Monday, June 30, 2008

In Loving Memory of My Dad, Ken Reich

Dad and Abby

Dad and David at David's welcome home party

Dad with his grandchildren at the Palm Springs aerial tramway, March 1, 2008

I am deeply saddened to write that my father, Ken Reich, died early this morning at his home in Los Angeles. His passing was peaceful. His last hours were spent as he would have wished them--chatting with friends and family and posting to this blog. He sent his last email, to lifelong friends in India, at around 2 a.m., and then he went to sleep. His caregiver was unable to wake him this morning.

This was a terrible shock, although those of you who know my Dad know that he had been in failing health for several years.

When I get my thoughts together, I will write more about Dad--about what an amazing father he was, about what a committed and tenacious journalist he was, and about how, despite his many quirks, he endeared himself to literally hundreds of friends and family, from all over the world. Right now, it's all too raw for me. But I encourage people to leave their own thoughts and reminiscences on this blog. Dad would have loved that, and my brother David and I will take great comfort in reading your notes.

Dad's funeral will be on Thursday, July 3 at 2 p.m. at Mt. Sinai Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive in Los Angeles. All are welcome.

Kathy Reich

Can L.A. Times Survive Zell, Michaels, Hiller?

(Readers should be aware that a series of six blogs about 75 L.A. Times staff members who have lost their jobs under the Tribune Co. precedes this one. It can easily be accessed by entering my name into Google and scanning down under the Take Back The Times entry).

It is not too surprising that a determination to resist the deterioration of the Los Angeles Times that has grown quickly out of the wrongheaded decisions and plans of Sam Zell and his colleagues should surface most clearly, for the moment, among anonymous bloggers. The bloggers are perhaps voices out of the news room who realize all too clearly what is happening, and are daring to try to stop it.

A blog known as "Save Our Trade" ( is floating a survey due July 15 asking a number of devastating questions about Tribune management, such as, what do the constant layoffs and other anti-employee actions have to do with the concept under which Zell used employee stock to take over control of the company, telling the hapless employees about to be terminated that they "owned" the paper?

Meanwhile, the TellZell blog ( is passing along a suggestion from someone at the Tribune-owned Orlando Sentinel that Times and other Tribune employees either call in sick on July 9, or conduct a byline-masthead strike for the editions of July 10. Tellzell has its own survey trying to determine whether employees think this is a good idea.

Of course, I certainly associate myself with these stirrings of action.

But the greater question at this point is, I believe: Can the Zell-Michaels plan for a "redesign" of the L.A. Times be stopped in its tracks?

We've already seen, at the Orlando paper, the dumbing down and tabloid aspects of the redesign of that paper. And although Tribune is saying there won't be a template on these redesigns for all Tribune papers, we cannot be at all sanguine about what redesign of the Times, and the promised drastic reduction in the number of its news pages, will mean.

I think there is every reason to fear that it would be a point of no return -- that no matter who came to own the paper in the future, it would be too late after the redesign, and too costly, to restore the paper to essentially what it has been since Otis Chandler became publisher in 1961.

Certainly our cherished national and foreign bureaus which have served the paper and its readers so faithfully, will, to a very great extent, fall by the wayside in a redesign. After all, didn't Zell rudely tell the Washington bureau months ago that he saw no reason it should have as many reporters as the Orange County suburban office?

And I was informed by a retired foreign editor just last week that he had been asked by Russ Stanton, the David Hiller-appointed editor of the Times, whether he felt it would be a good idea to abandon the Baghdad bureau of the Times and cover the Iraq war from afar. (Speaking of journalists serving the public interest, it takes a Russ Stanton to come up with an idea like that!)

Marjorie Miller (not my source) decided to step down as foreign editor shortly after that question was asked. She became only the latest in a long, depressing series of top-ranking personnel to leave their positions under the evil Tribune reign.

Would a redesign actually enhance local coverage and the Web site? I don't think so. Every time, a new step has been taken in the recent years of Tribune ownership, we have been assured that Metro (the California section) would have more more pages, or that the Web site would grow in offerings, timeliness and sophistication. Yet, none of these promises have been kept.

No, I think it is certain that a redesign would be absolutely devastating to the paper.

So, what can be done?

Every argument must now be made to Zell and the board of directors in Chicago that they should put such a radical retooling of the Tribune papers, and especially Times operations into abeyance until they have had a chance to consult with journalistic experts around the country to see how they think it would be received. (Virtually no one who has commented from outside thinks that Zell, Michaels and company know anything about the newspaper business).

Beyond that, the civic group of luminaries here in Los Angeles who first wrote then-Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons last year suggesting that, if Tribune wasn't willing to expend resources in Los Angeles, it sell the paper to someone who would, should become active again to push the demand that the paper be sold to local interests. This group represents the elite of the community. It is high time they show a little backbone.

It may well be that Zell is breaking the law, in some way, abandoning his fiduciary duty to the employee stockholders, by such a radical policy of changing his papers, which are already falling drastically in both circulation and ad revenue. A skilled lawyer might have to be retained to advise the employees whether it is possible to go to court to defend their interests.

Certainly, this is not the time to lose heart.

Now is the time to search for any means that will get the Times out from under the awful Tribune yoke, and bring to a halt the malevolent influence of Zell, Michaels, Hiller and other Tribune executives. Or at least delay them in their actions, until new rays of light begin to show themselves.

This is a bad time in the newspaper business, as it is, economically for the country in so many ways. But, I fully believe, brighter days will come, and we must do what we can to insure that they do.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

L.A. Times Roll of Honor, Those Who Left, 64-75

Today, I'm finishing up describing what happened at the hands of the evil Tribune Co. to 75 L.A. Times writers and editors who were at the newspaper at the wrong time -- long after the halcyon years of Otis Chandler, Tom Johnson and Bill Thomas. Without the benevolent protection and enlightened employment policies of these great journalists, they found themselves helpless, in many cases, to protect their livelihoods, and they were swept aside in successive waves of buyouts, induced buyouts and layoffs.

Yet to me, and I believe, as time goes on, to many others, they will be seen as heroes. They were a great group of people, putting out one of the finest newspapers in the country, and it was through no fault of their own that a tide of Chicago disdain and neglect came rolling into Los Angeles with the Tribune purchase and almost immediately set the paper off on a downhill course toward mediocrity. It was resisted for awhile by editors John Carroll and Dean Baquet, but eventually they were swept aside, and then the floodgates of Chicago sewage opened very widely.

Also, at the end here, I have a few comments about two of the most serious losses at the Times during the early Tribune years, those of Bill Boyarsky and Narda Zacchino.

Roll of Honor:

64. Rone Tempest. A foreign correspondent in the dangerous corners of the Middle East, then a writer in Northern California, he did many things very well. The Times was lucky to have him. But, as other foreign correspondents have found, Tempest discovered he had a hard time settling into what inherently was a less glamorous job at home.

65. Wendy Thermos. She was one of the reporters who pulled themselves upward by the bootstraps, gradually becoming a stronger writer, only to have her Times career cut short. Very much her own person, modest and unassuming yet having strong willpower. I liked and admired her.

66. Kevin Thomas. A proud movie reviewer for many years, he was suddenly told one day he had to take a buyout. He was not ready for retirement, and genuinely hurt that he was being ushered out the door. Later, he was able to write some reviews for the paper as a freelancer, but he still feels, appropriately, that he was very roughly and unfairly treated. I wonder, as he commands great layoffs at all the papers he now controls, whether Sam Zell ever thinks of the interests of the Kevin Thomases.

67. Mai Tran. One of the paper's first Vietnamese reporters, for a time the only reporter who spoke Vietnamese, she brought fresh perspectives to Orange County coverage. Again, this is the newspaper that once talked diversity, yet many of its most talented ethnic writers no longer have their jobs.

68. Sam Howe Verhovek. He has now reportedly left the New York Times too. For the L.A. Times, he was a national correspondent based in the Northwest, and also worked in other capacities, including, I believe, as the paper's architectural critic, always a difficult post to fill since many editors think little of the assignment.

69. Debora Vrona. An excellent Business reporter, aspiring upward. She is one of many losses of young, vigorous personnel that the paper has sustained.

70. Amy Wallace. For a time, an important writer in both Metro and Calendar.

71. Jenifer Warren. She was one of the most serious losses in the Sacramento bureau and statewide, because she covered the vital prison beat. California prisons had fallen into a terrible mess, overcrowded and often terribly inhumane to the prisoners and under the domination of a rapacious and irresponsible prison guards union. Warren was better at covering this story than anyone else. She has not at all been adequately replaced. She was yet another improving reporter, with her best years ahead.

72. Henry Weinstein. A reporter of reporters, he was one of the greatest Timesmen, but not only on account of his legal reporting and coverage of the death penalty issue, but also because he was an outspoken voice in the staff demanding that the paper always observe the highest ethical standards. It was Weinstein's vehement denunciation of those responsible for the Staples scandal at an open employees meeting that resulted in that blossoming as the issue that finally led to the ouster of Mark Willes and Michael Parks. Highly popular amongst the staff, he was disgusted when Sam Zell went to the Washington Bureau earlier this year and dismissed what its reporters did as inconsequential, Weinstein, as was characteristic with him, said so very plainly. I understand he has now been hired by the new dean of the U.C. Irvine Law School, Erwin Chemerinsky to teach there. They are lucky to have him, and the Times is extremely unlucky to lose him.

73. Robert Welkos. The author with Joel Sappell of the Scientology series, he was an able investigative reporter who worked both in Metro and Calendar. He wrote sensitively about a surgical operation he had had, and was a resilient popular member of the staff.

74 . Nona Yates. Long in the Times library and then a senior researcher in Metro and Business, she, like Tracy Thomas, provided valuable services. Unfailingly helpful. The kind of person a great institution needs.

75. Nora Zamichow. A distinctive writer of crime, military and other stories, she specialized in the long poignant, well-researched articles that used to mark the Times as a newspaper. One of the most eloquent writers in the business, with great moral sensitivity.

In closing out this series, I should also mention as great losses both Bill Boyarsky and Narda Zacchino. Both left the paper very early in the Tribune years when, after distinguished careers, they were left through bureaucratic shuffles with little to do. The Tribune Co. was never high on independent voices, and they were two of the best.

Boyarsky was an inspirational city editor. In fact, not since Bill Thomas was city editor in the 1960s do I think the City desk was any more distinguished than when Boyarsky and Tim Rutten were running it. It was their decision to pursue the Rampart scandal at the Los Angeles Police Department with major continuing coverage. But Boyarsky reached the highest point of a long professional life that had started at the Oakland Tribune (no relation to the Tribune Co.) and the Associated Press bureau in Sacramento, when he was called upon by the retired publisher, Otis Chandler, to deliver the message Chandler had prepared expressing revulsion at the regime of Mark Willes and Kathryn Downing and their roles in the Staples scandal. Though he knew this could get him into trouble, Boyarsky did not hesitate, and his reading of the Chandler letter to a crowded City Room was one of the greatest nights in the history of the paper. When Tribune overseers arrived, they ignored a University of Oregon citation to the Times staff for standing up heroically in the cause of journalistic independence in the Staples matter, and they quickly let Boyarsky know that, with the unpopular Miriam Pawel named as Metro editor, he would have little to do. Boyarsky left quietly, but has had a distinguished retirement as a teacher at USC, an author of a biography on Jesse Unruh, a member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and a writer for LAObserved and Truth.dig.

Narda Zacchino held many ranking positions at the Times before being foolishly passed over for editor of the paper in 1996 and subsequently being farmed out as an editor-at-large dealing with readers. Much at the Times might have been different had Zacchino been editor under Willes instead of Michael Parks, since, I believe, she might have been able to influence Willes in more constructive directions, and the Staples scandal and subsequent sale to the evil Tribune Co. would have been unlikely to occur. Zacchino spent six years as an editor of the San Francisco Chronicle upon leaving the Times, and is now the author of a book on the death in Afghanistan of Pat Tillman, the former professional football player.


One of the more repulsive statements of this year's presidential campaign was made against John McCain today on CBS's Face The Nation show by the retired Gen. Wesley Clark, when he denigrated McCain's military record and heroism in the Vietnam war. Clark, an ambitious man, was undoubtedly trying to curry favor with Barack Obama when he spoke with such prejudice and venom. Obama ought to cut him off at his knees.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

L.A. Times Roll of Honor, Those Who Left, 51-63

In this day and age, it's quite often the victims rather than the barbaric aggressors who ultimately get the most attention. That's the way it is in Darfur, in Zimbabwe, at Ground Zero in New York, and, in the corporate world at Enron, Carter Hawley Hale, and other firms that have been destroyed by skulduggery and incompetence.

The Tribune Co. is headed the same way as other failed enterprises, under the same kind of control, a loon and his band of crackpots and sleazes who think they can pare down the news offerings of their newspapers, devote a higher percentage of pages to advertising, and still retain their readership. They will get their comeuppance in short order, (the L.A. Times under the evil Tribune Co. is already down 400,000 in daily circulation) but one terrible thing about it is that their employees will lose their livelihood and be forced to find new jobs, working for hopefully more enlightened people. The other terrible thing is that a whole city and state, Los Angeles and California will lose the public service that a good newspaper provides, reining in both government and private excesses.

This week, I've been discussing some of the talented people at the L.A. Times who have already been induced to take buyouts, often in the midst of their careers, or simply been laid off. They are far better people, of course, than the skunks who got rid of them, and they are supposed to actually own the company, but they are actually at the mercy of the neanderthals. And this is not the end. Just yesterday, the Tribune toady in Los Angeles, David Hiller, spoke of new layoffs, and the editor he named, Russ Stanton, unlike his predecessors, is unresisting. Stanton entered into a Faustian compact, and now will have to live with it the rest of his life.

I've already discussed 50 of the former employees, as listed by the courageous internal Ask Zell blog. and today and tomorrow will complete the discussions of 74 I knew well in the 39 years I was at the Times. My aim is to demonstrate clearly just what Los Angeles has lost in the purges committed by the damnable Tribune Co. since it purchased the paper eight years ago. (Zell only came along last year, replacing the inept and prejudiced Dennis FitzSimons, who, as CEO, started committing mayhem against the Times).

Roll of Honor:

51. Ruth Ryon. An engaging reporter in the Real Estate section, she worked many years for Dick Turpin, a longtime real estate editor and educational writer at the Times, who will soon celebrate his 90th birthday. He was fortunate enough to retire before the axe began to fall on the better paid and/or elderly employees. Ryon was a conscientious reporter, but, like so many, she was forced out when Tribune started cutting, cutting, cutting.

52. Kevin Sack. Dean Baquet, who had known him at the New York Times and admired his work, brought him to the L.A. Times after becoming editor, to work in the Atlanta bureau. Now, he is back at the New York Times, as is Baquet. Sack, like several other Pulitzer Prize winners, was treated with disdain by the Tribune ignoramuses. Sack has won two Pulitzers. At the L.A. Times, he and Alan Miller, who as noted a couple of days ago has also left the paper, won one of them for exploring crashes by an unsafe U.S. military airplane. Now, both Baquet and Sack have been replaced by less experienced, less skilled and, not coincidentally, more poorly paid personnel.

53. Robert Salladay. One of the more competent reporters in the Sacramento bureau, he is one of several who have been ushered out, despite their valuable understanding of the faltering state government.

54. Joel Sappell. An editor in several important coverages, including the energy crisis in California that grew out of power company deregulation, he was shuffled off to the Web site when Tribune promised to improve it, only to find he had little company support for the improvements, which naturally would have entailed hiring more staff. Sappell, who would certainly have stayed with the paper for many more years, left disillusioned, and, commendably, said so. He will certainly be missed. He usually said what he thought, not a popular thing to do at the Tribune Co. In a high point of his Times career, he authored the series on Scientology with Robert Welkos.

55. Molly Selvin. An admirable editorial writer, stood always for the highest ethics and strongest principles. Unceremoniously dumped by editorial page editor Andres Martinez in a contemptible purge that also affected others, she wrote elsewhere on the paper for awhile, but then took a buyout. The kind of person who should never lose her job, and certainly not to a squalid boss like Martinez, who lost his own job later after committing sexual peccadillos.

56. Jube Shriver. A Business section reporter who was developing into a fine journalist, and earning a better salary, just the kind of person Zell and Hiller don't like.

57. Stephanie Simon. One of the stars at the L.A. Times from the time she arrived, and most recently, the Midwestern correspondent based in St. Louis. Her stories often were on Page 1, and she traveled widely on her beat. She's now with the Wall Street Journal. She concluded wisely there was not much future for talent at the L.A. Times. An exceptional person, a Yale graduate, she cannot be successfully replaced.

58. Bill Sing. As Business section editor, he improved the section within limits and was an intelligent editor. First kicked upstairs and later left. After years of loyal service, he was one of many who were mistreated.

59. Frank Sotomayor. Along with the late Frank del Olmo, he fought for years for better coverage of Latino issues at the Times, and to advance able Latino writers. Always under-appreciated, despite his educational attainments and humanity, he was eventually sent to the useful Metro Pro minority journalists program in its somewhat waning years under Tribune. I always felt badly for him, because he was able and intelligent and a fine editor to deal with. At a more reasonable place, he would have been more successful. It is the paper's loss that he was not.

60. John Spano. The brother of travel writer Susan Spano, he was an assistant Metro editor who worked hard and conscientiously. A good journeyman of the kind the Times could not afford to lose. Very careful. Maybe, his sin was he was too loyal. Loyalty is not appreciated at Tribune.

61. Bill Stall. A Pulitzer Prize winning editorial writer, after a distinguished career with the Associated Press in Sacramento and then with the Times, where he also served as political editor. Stall was terminated by the goofy editorial page editor, Andres Martinez, who, as mentioned above, ultimately lost his own job after committing sexual peccadillos. Martinez got rid of all three Pulitzer Prize winners on his editorial page staff. But Stall knows so much about state government that he still appears occasionally, and brilliantly, on the Op Ed page. His firing by Martinez was an utter disgrace, even more so because Martinez had been vying for the Pulitzer Stall actually won. It was a case of an inferior editor firing a superior writer.

62, Larry Stammer. An able reporter who undertook such thankless tasks as becoming a religion writer. Very knowledgable, he had been with the San Jose Mercury News in Sacramento before coming to the Times. He was also a skilled writer about politics. Very pleasant. Nice to have as a colleague, like so many of those who are now gone, were.

63. John Stewart. Long a copy editor on the National Desk, always interested in what was going on elsewhere in the paper. Very supportive and friendly.

All of these writers and editors, too, should be entered in the book of Tribune damnation.

Tomorrow: Rone Tempest, Wendy Thermos, Kevin Thomas, Mai Tran, Sam Howe Verhovek, Amy Wallace, Jenifer Warren. Henry Weinstein, Robert Welkos, Nona Yates, and Nora Zamichow.


The New York Times has a long story this morning by Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah about the imminent Taliban threat to take over the major Pakistani city of Peshawar. The rise of the terrorists of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan threatens U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and world stability as a whole. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state, which would have to be destroyed if its nuclear weapons fell into terrorist hands. The L.A. Times is presently ably represented in this critical theatre of the War on Terror by Laura King.

Early this morning, the Associated Press reports that Pakistani armed forces attacked the terrorists outside Peshawar. There have been many such operations, few of them successful.


Another day of announced layoffs in the newspaper business. The freely-distributed Palo Alto Daily News will fire six of its staff and suspend publication on Mondays. Tne San Jose Mercury News announced nine more terminations, and is now down 63% in staff overall.


Friday, June 27, 2008

L.A. Times Roll of Honor, Those Who Left, 38-50

(Bulletin precede: In his latest silly, stupid message, David Hiller, the so-called publisher of the L.A. Times, begins by saying that "the company's financial picture remains very difficult" and then suggests that the L.A. Times print edition will soon take a backseat to its Web site, thus justifying further layoffs. It is a prescription for the death of the paper, sooner rather than later.
It is Hiller, Sam Zell and other executives at the squalid Tribune Co., such as the Tulare twerp who sold his soul to become editor, who are failing. Every move they make is a wrong one. Is it necessary to remove this bunch of losers to save the paper? Certainly. Any step taken to rid Los Angeles of these bums would be justified. They are fools and knaves, make no mistake.

Although Hiller didn't say so, the L.A. Times remains the greatest profit center of Tribune. Moving away from a print edition that produces 90% of the newspaper's revenue to a Web site which, contrary to Hiller's promises has not been dramatically improved and continues to attract few ads, is a prescription for further failure).


Another day goes by, and more idiocy from Zell and his unfriendly band of eaters of bad Chicago food. Yesterday, it was an announcement of broad new layoffs at the Hartford Courant and the Baltimore Sun. So, it is certainly appropriate to continue my series on talented L.A. Times employees whose careers have been disrupted, forced out in the years of the evil Tribune ownership.

Roll of Honor:

39. Sonia Nazario. Her saga, "Enrique's Journey," about a Honduran teenager who crosses several borders against great odds to find his mother in the U.S., won Pulitzer Prizes for both writing and photography, and is becoming an HBO mini-series. In the days of Otis Chandler, Tom Johnson and Bill Thomas, Nazario could have written her books on the job and had them published in the paper. Now, under Tribune, there's no place for such writers, and almost all have left. The Tribune toady, Hiller, proclaimed at one point an interest in having the Times appeal more to the Latino community. Then, as usual, he showed it was all bushwa, by ushering talented Latinos out the door.

40. Jim Newton. A distinguished Times city and state reporter and editor for 19 years, most recently editor of the editorial pages, he can accurately be described as fed up with Hiller, his last supervisor. Now, he has a book contract to follow up his excellent biography of Earl Warren with a book about Dwight Eisenhower. He looks forward to his departure to Abilene, Kansas, to do the research. But any decent newspaper would have fallen all over itself to give Newton reason to stay, probably by making him editor and giving him real authority. Hiller would have had to go, but that would have been just another bonus of keeping Newton.

41. Susan Okita. Any great institution has many people in less exalted positions who do a good job. Okita for much of her Times career was in the wire room, where she impressed colleagues with her brightness and glamor. Later, she became a secretary. Now, she must be brightening some other office.

42. Myrna Oliver. The late great obituary writer Burt Folkart -- my pod mate for many years -- gave her refuge as an obituary writer when she was searching for a niche, and she became a diligent and eloquent one. Universally popular, she was the kind of person you want around the office, until Tribune took control and pushed her away. She came from John Wooden's state of Indiana and had many of his conservative virtues.

43. Jonathan Peterson. A Business and Washington writer, he covered Peter Ueberroth's effort to assist South Los Angeles to recover and develop from the 1992 riots. Useful in many ways.

44. Gina Piccolo. A biology major at Towson University in Maryland, later a physical therapist, she came to Los Angeles to find her fortune in journalism, worked hard for the Times community newspapers at a small salary and later became a talented movie critic. Always improving, she was just the kind of go-getter any decent newspaper would not want to lose. But like so many, she is now elsewhere.

45. Gayle Pollard. A writer for the editorial pages, she brought sensitivity and racial diversity to the job. Contributed to the paper in many ways.

46. Jeff Rabin. Conscientious, he had the peculiar idea he was a citizen in a worthwhile enterprise. Insisted on making his views known and was not a quiet employee. Since the Tribune Co. wants quiet ones who will take whatever shit they are given without complaint, he is no longer on the staff. But the newspaper is the loser.

47. Michael Ramirez. An idiosyncratic, conservative cartoonist, he was brought to the Times as a kind of counterpoint for Paul Conrad when that great cartoonist wore out his welcome with the smaller minds that came to dominate the paper's management. Ramirez was determined to follow his own path and was not all that popular with much of the staff. But his cartoons were often interesting. Now, with his departure, the Times dishonorably doesn't have a staff cartoonist. (Conrad, like Herblock at the Washington Post, continued to do cartoons well past retirement, and they were running widely, but not in the Times).

48. Cecilia Rasmussen. Her graceful articles on Los Angeles history were a valuable extra feature of the newspaper for many years. It is the poorer for no longer having her. Pleasant and popular.

49. David Rosenzweig. He was not the best liked city editor the paper ever had. He could be prickly and he may have focused the Metro section too much on crimes. Liked too often to say no to new ideas. But he was conscientious and honest. Even after he had to step down as city editor, he wrote usefully on the local justice system. We had our differences, but he was always fair to me, and we became friends. He died last year.

50. Alissa Rubin. One of the best correspondents the newspaper ever had in Iraq, the editors insisted that she go elsewhere. Instead, she resigned and joined the New York Times as one of their Baghdad correspondents. The Times has other very talented foreign correspondents still on staff, especially Kim Murphy (who is shortly to return to the U.S.), Borzou Daragahi and Megan Stack, but losing Rubin was unnecessary and unfortunate.

Tomorrow: Ruth Ryon, Kevin Sack, Robert Salladay, Joel Sappell, Molly Selvin, Jube Shriver, Stephanie Simon, Bill Sing, Frank Sotomayor, John Spano, Bill Stall, Larry Stammer, John Stewart.

Any great paper is made up of many different types of people, with many kinds of talent. Anyone who thinks, with all these losses, that the Times hasn't been badly hurt is deluding him or herself.

This afternoon, Zell was on CNBC mouthing extreme right wing views, among them let's do nothing, he said, to stem foreclosures in the mortgage scandal. Zell sounded in this interview like a fascist. A slumlord by profession, he may belong, as Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson suggested recently, in jail.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

L.A. Times Roll of Honor--Those Who Left, 27-38

On a day that Sam Zell spoke of possibly selling the L.A. Times building, continuing his evil scheme of treating his largest newspaper as a poor, undeserving step child, I thought how worthwhile it was to continue honoring those talented reporters and editors whose lives have been so disrupted by the eight-year Tribune ownership.

So, here goes, with another 12 names:

Roll of Honor

27. Vernon Loeb. He came to Los Angeles at a time when investigative reporting was the Times' forte, in every expectation that he would play a decisive role as an editor supervising these projects. Instead, by the time he left, the Times had virtually abandoned that noble calling. He could have done so much. Instead, he's back East, and the paper is poorer for it.

28. Claudia Luther. Like many reporters, she had diverse assignments in her years with the Times, concluding with membership in the talented team under Jon Thurber that wrote obituaries. Some of the best obituaries in the country still run in the Times, one of the few sections of the paper that has maintained its quality under Tribune management. But she is now gone, and, just as with Loeb, the paper is poorer for it.

29. Eric Malnic. He was with the paper well over 40 years, and seemed indestructible. Whenever I would ask him how long he thought we would last, he'd always say, proudly, "We're still here." As a reporter of everything from weather stories to plane crashes, he did a sound, responsible job. As an editor, he could be somewhat draconian. Still, I always valued our friendship,, and his strong personality was much needed in the City Room. He did a great many things and did them well.

30. Tyler Marshall. He could have become foreign editor, had he wanted to. He filled a number of foreign assignments with humor and distinction. I knew him first in his role as the paper's correspondent in India, which he regarded as quite a challenge, both personal and professional. But he was tough. From India, he used to go to Afghanistan, never an easy country to cover. Later, he served in both Europe and elsewhere in Asia, before coming to the Washington bureau. After Zell is through, there may not be many foreign correspondents left at the paper. Marshall was one of the best of them.

31. Joe Mathews. He was one of John Carroll's favorites, and for good reason. The talented son of two distinguished journalists, Linda and Jay Mathews, and a former editor of the Harvard Crimson, Joe did fine work both in Los Angeles and Washington and developed an expertise on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that meant a lot to the newspaper. Losing people like him at such a young age would be difficult for any paper. For the Times, it approaches tragedy that he, and so many like him, have had to move on.

32. Rick Meyer. When something like the Gulf War came along, and stories were coming from all over the place, Meyer sat in Los Angeles and put them together. This is a mighty important role at any paper, that of the talented rewrite man, and Meyer followed in a great Times tradition that included Art Berman and Dial Torgerson. He did many other things well, but it was in this role in times of crisis that he shined. And always he was pleasant to deal with.

33. Alan Miller. He won a Pulitzer Prize in Washington for his work on military aircraft and other systems that didn't work. Rather self-effacing, he was one of these quiet newsmen that make a paper great. Losing him is no small loss.

34. John Montorio. When I recently lamented his departure, dismissed by the new editor, Russ Stanton, someone commented on my blog that this was a highly popular initial act on Stanton's part. I don't doubt it, because Montorio was a prickly personality, often sharp and arbitrary. But under him the Calendar section flourished and Tim Rutten and Patrick Goldstein wrote valuable columns that he encouraged. If you seek his monument, look around, an author once wrote about a dictator. Montorio may have sometimes been very much the boss, but he built great sections, and their decline since he left shows what his ouster meant.

35. Solomon Moore. Like Jean Guccione and Doug Smith, for a long time, he was stuck in the San Fernando Valley suburban section, but unlike them, he was often treated there with disdain. I remember when he started writing a few insurance stories, an editor there told me he didn't know anything about insurance. Instead, it was the editor who knew nothing about insurance. Like other black reporters, he had to struggle to be assigned non-black stories. But Moore persevered, finally found his way downtown and then abroad, as a valuable correspondent in both Africa and Iraq. He became someone the paper could not easily afford to lose, but it did.

36. Dave Morgan. Charming and able, he was a vital part of producing the Sports section every day, before it was cut back by editors outside Sports who didn't understand what the section meant to the Times' reputation. Finally, unfortunately, he left for Yahoo, and the paper remains poorer for it.

37. Lorenza Munoz. The daughter of Sergio Munoz and wife of Greg Krikorian, worked hard and produced excellent stories. She was in the process of becoming extremely able. Instead, someone else will get the benefit of her talents.

38. Sergio Munoz. He came to the Times from La Opinion, and was a distinguished part of the editorial page staff. He had encyclopedic knowledge of the Latino community and Latin America, and was free and candid in expressing his opinions. He once advised me that if I took a trip from Guatemala City to Panama City, I could easily be kidnapped somewhere along the way. Any California paper in the larger community needed more Latino voices, and he was certainly one of the most astute.

Tomorrow: Sonia Nazario, Jim Newton, Susan Okita, Myrna Oliver, Jonathan Peterson, Gina Piccolo, Gayle Pollard, Jeff Rabin, Michael Ramirez, Cecilia Rasmussen, David Rosenzweig and Alissa Rubin.

I just wish there were justice in the world. Then we could split Mark Willes' severance package amongst all these great journalists, and each one would get more than $1 million.

(Contrary to what someone has written as a comment on this blog, the quote I used in the paragraph on John Montorio came from the last words of Alan Bullock's biography of Adolf Hitler. I now feel I should not have used any quote likening Montorio, a highly honorable man, to any dictator, much less Hitler. Montorio was a strong leader of many Times sections. He deserves only compliments).


Rising on the speculative words of two Arab thugs -- Chakib Khalil, the Algerian who heads OPEC, and Shukri Guanem, chief oil minister of Libya -- the price of oil briefly crossed the $140-a-barrel price on the world's markets today. As I've stated before, the oil producers are at war with the rest of the world, and action should be taken to cut them off at the knees.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

L.A. Times Roll of Honor--Those Who Left, 13-26

I'm continuing today with describing the work and distinctive contributions writers who are no longer with the L.A. Times made to that newspaper, before they were encouraged or forced to leave by the evil Tribune Co. Examined yesterday were 12 writers. Here are another 14 in a week long series.

Roll of Honor (Continued):

13. Tom Furlong. A distinguished Business section writer, he was one of those who kept the section going at times when it wasn't very brave, restricted itself to covering mostly business and not consumer issues, and, occasionally, had weak direction. A journeyman reporter of the kind good newspapers can't afford to lose.

14. Jean Guccione. She represented the occasionally excellent suburban reporters who should have been brought downtown immediately to cover news for all of Southern California. From New Orleans originally, she worked for the Daily Journal, where she became a friend and admirer of Phil Hager, long an outstanding Times writer on the courts. Her own coverage of the legal system in the San Fernando Valley and beyond was superb. I understand she is now with the Los Angeles County D.A.'s office.

15. Bob Hilburn. His incomparable writing on rock musicians was long one of the most distinctive offerings in the Calendar section. Although he sometimes still contributes, the section is not the same without him writing every week. He is one of the nicest people in the business. Is there anyone who did not appreciate his many gifts to the paper? Admired greatly by my son, David, who met him and his wife, Kathy Barr, at Dodger games we all attended. Another person who should not have been let out the door.

16. Robert Lee Hotz. A highly talented science writer, and an esteemed colleague of mine in earthquake writing. He came to my rescue on quake coverage on occasions when my amateurism would no longer do, and teamed with me on a story the day of the Northridge quake that contributed to the Times winning a Pulitzer Prize. His series on the brain, and another series on Antarctica were among many distinctive contributions to the paper. Now with the Wall Street Journal, he is one of many reporters who no sane outfit, which Tribune is not, would have allowed to escape.

17. Shawn Hubler. An able reporter and sensitive columnist, her writings were a contribution to every edition she appeared in. The supportive and understanding wife of Bob Magnuson, an editor who was promoted and promoted, until he was unceremoniously kicked off the paper. She followed him to San Francisco and for a time wrote for the Times from there.

18. Don Hunt. He served as a weekend editor on the City Desk. Conscientious and friendly, he was the kind of supervisor who was appreciated, and the kind, unlike Noel Greenwood and a few other overbearing editors I can remember, who was modest and self-effacing, yet did a fine job.

19. Evelyn Iritani. An enterprising and eclectic Business writer, she brought a thorough understanding of Asian economics at a time when China was emerging as a world power. The kind of specialist a great newspaper needs terribly.

20. Connie Kang. Her humane and understanding reporting on the Korean community, an important part of Los Angeles city life, provided coverage that no other reporter could do nearly as well. How could Tribune Co. ever let her leave? Always friendly, she lit up the City Room.

21. Daryl Kelley. A longtime Ventura County edition reporter, he was one of the most talented members of a wide ranging suburban staff at a time when the Times had a huge suburban contingent. Allowing Kelley and many other suburban reporters to drop from the Times' rolls left it a poorer paper.

22. Johnny Mike Kennedy. A talented, brave correspondent of the newspaper in Lebanon, Iraq and other dangerous Middle Eastern locales, and an able writer in the Los Angeles office, Kennedy was the supportive husband of Becky Trounson, taking a leave and writing a novel in Jerusalem while she served there as a Times correspondent. Their daughter, Merit, studied Arabic, spent a year in Cairo, has just graduated from Stanford and looks forward to a career involving the Middle East. On the night, she was admitted to Stanford, and I told John Carroll, he remarked, acidly, "That will put them into the poor house." Later, Tribune Co. insensitively accepted Kennedy's departure, in a striking demonstration of ingratitude for brave past service.

23. Greg Krikorian. Honest, sometimes bluntly so, he wrote about terrorism and gave sympathetic treatment sometimes to those accused of such crimes. He and I did not agree on the Arab-Israeli issue, but I always respected him, and felt he showed great promise for a long career with the paper. Losing him was certainly not in either the Times' or the public's interest.

24. Lennie Laguire. How could I not like her, since she was the editor who first suggested that I write a consumer column, (that lasted three years before John Carroll killed it?) She had many different jobs with the newspaper, and to my mind performed well in each. She was imaginative, pleasant, fun to work for. A strong person. Losing a talent like hers was certainly not in the paper's interest.

25. Myron Levin. A dedicated investigative reporter for the Business section, he drove the tobacco industry nuts with his probing pieces on the dread addiction of smoking. Once he was on to something, he stuck to it single mindedly. Just exactly what a great newspaper needs, and can scarcely do without. He had a hearty appreciation for just what a scoundrel Tribune owner Sam Zell was, and did not hesitate to say so when he left.

26. Simon Li. A distinguished foreign editor, he served with great ability and perseverance until health problems forced him to step aside into a less demanding senior position. Later, he was a valued supporter of the difficult (because of overbearing Tribune supervision) managing editorship of Doug Frantz. A member of a prominent Hong Kong family, he brought to the paper an understanding of foreign affairs that was without parallel. (And he was a patient man, patient enough to listen to some of my own madcap views on foreign affairs). Good health or not, he was not the kind of editor the paper can afford to do without.

All these deserve favorable mention in the book of Tribune Co. damnation.

Tomorrow: Vernon Loeb, Claudia Luther, Eric Malnic, Tyler Marshall, Joe Mathews, Rick Meyer, Alan Miller, John Montorio, Solomon Moore, Dave Morgan, Lorenza Munoz,
and Sergio Munoz.


The news today that Sam Zell intends to seek offers for both the property in downtown Los Angeles on which the Los Angeles Times is located, and the Tribune Tower in Chicago, appears to be part of an ongoing plot by him and his fellow-executives at Tribune to sell off the company, and raid it for return of his $315 million investment.

The columnist Harold Meyerson suggested recently in the Washington Post that Zell be jailed for life. His policies amount to a lack of exercise of proper fiduciary control. He says this is an employee-owned company, but he is raiding it and killing it, with no real consultation with employees.


Maureen Dowd demonstrates again today in the New York Times why she is one of the most outstanding and sensitive political writers of the year, and certainly well attuned to the almost mythic (already) candidacy of Barack Obama. Her dissection today of Karl Rove's dismissal of Obama as an elitist is one of her best.

"Rove and company are nervous, because they see that Obama, in rejecting public financing, is not going to be a chump like some other past Democratic candidates," she observes.

The criticism of her by Clark Hoyt, the overly straight "public editor," or ombudsman, of the NYT, on Sunday showed only that Hoyt has insufficient respect for great journalism, or doesn't know what it is.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

L.A. Times Roll of Honor--Those Who Left , 1-12

Those who have left or were forced to leave the Los Angeles Times under the evil domain of the Tribune Co. will, I believe, be heroes, as time passes, and it is realized fully just what Los Angeles and California have lost by their departures. Many of them will surely go on to other outstanding professional endeavors.

But even now, it is worth inscribing them in a roll of honor. The valuable blog, "Tell Zell," has begun the work of doing this. But in the next week or so, I propose to continue doing so -- with a description of the work and distinctive contributions of about 75 of those who no longer are working at the Times.

Please pardon me for mistaken omissions. Some I do not know as well as others. Others I may not properly appreciate. I may add to those named later, and I hope, as I'm told, of their new jobs, to be able to list some of these new endeavors as well.

In the interest of keeping the individual blogs as brief as possible, I will discuss 12 former staffers a day, until I have gone through my list. Other daily developments will be added each day at the bottom of these blogs, or, if major developments occur, I may write two blogs a day, we'll see.

Roll of Honor

1--Alan Abrahamson. He covered the Melendez trial and later became Olympic correspondent for the Sports section, developing a reputation as one of the foremost writers in the world about the Olympic movement. He is now with NBC Sports, preparing for coverage of the Beijing Olympics. The Times Sports section is much poorer as a result of his absence.

2--Ricardo Alonso Zaldivar. He was an ever-improving reporter in the Times beleaguered Washington bureau, often covering airline disasters. Also, he was one of many minority reporters who unwisely have been allowed to depart, reducing the newspaper's diversity and depriving Californians of their wisdom.

3--John Balzar. One of the paper's most talented writers on a whole variety of subjects from politics to Alaska dog races to East Africa and the Rwandan genocide. A columnist and onetime U.S. Marine who warned presciently that we ought not to be too quick to invade Iraq. The loss of just one such reporter would be a calamity for the paper. Unfortunately, there have been many such calamities.

4--Dean Baquet. A courageous editor fired by that prime jackass, David Hiller, for defying Tribune plans to cut back both the staff and its quality. He coordinated many Pulitzer Prize-winning projects, and from his new post as Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, he has not hesitated to continue to speak out against the Tribune Co. and all the fools who lead it. He was my "Journalist of the Year" for 2006.

5--Glenn Bunting. A valuable investigative reporter for the paper, both in Los Angeles and Washington. Without such investigative journalists, the Times is no longer the great paper it once was.

6--Ed Chen. A tremendous asset to the Washington bureau in a variety of assignments, including the White House and presidential travel. Chen was born in Nanking, China, and was unusually sensitive, as one might expect, to the tyrannies of both Japan and China that laid waste to the rights of millions and were responsible for millions of deaths. Anyone who would let an Ed Chen go should be condemned unreservedly.

7--Janet Clayton. An outstanding reporter of city government, editorial pages editor and metro editor, she was, I am told, shoveled out the door in a bureaucratic maneuver of the kind so loved by the Tribune fools. She was replaced by a far more timid leadership, not nearly as able as she was and is.

8--Frank Clifford. A dedicated reporter and then farseeing environmental editor, he was so conscientious in his work that he wore himself to a frazzle. A Yale graduate and member of one of that elite school's Secret Societies, he also authored an excellent book on the West. To cut a career like his short stamps the Tribune executives as not only fools, but damned fools.

9--Mary Cox. A perceptive letters editor for the editorial pages, she worked hard to run a distinctive set of letters each day. One of many who seems to have fallen victim to the purges that marked the editorial pages under the unlamented leadership of Michael Kinsley and Andres Martinez, she left a void in the selection of letters that has not been filled.

10--Elaine Dutka. A writer for the old View section and later Calendar, she was an able writer and a friend and supporter during his illness of the late Art Berman, View editor. I did not know her as well as many others, but her absence has left Calendar less than it once was.

11--Sam Enriquez. An understanding city editor, an able and courageous Mexico City correspondent, he was one of many Latino members of the staff which any newspaper could ill-afford to lose. In Mexico, a most difficult place to cover, he did the kind of job which marked him as an outstanding reporter of the future. His Times career was unfortunately cut short.

12--Doug Frantz. Managing editor, he was left out to dry by the Tribune implant as editor, Jim O'Shea, who was finally himself fired by Hiller. Frantz is now at Conde Nast, but he continues his invaluable work on the threat of nuclear proliferation. Strong minded and fair, he was one of the losses the Times could least afford, and he was treated miserably by Tribune.

Tomorrow: Tom Furlong, Jean Guccione, Bob Hilburn, Robert Lee Hotz, Shawn Hubler, Don Hunt, Evelyn Iritani, Connie Kang, Daryl Kelley, Mike Kennedy, Greg Krikorian, Lennie Laguire, Myron Levin, and Simon Li.

Let the loss of all these wonderful writers and editors be laid at the door of the Tribune Co. May they be added to the book of its damnation.


The dramatic events in Zimbabwe, where a popular vote is being reversed by a bloody dictator, Robert Mugabe, were, appropriately, the subject of the lead article in the New York Times today, but rated only a reefer off Page 1 in the L.A. Times. It was yet another sign of the Times' loss of world view under a management dedicated to reducing the newspaper's foreign coverage.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Mugabe Government in Zimbabwe Illegitimate

Word today that Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition in Zimbabwe, has taken refuge in the Dutch Embassy in the capital of Harare introduces a new stage in the struggle to restore democratic government in the African nation next to South Africa.

The Dutch and other Western nations, including the U.S. and Britain, are now obliged to safeguard Tsvangirai and grant refuge to other members of the opposition who are being victimized by the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe.

After calling a runoff election for the 27th of this month on the very possibly spurious grounds that Tsvangirai did not win a majority of the first votes cast, Mugabe has now vowed that, regardless of the results of the runoff election, he will not allow himself to be deposed. Instead, he has sent military, police and simple thugs associated with the government to arrest, beat and even sometimes murder members of the opposition. At least 85 deaths have been reported, as well as thousands of injuries and the arrest of the chief strategist of Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, on bogus treason charges.

Just the day before going to the Dutch Embassy, Tsvangirai had withdrawn from the runoff election, declaring that attacks against his followers made it unsafe for them to go to the polls.

Members of the British and American embassy staffs seeking to check on the government actions have been forcibly detained as well for brief periods.

Mugabe, 84, has emerged as the head of a criminal cabal that has wrecked the Zimbabwean economy and sent thousands of refugees fleeing into South Africa, where some have been subject to attack there by xenophobic mobs.

It is clear now that Mugabe and his minions should be removed and new elections called under international supervision to install a government desired by the people of Zimbabwe. It would be most proper for South Africa to undertake to do this, subject to a possible call by the UN Security Council. Western nations should give all necessary aid, if called upon. So far, the South African government has given far too much comfort and support to Mugabe, although in April South African courts ordered a Chinese shipment of arms to Magabe halted at the South African port of Durban.

The world should not stand by when such thuggery as taking place in Zimbabwe occurs. It is now obvious that the government should be taken down and a new one elected.

As is becoming depressingly common, the L.A. Times Web site was not reporting on its main page this afternoon the important developments in Zimbabwe. The Web site is following the yokels in Chicago and the L.A. Times editor, the Tulare twerp, in downplaying foreign news.


Kevin Roderick continues his excellent job of reporting what can only be termed a crisis at the L.A. Times and other Tribune newspapers. Today, he reports that the Times' great local columnist, Steve Lopez, was highly critical of Sam Zell, the Tribune Co., owner, at a Press Club dinner in Los Angeles last week.

Also, Roderick runs a long, stupid memo on the Orlando Sentinel "redesign" from Lee Abrams, a Tribune executive who has the title of Innovation Editor. It is clear from this that Abrams has little idea of what pleases most readers of newspapers. The one piece of good news, however, is that other Tribune papers will not necessarily be forced to follow the Orlando design.

Meanwhile, the New York Times' media writer, Richard Perez-Pena, has a report in the NYT Business section today that 2008 is shaping up as the worst year ever for ad revenues at newspapers. He says declines of 12% or more compared to last year threaten the survival of some newspapers and the solvency of their companies. Declines in ad revenue ran to 15% in the month of May. No figures are given for Tribune, which has in the past reported among the worst record of declines in business, a situation which has only intensified under Zell.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Agonizing Wait For New Tribune Fuck-Ups At LAT

The evil Tribune Co. has never been up to running a newspaper in a world class city like Los Angeles, and now we may have come to another downward turning point in the sordid eight-year history of Tribune ownership of the L.A. Times.

At least, that is the feeling at what we fondly remember as Times-Mirror Square in the wake of closed door meetings held there last week by Randy Michaels, the newest executive named by Tribune to oversee matters as CEO.

Dennis FitzSimons is gone. Scott Smith is gone, and now it is up to Michaels to prove once and for all that Sam Zell and the new management have no idea what it is doing in L.A. New layoffs, and a foolish "redesign" dumbing down the paper would normally be expected.

Or NOT. It is always possible that the Tribune Co. may wake up and smell the roses, realizing that investment in the future of Tribune's largest newspaper is in order. (That would include fully maintaining its network of foreign and national news bureaus).

There were indeed rumors in Los Angeles last week that David Hiller, the Tribune toady sent out here as publisher in 2006, would be removed, and, perhaps as a sign of this, it was reported that Hiller's unethical move to take the L.A. Times magazine out from under the control of editorial has now been scrapped, and, for now, there will be no magazine and therefore no dispute over its control. This would be a little like killing the dog, so it could be mounted, but a new magazine dominated by advertisers would be worse than a dead dog.

A change in Tribune prospects could mean a vote of no confidence in Hiller, and, if so, could mean a start by him on a new phase in his life. I think he might be qualified to pick up the remains of the Montana cabin once owned by the Unibomber, that is if he would agree to take five years doing it.

Probably, a new publisher would mean a delay in the dreaded "redesign," which has already afflicted, and gone a long way to ruining the Orlando Sentinel, another paper victimized by the mismanagement of the Tribune Co.

Amother publisher would possibly want yet another editor than the nonentity chosen by Hiller. In the meantime, perhaps layoffs would be put off long enough to see a turnaround in bad times in the newspaper business.

So, I am perfectly willing to wait to see how it works out. We can hope for the best, even if we expect the worst from a company which has proved a fountain of ineptitude now for eight long years.


Clark Hoyt, the often mistaken "Public Editor" at the New York Times, proves once again this morning that he doesn't know good journalism when he sees it, with an unmannerly assault on one of the most distinguished Times writers on the 2008 election campaign -- columnist Maureen Dowd.

Dowd was rivaled only by columnist Frank Rich in detailing what an unsatisfactory candidate for president Hillary Clinton was, before she was vanquished by Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination.

Now, Hoyt says that Dowd -- in my book, a candidate for Journalist of the Year -- was "over the top" in her coverage of Clinton with all her many warts, including tones reminiscent of Deep South racism.

Hoyt might consider transferring to the Tribune Co. executive, where bad journalism is so often appreciated. As for Dowd, her latest column was number two in readership on the New York Times Web site in recent days, and she frequently is the best read on the Web site. At a time when even the New York Times is losing readers, it can hardly afford to smear one of its columnists who is a leader in attracting readers.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Shady Calderon Family In The Legislature

David Lazarus, the consumer columnist in the L.A. Times, had a fairly good column in Wednesday's Business section about how state Sen. Ron Calderon had taken $80,000 in drug industry contributions and then introduced sleazy legislation that would allow the drug companies to share private individuals' prescription records with mass mailers.

The bill is thankfully dead for now, failing to get support in the pertinent legislative committee. But hold your breath -- such bills have a bad habit of being resurrected in the waning hours of a legislative session when so much is going on in the rush to get out of Sacramento that no one is paying attention.

The Calderon bill would have given individuals a right to opt out of such disclosures of private information about their personal habits. But since most people don't follow what is going on very closely and won't take the time to opt out if they know what is happening, an "opt out" provision provides scant protection to the public. Lazarus does a good job of showing this.

But I nonetheless found the Lazarus column lacking in one important particular. It did not mention that Ron Calderon is the younger sibling of Charles M. Calderon and Thomas Calderon, who served in the Legislature earlier. In fact, there has been a Calderon in the Legislature from essentially the same East Side area around Montebello since 1982.

Name identification, and heavy lobbyist contributions, have been responsible for putting one Calderon after another into the Legislature, where each have served special interests, not the public interest.

To put a rude word on the record of all three brothers, they are dishonest. They are in politics for one reason, and that is to feather their own pockets with cash from the insurance and other industries. It is a sordid story that now goes back more than a quarter century. But the weak Sacramento press corps has scarcely ever examined the depredations of this lowlife family.

I once had a clash as a reporter with Steve Peace, a San Diego state senator at the time, over some lobbyist-serving legislation he was introducing. On a back stair of the capitol, I told Peace I thought he was a crook. "How can you say that?" he demanded. "I know one when I see one," I responded.

This did not quite match the time I suggested to then-State Sen. Alan Robbins that (this was before term limits) he could "afford to go straight," because he had made a lot of money in private real estate and, in any case, he would be in the Legislature for life.

"I'm considering it," Robbins replied. But he wasn't considering it enough, or soon enough, because a few months later Robbins was indicted and later convicted of taking bribes. He served a term in the federal prison in Lompoc.

I well remember the time Robbins told me with tears in his eyes that he faced a prison term. He could easily have implicated manyh others, but he did not.

The Calderons, so far, have been luckier. Federal prosecutors have not been so diligent with them. Yet one Calderon after another has been a tool in the hands of unsavory interests, and Charles Calderon, if memory serves me, walked out of Sacramento with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in his pocket. He wisely would not meet with me for an interview about it.

I once drove the late Ernest Debs, a Los Angeles County supervisor, out of public office after a long career by showing the special interest money he was getting persistently, and by quoting the then-mayor of Beverly Hills, the late Jake Stuchen, as saying Debs solicited a bribe to keep a high rise building from being built in West Hollywood that would have cast a shadow on certain private homes in Beverly Hills.

The reports induced then-Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Edelman to jump into a contest against Debs, and when Debs saw Edelman coming, and my heavy coverage of the race, he decided to retire, citing his health. "I want to live," Debs declared, and then he did go on living, until he finally died at age 98. He too took a large amount of campaign contributions into private life.

It was possible to get rid of Debs, because county supervisor is a more visible position than state legislator, and once he had well known opposition, Debs was a sitting duck, (although, I might add, it is rare that any serious opponent arises to a sitting supervisor either).

But with the Calderons, they seem to go on and on, and nobody, certainly not in the press corps, pays sufficient attention.


Friday, June 20, 2008

N.Y. Times Reports Israelis Practiced Iran Attack

While the Los Angeles Times descends toward mediocrity, the New York Times continues its long tradition of reporting news that no one else is reporting, and the news it reports this morning may be momentous indeed.

The story by the newspaper's chief military correspondent, Michael R. Gordon, and a frequent national security reporter, Eric Schmitt, says that earlier this month the Israeli Air Force carried out an exercise of more than 100 F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers and a number of rescue helicopters and refueling tankers over the Eastern Mediterranean and Greece that is seen as a possible practice for a long-range strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The story carefully says the exercise does not necessarily mean such a strike will take place, or that it is imminent.

But nonetheless, Gordon and Schmitt write that the Israelis are sending signals to America and Europe that Israel may be prepared to strike unless Iranian nuclear development is foreclosed. Efforts by the U.S. and European powers to do this have so far been unsuccessful.

The story also says that Iran is taking precautions against an Israeli attack, increasing air patrols and initiating moves that could result in a new anti-missile capability to shoot down low-flying aircraft. This could affect the timing of an Israeli attack, they note.

Just two days ago, this blog speculated about the possibility of an "October surprise" that could affect the November election in the United States. Although the speculation dealt mainly with the possibility of a new terrorist strike, it also mentioned the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran.

It is unlikely that the Israelis would undertake such an operation without notifying the United States first. This was certainly the case last year when Israeli bombers, backed by commandos, destroyed a suspected North Korean nuclear site in Syria near the Iraqi border.

What would the Bush Administration's attitude be toward such an attack? The Gordon-Schmitt story says little on this point.

We live in a dangerous world, that is certain. But recent developments closer to Israel have brought hope of a truce in the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, and there have also been some reports of a lessening of tension in Lebanon.

Still, Iran is the "big enchilada" in Middle Eastern affairs, even bigger than Iraq.

The New York Times story will be followed by others. It can only serve to ratchet up tensions between Iran and Israel, not to mention the West.

Also, this morning there is a New York Times column by David Brooks examining closely the nature of the Barack Obama presidential candidacy. Brooks has long been sympathetic to the candidacy of John McCain. But I think his critical column about Obama today deserves to get attention.

I agree with Brooks that Obama is not the liberal that George McGovern, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry were as Democratic candidates. That is one reason why he will probably win. He has changed his mind about running on his own resources, rather than public financing. This is not an unethical decision in my view. He has changed his mind, and is showing savoir faire. We need a president who knows how to get things done.

But an Obama victory would not by any means signify an end to the crisis in the Middle East.

The Brooks column may be the best thing written about Obama all year. Let me quote the last two paragraphs:

"I have to admit, I'm ambivalent watching all this. On the one hand, Obama did sell out the primary cause of his professional life (in renouncing public financing), all for a tiny political advantage. If he'll sell that out, what won't he sell out? On the other hand, global affairs ain't beanbag. If we're going to have a president who's going to go toe to toe with the likes of Vladimir Putin, maybe it's better that he should have a ruthlessly opportunist Fast Eddie Obama lurking inside.

"All I know for sure is that this guy is no liberal goo-goo. Republicans keep calling him naive. But naive is the last word I'd use to describe Barack Obama. He's the most effectively political creature we've seen in decades. Even Bill Clinton wasn't smart enough to succeed in politics by renouncing politics."

Obama isn't the "man of the hour" yet. But I think he will be on Nov. 4. (That's me, summing it up).


Going through back issues of Time magazine after my recent African trips, I came across an article in the March 3 issue by managing editor Richard Stengel saying newspapers should not endorse candidates for president, because it shows bias. This is another of those nonsensical articles we see too often from journalists.

Ed Guthman, the retired editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, once said that editorial endorsements "show the soul of the newspaper." He has it right. The First Amendment has an incomplete meaning. if newspapers do not endorse.

Stengel's opinion is an early bid for my "Mistaken Journalist of the Year" award in 2008. The L.A. Times endorsements of Obama and McCain for their respective party nominations was one of the best things the paper did this year. Readers, on the other hand, should be sophisticated enough to draw distinctions between editorial page and news page policies.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

McCain Finds Issues, Oil Drilling And Atomic Power

It must be frustrating for the McCain campaign to find issues that have traction against Barack Obama. There's been some sign recently of flailing around, as Obama has built up a lead in the polls, both nationwide and in key states. John McCain's campaign is finding what Hillary Clinton did: It is hard to run against Obama. Just yesterday, Mike Huckabee warned against "demonizing" him.

One reason it is difficult is that Obama comes across more as an idealist, inspirational and non-partisan, than the ultra-liberal the Republicans try to portray him as. He is no George McGovern, Mike Dukakis or John Kerry. He is much more competitive, and national opinion has shifted against the Republicans on key issues.

But this week, McCain has shown signs of getting onto his feet on the key issue of energy.

Both his proposals to allow oil drilling off America's coasts, and, especially, to build 45 nuclear plants by 2030 could easily in the present environment of skyrocketing gasoline prices find a lot of support. Also, there is new talk about developing the very substantial oil shales in North Dakota and Montana, just as the Canadians have their oil shales in Alberta. These are more costly than producing Middle Eastern oil, but with the present high prices are certainly feasible.

So far, Obama has opposed drilling, and has kind of fuzzed up nuclear power, arguing it might be a viable option to coal-fired plants. Might he alter these positions, if it becomes advantageous? Might even the L.A. Times get off its high energy horse and do the same? (The New York Times, under bullheaded editorial pages editor Andrew Rosenthal, never gets off its high horse).

For every languishing candidate, and the McCain campaign in recent weeks has certainly been languishing, it is essential to grab onto some issue that has legs. With Ronald Reagan in the 1976 primaries against Gerald Ford, it was the Panama Canal issue, the safeguarding of U.S. rights over the Canal. Ultimately, this was lost, but Reagan won with it in a whole string of Western and Southern primaries, and came close to upsetting Ford that year after a poor start. I remember that Nancy Reagan helped come up with that issue.

Energy in 2008 is one of the few issues developed thus far that seems to work for the Republicans. Already, there have been popular shifts on oil drilling, and, nuclear power is gaining support in Europe, and is bound to here as well.

Does it matter much that both would take a comparatively long time to bring on line? Not really, since it is important that we get to working on something that eventually will come to fruition. The trouble with the liberal, environmentalist position is that it calls for little except conservation, and conservation alone won't cut it.

It reminds one of General Lyautey, the French military chief in Morocco, once suggesting that a certain tree be planted in great numbers. A servant told him that the tree would not bloom for 100 years. "Then, start planting this afternoon," Lyautey replied. "We have no time to lose."

In contrast to energy, certain other issues have been doing the Republicans more harm than good. Chief among these recently as been the tasteless assaults on Michelle Obama, just repeated again this morning by Cindy McCain, wife of McCain.

The trouble with this is that polls show Michelle is quite a bit better liked than Cindy -- 48% to 39% in one survey. Cindy McCain is chiefly known as the millionairess who owns a beer producing company.

The criticisms of Michelle are basically the kind of indirect racial arguments that the Clintons tried and failed to use against Obama in the primaries. It has been postulated that some bigoted Americans have more trouble with seeing a black woman as First Lady than a black man as president.

This is hooey. For one thing, it is obvious already that Michelle Obama would be a far more polished, socially acceptable First Lady than Cindy McCain. And her children are certainly cuter.

We're going to hear a lot of this kind of thing -- trashy arguments -- between now and election day. McCain would be better served to use his energy arguments.


Obama announced today that he will not be using federal funds in the fall. This was not unexpected, since Obama has raised so much money he will be far better able to fight the fall campaign with his own resources than the public's. This way, as Time's Mark Halperin points out today, Obama may be able to spend $15 million in Texas, possibly forcing McCain to give up on the state. Obama should not have pledged earlier to use federal funds, but at the time he did, he had no idea he would be so primed with money.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

In 2008 Vote, Will There Be An October Surprise?

(Bulletin Precede: The Quinnipiac University poll this morning shows Barack Obama ahead of John McCain in three key states -- Florida, 47% to 43%, Ohio, 48% to 42% and Pennsylvania, 52% to 40%. There's got to be a lot of Hillary votes in there).

So far, there has been little talk, unlike past election years, about an "October surprise," something happening like a terrorist attack, that could have a major effect on the American election.

Yet, I don't think this can be ruled out. We see in Iraq and Afghanistan, just in the past week, with a bombing that killed 50 Shiites in Baghdad, and a prison escape that freed hundreds outside Kandahar, that the U.S. still has Islamic enemies capable of brutal conduct. Who is to say that, just as in the Spanish train bombings, or the London subway bombings, there won't be an attempt by terrorists to take some pre-election action that would have a dramatic effect on domestic politics.

Another possibility, probably not as great, is that the Israelis, or even the Bush Administration, would attack Iranian nuclear facilities before the election, sparking off a wider Middle Eastern conflict. Or that the North Korean nuclear program, which has not been shut down, may create a crisis.

It may seem that a threat to U.S. security would inevitably benefit the presidential candidacy of Sen. John McCain. Already, he is trying to make the security argument against Sen. Barack Obama, and it might seem that any step-up in tensions in the world would aid McCain in making that argument.

Yet in Spain, the train bombings of 2004 which killed 191 persons in and near Madrid, actually had the consequence of moving the country to the left. The conservatives were ousted from power just days later and replaced by the socialists, which are still in power. Part of the reason for this was that the conservative incumbents mishandled the situation, blaming the attacks initially on Basque separatists, when it quickly became much more likely that they were Islamic in origin. Also, like the American people today, the Spanish electorate was very tired of what Spanish intervention there was in foreign countries, and it was anxious to use any excuse "to bring the troops home."

So, I think it has to be said, out of caution, that we cannot say for certain that an attack in October would benefit McCain. It would depend perhaps how it unfolded.

Already, it is clear that Obama has, to some extent, moved toward the center on security questions. Just yesterday, he flared up when the Republicans suggested he might be soft on terrorism. He has announced the intent of visiting Iraq and Afghanistan before the election, and he might well select a foreign policy expert, like former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, as his vice presidential running mate, with the point of view, in part, of insulating himself against suggestions he is too inexperienced in foreign affairs.

What is the intent of the enemy? I'm not at all sure we understand it. Americans have been more or less expecting a new terrorist attack since 2001, but with the exception of some abortive attacks, such as the alleged attempted bombings of planes crossing the Atlantic, nothing has actually happened.

Indeed, just this week, there is new talk of a cease fire in Gaza between the Israelis and Hamas that would last six months. In the Middle East, that would put us past the election, and it is felt in many quarters that the Israeli-Arab conflict is one of the great exacerbents of extreme Islamic feeling.

We don't know. Something could happen. But, then again, perhaps it won't. Sam Zell may be more likely to upset the American psyche than Osama bin Laden in the near term.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is Zell Redesign A Plot To Destroy His Newspapers?

After all, Sam Zell is a slumlord, not a newspaperman. And the more I read about his plan to "redesign" his newspapers, beginning with the Tribune Co.'s outlet in Orlando June 22, the more I suspect that his real design is to ruin his papers and then sell off the lucrative property they occupy.

Fanciful? I think not. Zell only put $315 million of his own money into buying Tribune Co. And he could easily make quite a profit, if he were just to sell the property, much of which, such as the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, is located on prime downtown land.

Who would be left holding the bag? Why, the employees, of course, either before or after the inevitable layoffs. It is their stock money that is really at stake, and, the Lord knows, he, Randy Michaels, and, at the Times, publisher David Hiller and editor Russ Stanton, won't care about that stake. They will still have their golden parachutes. Their concern for their employees is zero.

The L.A. Times employees? They will go the way of the unfortunates who worked for Carter Hawley Hale.

Ken Roderick at LA Observed, and many other commentators, including just last week Harold Meyerson, now of the Washington Post, have been very precisely laying out just what the "redesigns" will bring: a precipitate decline in both circulation and advertising revenues as the readers realize that the papers have been "dumbed down," scores of pages of news removed to satisfy the 50-50 ad-news ratio dictated by Zell, and foreign and national news most sharply cut back. This in metropolitan centers that crave such news. A mockup of the Orlando Sentinel is out today; nobody in Los Angeles would want to read such a paper.

Tribune Co. is not the only newspaper publisher in trouble. McClatchy, its advertising revenue down 16% in May, announced an average 10% layoff at its papers this week. That means a loss of 1,400 workers, on top of 2,000 lost already. But Tribune is a less successful company than most. It is falling apart, actually.

Zell and Tribune Co. may be evil, but they are not stupid. They know that soon there won't be much of any of the Tribune papers left. The papers' reputation will sink into the toilet, and all that will really remain will be the land they sit on.

So, as Stephen Vincent Benet wrote in 'John Brown's Body,' his book-length, narrative Pulitzer Prize-winning poem on the Civil War, "This is the last, this is the last, the last of the wine and the white corn meal, the last high fiddle singing the reel, the last of the silk with the Paris label..."

The L.A. Times had some fine articles over the weekend -- Ken Weiss' forboding piece on the diseased salmon in the Yukon River, Tim Rutten's and Matea Gold's articles on NBC's Tim Russert, Steve Lopez's health column, and so forth.

But pretty soon, these will either disappear or be much diminished. After all, Sam Zell is in charge.

Rutten's retrospective on Russert, by the way, reminded one of the much better columnist Rutten used to be, before he was enticed away from Calendar and his media columns and onto the Op Ed page, where he has been mishandled, as most of the columnists are, by Nick Goldberg. Calendar was his home turf, and it was a mistake to give it up. But then, Stanton, in his supreme foolishness, also got rid of editor John Montorio too, so all of Calendar is much diminished. (Rutten, by the way, is announced today as the winner of this week's Hubert Humphrey $10,000 prize for his articles defending the First Amendment).

Can anything stop Zell now? I'm tempted to say, only if he chokes on some of the bad Chicago food he eats. This man is a car wreck, zooming out of control. But he will still come out of it with his $315 million investment and then some.


Monday, June 16, 2008

A Racist E-Mail On Obama Awaits Me At Home

Already, it seems, the hopes that an election contest between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama would be a high-minded debate of such issues as Iraq, the economy and global warming is giving way to racial stereotypes against Obama.

I arrived home late last night from my college reunion trip to Boston only to find a shocking e-mail from a friend, saying it might be worth consideration. It was a combination of every possible attack racially against Obama and his wife, Michelle, focusing first on whether he was a legitimate child and going down from there.

It is, I think, a matter of hope for America that Obama is a biracial candidate. But whoever the lowlife was who wrote this e-mail could only remember that at the time they married, Obama's parents were defying the miscegenation laws of half the states of the Union (but not, of course, Hawaii, where they married).

Are the voters of the USA going to let this hopeful election be dragged down into a cesspool, because that's what scurrilous messages on the Internet are doing. Is McCain going to allow his character to be sullied by not speaking out against such attacks?

I'm sorry to have to call the frequently enlightened woman who forwarded me the e-mail a friend, but the fact is she has been one since 1957. I sent her a message asking her not to forward me trash.

This came just a short time after another friend of long standing told me over lunch that America would never elect a black man to the presidency. This man calls himself a liberal.

Yet, you know what, Obama and his well-organized campaign continue to make their points in a rational way as if they actually expect him to be elected, as I do.

Our bet is that America has changed, and can rise above the bloody past of slavery and segregation to elect a man who towers intellectually over his opponent, and promises a new policy of less divisiveness at home.

Just who his parents were, and how they came to be married, is hardly worth discussing against those considerations.


The news comes from Salt Lake City that the Deseret News is selling property to the Mormon church, or transferring it, since the church already owns it, for $3 million, so it can fund employee layoffs.

At the L.A. Times, by contrast, the forthcoming layoffs won't cost owner Sam Zell much, because he has already vowed to reduce the scope of the severance packages.

At the weekend reunion, the wife of one of my classmates from Chicago told me she has found Zell's wife to be quite a bit more civilized than he is, and also knows, and admires, Michelle Obama.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Boston A Great Place To View History

Written from Boston, Mass.

One dividend certainly of having gone East to college is that you keep coming back to class reunions during the pleasant summertime in New England. Here in the "cradle" of the American Revolution" for four days of celebrating my Dartmouth class's 70th birthdays this year, we've been lucky with the weather, until this morning, when it was drizzling.

A heatwave dissipated the day before we arrived, and the 108 members of the class who showed up here have had a splendid time -- a clambake, a gala dinner at Symphony Hall, the Boston Pops and breakfast and a panel discussion on presidential elections at Fanueil Hall, where the heroes of the revolutio0n once spoke. This time, it's me and Bob Hager, formerly of NBC News, on the podium.

Under the Boston 'Go' Card, we could travel as far as Lexington and Concord, where the first clashes of the Revolutionary War took place, as well as to see Boston's many monuments and museums, the Boston Green, the old North Church, USS Constitution, Bunker Hill, Harvard University, take boat tours in Boston Harbor and the Charles River, and even as far as Provincetown on Cape Cod, Plymouth Rock, Salem and Gloucester.

We stayed at a festive hotel, the Mariott Long Wharf on the harbor, with trolley tours and boat tours just out the front door. Our heavy drinking days are over -- this time, to hold down collective costs, it was a no-host bar throughout the weekend.

And a branch of one of my favorite restaurants -- Legal Sea Foods, was also right out the door. Its raw Little Neck, Cherrystone and fried clams are not to be missed. Even its key lime pie seemed authentic.

From Logan Airport, you can reach the hotel and this entire historic sector by water taxi for $10 one way or $17 a roundtrip.

We had our clambake, featuring steamers, huge lobsters and corn on the cob, blueberry and apple pie, at an Outward Bound facility on Thompson Island, a 15-minute boat ride.

This entire event cost each person about $1,100, including the hotel, and was arranged by two classmates, Dick Foley and Eugene Kohn. We also held a class meeting, and even a moment of remembrance for six classmates and two wives who have died since we last met, in Hanover, N.H., last October. (Dartmouth was not a Co-Ed school when we went there, although it has been since 1972).

Prices for travel have gone up. In the panel on presidential campaigns, I recalled that in six months of covering Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968, in 35 states, the most I ever spent for a night's hotel was at the St. Regis in New York City, $34 a night. That got a big laugh.

Actually, I think Boston, like Washington, San Francisco, New York and New Orleans, are the places to come in visiting American cities. Certainly not Sam Zell's Chicago.

Just dashing off for another event.


Getting back to Los Angeles late Sunday, and well after the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in the 5th game of the NBA championships, sending the series back to Boston, I notice that the L.A. Times Web site doesn't clearly have the game on Page 1. This contrasts with the Boston Globe leading its paper today with the Celtics.

This is more Hiller Horseshit. He promised a better Web site, and he hasn't delivered one. Oner problem is, they don't work hard, or very late. In the meantime, it was clear, talking to my classmates, the L.A. Times under Sam Zell, David Hiller and Co. is a laughing stock.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Airline Service Continues to Deteriorate Sharply

Written from Boston, Mass.--

As I flew east Thursday on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston to attend a college reunion, I asked United attendants what they thought would become of the airline industry 15 years from now.

"Only the rich will be able to afford to fly," answered one of them. "Air travel for ordinary citizens will be a thing of the past."

Of course, that depends on the price of oil. Maybe if M. King Hubbert and his "oil peaking" theories are correct, no one will be flying all that much, because, he said, by 2020 world oil production would fall drastically, and our way of life would change.

No sooner did I arrive in Boston, but I read that on the way back Sunday, United will be charging $15 for the first piece of baggage checked, and that U.S. Air will soon begin charging passengers $2 for either soft drinks or bottled water. The obnoxious American Airlines pioneered the charge for the first piece of luggage.

As a New York Times article speculated yesterday, it won't be long before at least the coach class passenger is charged for going to the toilet.

Or, as someone suggested at dinner last night, they will begin to charge $5 when, in an emergency, oxygen drops from above your seat, and you will die if you don't have the right change.

Airline service, at least in the U.S., is getting so awful that in California I take the train, and, if I have the time, I even take the train sometimes across the country. It is more expensive, but it isn't personally insulting, and they still serve food.

Among the worst carriers these days are United and American. Yet many of these personnel still try to be as pleasant and helpful as they can, even when their salaries are cut -- yet again.

It is a mess, and public resentment is growing. A lady told me recently that she hates going to the airport. "Every time I have to remove my shoes," she said, "I get angry again at the terrorists."

Coming home from Europe recently, I flew Lufthansa, where the service is still good. I wonder why the Europeans cope so much better than we do in these hard times.


Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief for NBC News, and a frequently blunt commentator on both NBC and MSNBC on national politics, is dead of a sudden heart attack Friday afternoon He was only 58. Both the coverage on many networks has been massive and totally laudatory. Scarcely any politician would be treated with as much respect.

Russert who was also moderator of the long running Sunday interview show, Meet the Press, was popular also because of his book about hiw working class father, who survives him, his Irish ethnicity and his sports enthusiasms (the Buffalo Bills) among other attributes.

But it was his willingness to say clearly what he thought was happening, more clearly than the other commentators, which made him a hero to many. In this fascinating political year, he will be especially missed.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Boyarsky Says Lobbyists Have The Real Power

Writtern from Boston, Mass. --

Probably the most significant observation in the L.A. Times yesterday was a one-paragraph report of what former Times metro editor Bill Boyarsky had to say about the power of lobbyists. Boyarsky has been serving during his retireent on the City Ethics Commission and therefore has had a bird's eye view of government from another perspective.

The Times yesterday devoted reams of copy to a worthless story about Hollywood celebrities going bankrupt, another esample of what I call Hiller Horseshit. The Chicago toady who is publisher of the Times, David Hiller, is pie-eyed crazy when it comes to celebrities and is gradually turning the Times into something more readily resembling the National Enquirer.

So it comea as no surprise that when a former metro editor and ethics commissioners says he has concluded that lobbyists are far more a power than the ethics commission this is given short shrift in the newspaper.

But that doesn't mean it's not important, or that it doesn't jibe with my own observations from more than three decades of covering government.

First, the Times complete report on what Boyarsky had to say, under the mini-headline, "Fingering the real powers at City Hall:

"It was Bill Boyarsky's last day on the Los Angles City Ethics Commission, the five-member panel that punishes those who violate L.A. laws that govern elections, lobbying and campaign contributions. The former L.A. Times city editor tells reporter David Zahniser that the Ethics Commssion "is on the periphery of power" at City Hall. "Power is with the business lobbyists, the union lobbyists, the people who run the campaigns," he said."

This would certainly be worth a longer story. Maybe Zahniser will write one, and maybe it will actually get into the paper.

As I say, Boyarsky's views jibe with my own observations, especially when I was covering the insurers and trial lawyers on the state and national level. It turned out these groups were far more influential that the Legislature or Congress in actually determining what happened in regulation of their critical fields, which have so much sway as life is lived in our society.

When the voters approved Proposition 103, the Harvey Rosenfield insurance initiative in California, over four other insurer and trial lawyer initiatives, I was under the naive assumption that this would actually alter the state's legal and insurance systems broadly. The Times set about covering subsequent regulatory and legislative proceedings as if it would, But we discovered after awhile that it wouldn't.

What I found I was covering, instead, was the slow overwhelming of the government entities by the well paid lobbyists for both groups. They made chop liver of the reform initiative, largely because they virtually owned the legislators and regulators charged with implementing it.

At one time, I discovered the insurers had made contributions, often massive ones, to all but four of the 80 members of the state Assembly and 40 members of the State Senate. On the other hand, it turned out that Roxane Gillespie, the state insurance commissioner at the time, played a deceptive game in which she pretended to be enforcing the initiative while in fact being its major obfuscator.

Both the chairman of the Senate insurance committee, Alan Robbins, and the chief lobbyist for insurers in the state, Clay Jackson, went to jail while I was covering insurance for taking or offering bribes. But these prosecutions scarcely made a dent in the prevailing system of public deliberations, private control.

In fact, the prosecutions were strictly limited. Robbins told me once that he had worn a wire to tape record others, and he felt both the attorney general and the governor at the time, Dan Lungren and Pete Wilson, were also taking insurer bribes. But the federal prosecutors did not apparently care to take them on, and Robbins backed off from going public on the matter.

The system, as I found it, often allowed the lobbies to cancel each other out. Both the insurers and the lawyers spent millions of dollars annually to defend their respective interests. While they often could not go so far as to get what they wanted, they almost always could block what they did not want. So the status quo held, even if it was distinctly disadvantageous to the citizenry, saddled with high insurance prices and a legal system that often allowed the most unscrupulous elements to prevail.

Gradually, I came to the same conclusion as Boyarsky has -- that the real power lay with the lobbies and most of the elected lawmakers did their bidding as the price of getting reelected. The bureaucracy too seldom defied the lobbies publicly, although, here and there, you could find honest bureaucrats.

The press was often either complicit or naive, but certainly not knowledgable enough to take on the real power in Sacramento. Sometimes, it played on doing so, but it seldom went beyond that. There is no present writer in Sacramento, other than the Sacramento Bee's columnist, Dan Walters, who really seems privy to what is going on behind the scenes.

I know this is not a pretty picture. But it's a true one.

Boyarsky has told me that when he reached the ethics commission, he found the majority unwilling to adequately punish transgressors. I know one of his predecessors, the admired former Times national editor, Ed Guthman, was often frustrated as well.

We find on the national scene as well, powerful lobbies. Why do you think no meaningful action is taken on climate control or the oil industry, for example? Despite the campaigning of such presidential candidates as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, both of whom have vowed to take on the lobbyists, both often find their campaigns riddled with them, as was Sen. Hillary Clinton's.''

Real reform would entail a bloody public brawl to subdue these groups. as the Clintons contemplated doing when they briefly tried to insitute a broad reform of health care, only to knuckled under to power insurer and medical advertising against it.

Right now, as Boyarsky was allowed to tell us briefly, the lobbies are in the driver's seat. I fear that's not going to change.