Kudos keep rolling in for L.A. Times on Bell

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik devoted six minutes to the Los Angeles Times reporting on Bell and the related media coverage issues in a piece for Weekend Edition. (Listen or read it here.) Nice nods to the lead reporters on the Bell stories, starting with 31-year-old Ruben Vives being smothered in hugs and kisses when he goes to City Council meetings now.

Few of these developments would have happened without the aggressive and unrelenting work of Vives, who worked his way up from copy boy, and his colleague Jeff Gottlieb, 56, an experienced reporter and editor.

They make a classic pair -– part Woodward and Bernstein, part Mutt and Jeff. But the scandal almost escaped their attention.

Vives tripped over the story in June — the neighboring city of Maywood was so strapped for cash it wanted Bell to take over city services, like policing. But his colleague Gottlieb learned of an investigation into pay for Bell's city council members. Their attention swung to Bell and they demanded public documents.

"Literally every day, I'm calling the city clerk," Gottlieb said. "I'm telling her, 'Listen, are we getting the documents? I really don't want to sue you, but we will, and when we go to court, and we win, because we will, we'll ask the judge to make you pay our legal bills, because that's what the [public records] statute says.'"

The city manager, Robert Rizzo, finally relented, but they had to meet him at a conference room near a city park for kids. That was weird enough — but nine city officials and lawyers showed up.

The Times' editors and reporters cop to Bell and similar small cities being under the paper's radar most of the time, more so these days because of budget cuts. It's no better at the Wave, which has sent a reporter to Bell council meetings since at least 1980. But Arnold Adler is 73 years old and covers 14 other cities. He tells Folkenflik: "We don't have the people or staff to go digging around, hoping we stumble on a scandal."

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