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Bruce Feirstein vs the Times

In response to Bruce Feirstein's Native Intelligence post saying that the Los Angeles Times fails to give texture to local figures, the Times' Atlanta bureau chief emails:

• Today, Bruce Feirstein takes on the L.A. Times for its failure to illuminate "personality" in its coverage of Los Angeles, and offers a list of big-time Angelenos whose essence the Times has failed to adequately capture.

But does Feirstein's argument hold up under scrutiny? There's no way to really rebut a matter of taste, I suppose, but I thought I'd look back in the paper's archives to see how poorly we've covered these people as people.

Turns out all of the public figures on his list have received the magazine-style profile treatment in the last few years, with the exception of Rep. Maxine Waters. The last big story on Waters was an investigative piece by Ted Rohrlich and Chuck Neubauer that she didn't seem too keen on participating in -- although the reporters were able to add quite a bit of illuminating personal info on the congresswoman anyway.

Maybe Feirstein's point is that there should be more gossipy bits in our daily coverage of these folks. Fair enough. But I thought I'd paste the first few graphs of the LAT's big take-outs on each of the people Feirstein mentioned, and let readers decide whether they agree with his contention that "you'd never know what these people are like - what their foibles and idiosyncrasies are - from reading the paper."


Richard Fausset
Atlanta bureau chief
Los Angeles Times

Eli Broad, from Mark Arax's profile in 2000:

In another life, before Eli Broad became a billionaire insurance man and savior of downtown, before he helped deliver the Democratic National Convention to Los Angeles and loomed over the city's art and philanthropy like J. Paul Getty's ghost, he reigned as the King of Sprawl.

From the late 1950s to the late 1980s, Broad built more houses across suburbia than any man in America, changing the face of big cities from California to New Jersey. No builder did more to spread Los Angeles from sea to mountain to desert than Broad. He lured baby boomers to the land of one-hour commutes with four-bedroom ranch houses, wall-to-wall carpet, fully equipped kitchens, two-car garages and an orange tree in every yard--a dream had for $25,990.

These days, the 67-year-old chairman of SunAmerica, a financial giant that sells insurance and mutual funds to baby boomers turned gray, pours his considerable energy and fortune into reviving a downtown eviscerated by decades of suburban growth.

"It's a paradox. Yes, it's a paradox," he said. "But it isn't penance."

Maloof brothers, from a March 7, 2004 Magazine cover story:

It's an hour before game time at Sacramento's Arco Arena, and the faithful have gathered for battle. Cowbells dangling around their necks, their hair dyed purple and black, they carry hand-painted signs with a simple message: "Beat L.A."

No matter that the Los Angeles Lakers have arrived for this mid-January game without three of their best players--Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone, all sidelined because of injuries. To the 17,317 spectators sardined into one of the nation's most intimate pro basketball arenas, the short-handed Lakers are still the hated--the dreaded--team that has eliminated Sacramento from the playoffs three of the last four years.

On this night the Kings roll to an easy win. To the locals, the victory is meant to be savored--like strawberries in winter, to paraphrase sportswriter Red Smith. Many fans refuse to go into the chilly Northern California night. Instead, they flock courtside and surround Gavin Maloof, a stubby, boyish-looking man who co-owns the team with his brother Joe. Women who are Saran-wrapped into extra-small T-shirts and powder-blue Von Dutch baseball caps brazenly proffer their cellphone numbers. Teens in oversized Chris Webber jerseys line up to get Maloof's autograph. Others drape themselves around him and pose for photos. Maloof's companions urge him to hustle to the post-game party he is hosting, but he is in no hurry.

"It's always good to beat 'em and get the win," he yells above the din. "Now our fans go home happy, and that's what Kings basketball is all about."

The brothers Maloof--they've become so ubiquitous that their names might as well be "JoeandGavin"--are among the most prominent faces in the state capital, even more popular than a bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-governor named Arnold. Since 1999, when they paid $247 million for majority ownership of the Kings and Arco Arena, they have transformed a moribund franchise that was once the laughingstock of the league into its most exciting team. Couple that with their ownership of the Palms Casino, perhaps the hippest hot spot in Las Vegas, and Sin City sizzle has come Sacramento--and perhaps, next, to Southern California. The Maloofs are in negotiations to buy the Anaheim Mighty Ducks of the National Hockey League.

They did so with two ingredients. First, they peddled something most fans believe sank beneath the waves in the era of sports franchises owned by faceless conglomerates--customer service. They give out their mobile-phone numbers not only to cute women but to every fan who approaches them. They created a new department to field complaints from season ticket-holders. Oh, and those long waits in beer lines? Gone, thanks to new beer stands throughout the arena. The Kings were ranked No. 1 in overall fan experience by a survey conducted for the NBA by J.D. Power and Associates.

Also, they managed to transplant their perpetual adolescent, "boys gone wild" personalities to the marketing image of their team. Joe is 48, Gavin is 47, and both are resolute bachelors. Their jet-set lifestyle includes dating models, driving Ferraris, and high-stakes gambling. While Lakers owner Jerry Buss represents Hugh Hefner and the Playboy generation, the brothers have crafted a public image that personifies the party animal bravado of Maxim magazine and Coors Light commercials.

Jeff Katzenberg, from a Nov. 22, 1998 Calendar story:

The meeting, as Jeffrey Katzenberg described it to the four DreamWorks SKG executives who gathered in his Glendale office last month, was "11th hour, 59th minute." Eight weeks before the December opening of "The Prince of Egypt," the animated biblical epic that has been Katzenberg's obsession for the past four years, two trailers advertising the film were about to air. One wasn't working.

"The original trailer has a rhythm going through it. This one doesn't have the same grandeur," Katzenberg said, his voice urgent, his gaze fixed on a monitor as the offending promo played. Around him, sunk deep in overstuffed armchairs, sat marketing chief Terry Press, co-heads of production Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, and creative exec Peter Adee. Katzenberg stood fidgeting against the wall, too wired to sit.

As the VCR whirred, everyone agreed where the problem lay. The promo slowed down in the middle, when Moses--the film's central character--and his brother-turned-nemesis Rameses traded heated words. Katzenberg acted swiftly. "Take out Moses' response," he said as the reel ended with a burst of song from Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.

Then, as Carey and Houston wailed, Katzenberg did something strange: He shivered. "I have an involuntary response whenever they sing that note," he told the room, his words suddenly warm. For a moment, the 47-year-old executive looked calm, as if the biggest gamble of his life might pay off after all.

These are nervy times for Katzenberg. Four years after he founded DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, the studio's first home-grown animated film--"The Prince of Egypt"--will be released Dec. 18. (The computer-animated "Antz," released by DreamWorks in October, was produced by a sister company, PDI.) This movie is the story of Exodus. It is serious (not funny), aimed at adults (not kids) and, dauntingly, religious.

It's never wise to bet against Katzenberg, but the talk in Hollywood these days goes like this: He's either a genius, or he's nuts.

Bill Bratton, from Tina Daunt's profile of Sept. 24, 2002:

The day after former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton announced that he wanted to be chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, he sent Los Angeles city leaders a copy of his autobiography and a packet of press clippings as thick as the Westside phonebook.

The stack included a profile from the New Yorker declaring him the "CEO Cop," and a New York Times editorial lauding Bratton as an energetic leader who made a difference.

Through the strength of his resume--and his own forceful public relations campaign--Bratton was determined to make the cut for the LAPD job. As a result, few at Los Angeles City Hall expressed surprise last week when the Police Commission named Bratton one of three finalists for the job, along with Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez and John Timoney, former commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department and a onetime deputy to Bratton in New York.

During his NYPD tenure from 1994 through 1996, Bratton's management reorganizations and crime-fighting tactics helped force a national reexamination of the role of police in combating crime.

But Bratton, 54, also is a man who keeps his own clippings. His determination to tout his accomplishments was deeply resented by his boss, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Eventually, the mayor had enough and forced the commissioner through a public ethics examination that eventually persuaded Bratton to resign.

Today, Bratton brings the same blend of self-promotion and accomplishment to the final round of the debate over who is best suited to run the LAPD.

"I'm extremely aware of what the problems are in the LAPD," Bratton said in an interview. "I can go in there very quickly and turn it around. I really do believe I'm the right person at the right time for the LAPD and for Los Angeles."

Maxine Waters, from the Dec. 19, 2004 story by Rohrlich and Neubauer:

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters' family members have made more than $1 million in the last eight years by doing business with companies, candidates and causes that the influential congresswoman has helped.

In varied ways, they have capitalized on clout she accumulated in a 28-year career as an elected official who built her power base among African Americans in South Los Angeles into a national platform.

Daughter Karen Waters has charged candidates for spots on her mother's "slate mailer," a sample ballot that many voters in South Los Angeles use to guide their choices.

She also has been paid by a nonprofit organization she and her mother set up, funded in part by special interests her mother helps in Washington, that throws parties her mother hosts at Democratic conventions.

Waters' husband has collected fees for opening doors with his wife's political allies on behalf of a bond firm seeking government business.

Son Edward Waters has shared in the slate mailer proceeds and has occasionally worked as a consultant to campaigns his mother supported.

The Waterses are a twist on a growing and unregulated trend in which relatives of members of Congress are paid by people receiving the members' help at home, in Washington or, in some cases, abroad. Over the last year and a half, The Times has identified five House members and seven senators whose family members have worked for clients that benefited from the lawmakers' official actions.

They included two sons and a son-in-law of Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the newly named minority leader, who in 2002 introduced legislation to free up public land in Nevada that benefited their lobbying clients.

In another case, the daughter of U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) wound up with $1 million worth of contracts as a rookie lobbyist, while her father tried to use his office to help her clients, including a struggling Russian aerospace company seeking U.S. contracts to build a flying saucer.

The practice has accelerated as tougher ethics laws make it harder to offer favors directly to members of Congress.

The Waters family is a variation on this theme, making money not only because of Waters' power in Washington but because of the way she uses her local political clout.

Rep. Waters said her family's business interests are separate from her congressional activities and declined to do a detailed interview for this article.

"They do their business, and I do mine," she said in a brief exchange, referring reporters to her relatives for information about their business activities.

October 30, 2006 5:21 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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