To mediate its crisis, the Times has furiously set up a number of blogs as if Web sites on the Oscars and, yes, on travel stories, are going to resuscitate a flagging pulse. How do decisions like that get made?
Excessive energy has also been spent in rejiggering the editorial pages ó another aspect of the paper that seems to have little to do with its future. The Kinsley Experiment was an embarrassing failure, but what has been the follow-up? Open the editorial pages and find that the mighty L.A. Times still canít get it together to scare up three or four locally based columnists to project a persuasive institutional voice. Instead, a plethora of weary out-of-town wonks continues to relentlessly wank on unimpeded. I think itís fine that the Times has a regular conservative contributor. But Max Boot? A graceless, Beltway hack with little political credibility even on the right.
And yet, we hear this week the Times is canning its longtime weekly liberal columnist, Bob Scheer, at the end of the year. One more genius move by the visionaries of the Tribune Company.
Scheer served honorably as a Times national correspondent for two decades, producing unique and unconventional reporting on Reagan, Russia, Cuba, the Cold War and any other topic he tackled. As a columnist heís built a loyal local and national following like few other Times writers. Sure, I know the whole rap against Scheer: His writing is loud, even crass. Heís stubbornly opinionated, a fierce and sometimes zealous partisan. A predictable defender of blue-state politics. He can be overbearing, cantankerous and obnoxious at times. Instead of going in with a finely honed scalpel, heís prone to pounding his subjects repeatedly and relentlessly with a two-by-four.
Sometimes Scheer, whom Iíve known for 30 years, has infuriated me ó say, with his intransigent defense of Bill Clinton. But thatís what a great columnist is supposed to do ó piss you off. If you prefer the politeness of pulled punches and yes/but down-the-middle timidity, well, I suppose you can leisurely leaf through the other 200 pages of the L.A. Times.
But go back and review the way Scheer led the national press on the Wen Ho Lee case, calling it a fraud long before his peers could even clear their throats on the matter. And while Bob has been rather single-mindedly bashing Bush on the war for the past three years, ask yourselves which position youíd rather be in as an editor: defending Scheerís work or that of one Judith Miller?
Cooper, of course, comes from the left. I've also been copied on a few emails sent to the Times from longtime readers who say if Scheer goes they are canceling. On the right, of course, the bloggers are thrilled: Local Liberty, PrestoPundit, Patterico.
Earlier: Scheer on KPCC