LA Times still says Ted Rall got facts wrong, he still disagrees

ted-rall.pngThe LA Times posted an editors note yesterday further explaining the decision to drop opinion cartoonist Ted Rall, giving the results of outside tests conducted on a crackly old police audio tape that is at the center of the paper's disagreement with Rall. The paper's conclusion is the same as three weeks ago: Rall's May blog post about a 14-year-old encounter with an LAPD officer did not meet Times accuracy standards to be published, his explanations to editors were "unsatisfactory" and they won't use him as a freelance cartoonist any longer. Rall posted a reply that disagrees strongly with the Times analysis of the tape in question and the conclusion that his blog item misreported the 14-year-old incident.

The Times note was posted Wednesday on the blog occasionally used by readers' representative Deidre Edgar to announce internal moves and address readers, and is billed as "a detailed look at the matter by Times editors" in response to questions. In it, the Times says "Rall has complained that The Times acted unjustly, based on flawed evidence. He has demanded that the paper retract its note to readers and reinstate him as a contributor. In response, The Times has reexamined the evidence and found no basis to change its decision."

The editors note says the LAPD contacted the Times to dispute the facts of Rall's May blog post alleging an unnecessarily rough encounter with a random LAPD traffic officer over a jaywalking ticket. Rall filed a complaint with the LAPD at the time, but nothing came of it. A little history here: Rall's cartoons often hurl barbs at the LAPD and he has said previously he doesn't like police or the LAPD. The Times and its opinion pages are also often critical of the department — and the op-ed page ran Rall's anti-police cartoons for many years.

From the Times note:

Among the material reviewed was Rall’s original complaint to the LAPD, written days after the jaywalking stop, when the encounter was fresh in his mind. In the letter, Rall accused the officer of rudeness but not of any physical abuse.

In published accounts years later, including his OpinionLA post, Rall added allegations that the officer handcuffed and manhandled him, that a crowd of two dozen onlookers shouted in protest at the mistreatment and that a second officer arrived and ordered his colleague to let Rall go.

The Times also had two forensic audio experts analyze the LAPD recording after Rall asserted that background voices, which he said were audible on a version enhanced for him by sound technicians, supported his account. Rall has insisted that two women can be heard objecting to the officer’s handcuffing of him.

The experts engaged by The Times, in separate assessments, said they could not hear any mention of handcuffs. Both also said they found no indication that — as Rall has asserted — the LAPD recording was edited, spliced or otherwise altered to conceal misconduct by the officer….

The Times continues to have serious questions about the accuracy of Rall’s blog post.

His accounts of the jaywalking stop have changed over time in significant respects.

In his reply on his own website, Rall accuses the Times of "a blizzard of misdirection, trivialities and distractions." He directs his disparaging remarks personally at Edgar, apparently thinking she is an ombudsman who conducted some sort of investigation (she's not and there's no suggestion she has played any role except to introduce the unsigned note.) A sample of Rall's challenges to the Times' new conclusions:

I’ll spare you the line-by-line dissection of this ridiculous exercise in corporate media bluster. But it would be a shame, after waiting three weeks (!) for the newspaper to finally explain themselves, not to respond to a few — well, 15 — things:

I’d like to thank the Times for finally hiring a pair of “forensic audio experts” to analyze the recording. Better late — after firing someone — than never, I always say.

Unfortunately, the Times still hasn’t offered the independent investigation demanded by journalistic ethics and by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. This? Just more spin.

Sadly, Ms. Edgar writes: “The experts engaged by The Times, in separate assessments, said they could not hear any mention of handcuffs.” Why couldn’t Ed Primeau, a media guy who does audio forensics on the side, hear the woman demanding that Officer Will Durr “Take off his handcuffs!”? Catalin Grigoras has some impressive credentials, but having a PhD doesn’t make you correct. The Times is asking everyone who heard that woman on the enhanced tape to believe them — not your lying ears.

Notice something? Neither of the Times’ experts disputes the presence of other people at the scene — only that they can’t hear the word “handcuffs.”

I have just a few minor personal reactions to the whole affair as an uninvolved observer.

  • I was kind of surprised three weeks ago that disputed 14-year-old facts in a first-person, opinion blog post would rise to a firing offense. This makes me think that the unspecified nature of Rall's "unsatisfactory" responses when confronted by editors had more to do with the decision to cut him.

  • When I listened to Rall's enhanced version of the old LAPD tape, I didn't hear what he said I should hear.

  • Rall's suggestions now that he's gone that the Times is somehow in the pocket of the LAPD and the police union — even financially in one of the many takes offered — reflect badly on him. If that's what all the years of evidence add up to for him, I'd have dropped him too as not being a very good analyst.

  • Losing a regular gig and being accused of journalistic unfaithfulness are harsh turns for a freelancer — I totally get it. For the Times, it's now an opportunity to do what all newspapers should do these days and use more and edgier cartoonists with an eye toward a bigger and more engaging range of opinion viewpoints.

  • Rall's side has tried to make comparisons to the paper backing Paul Conrad when he was attacked by powerful interests. Conrad was a staff cartoonist, and I don't know that he was ever accused of fudging facts in writing. You can decide if Rall belongs in Conrad's class.

  • Finally, Rall and his chorus of supporters haven't done him any favors by promoting this nonstop as a growing corporate and political "scandal" — their word — that demands shaming and an independent investigation. I understand his reputation is at stake, and if I felt wronged I would have fought back too. But from day one his side has been playing every card and over-hyping. Made me more leery of Rall's case. I'm probably not alone.

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