The excellent story by Meg James and Andrea Chang in Sunday's Los Angeles Times about the paper's new owner sheds light on Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong as a person and is noteworthy for its examination of the controversies that have marked his professional life.
The reporters chased down a fellow student in a segregated South African school, Judy Forlee, who remembered him as "a very bright boy. He was at the top of the class and was quite outspoken in class." They talked to Sister Rose Seraphin who met him at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights where Soon-Shiong and his wife Michelle Chan, a devout Catholic, were visiting. Sister Rose mistook him for a mechanic and asked him to fix the church bus, used to deliver food for the poor.
"Instead," James and Chang wrote, "Soon- Shiong wrote her a $2,500 check on the spot and over the next month bought the church a new walk-in refrigerator, donated freezers and sent a cardboard baler to press down boxes." The reporters quoted Sister Rose as saying "They transformed the place."
He sounds like a very nice guy. But that doesn't tell us what kind of a newspaper owner he'll be.
Strong-minded and quick acting, if his decision to abandon the 1935 Times building downtown for a new headquarters campus in El Segundo is any indication. In his LA Observed post Monday, Kevin Roderick noted that some staff members will be thrust into commuter hell by the move and it will work a special hardship on those living around downtown LA and who have grown fond of the area's lifestyle. And he said it could make staff retention and hiring difficult.
For me, working in the Times building meant laboring in a grand place and hallowed place with a rich history. But signs of neglect in the last few years made visits depressing, which counteracted any sentimental feelings of loss this alum has about the move. And I'm sure the Times will find a way to cover city hall without being across the street from it.
The big question is if Soon-Shiong's own political views will affect the paper's coverage of President Trump and other matters.
James and Chang wrote that Soon-Shiong is a political independent. He met with President Donald Trump twice in an effort to secure a health post in the new administration. But they also said he accompanied then Vice President Joe Biden to meet the Pope in the Vatican. And Soon-Shiong certainly didn't sound like Trump when he told the reporters, "We were always the underdogs...so I have great empathy for people who are underdogs for whatever circumstances they've been put in: whether poverty, whether religion, whether race, color, creed."
On the downside, as I wrote in Truthdig, Soon-Shiong hasn't seemed to like aggressive coverage of his business enterprises or his visits with Trump. Replying to stories in Politico and Stat, a website specializing in health matter, on his business controversies, Soon-Shiong tweeted "Politico/Stat attacks anyone who meets POTUS to serve the U.S. Important to give back. That's what I am going to do." He also tweeted, "Media attacks anyone who meets @POTUS to serve the USA. I grew up in a place with no freedom. Important to give back."
Hopefully, he will put all this aside and bring to the Times the resources and smarts to build up the staff to the level of its storied past and to make good on what he told James and Chang: "The last bastion to the health of democracy are journalists. We have to be a source of trust...We can be a beacon of light."