The Times series on the United Farm Workers, a potent force in L.A. politics for decades, is certainly a talker. Three of the top four most-emailed stories at LATimes.com right now are from the series. Berkeley professor of public policy Michael O'Hare blogs the dismay that some on the left feel at reading the disclosures:
Remember the last scene of Animal Farm? This story about the Farm Workers' union, a "print it once and print it all" piece in the best tradition of the LA Times, will break your heart.
As a red-diaper baby, I was taught from an early age that union leaders were among the elite of God's creation. My mother would starve before crossing a picket line. Life is not so simple, and getting wiser on this score hasn't made me happier...
His blogging partner and UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, posting at The Reality-Based Community, says the pieces are devastating and "tough reading for the friends of labor." He adds:
On the bright side, the fact that the story ran illustrates the basic bogosity of the claim that the LAT, NYT, WaPo, etc., constitute a "liberal media" to which the Murdoch empire merely provides an equal and opposite spin. When the LAT sees a good news story, it runs that story, without any reference to whether it's going to hurt Democrats or the liberal cause. (Sometimes that's true even when the story itself turns out to be a crock, as with the phony "Chinese political contribution" story that the LAT broke just before election day of 1996, preventing the Democrats from retaking the House.)
I'm not saying that the mainstream press achieves a perfect balance, if such a thing were even definable. But by and large they're in the journalism business, not the political-organizing business. That's the difference between them and Fox News or the Washington Times or the New York Post.
On the other hand, Occidental professor Peter Dreier, a leader in the Los Angeles progressive arena, is venting at the Times for not covering other stories on the labor beat. Excerpts from a letter to the editor he distributed today:
In four days, the Los Angeles Times has put more resources into and used more space for its series on the mismanagement of the United Farm Workers (UFW) than it has for at least an entire year covering the entire local and national labor movement. You can usually count on the Times to cover unions when they go on strike or when some unions leave the AFL-CIO (and its series on Wal-Mart two years ago was outstanding), but where are the Times' vast resources when it comes to the day-to-day work of union organizing and, equally important, the conditions that workers face on the job?
Like other papers, the Times covered the recent Slago mine disaster in West Virginia. But a more important story -- the federal government's failure to regularly inspect the mines and enforce the mine safety laws in order to avoid such tragedies -- could have been written at any time in the past several years. The company that owns the Slago mine had a history of serious safety violations. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has cut funding and staff at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), has proposed even further cuts this year, and has appointed former senior executives from mining companies (that made large campaign contributions to the GOP) to top positions within MSHA.
Why doesn't the Times routinely report on the voting records of the region's Congressional delegation on worker-oriented legislation, such as OSHA's budget and proposed increases in the minimum wage? Why does the Times splash its UFW series on the front page, but relegate most union news to the Business section? Why doesn't the Times -- which serves a metropolitan that has become the nation's capital of the working poor, where more than 800,000 workers are union members, and where (unlike most parts of the country) labor union membership is actually growing -- have several news (not Business) reporters covering the labor beat full-time?
Indeed, since the Los Angeles region has vastly more employees than business owners, why doesn't the Times have a regular Labor section as well as Business section?
Today's La Opinión weighs in with a staff story that leads with the response from the UFW's Arturo Rodriguez. The union calls the Times series inaccurate, dishonest and untrue but hasn't refuted the factual findings that I've seen.
Previously on LA Observed:
UFW saw Times series coming