Although Carroll was referring to another media outlet, I couldn't help but wonder whether he was talking about the editors at the L.A. Times.
Without further ado, let's get to the pseudo-journalism of the L.A. Times in covering the 2004 presidential election:
THE EARLY DAYS
The L.A. Times's favoritism towards Democrats was obvious long before John Kerry clinched the Democratic nomination. In January, Times editors hid crucial details about Wesley Clark's contradictory statements about the Iraq war.
In February, a story about an embarrassing photo of John Kerry and Jane Fonda
was titled: "Vietnam War-Era Photo Seen as a Bid to Tarnish Kerry." (What's
more, the story about the photo didn't even print the photo!)
Also in February, the L.A. Times claimed
that President Bush planned to fill a WMD intelligence commission with "many members with seemingly limited experience in intelligence matters or background working in high-level national security positions." The paper also claimed that the commission had "no former top military commanders" and "no former senior ambassadors." This
seemed to indicate the Bush administration's incompetence -- or worse. Problem
was, the claim turned out to be completely false.
In June, the paper published a poll that showed Kerry leading Bush -- but the poll oversampled Democrats, to the tune of 10-12 points.
The pseudo-journalism continued after Kerry secured the nomination.
In some media outlets, it made headlines when a photo-op with some Marines badly backfired on Kerry. The Marines later told reporters that they resented being used by Kerry, and that they supported Bush 100%. Although the Times had a reporter at the Wendy's restaurant where this incident had occurred, the story of the failed photo-op never made it into the paper. Instead, the L.A. Times article portrayed the Wendy's visit as a public relations triumph for Kerry. (The paper did report dissent on the Bush campaign trail: one boy holding an anti-Bush sign.)
While Kerry and Edwards were eating at the Wendy's, gourmet lunches were waiting
for them on the campaign bus -- fancy meals including shrimp vindallo and grilled
diver sea scallops. Also, Teresa Heinz-Kerry pointed to a picture of a bowl
of chili and asked "What's that?" These anecdotes reinforced the image of Kerry
and his wife as out-of-touch patricians. But neither story was reported in the L.A. Times -- even though they were widely reported in other news outlets. I wrote one of the L.A. Times reporters who worked on the story, to ask him why. I never got a response.
THE BLACKOUT ON JOE WILSON'S LIES
In the summer of 2003, when Joe Wilson said he had "debunked" President Bush's
claims that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Africa, the L.A. Times ran numerous stories touting Wilson's claims -- including several on the front page.
Commentators incessantly bloviated about the "sixteen words" in President Bush's
2003 State of the Union address, and the notion that President Bush had lied
to the American people about Iraq was born.
But in July 2004, when a Senate intelligence committee report made made several stunning findings undermining Wilson's credibility -- guess what? Ol' Joe Wilson wasn't news at the L.A. Times anymore.
What did the editors consider more important than evidence that Joe Wilson was a liar? Well, there was that front-page story about counting fish. An article about the Bush daughters' Vogue magazine photo shoot made it into Section A. There was a front-page story reporting that America had gone to war based on faulty information that understated the threat faced by Americans -- but it turned out that the war in question was the war on cholesterol.
Meanwhile, Joe Wilson's imploding credibility was hidden from L.A. Times readers for days.
When the Times finally ended its news blackout on Joe Wilson's lies, the editors buried the story on page A6, and didn't even report the most compelling evidence that Wilson had lied. (Page One space that day was reserved for stories that the editors considered more important -- like the one about Harrah's buying Caesar's.)
According to Howard Kurtz, the final tally was 48 stories in the L.A. Times touting Joe Wilson's allegations that President Bush had lied about Iraq -- and only two stories covering the Senate report that destroyed Wilson's credibility. It was pseudo-journalism at its finest.
MISREPORTING THE FINDINGS OF THE 9/11 COMMISSION
Like most of the mainstream media, the L.A. Times misreported the findings of the 9/11 Commission's staff report. According to the Times,
the report found "no credible evidence of cooperation between the ousted Iraqi dictator and the global terrorist network," and characterized the report's conclusions as at odds with the Bush administration's position. Committee members said this was not true. For example, Lee Hamilton said: "There are all kinds of ties. There are all kinds of connections." He
also stressed that the Commission agreed with Cheney's view of the relationship
between Al Qaeda and Iraq.
The paper turned misreporting into a blatant lie when
it reported about the appearances of Commission members on "Meet the Press" and "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." The paper claimed: "Commission
members Sunday repeated that they did not see evidence of collaboration between
Al Qaeda and Iraq." Not according to the transcript. Commissioner Lehman
had said on "Meet the Press":
The Clinton administration portrayed the relationship between al- Qaeda and Saddam's intelligence services as one of cooperating in weapons development. There's abundant evidence of that. . . . [I]t confirms the cooperative relationship, which were the words of the Clinton administration, between al-Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence.
The reporter -- a former contributor to Mother Jones, Salon.com, Slate, The American Prospect, and Washington Monthly -- apparently figured that nobody knew how to find and read a transcript.
THE WAR IN IRAQ AND THE TRANSFER OF SOVEREIGNTY
The L.A. Times also demonstrated bias and incompetence in its coverage of the Iraq war.
For one thing, like many mainstream media organizations, the paper focused almost exclusively on the bad news coming out of Iraq -- and did little or no reporting on the good news, including the rebuilding effort. The
attitude of U.S. troops was: "The media doesn't get it" -- and the L.A. Times was a good example of what the troops were talking about.
For example, one day the L.A. Times ran two stories about Iraq. One was about a disillusioned Shiite cleric who claimed that U.S. forces had worn out their welcome. That story ran as Column One on the front page. A second story described the efforts of Marines to win hearts and minds in Iraq. That story ran in the Calendar section -- the same place where the paper runs comic strips and advice columns.
The paper did its best to portray Saddam Hussein as a man who had not been cowed by his captors.
When Hussein was first brought before an Iraqi court, the paper said that Hussein "defiantly faced down a
young Iraqi judge Thursday," and an accompanying editorial characterized Hussein's demeanor as that of an "in-charge dictator." Meanwhile,
the liberal New York Times told quite a different story, describing
a nervous and tentative Hussein who had "met his match in the judge." According
to the New York Times, at the end of the hearing, Hussein even told
a guard: "Take it easy, I'm an old man." L.A. Times readers were never told these facts,
which put the lie to the paper's portrayal of the captive Hussein as an "in-charge
The transfer of sovereignty was a positive step that encouraged Iraqis and Americans alike. But the L.A. Times distorted the facts about the transition, and told falsehoods that made the transition seem far less positive than it actually was.
Just after the transition, a Los Angeles Times story characterized
Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi as "little-known to most Iraqis," and insisted: "Many Iraqis have questioned the interim government's legitimacy." The
story didn't mention a contemporaneous poll showing that 73 percent of Iraqis polled approved of Allawi to lead the new government. According to the poll, the new leadership enjoyed high name recognition: more than 70 percent of Iraqis polled had heard or read a significant amount about the new leaders. But Los Angeles Times readers were never informed of these facts -- and indeed, were falsely told the exact opposite.
A few days later, a front-page news analysis about the handover told another flat-out falsehood:
L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator for Iraq, left without even giving a final speech to the country — almost
as if he were afraid to look in the eye the people he had ruled for more than a year.
An accompanying picture of Bremer bore a caption that repeated this falsehood:
HASTY DEPARTURE: Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civilian administrator, left Iraq without a parting speech.
The Times's assertion that Bremer had left Iraq without giving a farewell speech was utterly false. Four days earlier, I had discussed Bremer's farewell speech on my blog, noting that Iraqi bloggers had described Bremer's speech as very moving. But the L.A. Times not only falsely reported that Bremer had given no farewell speech, it also took a cheap shot at Bremer in the process, suggesting that he was a coward for not giving a speech.
I wrote the L.A. Times to complain. Over the next several days, the paper assiduously corrected mistakes in its Food section, but took five days to correct its error about Bremer's speech.
When editors finally did issue a correction, they had a ready excuse for the
error: Bremer's speech "was not publicized to the Western news media."
BUSH'S REFUSAL TO MEET WITH THE NAACP
The editors professed to have absolutely no idea why George W. Bush might not want to meet with the NAACP. It was as if they had never heard that the NAACP ran nasty attack ads on Bush in the 2000 campaign, and vowed to unseat Bush in the 2004 election.
After Al Qaeda succeeded in intimidating the Spanish people into electing Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the L.A. Times ran
a puff piece comparing Zapatero favorably with outgoing conservative prime
minister Jose Maria Aznar -- who had supported President Bush. Zapatero was
described as "a listener who cuts a humble figure," as opposed to "the confrontational Aznar." According
to the Times, Zapatero's watchwords were "listen" and "dialogue," and the paper gushed that Zapatero "cast
himself as a calm leader, capable of building consensus, touched by humility." Only on the back pages did
the paper tell readers that this model of humility and consensus-building had
called President Bush a "liar" and far worse. You can see why this language
favorably impressed L.A. Times editors -- but it certainly didn't square
with the "non-confrontational" image of Zapatero that the paper struggled to
present on its front page.
THE SWIFT VETS CONTROVERSY
The height of the L.A. Times's pseudo-journalism was its "coverage" of
the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. No matter how you feel about the Swift Vets,
it's undeniable that the paper's coverage of this organization was straight
from the Kerry playbook. First, Times editors ignored the Swift Vets as long as possible. When that didn't work, the editors smeared the Vets with distortions, omissions, and outright falsehoods.
May, the Swift Vet organization released a letter, signed by the majority of
officers who served with Kerry in Coastal Division 11, which said to Kerry: "Your
conduct is such as to raise substantive concerns as to your honesty and your
ability to serve, as you currently seek, as Commander-in-Chief of the military
Such a serious accusation about a presidential contender should have made a splash -- especially when the candidate had based his campaign on his military service. Not at the Los Angeles Times. The Times buried its story about the letter on Pages A20 and A21 -- and never even alluded to the letter's central accusation: that John Kerry was dishonest and unfit to serve as President. At the same time, the paper gave front-page, sympathetic coverage to a letter critical of Bush, signed by 26 former diplomats, mostly partisan Democrats.
It soon became apparent why the paper was ignoring the Swift Vets story. Even though John Kerry had made his Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign, the L.A. Times editors
told its readers that Kerry's military record was not "fair game." So it was
no surprise that, when the Swift Vets' first advertisement came out, Times analyst Ron Brownstein declared
it to be the political equivalent of a "snuff film." The paper also found space to point out that the ad had been funded by a wealthy Republican activist, and denounced by John McCain.
One of the Swift Vets' claims found early traction in the blogosphere. John
Kerry had often repeated that he had spent "Christmas in Cambodia" listening
to President Nixon denying that the U.S. had troops inside the Cambodian border.
Kerry described this event as a turning point in his view of the Vietnam War.
The only problem was that the story was a fabrication. I mentioned the controversy on my blog on August 8, and I was at least a couple of days behind others. The mainstream media did its best to ignore this controversy, and the L.A. Times was no exception.
The L.A. Times didn't even mention the "Christmas in Cambodia" controversy
until August 17, in what purported to be an in-depth investigative piece on
the Vets and their claims -- but was in reality a hit piece. The article was an exercise in slanted rhetoric. It told readers at the outset that the Swift Vets' allegations were staples of conservative talk shows and the internet, made in an ad funded by Republicans, and leveled by people who weren't even percipient witnesses, and couldn't keep their stories straight.
But the article didn't stop there. It falsely suggested that Kerry had released all of his military records.
It also claimed: "None of the critics quoted in the ad actually served on the boats with Kerry." This
was wildly deceptive, because they had served on boats right alongside Kerry.
By contrast, those who supported John Kerry were considered by Times editors
to have served "with" Kerry -- even if they had only served on a nearby boat.
When William Rood, who commanded a boat alongside Kerry, wrote an article supportive of Kerry, the L.A. Times put it on Page One under the headline Officer Recalls Boat Mission With Kerry.
Not "Alongside" or "Near" or "Next to" -- but "With."
On August 20, three days after the August 17 hit piece, the L.A. Times printed
another blatant falsehood about the Vets, in a story titled "Kerry Starts Firing Back at Critics of War Record." The
story contained this howler:
None of the men in the Swift boat group behind the anti-Kerry ad, including [Larry] Thurlow, served on Kerry's patrol boat during the war.
Anyone even slightly familiar with the Swift Vets should have known this was not true. Steven Gardner was a member of the group, and served on a patrol boat with Kerry longer than any of the men supporting him. This mistake was inexcusable.
I wrote the Times's Readers' Representative that same day (August 20) to demand a correction. Six days later, after having heard nothing in response, I wrote the paper's managing editor. Also, Instapundit linked to my post discussing the long delay without a correction (or even a response). Lo and behold, a correction ran the next day.
Throughout the campaign, the L.A. Times pounded home the theme that the Swift Vets lacked documentary proof of their claims. But if Kerry supporters lacked documentary proof as to any of their claims
-- like the "Christmas in Cambodia" story, for example -- that fact was not
considered important. Kerry's word was good enough.
How obvious was this double standard? This obvious: on the very same segment of Fox News Sunday, a Kerry supporter and a Swift Boat Vet both admitted that they lacked documentary proof to support their claims. But the L.A. Times mentioned only the admission by the Swift Boat Vet.
Predictably, the paper ended up editorializing against the Vets, flatly calling
them liars in the process. The editorial was titled: "These Charges Are False ..." But
the editors never bothered to tell readers which charges they were talking
about -- probably because they didn't have the slightest factual grasp of the
actual charges, having concluded them to be smears before ever examining them.
Which charges were false? The Vets' claim that Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" story
was fiction? Their claim that Kerry used medals obtained for minor wounds to
shave about 8 months off the expected length of his tour of duty? Readers were
never told. Instead, they were subjected to a diatribe during which the editors mocked war hero Bob Dole. It was truly a shameful episode in the paper's history.
In September, Times media critic David Shaw beautifully summed up the paper's attitude towards the Swift Vets, with this jaw-dropping quote:
The officially unaffiliated position of the Swift Boat veterans notwithstanding, the unofficial assistance of those friendly to Bush was both undeniable and just about the only fact that made their efforts newsworthy.
Dozens of Vietnam veterans who served with Kerry -- including a majority of the officers who served with him, and his entire chain of command -- claimed that Kerry was dishonest and cowardly in his service, and that was not newsworthy??
That's the mindset of the people deciding what's news at the Los Angeles Times, folks. There's really nothing more to say.
And yet, there's so much more to say . . .
THE "BUSH WAS AWOL" STORY, THE CBS FORGED DOCUMENTS CONTROVERSY, AND THE "TEXANS
The L.A. Times's biased coverage of the Swift Vets is all the more
shocking when compared to the paper's extensive coverage of the "Bush was AWOL" story.
This story received prominent and sympathetic coverage from the Times all year long. On August 15, I did a survey comparing the Times's
coverage of the Swift Vets' accusations -- such as it was -- to the extensive
coverage the paper had given to the "Bush was AWOL" story. At that time, the L.A. Times had run seven stories mentioning
the "Bush was AWOL" controversy, including two stories on the front page.
The stories consistently emphasized the contrast between Bush's service in
the National Guard, and Kerry's award-winning and allegedly heroic service
in Vietnam. Possible partisan motivations behind the "Bush was AWOL" accusations
were ignored. It was quite a contrast to the paper's portrayal of the Swift
Vet controversy as partisan slime regarding an irrelevant topic.
CBS's "60 Minutes" program relied on forged documents to support allegations
that Bush had been AWOL, the Los Angeles Times ran another front-page story, trumpeting the existence and content of the documents. But when the Washington Post (taking its cue from the blogosphere) ran a Page A01 story reporting that the documents were probably fake, the L.A. Times buried the news on Page A18. That's right: when documents damaging to Bush appeared authentic, that was front-page material -- but genuine questions about their authenticity were buried in the back of the paper.
Worse still, the L.A. Times portrayed the controversy about the forged
documents as a "partisan" issue, and quoted Col. Killian's daughter as saying
that Killian's family knew nothing about the authenticity of the documents.
This was false, as the paper's editors should have known. The Times didn't tell its readers that the previous day, Col. Killian's son and widow had both publicly questioned the documents' authenticity.
When the Times finally put this story on the front page, no variant
of the word "forgery" appeared in the entire piece, and the front page didn't
contain even a hint that the documents might not be authentic. All the information
showing the documents were probably fake was carefully buried on the back pages, on Page A18 -- the Page of Choice for embarrassing revelations about the forged documents.
While the rest of the media slowly accepted the fact that CBS had relied on forged documents, the L.A. Times followed Dan Rather's lead, and kept looking for that partisan connection. The results were occasionally comical.
When CBS finally agreed to have an independent panel look into the network's handling of the forged documents issue, the L.A. Times encouraged
conspiracy theorists by telling readers that panelist Dick Thornburgh "has a connection to Karl Rove, a longtime Bush strategist." The paper darkly noted that Rove had "worked on Thornburgh's unsuccessful campaign for a Pennsylvania Senate seat in 1991." Clearly, the fix was in: Thornburgh would trash CBS's reputation due to his "connection" with
Karl Rove. Except that the L.A. Times neglected to tell its readers that, once Thornburgh's campaign was over, Rove had sued Thornburgh for failing to pay $170,000 in unpaid fees -- and won. Thornburgh was, in anything, biased against Rove -- but the L.A. Times pretended that the exact opposite was true.
The paper allowed a blatant falsehood about Bush's military service to be
published in a letter to the editor, contrary to its policy. A letter writer
wrote that "no one is disputing former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes' admission
that he pulled strings to get the 'fortunate son' of then-Rep. George H.W.
Bush (R-Texas) into the Guard." Not true. Plenty of people disputed
that allegation. For example, George H.W. Bush had called such accusations
a "total lie" -- and he wasn't alone.
A group called the "Texans for Truth" ran an advertisement featuring a man named Bob Mintz, who claimed that it was "impossible" that
Bush was present for his required service. But, as Tom Maguire had pointed out, this claim was severely undercut by the fact Mintz had told CBS News: "I
cannot say he was not there . . . Absolutely positively was not there. I cannot
say that. I cannot say he didn't do his duty."
But the L.A. Times, which had eagerly sought any flimsy rationale to discredit the Swift Vets, never told its readers about Mintz's contradictory statements -- even though I had told the paper about them.
The paper justified its continuing pursuit of the "Bush was AWOL" story by citing a "growing chorus" of
critics -- never mentioning that one of the voices in the chorus, Bob Mintz,
had sounded a discordant note.
When the paper's "Readers' Representative" finally got around to responding
to my complaint, her excuse was pure sophistry. She claimed that the paper simply didn't have space to publish a whole story about Mintz's background. But, of course, the paper didn't need a whole story on
Mintz to set the record straight. It could have done so in 20 words: "Mintz admits that he cannot definitively say that Bush was not there or that Bush did not do his duty." In the thousands upon thousands of words that the paper had printed about the "Bush was AWOL" controversy, Times editors could have found room for those 20 words -- that is, if they really wanted their readers to know all the relevant facts.
THE CONVENTIONS AND THE RACE TO THE FINISH LINE
After John Kerry received no "bounce" from the Democratic convention, the Los Angeles Times played it off as no big deal. Readers were told that voters' minds were largely made up -- that there simply weren't enough swing voters to generate a bounce for any candidate. When this theory was destroyed by the sizable bounce that George W. Bush received from the Republican convention, the Times pretended that Bush's bounce was utterly predictable -- and that Kerry's non-bounce had never happened.
The Times also played a role in misrepresenting remarks made by Vice-President Cheney regarding the effect that a Kerry presidency would have on our likelihood of being attacked. The AP had started the ball rolling by Dowdifying Cheney's quote. Not content with similarly misleading Times readers about the content of Cheney's quote, a Times editorial bolstered its case by chopping off a spokeswoman's explanatory remarks as well, making them sound tautological and ridiculous in the process, when they were neither.
One of the single most infuriating things the paper did was to completely
misrepresent the content of an op-ed that John Kerry had written in March 2003.
President Bush had cited Kerry's op-ed as strong evidence of Kerry's weakness
on terror issues, quoting Kerry's statement that Bush "relies unwisely on the threat of military preemption against terrorist organizations." The Times rose
to Kerry's defense, claiming that Kerry's op-ed "argued for tougher efforts
to find and destroy terrorist organizations."
This was an utter lie. Kerry made no such argument in the op-ed, as
anyone who reads the actual op-ed can easily see.
The paper's "Readers' Representative," Jamie Gold, tried to spin this as a matter of interpretation -- though it quite plainly was not. This was not the first or last time that Ms. Gold defended the indefensible at the L.A. Times. If the L.A. Times wrote
that Jack Kennedy's image appears on Mount Rushmore, it wouldn't surprise me
to see Jamie Gold handing complaining readers a photograph of the monument
and saying: "See that outcropping of rock under Jefferson's chin? Okay, that's
Jack Kennedy's nose . . ."
At all times, the paper remained ridiculously optimistic about Kerry's chances. It got so bad, the paper's editors even declared
that Arizona was "in play" for Kerry -- saving for the back pages the fact that a recent poll showed Bush leading Kerry in that state by 16 points. (Naturally, when polls showed Kerry leading Bush in California by 15 points, the headline read: "In California, Voters Stay in Kerry's Corner." Heads
Kerry wins, tails Bush loses.)
The morning after the election, the paper's editors still had their heads buried deep in the sand. To most of us, it was clear that Bush had won, but the L.A. Times hopefully
reported: "It May Hang on Ohio." Only in your dreams, L.A. Times editors.
NO ENDORSEMENTS HERE!
Since the early 1970s, the L.A. Times has had a steadfast policy of not endorsing presidential candidates. They don't want to seem partisan, you see.
So it wasn't an endorsement when the editors ran a superficial editorial saying
that Edwards was "handsome" and Kerry "Lincoln-esque," while Cheney is "lumpish" and Bush sports a "patented
And it wasn't an endorsement when, one day before the election, the paper editorialized:
If elections were solely a job performance review, President George W. Bush would lose in a landslide. He has been a reckless steward of the nation's finances and its environment, a divisive figure at home and abroad. It's fair to say that Bush has devalued the American brand in the global marketplace.
And the editors were just getting warmed up. But they weren't endorsing anyone. Certainly not!
When you look at everything the Los Angeles Times did to try to elect John Kerry this year, it's enraging -- at first. But really, when you think about it, it's kind of sad.
Consider this: not long after the election, the paper killed its national edition. This event revealed how truly pathetic the paper's transparent shilling for Kerry really was. The decision to scrap the national edition was an abject admission that this paper has no real influence outside of California -- a state that is completely safe for Democrats. (As its circulation numbers continue to plunge, it's fair to ask whether the paper's influence within the state is also waning.) So all this deception and trickery was wasted on a readership that was going to vote for John Kerry anyway. The paper sacrificed any chance at building a reputation for integrity -- and didn't even get the satisfaction of having a meaningful impact on public opinion.
If that's not pathetic, I don't know what is.
BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE . . .
L.A. Times media critic David Shaw, in his own year-end roundup of journalistic boo-boos, wrote this:
When I sat down last year to consider journalism's worst moments of 2003, I could easily have limited my list to transgressions committed by the New York Times in the preceding 12 months.
As you can see, I could have limited my own list to transgressions committed by the L.A. Times in its coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign alone.
But I have much, much more than that. In fact, I'm just getting started.
So stay tuned for Part Two, tomorrow. CRO