Nicholas Goldberg, the LA Times' Editor of the Editorial Pages, has posted a note atop a May 11 blog post by opinion cartoonist Ted Rall citing "inconsistencies" and concluding that "Rall's future work will not appear in The Times." In the original blog post, pegged to news about the cops ticketing downtown jaywalkers, Rall recounted an old encounter with the LAPD:
Just over 10 years ago, I was ticketed – and handcuffed – for an alleged pedestrian violation while crossing Melrose Avenue. Ironically, this was one of the rare times that I was innocent of even jaywalking, something I do every day.
He goes on to detail rough treatment by an officer he says threw his drivers license to the ground while a crowd gathered. Goldberg's note says the LAPD provided records and an audio tape that "raise serious questions about the accuracy of Rall's blog post. Based on this, the piece should not have been published."
In a lengthy online post today, Rall says his account was fully accurate and that Goldberg and the Times buckled to pressure from the police department, which his cartoons frequently lampoon. The Times assigned reporter Paul Pringle to investigate the original incident and interview him, but Rall says he was excluded from internal discussions about the questions raised. "At the Times...a cartoonist under fire from the LAPD is guilty until proven innocent," Rall writes.
As an editorial cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, I have drawn numerous cartoons critical of the Los Angeles Police Department’s abuse, corruption and heavy-handed incompetence.
Now it seems the LAPD has gotten even: It has convinced the Times to fire me….
While writing me a summons for what is, in Los Angeles, a misdemeanor, the cop shoved me around and handcuffed me. He was contemptuous, too — after issuing me a violation and releasing me, he feigned to hand me back my driver’s license.
Then he tossed it into the gutter.
I was upset. And, after discussing this incident with some friends, I fought the jaywalking charge. I also decided to file a formal complaint with the LAPD. (This is the only time I have done so.)
I’ve worked as a professional journalist, both in words and pictures, for more than 20 years. Journalism’s search for truth is sacred to me. When I get something wrong, I don’t hesitate to issue a correction or a retraction.
Was it possible that I had conflated two incidents? Fourteen years is a long time. Is it possible that I’d misremembered the incident? Was I suffering some sort of memory loss?
In short: No. I hadn’t. I wasn’t.
Rall says the audio recording — which he was not aware of at the time — does not reflect the less-audible things that happened out on the street. And an LAPD log that purports to show phone calls to discuss the original complaint with him switches mysteriously between years. He seems most upset that his Times bosses didn't side with him in what really does look like a he said-he said situation.
The audiotape, both Pringle and Goldberg told me, supports the official police narrative: no rough treatment, no handcuffs, no shoving, no angry crowd, no second motorcycle officer pulling my cop away from the scene.
What a surprise, that the cops’ cherry-picked evidence, mysteriously lacking five solid minutes of intelligible sound, should back up their story!
I, on the other hand, had nothing. I don’t surreptitiously tape things 14 years ago just so I can pull them out and use them later. Who does that? Well, besides the LAPD apparently.
Such flimsy “evidence” to lose my cartoonist position over.
This much is clear: It was easier for The Los Angeles Times to throw a cartoonist under a bus than it was to stand by him in the face of institutional anger.
I asked Goldberg, who I am acquainted with, if he had anything to add. He emailed:
Our note to readers had nothing to do with Ted Rall’s politics or his attitudes toward police. We run articles about the LAPD all the time in the Los Angeles Times and many of them are critical. The issue here was Ted’s description of his 2001 stop for jaywalking. After looking at the documents and records given to us by the police, we had serious questions about whether he had described it accurately.