Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Running for President, They Often Mislead

One of the great problems in electing an American President is that often those who are effective campaigners are not effective presidents.

This was certainly true with Jimmy Carter. He ran an excellent campaign in 1976, but he was a lousy president. The persona emphasizing honesty he displayed in the campaign appealed to the American people, but he brought cronies in from Georgia, didn't understand how things were done in Washington, could not set priorities, and finally his nerve failed in the Iranian hostage crisis.

In 1968, Richard Nixon campaigned on a persona claiming that there was a "new Nixon," more respectable than the one who had smeared Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas in his early California campaigns. At the time, L.A. Times editor Bill Thomas told me emphatically, "There never will be a new Nixon." Thomas was right. In his presidency, the old, disreputable, ethically-compromised Nixon came back with a vengeance.

I think John Kerry tried to mislead the American people in his 2004 campaign about what kind of President he would be. He stressed his military service, and at the Democratic convention even claimed he was reporting for duty. It was only after the 2004 campaign that it became manifest that Kerry really was a cut-and-runner, with contempt for those who have served in the military in Iraq. Not everyone will agree with me, but I think Kerry would have been a horrible president. Thank goodness, I didn't vote for him.

To be fair, George W. Bush did not give an accurate picture in the 2000 campaign of what kind of President he would be, saying he didn't believe in nation-building and was for restraint in foreign affairs. But Mr. Bush has the excuse that no one foresaw what was going to happen on Sept. 11, 2001, and that changed the whole ball game. We had a better idea what kind of President Mr. Bush was in 2004, and reelected him. Still, I think few people realized how stubborn he could be.

Unfortunately, all too often, it is guess work as to what a person will do as President. The nation's political reporters often end up as surprised as anyone.

But there are clues, and it seems clear to me that verbal mistakes and foul ups that take place on the campaign trail may not deserve the attention they get in determining what a person is likely to do in office, or whether he will be good in the job or not.

George Romney's "brainwashing" remark destroyed his campaign, and Edmund Muskie crying over attacks on his wife spoiled his. But neither should have been taken so seriously, in my view.

Now, I notice, Hillary Clinton, on her first visit to Iowa, the vital early caucus state, got immense attention for an offhand remark that she had had experience with "evil" men. The audience, assuming she had made a slip about her husband, Bill Clinton, and his philandering, laughed a full 30 seconds, and every reporter there wrote about it. This became the most memorable moment of what was probably not too good a weekend for her as she began her 2008 campaign.

Again, I feel this is an exaggeration of the importance of chance remarks. I remember in covering several presidential campaigns that we reporters often picked up on such a remark and made a mountain out of a molehill.

There is no guaranteed way of telling how anyone will turn out as president, but the press should focus its attention on issues stands and personality traits that have something important to say about what kind of president he or she will be. And certainly, the demonstration of corruption or severe flaws early in life should not be neglected in the analysis.

Just the day this was posted, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware put his foot in his mouth by depicting Sen. Barack Obama as "articulate...clean" etc. It seemed to be a suggestion that Obama was the first black candidate to fit these descriptions and as such was appropriately viewed as suggestive of a racial slur. This is not just a chance remark, and deserves attention, because Biden has run into campaign trouble before, such as when he was caught plagiarizing in his 1988 campaign. Perhaps, Biden's campaign is not long for this world. He may have to withdraw again.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Dean Baquet Goes To New York Times

After waiting a decent interval to see whether the L.A. Times would return to sound ownership and whether he might be called back as editor, Dean Baquet has properly accepted an offer from the New York Times and will become its Washington Bureau Chief and an assistant managing editor, effective March 5.

When Baquet was fired on election day by that kingly jackass and charter member of the Tribune Company's "axis of stupidity," David Hiller, I remarked on this blog that we need not wish Baquet good luck, since it was obvious that he would have it. Now, he has, and he deserves all our best wishes and congratulations.

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, was quoted in an article by Katherine Seelye in the NYT this morning as saying, "It's nice to have (Baquet) back where he belongs, at a paper where he can devote his talents and enthusiasm fully to the practice of journalism, in a bureau that can rise to all of his expectations."

Keller also said, that recent hires in the NYT's Washington bureau and Baquet's decision to return to the newspaper (which he quit to become managing editor of the L.A. Times in 2000), demonstrated that "in times of economic uncertainty, when others are downsizing, we invest."

This, unfortunately, is not the policy of Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, Scott Smith, Hiller and other Tribune executives. They cut back news sections, fire people and accept a consistent lessening of the quality of their newspapers.

Asked if there was any trepidation on his part in hiring someone like Baquet, who had defied management in publicly resisting cut-backs at the Tribune, Keller replied with the utter contempt that Tribune deserves, "On my part? Are you kidding? Standing up to Tribune only adds to his luster."

Baquet explained his glorious insubordination by saying, "I got defiant when I thought it (Tribune's cut-backs) were mindless. "I understand the reality of newspapers, but they shouldn't eat themselves alive."

In a last gallant gesture to the L.A. Times and its past greatness, Baquet said, "I wish the L.A. Times the best. I love it. I helped build it...This (his decision to to go to the New York Times) is not a signal to run for the doors."

Maybe not, but If I were still a reporter at the L.A. Times, I think I would at least open the door and see what was out there.

As for Tribune, Newsday has a story this morning that the Chicago-lining Tribune board, mired in the culture of stupidity, now may give FitzSimons permission to seek outside investors in putting together his own buyout offer.

Anything is possible with this bunch of nincompoops. The Tribune board members are reported to be dissatisfied with the small size of the offers made for Tribune by Los Angeles investors Ron Burkle and Eli Broad, and by representatives of the Chandler family.

But they have nobody to blame but themselves for driving down the stock price, ruining the company and assuming vast debt in a crazed stock buyback plan last year. Just firing Baquet greatly diminished the value of the company to an outside buyer.

Now, if they continue to want FitzSimons to run the company, these directors should quickly undergo lobotomies. I would not wait for a skilled surgeon. Any impromptu operation will do.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Reporters Should Express Opinions, With Limits

The politically correct journalists hold that reporters should never express their opinions about something they are covering.

But, as a reporter, this is not the policy I followed. I never made endorsements of candidates, but I did frequently, both inside and outside the L.A. Times, express opinions on issues. And I never sought to conceal my political affiliation, which for the most part when I was at the Times was Republican.

My reasoning was that, if someone asked me my opinion, which frequently came up when I gave speeches, and I said I didn't have one, no one would believe it anyway. Under those circumstances, I would only lose credibility, and the L.A. Times would too. Journalists, I thought, lose the public's confidence with all this talk that they are above all opinions, and it is quite possible to cover a subject fairly, even if you have an opinion about it.

And I felt, in any case, that consciously or subconsciously, everyone has an opinion, and that readers were entitled to know mine, so they could better judge what I wrote. I always told audiences to assume with everything they read an opinion, a point of view, was there somewhere, and they had to read everything with a skeptical eye and decide for themselves whether they agreed with the premise. After all, just deciding what parts of a public speech to report represents a point of view about it.

I raise this today, because the 'public editor" of the New York Times, Byron Calame, loves to chastise New York Times reporters for expressing their opinion, and he did so Sunday with the newspaper's military correspondent, Michael Gordon.

When Gordon was asked on the Jan. 8 "Charlie Rose" show if he believed "victory" was still possible in Iraq, he gave this response:

"So I think, you know, as a purely personal view, I think it's worth it, one last effort for sure to try to get this right, because my personal view is we've never really tried to win. We've simply been managing our way to defeat. And I think that if it's done right, I think that there is the chance to accomplish something."

Calame said that Philip Taubman, Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, agreed with him that this expression of opinion "stepped over the line" and had talked to Gordon about it.

I don't agree. I think audiences listening to Gordon and readers of his articles have a right to hear or read what he thinks on a subject of so great a moment, and that this is within the bounds of interpretive reporting, which is part of his job. And Gordon is certainly qualified, with his experience in military affairs, to have an opinion.

The fact is that Gordon's opinion on fighting on in Iraq is not the editorial opinion of the New York Times. And I think the paper, both Calame and Taubman, are trying to rein him in not so much for expressing an opinion as for expressing an opinion contrary to the cut-and-run bias of the newspaper.

Also, I note that the New York Times' great Iraq reporter, John Burns, frequently appears on CNN's Anderson Cooper nightly news, and gives many opinions on how the war is going. So far, Calame has not dared to criticize Burns.

There are some issues where the New York Times would not hire a reporter of a distinctly different set of views as theirs, and properly so, such as on the civil rights issue. The Times properly would not want a segregationist covering civil rights. And the L.A. Times would probably not want Henry Weinstein covering the death penalty, if he thought the death penalty was right. Anybody who reads Weinstein's death penalty articles, must surely realize he thinks it's wrong.

But, it's assumed a military correspondent such as Mr. Gordon, might well be somewhat more hawkish than the run-of-the-mill reporter. After all, covering military affairs, consorting with military men, you might expect the correspondent to be alert to military concerns.

As for politics, I think, as a Republican, I was still able to cover Democrats fairly, and in some cases too favorably, as with Jimmy Carter.

This is a difficult issue. But, realistically, I don't share the view that experienced reporters should never express their opinions, or pretend to be neutral on everything. As I say, such a lordly attitude only leads to a loss of credibility for the reporter, and the profession.


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Middle Eastern Crisis Deepens, In And Out of Iraq

In listening to Democratic Sen. Chuck Scheumer of New York on NBC's Meet the Press this morning, it struck me just how confused and inconsistent the Democratic opposition is on the Middle East and Iraq. Scheumer talked about restraining President Bush on war policy, but he could not explain, then, why the Senate had voted 81-0, including himself, to confirm Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as the new U.S. commander there.

On the one hand, Scheumer seemed to be saying, let's stop Mr. Bush's "surge" of U.S. forces. On the other hand, let's give it a few months to see how it works. Petraeus has consistently been for the latter position.

As the Democrats in Congress hedge their bets, worried that too dovish a position could boomerang on them, the situation in Iraq and, for that matter, the entire Middle East, is getting worse.

Sectarian warfare between Sunni and Shiite Muslims is spreading out of Iraq to other locales in the region. Just in the past week, there has been violence between the two groups in Lebanon, Pakistan, and, more or less directly, in Gaza and the West Bank. Within Iraq itself, there has been a ceaseless round of killings, not effectively restrained by either American forces or the pitiful Iraqi forces.

Some new American troops have already begun arriving in Baghdad, but the immediate outlook there is somber, and there has been a depressingly imaginative series of attacks inside and outside Baghdad against American forces.

Especially alarming was the attack, kidnapping and murder of several American soldiers in Karbala last week. It now appears that Iraqi troops assigned to provide security for the Americans allowed the insurgents easy access to where the Americans were, and then did nothing to stop them after the kidnappings. The fact is, increasingly, it is apparent that Americans simply cannot trust Iraqi units, either the army or police, and that the whole concept of embedding is faulty, that it means a lack of security for U.S. military men and women and higher American casualties.

Also, as of this morning, with a new report of a helicopter downing near Najaf, there appear to have been three American helicopters downed in the last week alone. The American casualties have been considerable, including the loss of the ranking U.S. surgeon in Iraq. More sophisticated missiles, some possibly from Iran, are imperiling our forces, and the U.S. response, thus far, has been inadequate.

Already, it appears that if the U.S. is to be successful in Baghdad, Kurdish troops are going to have to be used extensively in the city. At least, the Kurds are dependable, but this is a return in Iraq to the old British policy of using outside ethnic groups (in the British case, it was the Assyrians) to control the Iraqi people.

We must never forget that one of the few times in history that the volatile Iraqis have been successfully restrained was when the grandson of Genghis Khan executed 810,000 people in Baghdad. That shut up the rest for several generations. But the American forces would never undertake so draconian a policy.

The stakes in Iraq for the U.S. remain exceedingly high. I do not think that the views of President Bush, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. Petraeus that losing there would prove to have devastating consequences are at all unreasonable. And I agree with Petraeus and Gates that the raucous debate in Washington is emboldening the enemy.

But we live in a democracy and in the present situation, which rivals the situation in Korea in late 1950, when the Chinese intervened in the Korean War, in its grim nature, it is inevitable there will be debate.

In the meantime, I think it's important that the press in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East follow closely both the trials and strategies of U.S. military forces. If general war erupts in the Middle East, and it well may, in the last analysis we are going to have to depend on them. They are, of course, much more important to us, than the Iraqis.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

LAT Staff Web Site Memo Is Too Restrained

fishbowlLA describes the Los Angeles Times staff report on the newspaper's failing Web site as "scathing." But, in fact, the memo, while somberly laying out the weaknesses of the Web site, is probably too restrained and polite.

The committee seems to presume that the man to which the memo is addressed, the usurping editor James O'Shea, is actually working for the Times, rather than the "axis of stupidity" at the Tribune Co. in Chicago.

It states, but goes easy on, how the Tribune Co. has blocked development of the Times Web site, and the memo's recommendations, while sound for the most part, will not be fully implemented by O'Shea and publisher David Hiller, because they would cost the Tribune Co. money, and the Tribune Co. is not willing to spend either its money or its resources on the L.A. Times.

The facts stated in the staff report are devastating. The L.A. Times may still be the nation's fourth largest newspaper in circulation, but its Web site does not rank in the top 100 of the most-visited Web sites in the United States overall, while the New York Times Web site ranks 21st and the Washington Post Web site 54th. The L.A. Times Web site has been slipping in visits, while the others have been growing. The staff at the L.A. Times Web site numbers only 18, while the New York Times has 200 Web site employees. The Times has abandoned many TV and stock listings, while promising readers Web access to them, but then has failed to provide easy access.

To correct this situation requires a considerable investment on the part of the paper (and Tribune Co.). Yet in his completely inadequate speech to the Times staff this week, O'Shea made no commitment to such an investment, and talked around many of the issues so politely raised in the staff report. Specifically, the dishonest O'Shea never mentioned parts of the report that detailed how Tribune Co. had been blocking moves to strengthen the Web site and trying to further centralize management in one of the nation's most inferior cities, Chicago.

The trouble here is not that O'Shea is stupid. But since he is working for the "axis of stupidity" under Dennis FitzSimons in Chicago, he and Hiller know they cannot afford to seem brighter than FitzSimons. If they do seem brighter, they know they will be forced out, just as John Carroll, Dean Baquet, John Puerner and Jeffrey Johnson were.

The bottom line is that nothing really constructive will happen at the L.A. Times until the newspaper gets out from under Tribune Co. by being sold to someone else.

The staff committee at the Times seems to be trying to pretend in this report that it can work within the present administrative framework, when, in fact, as a practical matter O'Shea and Hiller can be no more outspoken with central authority than Nazi gauleiters could be with Berlin during the Nazi occupation of Europe.

I must also say I don't share the committee's view that an L.A. Times Web site could mainly better compete by improving its presentation of local news, weather, etc. The fact is that unless the Times takes full advantage of its foreign and national reports on the Web site, it will never be able to match its competition. We are in the midst of a major war. Public attention is often focused, as it should be, on international events. Providing suburban weather, alone, is not going to cut it.

I'm always fond of quoting Henry Adams, who once wrote, "You can't use tact with a Congressman. You have to take a stick and hit him in the snout."

It will take more than a hit in the snout, unfortunately, to deal with O'Shea and Hiller. The paper is going to have to be sold, and they will have to be packed off to Chicago in sackcloth and ashes.


I cannot accept easily the notion, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, that the Chandler family may launch a proxy fight to increase its representation on the Tribune Board of Directors. The Chandlers, rather than engage in more counterproductive backbiting, would be better advised to press harder for a breakfup of Tribune Co., or at least a sale of the L.A. Times. Otis Chandler and his parents must be rolling over in their graves at the constant reminders that the Chandler family heirs stand for nothing except more income from their journaliistic properties.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Barack Obama Takes A Hit On Muslim Connections

Sen. Barack Obama is already finding out that running for President can be a nasty, challenging business.

His campaign has been hurt -- to what extent, we don't yet know -- by allegations on the web, and then picked up by Fox News, that he had important Muslim connections in his early life, that his father and stepfather were Muslims and that he attended a radical Muslim school for two years when he was living as a boy in Indonesia.

Apparently, the school he attended was not so radical. ABC News, checking out the report, found it was a moderate school. The Obama campaign now says it at first chose not to respond to the web allegations out of hopes they wouldn't be much noticed and would go away.

As Sen. John Kerry could have told Obama, it is unsafe in a campaign to ignore any widely-disseminated allegations. Kerry found out this when he was too late in responding to suggestions he had not been all that heroic in fighting in Vietnam. By the time, he denied them, they were already out there, and quite a few people believed them.

Obama seems to be fairly moderate. He is not all that far from Hillary Clinton's centrist position against the Iraq war, although he always opposed the war while Clinton originally voted for it, and he is certainly less stridently against American involvement in the Middle East than John Edwards, who has staked out a McGovernite position.

But the news that Obama's father was a Muslim, even if he had little contact with him after the age of two, could prove highly detrimental to the Obama campaign. It is clear most Americans would not vote for a Muslim for President, and Obama simply cannot afford any identification with Islam, even if, as he says, he is now a Christian.

As we saw in Harold Ford's losing campaign for the U.S. Senate last year in Tennessee, a black candidate can easily be sidetracked by scurrilous suggestions. In Ford's case, it was the Republican ad that showed him somehow consorting with a white woman at a Playboy party that may have cost him the election.

If the Obama candidacy does go forward, and I'm beginning to wonder slightly if it will, his race may well become more and more of a factor, just as John F. Kennedy was identified throughout the 1960 campaign primarily as a Catholic.

This is something Obama is going to have to overcome somehow, and we have not yet seen the worst of it. Wait until they start making a lot down South out of his white mother being involved in interracial marriages.

The charges, unfortunately, don't have to be entirely true, or even partly true. All they have to be is out there. And it's inevitable they will be.


I'm glad to see the new House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and her friend, the Iraq war critic John Murtha, visiting in Baghdad today. They may benefit from a firsthand prospective on the war as Americn efforts are revved up in Baghdad.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Load Of Crap From James O'Shea

A greater load of crap has seldom been unloaded on the L.A. Times staff than came this week from "editor" James O'Shea in an address to Times employees.

It was a dishonest speech, replete with misjudgments and failures to see things as they are, or to give the real reasons for things that have been happening, and it proves that O'Shea is unfit and ought to return home to Chicago. He could just as soon mismanage the Chicago Tribune.

If there ever was a case for sale of the Los Angeles Times back to people who really want to do something with the paper, it was inadvertently made by O'Shea.

Why do I say it was so dishonest? After all, everyone knows that the Times web site is deplorable, and there needs to be more concentration on it.

But in giving the reasons for this, O'Shea never mentions the woeful lack of backing and financing for website improvements that has emanated from the "axis of stupidity" in the Tribune executives in Chicago, their refusal to accede to repeated requests for more financing for a larger website staff, and for changes in the site.

O'Shea also managed to give a long speech and scarcely mention the Times' circulation losses of recent years, losses of 350,000 which have been exacerbated by the refusal of the Tribune executives to spend more than token amounts on promoting the paper. For years, according to a report by Leo Wolinsky, there was no budget at all for advertising for subscriptions, and, when something finally was spent, it was a pittance.

In a hypocritical attempt to associate himself with a journalistic hero, O'Shea refers during the talk to "my predecessor and friend, Dean Baquet." This reminds one of Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis speaking to the country with a bust of Abraham Lincoln conveniently situated behind him.

O'Shea had the effrontery in this speech to a knowledgeable staff, all too cognizant of Tribune failures, to blame what he calls "a cold, defensive, insular and conservative" newsroom on "the Willes era, the Staples Center, a determination to maintain the legacy of Otis Chandler." He never mentions the conspiracy in Chicago to denigrate the newspaper at every turn, to chop incessantly into the newspaper's quality and to wreck the good reputation that the Times built up over many years.

"Fuck you, you dirty scoundrel,!" I e-mailed to David Hiller on the day he fired Baquet. Now, the same thing can appropriately be said to James O'Shea.

Beyond not telling the truth about problems in the news room, this poor excuse for an editor shows on various occasions through his speech that he doesn't know a good story from a pedestrian one.

Referring to yesterday's Page one, he says, for example, that the story on the Oscar nominations by John Horn and Gina Piccolo provided "tightly-written context, analysis, interpretation and expertise."

It was, in fact, a mediocre story anybody might have written. Had O'Shea decent judgment, he could easily have referred to another story on the same page, the one by the able David Streitfeld, on the rising danger that Californians who have taken sub-prime loans will lose their homes as mortgage payments rise. That story was all the things that O'Shea credits to Piccolo and Horn.

It appears that like many hayseed Midwesterners who do not know Los Angeles, O'Shea is so mesmerized by the glamor of the movie industry that he is willing to accept every piece of pablum written about it.

Even in his promise of an improved travel section that will give Southern Californians more coverage of San Diego and Las Vegas, God help us, O'Shea shows he has no appreciation of the broader horizons of Californians.

I also, frankly, question the selection of both Joel Sappell and Russ Stanton to run the website. Sappell is able, but was obviously misplaced in this job, or at least not given the tools to do the job. Stanton, like Rick Wartzman, has been a mediocre editor of the Business section.

The prospect that everyone in the newsroom will now be expected to put the website first also is depressingly similar to the "synergy" that Tribune Co. said would mark the relationship between the L.A. Times and KTLA (Channel 5) when it first came to town after the purchase of the Times-Mirror papers in 2000. It never came to fruition, and without investment and much better skills, the website reforms won't take place either.

O'Shea, in a veiled hint of many more layoffs if no sale of the Times is made, also talks about declining advertising and profits, suggesting that, "At this rate, these double digit profit margins everyone cites, will be single digits, or be gone."

The Tribune Co. has been reaping vast sums from the Times while raising FitzSimons' bloated salary, setting aside $269 million for compensation of 50 executives should the company be sold, and seeking vainly to convince shareholders to bid up the stock price. Now, if the paper is not sold, it seems clear that this awful company -- which sent O'Shea and Hiller out here -- will intensify its cost cuts, its lay offs, its downgrading of editorial product, to the point that the paper, already greatly suffering, will be ruined.

It's time, as I say, that O'Shea get out of Los Angeles. He never had a good reason to be here in the first place. In the meantime, he should restrain himself from talking to the staff.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chilling Rupert Murdoch Participation In Chandler Bids For Tribune

It can only be regarded as chilling news that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is revealed as a participant in the Chandler family bid for the Tribune Co. Although its interest would be a minority one, and is specifically mentioned as a means of consolidating some Newsday operations with those of Murdoch's New York Post, it certainly cannot be completely excluded that Murdoch also could end up, if the Chandler bid is successful, with some control over the L.A. Times.

The whole thing is quite mysterious, because sources acquainted with Murdoch's role say he does not expect that Tribune Co. will accept any bid from the Chandlers, who have clashed with the company CEO, the inept Dennis FitzSimons. But if he does not expect the bid to be successful, then why is he wasting his time participating in it?

Stalin once remarked that communism fit Poland "like a saddle fits an ox." And the same kind of thing might be said of a Murdoch fit at the L.A. Times. Los Angeles is a liberal city. It is hard to see a Murdoch publication being very successful in Los Angeles. Still, as I say, the prospect that Murdoch could come to have a role at the Times is, indeed, chilling, because his journalistic policies are reactionary.

Meanwhile, it's also reported this morning that the Burkle/Broad bid for Tribune will not actually expire imminently, nor will it be rejected for now by Tribune. FitzSimons told the Tribune Co. staff in an e-mail that a decision on all bids and the future of Tribune will be made by March 31. The Burkle/Broad bid is enticing in respect to its promise of a $27-per-share dividend to shareholders, including the Chandlers.

Ever since it was divulged last week that the greedy Tribune executives have set aside $269 million for themselves as golden parachutes, I've tended to believe the company will be sold.

The reason is that FitzSimons, David Hiller and the whole "axis of stupidity" that has been running Tribune have absolutely no good ideas for restoring the company to prosperity were they to continue to run it. They are failures in the present business environment, and must realize that.

No, I believe there will be a sale, or at least a sale of part of the company.

From the L.A. Times point of view, the best to be hoped for now is a sale of the paper to entertainment mogul David Geffen or the Burkle/Broad interests. They both are based in Los Angeles, they have an interest in the paper, and Geffen, in particular, is liberal in his political instincts and in sync with Los Angeles. Despite reports of an arbitrary temper, Geffen would be the best fit.

A sale to a Chandler-Murdoch consortium would be bad news, reviving memories of how right wing most of the Chandler family has been. It was the family, after all, that did in Otis Chandler and his more centrist branch in the days before the L.A. Times began deteriorating as an editorial product.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hillary Clinton Recognizes Reality; Edwards And Kerry Do Not

Sen. Hillary Clinton is not the weak appeaser that John Edwards and Sen. John Kerry are. Rather than a wholesale retreat from the world wide responsibilities of the U.S., she is willing to see things as they are. This makes her a far more credible presidential candidate than Edwards or Kerry.

Clinton, on the Today program this morning, mentioned she had been to Ground Zero in New York, and, added notably, "There are people out there who are trying to kill us."

On the day that Clinton spoke out, adhering to her centrist position on foreign policy, word came of new terror threats against the United States from Ayman Zawahiri, the number two man in al-Queda. There were sectarian killings in Iraq and a bombing in Afghanistan. In Lebanon, Hezbollah thugs representing Iran and Syria intensified their attempt to bring down the Western-backed government, paralyzing Beirut. There were 2 deaths and 100 injuries in the coup attempt led by Hassan Nazrallah.

In short, on several fronts, the day President Bush is due to deliver the State of the Union address, there was new proof that the U.S. and the West have enemies who won't go away. Unlike Edwards and Kerry, Clinton is not trying to fool the American people into believing otherwise. She has a different strategy for fighting the war than Mr. Bush, but she is not for bugging out.

No one knows what may happen next in the conflict in which American forces are engaged. But Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, testified to Congress this morning that the situation in Iraq is "dire," and he strongly supported the sending of additional U.S. troops to Baghdad.

Judging from the comments posted by readers in recent weeks on the New York Times web site and letters to other newspapers like the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times, there are millions of Americans who would rather stick their heads in the sand like ostriches and not notice the threats that exist. Many of these people have the strange idea that President Bush is more to blame for the tensions in the world than Osama bin Laden.

I don't want these people to be proven wrong when a mushroom cloud soars over Los Angeles or another American city or an atomic power plant melts down as a result of sabotage.

Yet, today, we see the L.A. Times, edited by an imported incompetent, James O'Shea, continuing to ignore the news. Both yesterday and today, the Times kept off Page One, the terrible toll from sectarian and other violence in Iraq. Yesterday, the deaths of 27 American soldiers in Iraq, the third worst toll of the war for such a period, was not on Page One. Today, the killings of 88 people in sectarian violence in Baghdad, wasn't there either. Instead, there is a ridiculously false story that there is little Iranian interference in the Iraq war.

By contrast, the New York Times keeps its eye on what is happening. The 88 sectarian killings are its off-lead this morning, and the New York Times gave lead coverage to the arrest in Iraq last week of Iranian agents while that too was comparatively buried in the L.A. Times.

Our soldiers in Iraq are being hit daily by rocket propelled grenades and roadside bombs manufactured in Iran, and yet the L.A. Times has a Page One headline this morning, "Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link." Shame on the two reporters whose bylines headed this article, Alexandra Zavis and Greg Miller.

Hillary Clinton, thank goodness, is not so blind.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Privacy Must Give Way To Public Interest in Police Cases

The L.A. Times today runs on its Op-Ed Page an article by Gary Ingemunson, a counsel for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, contending that the privacy concerns of police officers must trump the public right to know about proceedings in police misconduct investigations.

A lawyer will argue anything, if he's paid to do so, and Ingemunson has, presumably, been well paid to present this point of view.

But despite the State Supreme Court's ruling in the Copley case, and its exaggeration by Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, when he advised the Los Angeles Police Department to close all hearings into shootings by problem officers, the fact is that in the public interest in Los Angeles, we cannot afford to let police actions escape public scrutiny.

As the Christopher Commission and other inquiries into the matter have shown time and again, there is a crisis in this city in the way errant officers often open fire, killing or wounding, minority youths who may have committed transgressions but not ones deserving death. On many occasions, these shootings are unjustified, and the officers who commit them do not belong on the police force.

The effect of keeping disciplinary records and proceedings secret is that officers are getting away with severe misconduct. The record shows we simply cannot rely on the LAPD to police itself. Too often, the LAPD has proven itself insensitive to its own transgressions.

When someone joins the police force, he or she should be agreeing to have proceedings regarding his conduct open to press coverage and public knowledge. That does not mean divulging his or her home address or telephone number. But it does mean that reporters, like the Los Angeles Times' Scott Glover or Matt Lait, attend hearings into police shooting cases and write about the evidence regarding them.

In recent weeks, both the New York Times and L.A. Times have had lengthy articles about ethnic tensions in Los Angeles, and, specifically, clashes between black and Latino gangs. The number of crimes is up, and relations between the two groups deteriorating.

It is all the more important then to be certain that the police are operating properly in dealing with the incidents that occur, that when they are shooting, the shootings are justified. There is no way this can be done without opening the hearings. Not opening them can only exacerbate feelings in the minority communities (which, now, are, combined a majority of Los Angeles' population), and lead to a loss of public confidence in law enforcement. That consideration must trump the rights of privacy of officers.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Muslim Duplicity A Major Impediment To U.S. Aims In Both Iraq And Afghanistan

Last night in Karbala, Iraq, five American soldiers were killed when insurgents, riding in American-appearing equipment and pretending to be Americans, burst in on a security meeting and opened fire. This was another lesson for beleaguerd American forces that they can never trust an Iraqi. Altogether, 27 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq over the weekend.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, it is becoming more and more obvious that Pakistani intelligence agencies are the major supporters of the Taliban assault from Pakistan into Afghanistan which increasingly jeopardizes American and NATO forces.

The Koran tells Muslims that it is perfectly o.k. to lie to an infidel, and what we are finding in the Middle East is that supposed allies are, in fact, foes, and a great danger to the U.S. and other Western countries.

The experience of New York Times Afghan reporter Carlotta Gall is certainly instructive in that regard. When Gall went to Quetta, Pakistan, to report the extent of Pakistani support for the Taliban, her belongings were seized by Pakistani intelligence and a Pakistani photographer who helped her was threatened and told not to work for an American reporter again. A Pakistani agent punched Gall twice and her computer was seized and inspected to try to find out who had been talkiing to her.

Shades of the Daniel Pearl execution, whose Pakistani perpetrators have been arrested, but never executed, as promised.

Gall, in the lead story in the New York Times this morning, describes how Quetta, the reputed hiding place of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, has become a base for the Taliban from which to strike the Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai and the Western forces that support him.

Gall reports, "One former Taliban commander said in an interview that he had been jailed by Pakistani intelligence officials, because he would not go to Afghanistan to fight. He said that, for Western and local consumption, his arrest had been billed as part of Pakistan's crackdown on the Taliban in Pakistan. Former Taliban members who have refused to fight in Afghanistan have been arrested -- or even mysteriously killed --after resisting pressure to reenlist in the Taliban, Pakistan and tribal elders said."

So much for Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff's assurances that Pakistan -- a country that never should have been created in the first place -- is an ally of the U.S. in the War on Terror.

We see the same kind of thing in Iraq, where the regime of Premier Nouri al-Maliki says it is supportive of American forces, while at the same time it encourages the murderous Shiite militias to kill Americans and their own fellow-citizens, who happen to be Sunnis. In fairness, Sunni insurgents, often allied with al-Queda, are killing thousands of Shiites at the same time. American troops are caught in the middle between these two groups.

This is why the Crusades were fought centuries ago -- to curtail a religion which is so dishonorable it cannot be believed on any count. We are fooling ourselves in the Middle East to say that we can trust fundamentalists of this horrible religion, dominated by violent elements, slaveholders and the like.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

$269 Million Set Aside For Incompetent Tribune Executives

One of the most shocking things about American corporate life is that the dumber the executives are, the more they get when everything crashes down and they are forced to leave.

I'm not talking about the jail terms they often deserve. I'm talking about the golden parachutes set aside for the miscreants.

So, it's really not surprising that it turns out that if the squalid Tribune Co. does take one of the offers it has solicited for its newspapers and television stations, a whopping $269 million has already been set aside for the executives who have driven the country into the ground, diminishing the quality of all its newspapers and laying people off by the hundreds.

Dennis FitzSimons, Scott Smith, David Hiller and 47 other top people at the company -- who have wrecked so many professional lives and have proven their incompetence time and time again -- would walk off with all these millions, so that they could live luxurious lives until they die and probably go straight to hell. Divine justice, is, of course, more appropriately retributive than human justice.

Executive by executive, it is not as great an amount as Mark Willes stole from Times-Mirror when he was ousted as CEO in the ill-fated sale to the Tribune Co. Willes got at least $64 million, and perhaps, according to reports, as much as $105 million. Then, he had the gall to even take the cold drinks in his office refrigerator. And this was a man who supposedly came from a religious family. even if he had grossly violated journalistic ethics in the Staples scandal.

If the Tribune executives now had any sense of values at all, they would leave without a whimper, proven failures in years of tomfoolery.

But there is one bright side to the news about the set-asides: That is that with so much at stake for these executives, the chance they will accept one of the offers made for the company may be brighter than Wall Street analysts have predicted. When the Tribune board meets today to consider the Broad-Burkle, Chandler and Carlyle offers for all or part of the company, the $269 million may be a potent card on the table. We are dealing here, of course, with greedy men.

On Saturday, the Tribune board met for several hours to consider what to do but adjourned with no action. It issued a statement saying the board is considering its next moves, which might include action by the company to keep itself going. This would be the most foolish thing it could do, since there is no prospect this woebegone company could aright itself.

Meanwhile, Tim Rutten has a column in the L.A. Times today in which he makes the incredible closing statement that "it doesn't matter" where the new owners of the L.A. Times and the other Tribune properties reside, because, Rutten opines, local ownership of newspapers "is not an end to itself."

Much as I usually respect Rutten, I think on this he is all wrong.

It does make a difference that a great Los Angeles institution like the L.A. Times is owned locally, because the odds are that a locally-owned institution will be more beholden to the public interest in the community than one living, as Rutten puts it, in "Davenport, Iowa, or the dark side of the moon."

The dark side of the moon may be the place for the permanent home of FitzSimons and Hiller. With their share of the $269 million, they could afford to hire a well-equipped spaceship and go and live there.

But a Los Angeles newspaper should be owned by Los Angelenos.


Friday, January 19, 2007

USC's Peter Gordon Is A Sell Out To Car Lobby

At a time when traffic congestion has become an ever bigger issue in Los Angeles and nearby communities, USC Professor Peter Gordon and colleagues continue to rail against construction of subways and light rail lines, and even extol congestion as a good thing.

Gordon has taken this position for years. I once asked him whether he was paid by the auto industry to take the positions he does. After all, it is widely reported that the industry purchased and then scrapped Los Angeles Pacific Electric system back in the 1940s and 1950s. Wouldn't paying a USC professor be even a cheaper way of helping to keep the automobile dominant in Los Angeles?

Gordon didn't respond to the question. Instead, he hung up.

But the views of this man, now being expounded in his blog (you can find it by typing his name into Google), are highly suspect. I notice that in a recent blog, he also denigrates Al Gore and his warnings of global warming. This too is the position of the auto industry.

Every time Los Angeles has made a little progress on building public transit rail lines, Gordon and his associates have slammed them as a waste of money. He continues to denigrate the Red Line and light rail while thousands ride it, he continues to oppose building the Red Line to Santa Monica. If he is not a shill for the auto industry, then he has a lot of explaining to do, because his views make him an enemy of progress in Southern California.

As a Times reporter, I suggested several times to public relations spokespersons at USC that they check this man out, and, specifically, investigate to see just what outside sources may be paying him a salary. But USC seems no more anxious to check into him and his associates than they are into the Reggie Bush controversy.

USC, the school that has the nearest thing to a professional football team, keeps Gordon on the staff. I never heard back that they followed my suggestions.

Anyone in this great, free country can say anything he or she likes. But it is also pertinent to ask why they take crazy, counterproductive positions year after year, decade after decade.

Traffic congestion serving a good purpose? How does that figure, and why is this academic saying it does? Is he vying to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, my scoundrel of the year for 2006, as scoundrel of the year for 2007?

(I notice that a friend of Gordon who identifies himself as "Bradley," has posted an objection to this blog. Let me reemphasize what I said. Gordon's views are counterproductive. and USC should investigate his connections).


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Broad/Burkle Bid For Tribune Co. Not Satisfactory, Chandler Bid We Don't Know

There are at least three bids for all or part of the foundering Tribune Co. But none of them at this point appears to be too promising.

The next step is for the Tribune board to meet Saturday to consider its next steps. But it may decide to do nothing, or seek more talks and clarification.

I don't think much of the bid of Eli Broad and Ron Burkle to pay a $27 dividend for each outstanding share of Tribune stock and assume a 31% control and leadership of Tribune. It would saddle the Tribune Co. with huge, new debt, and contain no real guarantees against more cost cutting at Tribune-owned newspapers.

This murky offer apparently entails a pledge to leave the headquarters of Tribune in Chicago, an inferior city, and leave Dennis FitzSimons and his axis of stupidity in their present places. This is crazy. It's like leaving a dead Ken Lay in his old post at Enron. FitzSimons and his Los Angeles lackey, David Hiller, should be "out-sourced" to northern Manitoba and left to build their own cabin.

(Chicago boosters are determined to defend the indefensible. They insist their city is up-to-snuff. They particularly accuse me of being irresponsibly negative about Chicago food. A comment below says I am basing this only on having Mexican food at Midway Airport. But this is a false accusation. My Mexican food experience was at a downtown Chicago restaurant that had the poor grace to serve enchiladas filled with potatoes. More recently, I ate in an "Italian restaurant" there that did not serve Italian food. Chicago Asian food has been woeful. I've eaten better in Moscow than I have in Chicago, and while I don't blame all this on the Tribune Co., it is surely the case they are responsible for the poor food at the Cubs' stadium. Chicago, an inferior city? That's a no-brainer. And I've spent, unhappily, a considerable time in Chicago. When I was with Life magazine in the 1960s, I lived there several months, assigned to their Chicago bureau. I was there on numerous political and insurance stories, and attended a reunion there in 2002. I've been there often enough to be able to state authoritatively how lousy and second rate it is. It's not only that in the Tribune, it has a lousy newspaper)..

Any deal that doesn't put the L.A. Times in new hands and preferably bring Dean Baquet back as editor, while kicking Hiller out of town, leaves a lot to be desired.

In short, the Broad/Burkle offer doesn't have a good odor.

The Chandler bid has to be fleshed out. The key question is what would happen to the Times. Also, there is a minority interest in the Chandler offer that has not as yet even been identified.

The other bid is for the 23 TV stations only, and so has little to do with the future of the Times.

We're going to have to wait to learn more. In the meantime, it would be encouraging were FitzSimons and Hiller to disembowel themselves, so others can come forward to make the decisions.


Time, Inc. laid off 289 employees today, and Time announced it is closing its Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles bureaus. This is the first time in many years that the magazine will have no full-time reporters in Los Angeles, and shows how the city is being treated badly, and not only by Tribune.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hillary Clinton Strikes A Centrist Position On Iraq

Sen. Hillary Clinton, back from her trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, struck a reasonably centrist position Wednesday on U.S. war policy in an interview on the Today program. With Sen. Barack Obama moving toward making a presidential bid, and former Sen. John Edwards already assuming a left wing McGovernite position, it's becoming clear that Clinton will try to occupy the Democratic center, assuming she makes her own bid. This would put her slightly to the right of Obama and distinctly to the right of Edwards in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination next year.

This morning, Clinton said she feels the U.S. ought to withdraw Green Zone support and protection for the Maliki government in Baghdad unless he promptly knuckles under on helping U.S. forces fight the Mahdi militia. So far, he has proved totally unsatisfactory in that regard. In fact, he is complicit with the Shiite Mahdi killers.

Clinton said she believes that unless he comes around, U.S. forces should be withdrawn from Baghdad and simply used in Anbar and the northwest to fight the Sunni insurgents, while, presumably not joining in in the civil war now raging between Sunnis and Shiites in Baghdad.

While Clinton opposed the troop increase in Iraq as a whole now being implemented by President Bush, she said she does feel U.S. troop levels should be increased by two battalions in Afghanistan in anticipation of spring attacks by the Taliban. The U.S. currently has only 23,000
troops in Afghanistan compared to about 140,000 in Iraq.

I'm heartened, overall, by these positions by Clinton, since it is clear she does not favor a withdrawal from the Middle East and has adopted a realistic position toward the Maliki government and its persistent support of sectarian violence in Iraq.

Perhaps, not so coincidentally, President Bush sharpened his criticism of Maliki in comments made yesterday, specifically saying the brutal hanging executions of Saddam Hussein and two of his close associates had been mishandled. The President warned in his speech last week that the U.S. commitment to the Maliki government was not "open ended" and there may be less space between his and Clinton's positions than there appears to many observers to be.

Obama, meanwhile, has also been leaning a bit toward the center on what to do in the Middle East. He has made it clear he is not for a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq, and has supported a larger U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.

Only Edwards sounds thoroughly defeatist, and he is demagoguing this issue. He voted for the war in the first place, and now has adopted the cut-and-run attitude of the cowardly Sen. John Kerry in an attempt to stake out a position he thinks will benefit him in the primaries. It's a position which could work in the primaries, in my view, but not in a general election. With that in mind, Clinton's position is far more beneficial both to herself in the long run and to American power and success in the world.

We'll see what happens, but it's becoming apparent that Maliki and his corrupt and murderous government is on an increasingly short leash with all factions in the U.S. Getting rid of him may well prove necessary


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New York Times Reports Uncertain Prospects On Bids For Tribune Tomorrow

The New York Times seems as uncertain as nearly everyone else has been the past week as to what kind of offers may be made at tomorrow's bidding deadline for the Tribune Co., or whether there will be any meaningful bids at all.

It seems that the combination of a whole business in the doldrums, plus the axis of stupidity which marks the Tribune executives has discouraged optimism of any bidding beyond that of the current depressed Tribune stock price, presently under $31.

The NYT article today spends considerable space talking about a possible bid by Eli Broad and Ron Burkle for at least parts of the Tribune, or for the L.A. Times alone, although it also reports that two days before the deadline, there was no certainty they would even bid.

Earlier, the L.A. Times had a story on possible Chandler family participation in a bid for Tribune, a possibility I reported on last week.

As the time for bidding approaches, there is clearly more skittishness on the Times staff about wild-eyed owners wtihout experience in the newspaper business.

But I continue to believe the future of the Times will be brighter under other ownership than the Tribune Co., and that it is highly desirable that Los Angeles have a locally-owned paper.

All we can do at this point is to wait. Perhaps, we'll know more later on in the week.


Kudos to Garrett Therolf for his outstanding story in the L.A. Times Monday on the sailing misadventure of Ken Barnes, Jr. off the coast of Chile which broke up his attempt at sailing solo around the world. This story should have been on Page 1 of the A section rather than Page 1 of the California section.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Already, New Trouble With Sectarian Maliki Government Over Baghdad Plan

A comprehensive article in the New York Times this morning by its superb Baghdad correspondent, John F. Burns, shows that before President Bush's "surge" plan in Iraq even begins, and all new U.S. troop reinforcements arrive, we are already encountering the old problems with the haplessly Shiite-oriented regime of Nouri al-Maliki.

First, the concept of "partnering" control of military operations with Maliki's obscure new appointed commander of Iraqi forces, a man unknown to U.S. commanders, and other parts of his government has led to confusion over just who is in charge in Baghdad.

Second, there is tremendous doubt whether U.S. forces will easily gain authorization to go after the murderous Shiite militias, out there kidnapping, torturing and murdering their fellow citizens just as much or more than the Sunni insurgents. Maliki has proved complicit time and again with the Shiite killers, and the Shiite terrorist, Moktada al-Sadr, has 30 representatives inside the government. Just Monday, another hanging of former aides of Saddam Hussein, including his half-brother, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, was botched, with Ibrahim being decapitated in the process, outraging Sunnis and further embarrassing the government.

Maliki, the way he is going, is apt to either be deposed by coup, or end up hanging from the gallows the way Saddam did. Supporting him is like the Royal Navy supporting the Latin tyrant, El Supremo, in one of the Hornblower novels.

As even President Bush must realize, he is on a short leash on Iraq with the American people, with opposition even in his own political party, and some Democratic presidential candidates for 2008, such as former Sen. John Edwards, already beginning to exploit existing opposition to the war.

If the war is important for America to win, or at least not lose, and I believe it is, Mr. Bush is going to have to act quickly to bring Maliki and his so-called "government" into line. It is unfortunate that, publicly, he continues to talk about him with the same kind of praise he lavished on the now-ousted secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and FEMA executives in the Hurricane Katrina debacle. Either Mr. Bush doesn't know a bad apple when he sees one, or he is hopelessly insincere.

The trouble in Iraq fundamentally is that it is riven with ethnic conflicts that prevent anyone from ruling democratically. Everyone sooner or later seems to resort to brute force to bring competing groups into line. And in Maliki's case, he seems entirely too close to Iran, whose forces are subverting peace in Iraq. Iranian influence must be crushed militarily if the violence is to be curtailed, yet the foul Maliki government objects to everything American forces do in that regard.

Altogether, this remains a bad situation. I see in the Israeli press that before he suffered his stroke, indeed before the U.S. even launched the war, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned Mr. Bush that the Iraqis and the Arab world in general were not likely to become democratic. We now see this to be true.

And yet developments in that part of the world compel us to be there, mainly to protect ourselves. That is too important to allow Maliki to stand in our way.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Steve Lopez Shows His Superb Skewering Ability In Last Week

Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times is always a fine columnist, but he has been at his best this past week with a series of excellent columns that demonstrate what a great critic of both official and private incompetence and double dealing he is.

Ron Tutor, boss of the incompetent building firm of Tutor-Saliba, Zev Yaroslavsky, the inept county supervisor most responsible for doing nothing about Los Angeles' traffic problems, and Jack Weiss, the city councilman who is supporting rampant building projects on the West Side that compound those problems, were all subject to Lopez skewering this week, and all richly deserved it.

Tutor, the ill-tempered builder, easily becomes furious when anyone accurately describes all the screw-ups his firm has been responsible for, and he was at his worst this week, fulminating in answer to Lopez' questions. Tutor said, "The truth of it is, I don't trust anybody who works for the L.A. Times."

Unfortunately, there is no reason to trust Tutor or his firm. It seems they invariably do poor work, and charge high prices. Why anyone would use the firm at all defies one's understanding.

Now, Tutor-Saliba is working on yet another project where the costs keep mounting, the new LAPD headquarters. LAPD is the police agency that lets its cops go around shooting minority youths with impunity.

Tutor hung up on Lopez when he called to discuss the company's latest foul-ups. The biggest question is why the city is letting Tutor-Saliba do this complicated project, when it couldn't even correctly build a parking structure for the L.A. Airport people out in the San Fernando Valley.

This morning, Lopez, is back to discussing L.A. traffic. He points out that building two new 47-story condos in Century City hardly makes sense before the area's terrible traffic congestion is ameliorated.

Councilman Weiss makes a fool of himself in this column, telling the columnist that all the residents of the condos will walk to work and do their shopping nearby, rather than add to the congestion. It also turns out that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa accepted $100,000 in campaign contributions from the developer before coming out in favor of the project.

But it is Yaroslavsky who is among those bearing the greatest guilt for Los Angeles becoming more and more unlivable. This longtime officeholder is chiefly known for enlisting Congressman Henry Waxman to author legislation blocking federal funding of further subway construction years ago when it was already clear that the subway was desperately needed and when a West Side subway would have cost far less than it would today.

Yaroslavsky moves from one screw-up to the next. Now, he wants to make major thoroughfares one way streets, rather than try to really deal with the problems.

L.A. badly needs competent officials. A newspaper columnist can't solve the city's problems entirely on his own. The voters have had numerous opportunities to put Yaroslavsky out to pasture, but so far have been reelecting him.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

Tribune Flunky Proves Just How Stupid The Axis of Stupidity Is

The axis of stupidity, the executives at the Tribune Co., have sent out a flunky to challenge the Columbia Journalism Review editorial advising Tribune to get out of the newspaper business.

The letter to CJR from Gerould Kern, who signs himself vice president/editorial insists on something that will strike any knowledgable observer as ridiculous -- that Tribune newspapers in their present cost cutting mode, are performing outstanding public service. I wonder if, like L.A. Times publisher David Hiller, Kern too is a crony of Bill Clinton persecutor Ken Starr.

Kern's is a lengthy letter, but every sentence of it is drivil.

Meanwhile, a Merrill Lynch analyst, Lauren Rich Fine, says she does not believe Tribune Co. will sell its assets. Merrill Lynch is the company that nearly bankrupted Orange County with its poor advice, and Fine's analysis is more of the same. She bases her conclusion on the assumption none of the bids due Jan. 17 will be satisfactory.

With the bids this coming week, I'm confident a sale process will be initiated. Tribune will certainly sell some assets, because the company right now is a royal fuck up, managed by inept jerks, its stock price low, its debts huge, its shareholders dissatisfied, its thinking processes bankrupt. We can only pray that among the assets that will be sold is the Los Angeles Times, which has suffered as much or more from the company ineptitude as any of its assets.

Have faith. A better day is coming, regardless of idiotic letters or Wall Street gurus who have been responsible for driving many companies into the ground.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Delgadillo, Police Union Shiv The Minority Communities By Keeping Police Shooting Proceedings Secret

Of all the disservices he has done in public office, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, reached a low point when he misinterpreted a court ruling to advise city officials that it was illegal to continue to keep open disciplinary proceedings against officers involved in questionable shootings, often of defenseless minority youths.

There is every evidence that Delgadillo issued his opinion on the matter as a campaign ploy to secure police union backing in his fruitless effort to defeat former Gov. Jerry Brown in the Democratic primary contest for attorney general last year. (It also turned out in that race that Delgadillo had lied about his background as a football player. Now, thankfully, his political career seems to be over).

But the city's notoriously weak police commission, with alacrity, accepted Delgadillo's opinion, and efforts to undo the secrecy in the Legislature, to make it clear that state law does not mandate that such hearings be secret, was stymied by the police unions, which like the prison guards union, only very seldom try to protect the public interest against the misdeeds of their own members.

The result is that a clear message is being sent out to the minority communities which are the victim of much police misconduct that city and state government do not care about their concerns and will not move publicly to condemn officers who shoot and kill without good reason.

Now, we come to a new demonstration of that fact in the sordid case of 13-year-old Devin Brown, fatally shot seven times in 2005 by Officer Steven Garcia. Garcia used one of the most common excuses of errant law enforcement officers to justify the shooting: He claimed Brown was backing a vehicle toward him, and he had to shoot. I wish I had a dime for every time the police has used such an excuse. In this case, however, the claim only was that Brown was going two miles an hour. In short, rather than killing him, Garcia could simply have stepped out of the way.

The Police Commission, for once, did take a proper stand. It ruled that Garcia had acted out of policy. And the Los Angeles City Council approved a $1.5 million settlement with Brown's family, (as if money was an adequate compensation for the life long grief this family will suffer).

Now, however, a Los Angeles Police Department panel, misnamed a "board of rights," after a secret hearing and without public explanation,has ruled that Garcia was justified in the shooting and will not have to face any disciplinary action. Garcia seems to be free to remain on the force. I wonder whether he will kill again.

Under the new policy of closing off information, Garcia's name would not even be divulged in public, lessening protection against not only him, but against all problem officers, officers who all too often have psychopathic tendencies.

In this case, Los Angeles Times reporters were barred from the hearing that, with star chamber swiftness, exonerated Garcia and spit in the face of his family and the Los Angeles Latino community.

Well, this caused something of a furore and now the Police Chief, William Bratton, who concurred in this outrageous decision, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both declare the hearing should have been public, and urge the Legislature to act to make sure such proceedings will be in the future. It has yet to be seen whether either man will actually fight vigorously to get the Legislature to act. The police lobbyists can be counted upon to be vigorous in their opposition, and if the historic record is followed, the legislation will fail. Police killings seem to be more difficult to control than lynchings, which were finally outlawed.

The L.A. Times, commendably, has an editorial this morning urging a return to the old policy of openness.

The editorial makes this point: "On Wednesday, another LAPD officer shot and killed an unarmed man. Was the action warranted, was it a tragic mistake, or did the officer act unreasonably? Does the officer have a history of bad decisions? What exactly happened and who was involved? Under rules in place until just over a year ago, we would probably find out eventually. Under rules in place today, we may never get the answers. That in turn means we may never be able to determine whether we're getting the reformed LAPD we want."

On the Op-Ed page this morning, there is a column by the law professor, Erwin Chermerinsky, a long time exponent of police reform that never seems to be coming about.

Chermerinsky writes, "Such secrecy undermines the accountability of the LAPD. Without being able to observe disciplinary hearings or know the reasons for the panel's conclusions, there is no way to evaluate whether the disciplinary system is working. Closed proceedings and secret decisions fuel the impression that the board of rights protects officers from warranted discipline and does not serve the interests of the public."

As Chermerinsky also observes, "Officers who use deadly force do not have a privacy interest in being free from scrutiny."

In the meantime, let's hope Officer Garcia feels guilty and leaves the police force.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Stakes Grow Higher In Iraq, And Danger Grows Of A Confrontation With Iran

The Iraq war and the crisis in the Middle East can only grow in intensity as a result of President Bush's decision to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq in order to stem both the insurgency and sectarian violence in the city of Baghdad and Anbar province. In short, to try and reverse what Mr. Bush now openly acknowledges are adverse trends in the war.

There were two elements of the President's speech last night that struck me as particularly significant.

One was the line about fewer restrictions being imposed on U.S. troops. Mr. Bush did not elaborate, but, already, in the clashes on Haifa St. on Tuesday, much more American air power was used to batter the insurgents than has often been the case in the Baghdad area. It seems that the rules of engagement have been altered, and the casualties, both among soldiers and civilians, may well go up.

Second, was Mr. Bush's bellicose language toward Iran and Syria, his warning that the U.S. would go after "networks" of support from outside Iraq of the violence inside the country.

The danger of a military confrontation, particularly with Iran, is growing. The U.S. is moving a second carrier to the Persian Gulf, and this week it has taken further action to restrict Iranian banking in its international transactions. Earlier today, there was another seizure of Iranian personnel in a raid on an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq. Relations with Iran, never good, are now at a tinder point.

Last Sunday, it should be noted, the London Times carried a report that the Israelis may be preparing a tactical nuclear strike against certain Iranian nuclear facilities. If such an attack were to take place, it could well mean the spread of a general war throughout the Middle East. It is unlikely such a strike would occur without the approval of the U.S. and yet the other options for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons so far aren't working.

The exact meaning of certain other portions of the President's speech was unclear. For instance, what exactly is the nature of Mr. Bush's warning to the Iraqi government about the consequences of not living up to assurances given by Premier Nouri Maliki that he, at long last, will crack down on the Shiite militias led by the radical cleric, Moktada al-Sadr? It should be noted that without the 30 deputies Sadr has in Maliki's coaltion, he cannot mount a majority in the Iraqi Parliament.

Is Mr. Bush saying the U.S. would get out of Iraq if Maliki continues to support the sectarian violence of the militias? Or is he suggesting that the U.S. would take action to oust Maliki? Already, there have been rumors of a coup in Baghdad.

No one at this point can have any doubt that the Bush Administration is in a desperate situation in the war, with opposition growing here at home, and the military options so grim. What will Mr. Bush do exactly to prevent a defeat in the war? One gets the impression that to him, defeat is not an option. If this is so, we are entering into a period of unparalleled danger in the War on Terror.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Public Opinion May Yet Give Bush Another Chance In Iraq

A poll out today indicates that even in advance of President Bush's speech on Iraq tonight public opinion, while still negative, seems to be moving a bit in his direction.

A couple of weeks ago, only 12% of those surveyed, favored sending more American troops into Iraq. Last night, I noticed, 36% did. And while 61% were still opposed, the Democrats in Congress are, mostly, talking of symbolic rather than binding votes against a step up.

Generally speaking, when the President of the United States takes action, the people rally to him. But Mr. Bush has waited much too long to try to reverse the negative course of events in Iraq.

It seems that Mr. Bush is going to be given one more chance there, but the situation has by no means improved in the last few weeks. For an improvement to take place, the unreliable Maliki government is going to have to be weaned from encouraging sectarian violence and start living up to its promises of Iraqi troop reinforcements in Baghdad, to assist U.S. forces in squelching the killings there.

Unless these two things happen, it's hard to see the Administration's "surge" of additional troops will do any good. In fact, the contrary might occur, if U.S. casualties soar, and the Iraqi government continues its poor performance, the American people as a whole may simply become fed up with the war and put pressure on Congress to rein it in, as it finally did with the Vietnam war.

We'll see, also, how the President does tonight. Many of his recent speeches have not been too effective. The stakes tonight are higher, and perhaps he will rise to the occasion. The President is, laudably in my view, a stubborn man, but he's also got to be convincing, if his point of view is to be given a chance.

On another front, the Administration and its new defense secretary, Robert Gates, seem to be having considerable success in applying pressure in Somalia to kill off the leaders on the Islamic Courts there and help the Ethiopians and the indigenous Somali forces to exert control. The American people probably aren't very preoccupied with that theatre of the war, but to the extent they are, the events of recent weeks have to be, on the whole, encouraging, especially if the al-Qaeda leader, Fazul Mohammed, a figure in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, turns out to have been killed.

The American people are looking for good news, some sign that the War on Terror is becoming marked by some successes. Somalia appears to be one such success, although a minor one. More significant events will be occurring in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Lebanon.


I've had a query about the present activities of Mark Willes, CEO of Times-Mirror before the sale of the newspapers to Tribune Co. I suggest contacting the Mormon church in Salt Lake City, because Willes is related to the Church leadership.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

L.A. Times Inappropriately Sympathetic With An Army Deserter

Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, a disloyal U.S. soldier who is trying to desert, should receive the full penalties of the law for failing to agree to service in Iraq. And it is inappropriate for the Los Angeles Times to show him sympathy with articles and editorials.

We have hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Marines, Navy, Air Force and special forces who have courageously fought in what is a difficult, protracted war. More than 3,000 of them have died in it, thousands more have been wounded. All of them volunteered for the service, as did Watada. But only Watada and a very few others have refused to go.

There should only be one penalty in wartime for a wilful failure to perform one's duty, and that is death by firing squad. The Army is being nice to Watada in asking only for a six-year term.

Also, reporters who taperecorded Watada's disloyal remarks should appear in court to testify, as requested by Army prosecutors. This is not a case of protecting one's sources, since Watada spoke publicly and was recorded publicly.

If the L.A. Times and other newspapers wish to retain the loyalty of their own readers, then they must support the laws of the land. A Times editorially wrongfully entitled "Military Injustice" admits that, "It makes sense for the Army to prosecute (Watada) for refusing orders to deploy to Iraq," but then objects to government procedures that will prove Watada is refusing to go.

There is no substitute in these hard times for loyalty to the nation. When a soldier voluntarily signs up for duty, he must go. It is necessary to tell that to Teresa Watanabe, the Times reporter who has written entirely too sympathetically about this disgraceful officer.


Monday, January 08, 2007

L.A. Times Has A Fair Story On Pros and Cons Of Bush Plan For A "Surge" In Iraq

I confess I was quite pleasantly surprised Sunday to find a front page story by Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus and reporter Maura Reynolds in the L.A. Times that actually was an attempt to fairly give the pros and cons of President Bush's apparent plan to "surge" or increase the number of U.S. military in Iraq.

All too often, of late, particularly in the New York Times and Time magazine, there seems to be an assumption that the President owes the voters a retreat in Iraq, a phased withdrawal that could cost the U.S. and other Western powers their whole position in the Middle East. The catastrophic consequences are seldom discussed by such devoted "cut-and-runners" as Frank Rich and Paul Krugman in the New York Times, or Michael Duffy in Time magazine.

But the McManus-Reynolds story quite dispassionately gave the President's reasons for the surge, and did not assume, by any means, that the Democrats in Congress would be able to block it.

A key fact mentioned in the article is that while the American people are certainly impatient with the war in Iraq, now approaching four years in duration, and exceeding the length of American involvement in World War II, there is still by no means a majority in various polls for simply getting out. The L.A. Times article mentioned a CNN poll that showed only 21% taking that position, and another recent poll showed only 29% think Bush will actually get out. There's a majority in favor of a phased withdrawal, but of all the options being explored, this is probably the least workable.

Under these circumstances, the President has some wiggle room, although, certainly, if there is a surge and nothing improves in Iraq, the political reaction inside America will likely be fierce.

The one weakness, it seemed to me, in the McManus-Reynolds story was that there was inadequate consideration that a surge, particularly, one that places more American soldiers in Baghdad, is highly likely to result in more casualties to U.S. forces.

This is one, major problem with a surge, and another is the likely prospect that the haplessly sectarian government of Nouri Maliki in Iraq will not fulfill any obligations it undertakes to bring more Iraqi soldiers into Baghdad to help an increased American contingent. Maliki only provided half the trooops promised to an earlier American surge, and he has shown himself repeatedly to be a sleazy welsher in the matter of controlling the Shiite militias in Baghdad. Like many Arabs, Maliki thinks nothing of keeping his word about anything.

Indeed, there have been reports that, besides the Americans, the increased contingents of troops brought to Baghdad now would be Kurds. This might only exacerbate the situation in the Iraqi capital.

The situation in Iraq today reminds one a little bit of the Nixon Administration's move in 1970 to aright the situation in Vietnam by invading Cambodia. That increased political tensions within the U.S. to a critical point, and, in the end, did not work.

We can certainly expect such Democrats as Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Carl Levin, Joseph Biden and Harry Reid to scream bloody murder over a Bush plan to send more Americans into Iraq, particularly into Baghdad, although I would not expect they would have either the desire or the votes to actually cut off funds. Pelosi held out the possibility yesterday, however, that she might make a distinction between approving funds for the present U.S. military force in Iraq, but not for the increased forces. This is quoted this morning in a lead New York Times story.

The McManus-Reynolds article was fair, but perhaps it did not fully examine the somber prospects facing the Administration, as it tries to continue, and even step up, the war.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Crunch Time Coming In Deciding Future Of Tribune Co. And L.A. Times

It was reported last week that bids are expected Jan. 17 for parts or all of the Tribune Co. The crunch time may well be coming, therefore, in the protracted drama over the future of the Los Angeles Times, which has been languishing under injurious Tribune control for seven years.

In this context, I hear from someone who is probably a good source that William Steinhart, Jr., a Chandler family representative on the Tribune board, is telling associates that the Chandler family, which controls 20% of Tribune stock, will join one of the billionaire bidders in purchasing the Times, although the family will not directly participate in running the newspaper itself.

Such a plan would avert otherwise serious tax consequences for the family should the sale of the Times be structured in some other way.

Both the Chandler family representatives, and their advisor, Thomas Unterman, have had nothing to say publicly for quite a while about their plans. Including Steinhart, three Chandler family representatives sit on the Tribune board, where they have clashed with the company's CEO, the notoriously inept Dennis FitzSimons.

The heart of the Chicago establishment which controls the Tribune, the five Robert R. McCormick Foundation trustees, hired outside counsel last week as a possible preparation for their role in any unraveling or sale of Tribune.

Among these foundation trustees is David Hiller, the usurping publisher of the L.A. Times, who, naturally, is loyal to the Chicago interests which gave him the Times publishership when Jeffrey Johnson was ousted.

If the Times were sold to a local bidder and the Chandler family, Hiller would probably be immediately ousted from the Times publishership, and it is also possible that Dean Baquet, the editor Hiller fired, would be brought back as Times editor.

I freely acknowledge there is considerable speculation in these reports. I have not talked to Steinhart personally, feeling it would be fruitless to seek any confirmation from him. We're now just going to have to watch and wait, although with increased anticipation. We should know what's going to happen soon.


In a move which is not going to help the Times, the newspaper's press operators voted 140-131 to be represented by a union, the Teamsters. This is a reflection of the unpopularity of Hiller, far beyond his depth in Los Angeles, and could impede a sale of the paper. The press operators, calculating that Tribune will stay in control, may have stabbed themselves in the back.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

It's Good That Republicans Must Adjust To Democratic Control Of Congress

I confess to mixed feelings about the Democratic takeover of Congress. I was thrilled when I saw Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the first woman to ever become Speaker of the House, at the podium this week with a flock of children and grandchildren, as she assumed her responsibilities. The number of women in the House has steadily increased and has now reached 74 in the 435-seat House chamber, so it's high time a woman reached the top most post.

But when Pelosi joined Sen. Harry Reid, the new Senate majority leader, in trying to head off President Bush's projected increase of troops in Iraq, I didn't agree with them. The President is the commander=in-chief, and as long as he's in office, within limits, he has most rights to conduct the war as he wishes.

Still, Democratic input is good. It is good that the Democrats will now have some influence over war policy, because despite anti-war feeling on the Democratic side, it will be better for the country in the long run if the Democrats have some responsibility for a war that affects us all.

It's going to require an adjustment of thinking to figure out just what "some responsibility" will mean.

There is a short, but amusing, story in the L.A. Times this morning by Noam Levey, about the tribulations of Rep. David Dreier, who is from Southern California, as he settles into a minority role on the House Rules Committee, after running the committee with an iron hand during the years of Republican control.

Dreier all of a sudden has become an exponent of openness, and is now criticisizing the Democrats for doing some things on the Rules Committee that he used to do, such as banning some amendments on the House floor.

Levey quotes Rep. Alcee Hastings, the Florida Democrat, as saying of Dreier, "He is the only person in this chamber who can take a position directly contradictory to the one he took a few minutes earlier with a straight face."

I suspect it's going to take Dreier a while to adjust to the new order. In my contacts with him over the years, he has not proved to be very elastic in some things.

But both Dreier and the system will adjust. One of the glories of American government is that occasionally the voters do perceive it's time for a change, and act on it. This lets fresh air into the system, and brings along younger generations, which is a very good thing.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Despite Advance Warnings, There Was No Major Terrorism Over The Holidays

When I was in London in November, the British authorities were quite outspoken about what they saw as a danger of Islamic terrorism over the Holidays, and there were similar warnings elsewhere in Europe.

But we've now gotten through the Holidays without any terrorism to speak of. There was a bombing at the Madrid Airport, but that apparently came from Basque, not Islamic, terrorists.

This is not the first holiday or significant anniversary of 9-11 and other events in which there's been an alert for terrorism, but nothing has happened. In fact, having cried wolf several times, U.S. authorities have pretty much dropped their terrorist alerts.

More than five years after 9-11, with major U.S. and NATO initiatives proceeding in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to curtail Al-Qaeda, and seize or kill off its operatives, we have to ask ourselves why.

Is it the case that our protective intelligence is so good that terrorist attacks have been nipped in the bud? Some have, such as the apparent plot last summer to bomb airplanes crossing the Atlantic.

But, all told, my own feeling is that the main reason is that the terrorists have decided not to attack.

It may be that Osama bin Laden, like Ho Chi Minh, in the Vietnam war, has wisely perceived that an attack in Europe or the United States would only rile people up and spur the West on to bigger efforts in the Middle East, that, in short, Arab interests would pay the price. One of the salient features of Ho's success was that he never angered the U.S. to the extent that we would invade North Vietnam or take some other decisive action in that war. The result was that ultimately the U.S. got tired and went home. Antiwar critics here at home were encouraged by the lack of North Vietnamese action outside the actual Indochinese war theatre.

If, indeed, al-Qaeda is making the same kind of calculations, it seems to be working for them too. Criticism of the U.S. war effort is growing, particularly as concerns Iraq, where the war truly rages.

It has been remarked upon that Bin Laden and his friends take the long view, and that their main objective is to push the West out of the Middle East. Regardless of all their bombastic talk about attacking the West, there actually have been comparatively few such attacks since 9-11. There were the bombings on the train systems in Madrid and London, but for the most part, not too much more has happened.

This is not the case of "Hitler missing the bus," as Neville Chamberlain suggested he had done just before the launched his successful 1940 blitzkrieg in the low countries and France. This is in accord with a sensible strategy.

Of course, I could be jumping the gun. Maybe, the terrorists have been distracted by all the internecine fighting in their own ranks, such as in Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon. Maybe, there will be a big terrorist attack outside the Middle East today or tomorrow. But, at this point, if I were betting, I'd bet there won't be.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Tales Of Lying and Craziness In Iraq And Iran

Is there any reason for the U.S. Government to give one day's support more to the murderous barbaric Shiite regime of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq? Probably not.

In the execution of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, it now turns out that Maliki's National Security Advisor, Mowafflak al-Rubaie, who was at the scene, was lying through his teeth when he told CNN's Anderson Cooper shortly afterwards than the execution had been accomplished with unsullied dignity in a thoroughly decorous atmosphere.

Just hours later, a video surfaced which showed masked Shiite guards taunting Saddam, screaming the name of the Shiite killer, Moktada al-Sadr, (whose father he had once ordered executed) in his face and, as a last message before the trap door sprung, telling Saddam he was bound for hell. Saddam himself behaved with comparative dignity, although there are suggestions that perhaps he was given a sedative before being handed over by the Americans to be taken to the gallows.

Now, Rubaie admits to Cooper that the guards danced around Saddam's body after the hanging, although he denies a suggestion that he (Rubaie) may have actually been one of those who videotaped the execution. Dancing around the body is an old Iraqi tradition, he remarked on CNN last night, which may explain the conduct of Iraqi mobs when four American contractors were murdered a couple of years ago and hung from the nearest power lines.

Why exactly is Cooper continuing to interview Rubaie when he has already turned out to be a bald-faced liar and an exponent of barbaric practices which, as an observer declared last night, reveal the "dark soul" of Iraq?

While the State Department and the U.S. military assail the Iraqis for rushing to hang Saddam and then presiding over cruel treatment to the condemned until the last possible moment, the White House declines to be critical. However, a White House spokesman Wednesday did warn the Maliki government to exert "appropriate care" in future executions.

That weak response is an affront to the American soldiers who have been fighting and dying in Iraq, and for what? To preserve the Maliki government's policy of murdering thousands of fellow-citizens, who happen to be Sunni, in the streets and homes of Baghdad?

Now, let us pass to Iran, where we learn that one Mohammed Ali Ramin, an advisor to the fanatic Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is expounding on his own explanation of the World War II holocaust.

Hitler was Jewish, Ramin declares, was working to establish the state of Israel, and may have expressed some anti-Jewish sentiments because his mother was a Jewish whore.

This man obviously should be committed to an insane asylum. But this is also the regime that the Baker Commission suggests we negotiate with for a Middle Eastern settlement.

This is like saying that Rep. Leo Ryan should have continued negotiations with Rev. Jim Jones, after his party was fired upon at the airport near Jonestown and poisonous Kool ade was being distributed to hundreds of Jones' hapless followers. Of course, regardless what Baker would have advised him, Ryan couldn't negotiate, because he had been shot and killed.

In injecting ourselves into the Middle East, whether it be for a high minded goal of bringing democracy to these ignorance miscreants, or for a low minded devotion to protecting oil supplies, it is becoming clearer and clearer that, if we are going to stay, we have to take over completely, get rid of the scoundrels who have come to power and install our own government, possibly of the Kurds. In short, we have to start over.

Otherwise, we are only digging ourselves deeper, as we may be regardless. If the consequences of leaving are too dire, as they well may be, then a total colonial regime is in order. Most Iraqis have forfeited any right they once had to try to govern themselves.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Columbia Journalism Review Tells Tribune Co. To Get Out Of The Newspaper Business

The whole world of journalism is coming to believe that the "axis of stupidity" formed by Dennis FitzSimons, Scott Smith and David Hiller at the Tribune Co. is truly hopeless and that the infamous trio ought to sell the L.A. Times and, in fact, get out of the newspaper business altogether.

The latest prestigious entity to adopt that eminently sound position is the Columbia Journalism Review, which, in an unsigned editorial, remarks, "Tribune has great resources, but those resources aren't doing much public good. The company seems less than the sum of its parts. And so, like (Donald) Rumsfeld, it should go. We'll take our chance with the gaggle of billionaires who are lining up to buy those newspapers."

But, as I've pointed out before, FitzSimons has demonstrated all the smarts of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who didn't know when to quit and ended up dangling by his feet in the last days of World War II, the victim of Italian partisans. He holds on, when he should have quit long ago.

After the Columbia Journalism Review editorial, Gary Dretzka, whose working experience makes him an expert on Tribune Co., wrote to Romenesko that the editorial could have been even better informed.

"If the editorial editors at CJR had dug just a bit deeper, they might have been able to point out that, immediately before joining the Bush Administration, Donald Rumsfeld served as a director on the board of Tribune Co. It also might have referenced the recollections of the current publisher of the Los Angeles Times, in its Current section, of playing squash with the just-fired Defense Secretary. It was David Hiller's first byline in his new post at the LAT."

Very informative. But we've known from the beginning of his tenure that Hiller is a putz of the worst kind. He treated his editor at the Times like Mussolini treated his son-in-law, Ciano: He got rid of him.

The Columbia Journalism Review remarked in its editorial, "Good editors will cut costs when it is part of a sensible business plan. But in time Tribune appeared to be simply harvesting the assets of its properties. Newday and others were picked nearly clean and Tribune began turning to L.A. again this fall. To Jeffrey Johnson and Dean Baquet, the former publisher and former editor of the Los Angeles Times, Tribune must have sounded like the motorcycle thugs in Hunter Thompson's first book, Hell's Angels. In Thompson telling, the Angels come up to you in a bar and say, Give me a cigarette. Then: Give me another cigarette. Then: Give me a pack. Give me your shirt. At some point you realize you might as well fight..."

In short, a good editorial. It's time that Tribune Co. executives take heed, lay down and quit. All their plans have failed, and only one honorable course remains: GO.


Compliments to David Streitfeld in the L.A. Times Business section Tuesday for his article on Amazon's policy of pricing its books, specifically raising the prices after customers indicate their interest in books. It's like giving a regular book store clerk some books to hold until later in the week, and then finding, when you come back, that the books cost more.

This is good consumer reporting. Even though, I happen to be a stockholder in Amazon, I enjoyed it completely.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Difficulties Of American Position In Iraq Compounded By Manner Of Saddam Execution

Despite the reported attempts of American representatives to bring about a less hurried and more dignified execution of the Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, the inept government our country has helped install in Iraq again behaved disgracefully. The result is that the already difficult American mission in that country has been further compromised.

President Bush, I'm afraid, is going to regret his endorsement of the premiership of Nouri Maliki as much as he has had to regret his early endorsement of the conduct of the FEMA director after Hurricane Katrina, when he said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Maliki bears the major responsibility for turning the execution of Saddam into a blatant example of the kind of sectarian revenge of lynching and murder that is tearing Iraq and the Middle East apart.

With unseemly haste, just four days after his appeals were dismissed, Saddam was sent to the gallows, the execution performed by an all-Shiite group of masked guards who sent him on his way with a cacophony of insults and chants for the murdering Shiite leader, Moktada al-Sadr, that lasted through the very moment the trap door was sprung. All this happened at the very beginning of a Sunni holiday, a message to rebellious Sunnis that there is no place for them in the new Iraq. And a videotape was produced that showed these proceedings in all their squalor and dishonor to the whole world.

Difficult and colonialist as it may have been, the American military should not have given itself to this sordid spectacle by releasing Saddam under these circumstances to the custody of the executioners.

We now find ourselves in an anomalous position in the whole Iraqi enterprise. We are the backers of a barbaric Shiite regime headed by a premier who is in league with murdering sectarian militias. And we are fighting a Sunni insurgency, just as barbaric with its suicide bombings, tortures and be headings, that happens also to be in the same sect as some of our supposed friends in the Middle East, the primarily Sunni kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and the Gulf States.

That this puts the American military and the Bush Administration is an almost impossible situation goes without saying. Only the sorry consequences of a withdrawal keeps us in Iraq at all.

But the pressures at home for such a withdrawal are growing all the time, and despite protracted deliberations, the way forward of President Bush and his administration is not clear.

There was even a poll released over the weekend that shows only 35% of the American military now supports any step up of the war effort of the kind the Adminstration has been contemplating.

Watching the funeral this morning of the late President Gerald R. Ford, with all the tributes to him for taking tough decisions, I wondered about its effect on Mr. Bush. What can he be privately thinking now after the lynching in Baghdad and this new proof that that the man he has endorsed as premier of Iraq is contemptible.


The New York Times had a tour de force Sunday in its pages of stories and pictures about the most recent 1,000 U.S. military personnel who have died in the Iraq war, which brought the total thus far to 3,000.

The reader had to weep for the sacrifices made by these men and women for a people seemingly unable to govern itself in a civilized manner, and the thousands of victims of the murders that have ensued.