I got the phone call at home an hour ago: The Tribune Company fired the L.A. Timesí publisher. And it made me think: What were the previous ditches, low points, disaster areas, self-imposed crises at The Times?
Maybe the day in 1965 when a so-called good newspaper had to recruit a black advertising staffer to venture into Watts because it wasn't safe for the paper's all-white staff to venture into the riot zone.
Maybe the day in 1979 when the unjustified fatal police shooting of a woman over an unpaid utility bill was reduced to a one-paragraph summary.
Maybe the day in 1995 when the newspaper eliminated its Suburban sections, permanently ending much local news coverage.
Maybe the day in 1997 when a businessman named Mark Willes, whose appreciation of journalism extended no further than his ability to read, became publisher and started trying to convert a newspaper into a consumer product.
Maybe the day in 1999 when an even more clueless rookie named Kathryn Downing succeeded Willes and soon created an ethical implosion that made you pine for Willes?
Nope. The pain and humiliation and anger of all those days combined hurts less than what the journalistic posers at the Tribune Company did to the L.A. Times today by firing Jeff Johnson. Johnson had the temerity to recognize the fragility of greatness. He did what everybody now finally thinks the U.S. military should have told Donald Rumsfeld: Sir, boss, you're wrong. You've taken your philosophy and hypotheses too deeply into the real world. You've gone too far. Youíre going to break the object of your affection.
Like Rumsfeld, who wanted to control each decision in the Iraq War, no matter how small, the Tribune Company insists on pushing into an arena it knows nothing about: Greatness in journalism. Just as Rumsfeld believed control, not the substance of his decisions, were what mattered, the Tribune Company believes only in raising the stock price, not the substance of the budget cuts it has made and will continue to make to get the stock price up. Just as Rumsfeld has been destroyed by his orthodoxy, so, some day, will the Tribune Company be pilloried by historians for saving Los Angelesí journalistic village by destroying it.