The full text of L.A. Times Editor John Carroll's speech last week at the University of Oregon on "the rise of pseudo-journalism" is more hard-hitting than previously reported. He praises the ethical code of most journalists -- using the staff insurrections at the New York Times over Jayson Blair and at the LAT over the business side's deal with Staples Center as examples -- and reopens his strong defense of last fall's reporting on the groping allegations against Arnold Schwarznegger. He tears into Fox News by name and California political columnist Jill Stewart without naming her (her earlier response is cited here).
* Update:In a sign, perhaps, of Carroll's new activism, the Times has posted its own link to the speech prominently at the top of LATimes.com. In case that link disappears into the fee-only archives after seven days, the link I used above is to the version at the University of Oregon's site.
I quote excerpts at more length than usual, so I'm hiding them in the jump:
Cloaked deceptively in the mantle of journalism, today's opinion-brokers are playing a nasty Halloween prank on the public, and indeed on journalism itself.
Let's depart from the generalizations now to hear some eyewitness testimony –- my own.
Last fall, my newspaper did something rash. Alone among the news media that covered the California recall election, the Los Angeles Times decided to investigate the character of a candidate for governor named Arnold Schwarzenegger. That caused consternation among the talk shows.
The recall campaign lasted only two months, so we had to hurry in determining whether, as rumored, Schwarzenegger had a habit of mistreating women. It turned out that he did. By the time we nailed the story down, the campaign was almost over, and we had a very tough decision to make: whether to publish the findings a mere five days before the election.
We decided to do it, figuring that choice was better than having to explain lamely to our readers after Election Day why we had withheld the story. We braced for an avalanche of criticism, and we got it.
What we didn't expect was criticism for things that had never occurred.
Long before we published the story, rumors circulated that we were working on it, and the effort to discredit the newspaper began. On Fox News, the Bill O'Reilly program embarked on a campaign to convince its audience that the Los Angeles Times was an unethical outfit that attacked only Republicans and gave Democrats a free ride. As evidence, O'Reilly said that the paper had overlooked Bill Clinton's misbehavior in Arkansas. Where, he asked, was the L.A. Times on the so-called Troopergate story? Why hadn't it sent reporters to Arkansas? How could it justify an investigation of Schwarzenegger's misbehavior with women and not Clinton's?
I wasn't employed in Los Angeles at the time of Troopergate, but I do have a computer, so, unlike Fox News, I was able to learn that the Los Angeles Times actually was in Arkansas. It sent its best reporters there, and it sent them in force. At one point, it had nine reporters in Little Rock. And when two of them wrote the first Troopergate story to appear in any newspaper, they made the L.A. Times the leader on that subject. Not a leader, but the leader. Their story would be cited frequently by as other newspapers tried to catch up.
The bogus Troopergate accusation on Fox was only the beginning.
The worst of it originated with a freelance columnist in Los Angeles, who claimed to have the inside story on unethical behavior at the Times. Specifically, she wrote, the paper had completed its Schwarzenegger story long before election day but maliciously held it for two weeks in order to wreak maximum damage.
Now if this were true, I wouldn't be here at the University of Oregon delivering a lecture on ethics. The reporters and editors involved in the story would have given me the same treatment Jayson Blair's editors got in New York. In all likelihood I would no longer be employed.
But it wasn't true. The idea that the newspaper held the story for two weeks was a fabrication. Nothing resembling it ever occurred.
It is instructive to trace the path of this falsehood. Newspapers have always been magnets for crackpots. Hardly a day goes by that we don't get a report of a UFO visit, or a complaint from someone whose head has been rewired by the CIA, or a tortured theory as to why the newspaper did or didn't publish something. I tend to shrug such things off, figuring that nobody would believe them anyway and that it's unseemly for a large newspaper to quarrel with a reader.
But we live in changed times. Never has falsehood in America had such a large megaphone. Instead of being ignored, the author of the column was booked for repeated appearances on O'Reilly, on CNBC, and even on the generally trustworthy CNN. The accusation was echoed throughout the talk-show world. This is how the tale of the two-week delay -– as false as any words ever penned by Jayson Blair -- earned the columnist not infamy but fame. Millions of Americans heard it and no doubt believed it. And why not? It sounded just like journalism.
Last year at the Los Angeles Times, we published 2,759 corrections. Some of you may be shocked that a newspaper could make so many mistakes. Others may be impressed that the paper is so assiduous in correcting itself.
It has now been six months since Fox and the other talk shows told their audiences that the Los Angeles Times did not cover the Troopergate scandal. It has been six months since they accused the newspaper of a journalistic felony by timing its story about Arnold Schwarzenegger. These are simple factual matters, easily provable. Nevertheless I'm getting the feeling that the corrections are not forthcoming.
As editor of the Los Angeles Times, I'm not happy about it, but at least I know the truth. The deeper offense is against those who don't -- the listeners who credit the "facts" they hear on Fox and the talk shows.
Carroll also blasts Fox for misleading its viewers about the war in Iraq, and names Roger Ailes:
If Fox News were a factory situated, say, in Minneapolis, it would be trailing a plume of rotting fish all the way to New Orleans...
In attack politics, the idea is to "define" one's rival in the eyes of the public. This means repeating derogatory information so often that the rival's reputation is ruined. Sometimes the information is true; sometimes it is misleading; sometimes it is simply false. A citizen who enters politics these days must face the prospect of being "defined" by smear artists equipped with computers, polls and attack ads.
It is the netherworld of attack politics that gave us Roger Ailes, the architect of Fox News. Having spent much of his career smearing politicians, he now refers to himself as a journalist, but his bag of tricks remains the same.
Carroll is said to have worked on the speech intently for some days and to have asked Richard E. Meyer, a veteran L.A. Times reporter and editor, to help get it ready. The lecture series at Oregon that invited Carroll asked for the written text to post on its website, and there has apparently been a bit of cleaning up this week from the version that Carroll delivered on Thursday. The paper may be considering publishing the lecture on Sunday, as it did Carroll's commentary on the groping stories last fall.
Last edited at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday May 12