Last week a delegation of progressives met with the top opinion editors at the L.A. Times to complain about the axing of Robert Scheer's column and push for more anti-war voices on the op-ed page. In a report to their supporters, the delegation recounts details of the meeting, claims some success and describes an "inside/outside strategy" to pressure the paper that includes subscribing for three months as a "contingency subscriber" and pestering editors:
Commit to writing at least one letter a month, affirming or challenging LA Times content, paying special attention to columnists such as Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg who repeat the views of corporate-driven think tanks advancing a neo-con agenda. It will be our job to reveal misleading statements, lies and distortions and demand truth and accuracy. Support those progressive editorial and opinion articles that do uncover the truth, as Hayden, Huffington, Cockburn and Brooks did last week.
The entire email follows, with phone numbers and email addresses redacted.
From Bob Elias, Carole Myers, Brad Parker, Wayne Williams, & Marcy Winograd
Inside/Outside Strategy/LA Times
Following an extended meeting (details below) last Tuesday with LA Times editors, we decided to re-subscribe to the newspaper on a contingency basis. During the next three-months, as part of our LA Times Watch efforts, we will closely read and thoughtfully monitor the content of the editorial and opinion pages -- this in the wake of Robert Scheer's firing. For those who choose to re-subscribe, we recommend doing so for the next three months on a contingency basis, provided the LA Times regularly gives voice to progressives on its Opinion pages.
To re-subscribe: this Tuesday, December 20th, call Evonne Geller in Circulation at (xxx) xxx-xxxx and tell her you are a "contingency re-subscriber for 3 months or until March 20th." If, for some reason, you have trouble reaching Evonne, re-subscribe by calling:
Additionally, If you are interested in joining a well-organized Media Rapid Response group that evolved from SoCal Grassroots efforts, please feel free to contact Wayne Williams at email@example.com. When requesting membership, write the phrase "LA Times Watch" in the subject heading of your email.
Commit to writing at least one letter a month, affirming or challenging LA Times content, paying special attention to columnists such as Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg who repeat the views of corporate-driven think tanks advancing a neo-con agenda. It will be our job to reveal misleading statements, lies and distortions and demand truth and accuracy. Support those progressive editorial and opinion articles that do uncover the truth, as Hayden, Huffington, Cockburn and Brooks did last week. To contact a writer or editor at the LA Times, you can email the person by writing their first name, followed by a period, then their last name @latimes.com Example: firstname.lastname@example.org (Opinion Page Editor)
We embrace an inside/outside strategy, whereby subscribers lobby from within and non-subscribers, withholding their subscriptions, exert pressure from without. Please let us know (email@example.com) if you want to pursue an inside (subscribe) or outside (boycott) strategy.
Whichever course you choose, we urge you to stay involved in what the local media publishes and promotes.
Let the editors (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com) know you are re-subscribing on a contingency basis; or that you are not re-subscribing until the LA Times hires a second nationally-recognized progressive weekly columnist.
For more on our meeting with the Times, read on.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13th, five of us (Bob Elias, Carole Myers, Brad Parker, Wayne Williams & Marcy Winograd) met for an hour-and-a-half with LA Times Editorial Dept. Editor Andres Martinez and LA Time Op Ed Editor Nick Goldberg, at which time we condemned the still-inexplicable firing of Robert Scheer and requested they add more progressive anti-war columnists to the Opinion page.
We supplied Martinez and Goldberg with a list and sample columns of recommended journalists: Robert Scheer, Arianna Huffington, Bill Press, Jim Hightower, Frank Rich, Seymour Hersh, Paul Krugman, William Rivers Pitt, Tom Hartman, Naomi Klein, Norman Solomon, Marjorie Cohn, Andrew Greeley, and a dozen more, later talking up Tom Hayden and the need for a strong anti-war voice on the Opinion page.
Goldberg said they had run many of those same columnists in the past and would continue to do so, that despite what critics might think or say on the heels of Scheer's firing, LA Times editors were not part of right-wing corporate Tribune conspiracy to silence the voice of dissent or cozy up to the Bush administration (Don't forget the Tribune hopes the FCC will grant permission in 2006 for permanent cross-ownership of the LA Times and KTLA, tv channel 5.). Martinez and Goldberg remained adamant that the Tribune Company had not interfered or influenced their editorial decisions, and that they, the editors, not the finance guys, advertising, or subscriptions, would control the content of the editorial/opinion pages. Should Corporate try to interfere, both editors vowed they would quit.
As for Scheer, why the axe? No real explanation. They said Scheer had moved on (Chronicle, robertscheer.com, truthdig.org) and that they were moving on, as well. On the subject of guest columnists, they said the LA Times had a policy of not running syndicated writers, unless the writer originated with the Times.
In response to our suggestions, Arianna Huffington's name got the most traction, with Goldberg and Martinez complimenting her writing, her voice and style, and explaining that a previous editor, annoyed with Arianna for running for Governor, had stopped publishing her columns, perceiving her primarily as a politician, not a writer.
Goldberg insisted that Rosa Brook's was Scheer's replacement on the Left, something with which we took issue. We acknowledged Brooks had written an excellent column denouncing the use of torture in interrogations (pasted at the end of this email), but that, generally speaking, she did not write with Scheer's passion or contempt for the liars who led us to war. Goldberg's response was, "Give her time."
Marcy pointed out that Jonathan Chait, whom they classified as liberal, was a pro-war centrist Democrat whose last column in the LA Times called for staying the course in Iraq. In the final analysis, the LA Times had Max Boot and Jonah Goldberg ensconced in the far-right camp and no formidable nationally-recognized counters on the left. Again, they pointed to Brooks and Erin Aubry Brown, a recent hire from the LA Weekly who focuses on community issues.
Carole Myers repeatedly questioned why the LA Times would continue to run Max Boot, when the guy had been wrong about everything -- WMD's, etc. -- for the last few years. Didn't the LA Times have a responsibility to tell the truth? Why would they fire Scheer when he did tell the truth, when he was right about being Left all along?
When Martinez and Goldberg mentioned wanting to be intellectually provocative on their Opinion pages, thereby running people with far-right opinions, Marcy asked, "Would you run Hitler? Would you give a half a page to someone who espoused annihilating a race?" They got defensive, but we pressed on -- saying these were extraordinary times in which people were being disappeared, tortured, sent to fight a war based on lies, etc. "You should be writing editorials calling for impeachment." No traction there.
Martinez gave us a packet of liberal editorials they had run: opposition to death penalty, a denunciation of Bush's failed Presidency, support of gay marriage, a renewed call for separation of church and state, a denunciation of the suspension of due process/Padilla. During the course of the meeting , we acknowledged their recent editorial supporting the CA Clean Money campaign for public financing of elections. Martinez shared that the editorial decisions are made by a committee of 10, and while there may be positions he champions that others do not, it would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, for an editorial to be printed with which he did not agree.
On Wednesday, the day after our meeting (scheduled two weeks in advance), the LA Times ran Tom Hayden's outstanding piece The Myth of the Super-Predator:
Spectacular executions can divert people's attention from their government's failings and crimes.
And it's easier to scapegoat the super-predator than the superpower. But, unlike the white ethnic gang culture of yesterday, for which there is widespread nostalgia in film and on TV, the only doors that are opening for the new generations of street gangs are those of the prison system.
On Thursday, two days after our meeting, the LA Times ran Arianna Huffington's It's Dirty Tricks all over Again:
READING THE new reports that the Pentagon is conducting surveillance of peaceful antiwar groups and protests, I feel like I'm having a bad '60s flashback.
On Friday, three days after our meeting, the LA Times published an editorial questioning US nuclear weapons policy, positing a vision of a nuclear-free society.
Like several retired generals before him, McNamara argues that nuclear weapons are useless in fighting terrorism or rogue states and that their dangers (accidental use, potential diversion) now outweigh their benefits.
McNamara may overstate the case. And ElBaradei, ever the diplomat, is no nuclear abolitionist. Still, his call for the nuclear weapons states to reduce the strategic importance of their weapons was plain. "How do we create an environment," he asked, "in which unclear weapons - like slavery or genocide - are regarded as a taboo and a historical anomaly?"
It's a challenge for us all. But ElBaradei deserves credit for asking the right question.
On Saturday, four days after our meeting, the LA Time's ran Andrew Cockburn's Refiguring the Iraq Body Count
Referencing a Columbia Professor . by now the number of "excess deaths" in Iraq "couldn't possibly be less than 150,000."
On Sunday, five days after our meeting, the LA Times ran America Kidnapped Me, Khaled E-Msri's story of CIA torture.
"The U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition has a human face, and it is mine. I am still recovering from an experience that was completely beyond the pale . I sued George Tenet, the former CIA director, last week."
At home, ever 6,000 readers emailed and faxed the LA Times to protest Scheer's firing. Two-hundred of us demonstrated in front of the LA Times building. Many of us cancelled our subscriptions, only to receive calls from pleading Times sales reps, enticing us with bargain-basement prices to re-subscribe.
Some of you argue we should not return to the LA Times until the newspaper rehires Robert Scheer or adds one more progressive to the roster. But where will that leave us? Out of the loop. Without any voice or input into what gets read in the number one newspaper in Los Angeles. In canceling our subscriptions for a month and re-subscribing on a contingency basis, we exercise our influence as readers. Hayden, Huffington and Cockburn's outstanding commentaries are no accident.
With all eyes on the LA Times, we should see more and more commentaries challenging the direction of this country.
To be effective, at least some of us must re-engage. Likewise, those of us who hold out, who refuse to return until the LA Times drops Boot or Goldberg or adds another left-leaning journalist, can also exert community pressure financial heat. This is the inside/outside strategy.
For 30 years, the Right has been meeting with media editors/owners and their offensive has clearly paid off; we need to do likewise, to make our voices heard with our pens and lap tops, to keep the spotlight on truth, accuracy, and the importance of watchdog journalism.
Marcy Winograd (Pres., Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles)
Wayne Williams (active in SoCal Grassroots)
Brad Parker (VP, Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles)
Carole Myers (active in SoCal Grassroots)
Bob Elias (Chicano Moratorium)