I was an assistant metropolitan editor at the Los Angeles Times when the Rodney King riots erupted in April, 1992 and the Northridge earthquake struck on Jan. 17, 1994. Huge stories, of course, and everyone in Metro was thrown into round-the-clock riot and quake duty. Excellent coverage resulted and the Pulitzer Prize for spot news was awarded "to the staff of the Los Angeles Times" in 1993 and 1995. The prizes went up on a wall somewhere at the Times and the cash was donated, as I recall. Those of us who worked on the stories got a little 5x7 acrylic rectangle with embedded front pages from the Pulitzer-winning days. Most of us tossed the plaques in boxes, made a note for our resumes and moved on.
In 1997 I became the paper's Senior Projects Editor, working with investigative stories and series (and more Pulitzer winners.) In 1999 or so I got a call from a freelance TV producer named Eric Longabardi asking to collaborate with the Times on some investigative project. I don't recall the details, but something about him didn't feel right and I passed. The next time I heard of him, Longabardi was trying to peddle an investigation that TV outlets had rejected about the 9-11 hijackers in Arizona. In 2005 he got hold of me via email — "I am a faithful reader of LA-O — you do a superb job with the site" — to ask for advice on an investigative book.
Through 2006 I received several emails dangling tidbits of investigations he claimed to be working on for ABC or others, but his teasers tended to over-promise. In March 2006, for instance, I thanked him for pointing me to an ABC story that he claimed would prove a shoulder-fired missile was launched at an LAX jetliner. After seeing the story my note to him said "it's not that convincing."
That became our pattern — Longabardi would email some flattery and an intriguing tidbit, but his "scoop" would often turn out to be over-hyped. He started the ERS News website last year to flack his work, and I cautiously noted a couple of his posts. But I came to not trust his "exposes" and quietly stopped linking to them. Longabardi's emails — now totaling five dozen — grew more bitter and insulting.
This all leads, predictably, to yesterday when he posted a long piece claiming — erroneously and without checking with me or the Times — that my online bios overstate my connection to those staff Pulitzers fifteen years ago. On these kind of phony hits motivated by link envy, the backstory is the most interesting part.
Longabardi's hit piece on me grew, strangely enough, out of the Mayor Villaraigosa - Mirthala Salinas brouhaha last summer. At LA Observed I was linking to revelations and good reporting from all sorts of sources and devoting KCRW commentaries to the scandal. Longabardi emailed several links claiming that he had broken this or that scoop, and I linked to some of them.
But I recognized the old pattern of Longabardi claiming gets he didn't really have down and making more of his evidence than a sober editor would buy. I grew increasingly uncomfortable about giving his stuff credibility. One of his posts, pitched as revealing something else, dropped in the flat claim that Villaraigosa was dating a city staffer, with unsubstantiated specifics. My BS filter stayed on high from then on when it came to Longabardi. I think I've linked to his site just twice this year. I never check it, and only learn of something there if I get email or if some other blog falls for his incessant email come-ons.
Our emails remained cordial for awhile. "Just making sure you saw the new 2 new stories and the treasure trove of exclusive pics of Mayor V and Salinas posted today," he sent, in part, on July 10 last year. I responded: "Thanks. I don't see anything in it for me, but I'll keep watching."
His first email in August pleaded in the subject line, "Come on kevin .. throw a little love ersnews.com's link way." In September, he got madder about not being mentioned in my Los Angeles Magazine story about the scandal. "Amazingly not a single mention of ERS News...," he emailed, in part. "Not that big of a big deal but you managed to mention everybody else involved, including media outlets barely involved in reporting the story at all....I found it amazing such a good reporter like you could have such a glaring oversight."
In November, Longbardi started to get the hint. "It's clear you don't even read ERS anymore -- so you're missing a lot -- you haven't posted a single item in a long time (clearly showing your bias and bent)...," said part of one email. His New Year's email to me (subject line: "Thanks for the crumbs Kevin. you bias continues to show through") disclosed that he had been grousing about me to blogger Luke Ford.
Remember that name.
This March I grew tired of Longabardi's email harangues. I called him an asshole and wrote, "these whines shredded your cred a long time ago. from the errors and wildly off base claims you make in these screeds i'd be hard pressed to trust anything i see your name on." His reply directed a few insults my way and said, "Im still waiting for you to write about my work -- why don't put your money where you're big mouth is and use your personal opinion blog to so so. You don't cause just like the LA Times, if you do you risk being OUTED."
Remember that threat.
We exchanged a few more insults, with Longabardi repeatedly accusing me of supposedly not taking my "meds" — huh? I barely even use aspirin. He also seemed fixated on Pulitzers: "call your Pulizter buddies at the LAT they're your ass kissing professional guide to factual accuracy, ethics and journalistic credibility." [Spelling and punctuation within quotes are his, throughout.] Several Longabardi messages ranted, strangely, that Chuck Philips had won a Pulitzer for the Times in the beat reporting category, not investigative reporting, and so LA Observed should not call him a "Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter."
The last time I received an insult from Longabardi was March 27. In April, he got Luke Ford to post a hit claiming that it's bogus for me to mention in my bio that I "shared in two Pulitzer Prizes awarded for staff coverage of the Rodney King riots and the Northridge earthquake." Besides the big lie — that I'm somehow cheating — Ford's post was riddled with lack of understanding of the Pulitzer process.
Longabardi flacked his Ford-assisted hit job to other bloggers and encouraged them to keep pursuing the angle. None did, that I know about. So now comes Longabardi's new hit this week. "Turns out Roderick's claims are false," ERS News writes, without byline. But it's prototypically Longabardi. Over-amped premise, sloppy reporting, and a leap to a conclusion unsupported by the facts.
He bases his case on Ford's erroneous post, plus a conversation with the Pulitzer director who says nothing about me or the Times — and PDFs of Pulitzer documents that clearly state the Times entries are for staff work. Longabardi makes a big deal that my name is not mentioned anywhere in the docs. Dishonestly, though, he leaves out that no editors are mentioned. Most of the reporters and photographers and other journalists who I worked with for long days and nights aren't mentioned either. That's not how staff Pulitzer entries work.
The Times editor pictured on the Pulitzer page accepting the prize in 1995 is Carol Stogsdill, who as the top Times editor over the Metro staff oversaw the quake coverage. She was my boss then, and after a decade or so hiatus recently became my boss again. When I told her yesterday that Eric friggin' Longabardi was accusing me of falsely claiming a connection to those staff Pulitzers, she laughed. And laughed.
These integrity sellouts over link envy show how far the Los Angeles blogosphere still has to go, in my opinion. Longabardi also proves that some reporters need editors to keep them honest. My instinct was right about him in 1999: he couldn't be trusted to get the story right.