Friday, March 16, 2007

Serrano-Schmitt Rove Stories In LAT Were Stronger

Often, it's not only what is said in a story, but where it is played that makes the difference. That is clear this morning in comparing the New York Times and Los Angeles Times stories on the question of Karl Rove's role in the firing of U.S. attorneys.

The able Los Angeles Times Washington reporters, Richard Serrano and Richard Schmitt, had considerably stronger and more direct stories than David Johnston and Eric Lipton's in the New York Times. But the more hard-headed and news conscious NYT editors put their lead story on Page 1, while the Times stories ran on Page 13.

This kind of thing has been a distinction between the two newspapers for a long time. I remember as a college sophomore when the New York Times played the Soviet Union's firing of the first earth satellite into orbit as a banner, while the L.A. Times played it at the bottom of the page.

The scandal enveloping the U.S. Justice Department and the White House over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys is the hottest news of the week, and it is truly a shame that on a morning when the stories written out of the L.A. Times Washington bureau are more newsworthy than the ones written out of the New York Times Washington bureau, the L.A. stories get such paltry play.

Perhaps Doyle McManus, the Times Washington bureau chief, pushed for better play for the Serrano-Schmitt stories, but didn't get it. In that case, he was hung out to dry, because just recently, when the New York Times appointed Dean Baquet as its new Washington bureau chief, McManus issued a statement promising that his bureau would compete vigorously with Baquet's.

That can't be the case when the L.A. Times publishes stronger stories on Page 13 than the New York Times publishes on Page 1.

The competitive breakdown occurs this morning, because the Serrano-Schmitt stories raise points directly that the New York Times is not nearly as clear on, and a L.A. Times sidebar by Serrano is much more newsworthy than the NYT sidebar.

First, in their second paragraph, Serrano and Schmitt state clearly, in relation to e-mails released yesterday, "The e-mails also show that the Justice Department was willing to defer to Rove on the matter." The New York Times story is not clear or direct on that point. And it is central to the scandal, because the issue here is White House political interference in the work of the Justice Department.

When he underwent confirmation proceedings, Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales testified he would, as attorney general as distinct from his position as White House chief counsel, put the interests of the American people first. The indication is now that he has not done that, and that's why I argued in a blog three days ago, he should resign.

Second, Serrano's sidebar, an interview with H.E. Cummins, one of the U.S. attorneys who was fired, is far more newsworthy than the New York Times sidebar on White House counsel Fred Fielding negotiating with Congress on who is to testify now on the affair.

L.A. Times editors need to give such stories the play they deserve, not relegate them to the back pages. Otherwise, they may find Serrano and Schmitt following Alissa Rubin and Lee Hotz to either the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, and, possibly just as important, they will not be serving their readers.

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