L.A. Times: Still Biased After All These Years
By: Catherine Seipp
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, April 06, 2004
The longstanding leftist orthodoxy of the Los Angeles Times has improved noticably under Editor-in-Chief John Carroll, a respected newsman who moved here from the Baltimore Sun four years ago. Carroll has made a real effort to rein in the paper's liberal bias, at least in straight news stories; earlier this year he wrote a famous (in media circles) in-house memo scolding a reporter for a story about a Texas abortion law; the piece had implied anyone against abortion is obviously nuts.
I should note though, that this improvement at the Times was underway even before Carroll's arrival, with the departure of former editor Shelby Coffey III in 1997. Like ex-New York Times Editor-in-Chief Howell Raines, whose upcoming 21,000-word non-mea culpa in the May Atlantic has returned white male guilt to the media spotlight, Coffey grew up rich and liberal in the pre-civil rights South, and expected his staff to atone for his privileged background. When a paper's top editor is a self-styled Atticus Finch, watch out.
Who can forget the infamous Times Style Guidelines of the mid-'90s, which made the L.A. Times under Coffey a national laughingstock, with their risible combination of earnestly P.C. taboos combined with bloated middle-management. My favorite Guideline: "Pendejo...translates literally as pubic hair, but it is a vulgar term that means fool...should be used only in quotes approved by the editor, managing editor, associate editor or the senior editor."
As I remember thinking at the time: God, if you have to go through all that just to use a vulgar word for fool that also means pubic hair, why bother?
Still, my favorite newspaper gave me a couple of déjà vu moments recently. The first, in the wake of the Spanish terror bombings, was Ariel Dorfman's March 21 Sunday opinion section ode to the Chilean poet and leftist hero Pablo Neruda. The headline: "Words That Pulse Among Madrid's Dead: Neruda's Verses Howl Against Terror Today and Yesterday...."
Dorfman chided anyone who thinks that the result of the Spanish elections mean Spain has capitulated to terror -- "Just because a sovereign nation decides to reject and oppose an unnecessary, unjust and deceitful war does not mean the people of that nation are not willing to defend themselves" -- and quoted some lyrical verses Neruda wrote about Madrid's barrios and clocktower bells during the Spanish Civil War.
But you would have no idea reading Dorfman's piece that Neruda was such a hardline true believer he was awarded the International Stalin Prize and the Lenin Peace Prize. Nor that his poetry includes these lines written in 1953, upon the death of Stalin:
We must learn from Stalin
His sincere intensity
His concrete clarity...
Stalin is the moon,
the maturity of man and the peoples.
"Even by the standards of 1953 it's repulsive," said my friend Roman Genn, when he called up to complain about the Dorfman piece and send me the Stalin eulogy. "Neruda was not even a sympathizer -- he was an active agent. We have no idea how much blood is on his hands in Spain, and I don't mean just fascist blood we don't care for."
Roman, a regular illustrator for National Review, is an artist who grew up in the Soviet Union and immigrated to Los Angeles in 1991 at age 19, when he began drawing caricatures for the Times op-ed pages. He values that gig. But he was so irritated by the clueless nature of the Neruda piece that he called some Times editors to complain.
"They told me, 'Well, we all remember history differently,'" Roman recalled. "I said, 'You don't run favorable stories about Nazis.'"
The Neruda celebration was an opinion piece, but it's not like they don't pick and choose opinions at the Times. Take the case of L.A. radio host Tammy Bruce, a feminist, open lesbian and former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women. Bruce isn't what many people would call a conservative, although N.O.W. ex-communicated her in the '90s for criticizing O.J. Simpson as a wife-beater. (Insensitive to the feelings of blacks, etc.)
Still, for 10 years, the L.A. Times opinion section had printed every piece Bruce had submitted. Then a few years ago she sent in a free speech argument that even Dr. Laura Schlessinger -- in the news at the time for criticizing gays -- had a right to her opinion. The Times did eventually run Bruce's Dr. Laura defense as commentary in the entertainment section, but only after removing a paragraph criticizing gay male misogyny.
My other déjà vu Times moment last week was the paper's March 23 editorial condemning Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin. The "murder" was wrong in the Times' eyes because, for one thing, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw disapproved of it in strong terms. Unlike Condoleezza Rice, who "unfortunately said only that Hamas was a terrorist organization and Hamas one of its planners." Also, Yassin was "a 67-year-old wheelchair-bound quadriplegic." And therefore, you know, pitiful and weak.
What explains much of all this is journalists' need to pat themselves on the back as friends of the oppressed. As I said, the Times is getting more hardheaded. But it's about time that it does, and you don't have to be an extreme Ariel Sharon supporter to see bias in its Mideast coverage.
I still remember an astonishingly sob-sistery front-page Christmas Day, 2001 story by correspondent Tracy Wilkinson. The headline: "Arafat Forced to Miss Mass in Bethlehem." The lead: "In a centuries-old tradition, worshipers congregated here Monday where Jesus is believed to have been born and ushered in a joyless Christmas made all the more somber by Israel's refusal to permit the participation of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat...."
Did the Times actually mean that a Christian holiday was "joyless" because a Muslim terrorist wasn't there to help celebrate? Apparently so. I imagined the L.A. Times version of Little Women for Palestinians:
"Christmas won't be Christmas without President Arafat," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be Palestinian!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old chador.
"I don't think it's fair for the Israelis to have plenty of pretty things, and then they restrict our movements just because we like to to make pretty explosions," added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
"We've still got Hamas and Hezbollah and each other," said Beth contendedly, from her corner.
Really, as last week reminded me, you could still fill a whole book with parodies of L.A. Times stories. But I'll leave it to someone else to come up with that particular anthology.
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