The Times on Sunday began a hard-edged four-part series on the United Farm Workers union after Cesar Chavez under the label "UFW: A Broken Contract." The nut grafs for the series by Miriam Pawel (with photos by Don Bartletti) appear to be these from the first piece:
Today, a Times investigation has found, Chavez's heirs run a web of tax-exempt organizations that exploit his legacy and invoke the harsh lives of farmworkers to raise millions of dollars in public and private money.
The money does little to improve the lives of California farmworkers, who still struggle with the most basic health and housing needs and try to get by on seasonal, minimum-wage jobs.
Most of the funds go to burnish the Chavez image and expand the family business, a multimillion-dollar enterprise with an annual payroll of $12 million that includes a dozen Chavez relatives.
It's a familiar litany of drift away from the original mission of Chavez's union, but with a sharper investigative tone to it than previous Times takes (some of which I edited.) Even before the new stories began to run, the union's leadership went into defensive mode in an email obtained by LA Observed:
M E M O R A N D U M
TO: All movement staff and supporters
FROM:Arturo S. Rodriguez, UFW, Paul F. Chavez, NFWSC, David Villacino, F.I.E.L.D., Nora Benavidez, LUPE, Marcos Camacho, McLaw, Paul Park, CECF, Doug Blaylock, RFK/JDLC
RE: Unfair L.A. Times series on farm workers movement
A series of articles by Los Angeles Times reporter Miriam Pawel that we believe will level unfair and inaccurate attacks against the farm workers movement will probably begin appearing Sunday in the newspaper.
We worked extensively with this reporter during much of last year on what we initially thought would be a balanced account. But many of her questions plus her repeated refusal over many months to inform us about the focus of her writing and specific charges and claims her stories will make�despite promises to do so�leaves us with grave doubts our movement will be treated fairly.
After reading Pawel's stories once they appear, we will quickly supply responses you can use in discussing the articles. Any questions from reporters should be directed to Marc Grossman at 916-xxx-xxxx. Meanwhile, remember that those of us who have dedicated our lives to this great cause should continue to be very proud of our work.
The Los Angeles Public Library's link to previous Times stories on the UFW is down right now, but here's an LA Weekly story from last August by Marc Cooper describing how sordid conditions have returned to California's fields. (The Bakersfield Californian reported in detail on the new UFW in May 2004, but the series is available in paid archives. Update: They opened up free access.) Newsroom speculation at the Times has Pawel leaving the paper soon, and not altogether voluntarily. She had been the assistant managing editor in charge of Metro until June 2004, then became a roving projects reporter. She filed some pieces on farmworkers that year, but had no projects in the paper (or any page one bylines) in 2005, according to the LATimes.com archives. Word around the newsroom is that Pawel, hired by previous editor John Carroll, was encouraged to look for another job after Dean Baquet became editor last summer.
* Cooper blogs: "If imitation is the highest form of flattery then I�m feeling mighty flattered today...I was nevertheless quite pleased to see our local behemoth finally get around to an important story that should have and easily could have been told long ago. The Times, of course, did significant new and independent reporting and the picture it paints of the union that carries Cesar Chavez� legacy is appropriately grim and depressing...a crucial public service."