Friday, June 29, 2007

Doug Frantz To Leave The LAT, Latest of Bailouts

The latest "top gun" to leave the L.A. Times is the outstanding managing editor, Doug Frantz, whose last day will be July 6 and who will be returning to Istanbul as Middle East bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, a high profile reporting job.

If I could blame all this on LAT editor James O'Shea and publisher David Hiller, and their machinations for the Tribune Co., I certainly would. But fairness requires saying there is evidence that Frantz, a longtime reporter, simply wasn't enjoying sitting at a desk all day and decided, as he said himself in his statement, "My true love is reporting and writing."

"I felt like I had done as much as I could in this job," Frantz also said.

This is not the first time that it has proved difficult for a highly-regarded foreign correspondent to adjust to an editor's job when he returned to the "home office" in the U.S. The Times essentially also had this experience when it brought the Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent Michael Parks home from South Africa in 1996 to be first managing editor and then editor.

For one thing, it is a tough change for someone who has been outside the country or at a national bureau for a period to give up all the freedom of being a foreign or national correspondent with an office of his or her own and a good budget, for what seems at first a more constricted environment. I can empathize with this because I went through it myself when I gave up being Southern correspondent in 1972 and came home to Los Angeles to be Op Ed Page editor. I only lasted six months in that job, and then I was very thankful to go back to reporting, becoming one of the paper's political writers.

Beyond that, it does require some adjustment, after being outside the country, to get used to being inside it again. This was certainly true with the longtime L.A. Times foreign correspondent, Stanley Meisler.

But it's also true with a student who has been abroad. I remember when I returned from my junior year at the Institute of Political Studies ("Science Po") in Paris in 1959 that I arrived in New York with a car I had purchased in France, and the next morning, out on the New York Thruway headed home to California, I stopped at a Howard Johnson's to have breakfast and was appalled at my first sight of the average suburban American men, dressed in their bermuda shorts and looking like a bunch of yokels. It took me awhile to readjust.

So it's easy for me to understand why, particularly at this terribly important time in the Middle East, Frantz would decide he'd rather be back there than here. The Middle East today is the focus of world affairs.

That said, however, it is also true that many distinguished journalists have been leaving the L.A. Times, voluntarily or not, for other climes at a time when Tribune Co. has been cutting the paper back and even laying people off or forcing them to take buyouts. When a former editor characterizes the Frantz departure as another bailout among many, this is a point of view that cannot be discarded.

It is also true too that Frantz was recently reported unhappy with O'Shea for what he perceived as a lack of support by the editor in the dispute he had with Times writer Mark Arax, after Frantz felt constrained for ethics reasons to kill as biased a story Arax had written on the Armenian genocide of 1915. Arax has since left the paper.

O'Shea was complimentary about Frantz in a statement he issued yesterday to the staff about the managing editor's departure. Still, O'Shea has several times shown himself to be willing to unload all sorts of crap in some of his prior staff memos, and what he says at any time must be taken with a grain of salt.

Frantz was an appointee as managing editor in 2005 of Dean Baquet, later ousted for defying the Tribune Co. and its latest choice as publisher, Hiller, on its orders of cost cutbacks at the paper. There's no question that Frantz missed Baquet after he left in the fall of 2006.

The main thing, however, is that Frantz's departure is a loss, and it will take a lot to come up with an adequate replacement for him. In the meantime, he deserves every wish for a good career in Istanbul. Let's hope he's able to get along with David Murdoch, who looks likely to acquire the Wall Street Journal, (and the same might be said for Lee Hotz, the science writer who recently also left the Times for the Journal).

Frantz's move is not the only one to be reported this morning. LA Observed is reporting that J.R. Moeringer, a former Pulitzer Prize winner, and Ann Herold, both of whom held positions with the LAT's mostly-defunct West magazine, will soon be working for Los Angeles magazine.

One of the most depressing things about the Times these days is the number of Pulitzer Prize winners now working elsewhere, including three that I know of working in Los Angeles for publications that in past days could not have held a candle to the Times. These are Moeringer, Jonathan Gold and Kit Rachlis.

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Both the L.A. Times and New York Times have strongly-worded lead editorials this morning deploring the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling yesterday severely watering down the historic school integration decision of the Earl Warren Court, Brown v. Board of Education.

The New York Times, under a headline, "Resegregation Now," observes, "Yesterday, the court's radical new majoriuty turned its back on that proud tradition (of the Brown decision of 1954) in a 5-4 ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It has been some time since the court, which has grown more conservative by the year, did much to compel local governments to promote racial integration. But now it is moving in reverse, broadly ordering the public schools to become more segregated."

The NYT also quotes a more respectable high court justice than Roberts, John Paul Stevens, as saying "it was his 'firm conviction' that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today's decision."

The L.A. Times editorial, under the headline, "Fracturing a landmark," declares that "saving the worst for last, the Supreme Court ended its 2006-07 term Thursday by rebuking two school districts that had made good faith efforts to realize the vision of the court's landmark 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education."

The L.A. Times adds that Roberts in his decision had given "shabbily short shrift" to the Court's prior record of trying in Brown and other decisions to undo the impact of corrosive discrimination against America's black people.

And it deplores, as well, the namby-pamby concurring opinion yesterday of a justice from California, Anthony Kennedy. Warren must be rolling over in his grave to see what his successor Californian is doing these days.

Even the arch-conservative justice, Antonin Scalia, has recently, in another context, described Roberts as a hypocrite for his habit of overturning precedents without the courage to admit that he has done so.

Meanwhile, I'm very happy now that at the time, I opposed the confirmation of both Roberts and the fascist-tending Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court by the U.S. Senate. It seemed to me that there was a bad odor about those nominations by President Bush, and that odor has only grown more acrid in recent months.

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