort were made by American editors to find correspondents for Afghan assignments, they would be successful.

Right now, as I've pointed out before, the New York Times has a full time Afghan correspondent, Carlotta Gall, while the L.A. Times sometimes sends in Paul Watson.

The issue arises at a time when Taliban attacks are increasing dramatically over what they were a year or two ago. Rashid notes in his review that suicide attacks have risen to 40 in the last nine months in the country, compared to just 5 in the previous 5 years. Taliban forces now number in the hundreds in various areas, while a short time ago, they only had dozens.

At the same time, the U.S. may be planning to reduce its forces, turning their responsibilities over to NATO forces of mixed willingness to fight. The British forces are willing and aggressive, as you might expect, but the Dutch are not. (The Dutch behaved very poorly in Bosnia, where its army did nothing to stop the massacre of thousands in Srebrenica).

Rashid is a careful, balanced reporter. He notes some positive developments in Afghanistan, where 27% of the new parliament is composed of woman, and the parliament has been performing much better than in Iraq and does not have the segregated seating that marks other Muslim countries.

However, Rashid notes, "As in many Muslim countries, there is no specific law against rape in Afghanistan, Women who report rape are often charged with adultery."
Muslim fundamentalists, in Afghanistan as elsewhere, are uncivilized.

Rashid also quotes the various authors being reviewed as determining, the drug trade is increasing, and 87% of the world's heroin now comes from Afghanistan, while NATO and American forces do little or nothing to stop it and the Taliban realizes much revenue from it.

Also, Rashid is unsparing in his description of the failure of Pakistani authorities to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces that are using northern Pakistan as a privileged sanctuary for attacks in Afghanistan. He notes that in these border areas, an army composed of many international jihadists, from such far flung places as China and Chechnya, has grown in numbers and weaponry.

Afghanistan is not getting the attention it needs, either from the press or from the Bush Administration, Rashid warns, repeating the mistakes of inattention made in the pre-Taliban period after the Soviets left the country. As in Iraq, the American effort there has not been sufficient to either build up the country or destroy the fundamentalists.

This is mainly a somber report, and this has been another troubling week in the War on Terror, with Islamic extremist advances in Somalia, where the terrorists are threatening to establish an Islamic state, increased sectarian killings in Iraq and arrests of terrorists in Canada. From every side, the threat of Islamic terrorism is only increasing.