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Contreras, Meyerson and the LA Weekly (* updated)

Regarding David Zahniser's LA Weekly story on covering up the death of labor leader Miguel Contreras, Harold Meyerson's reaction to the piece and news editor Alan Mittelstaedt's response to Meyerson...

• This is an excerpt of an email that Occcidental College professor Peter Dreier sent tonight to his mailing list:

Don't mourn for Harold
. He's doing fine from his pundit perch in DC. He was recently promoted to editor of the American Prospect and will continue as a regular columnist for the Washington Post. But mourn for LA, which will miss Harold's strong reporting and commentary on LA politics and movements for justice.

And, perhaps more importantly, mourn for the loss of what the LA Weekly once was. The sacking of Harold is a symptom of what's happening at the newspaper. I am also sending Harold's letter to the LA Weekly staff. His letter was triggered by the cover story in this week's LA Weekly about the death last year of Miguel Contreras, the brilliant organizer and political strategist who headed the LA County Federation of Labor and helped transform LA politics for the better. The article is irresponsible, gutter, tabloid journalism, with no redeeming value. It is difficult to understand why the paper published this crude story -- and put in on the cover, no less -- except to sell newspapers and/or to lend support to those who wish to harm LA's progressive labor movement. Miguel and his family, who are still mourning his death, deserve better than this cheap hit. They will survive this crude piece of gutter journalism. They, and his many friends and allies, know that Miguel's life as a warrior for justice, was his real legacy and his gift to us.

The "Dave" Harold refers to in the letter to the LA Weekly staff is David Zahniser, the reporter who in the past has written some good stories but who has jumped into the gutter with this one. The "Mike" in Harold's letter is Mike Lacey, the executive editor of Village Voice
Media LLC, the newspaper chain that purchased the Weekly and is in the process of transforming it into more of a tabloid paper. Harold suggests in his letter, and I'm told by people in a position to know, that things at the Weekly will only get worse as the new owners solidify their hold on the paper, its staff, its budget, and the direction they want to pursue.

Moreover, the LA Weekly is, by all accounts, incredibly profitable. So the changes it is undergoing appear to be based primarily on the new
owners' views about politics and culture rather than simply the bottom-line.

The loss of the LA Weekly as a progressive voice is a tragedy. When we organized the Progressive LA conference at Occidental College in October 1998, the Weekly was one of its cosponsors, featured it on its cover, and published several stories in the September 30, 1998 issue about the past, current, and future of progressive politics in LA: link and link. This reflected the Weekly's view of itself at the time as a watchdog and as an instrument for change. On politics, culture, and other matters, the LA Weekly has helped give voice to those forces who might otherwise be shut out of the public debate. It has reported on the people and organizations -- unions, community groups, environmentalists, women's rights and gay rights groups, immigrant rights activists, school reformers, fair trade advocates, living wage crusaders, and ordinary folks trying to cope with life in this diverse and sprawling city -- who've been on the front lines of the struggles for social and economic justice.

In its reporting and commentary, the Weekly has not been uncritical of liberal and progressive elected officials and organizations, but its
criticisms have typically been constructive and responsible. When it endorsed candidates for political office -- something it apparantly
won't be doing for this November 7 election -- the Weekly was never shy about holding public officials, even liberal candidates it endorsed in the past, accountable for their words and deeds.

But how do we hold the new LA Weekly accountable? Outraged by this week's cover story, some folks floated the idea of organizing a boycott against the Weekly. But how can you organize a boycott against a newspaper that is distributed for free? And how can you put pressure on its advertisers when its ad pages are dominated by penis enlargement ads, breast augmentation ads, and dating services?

Peter Dreier
E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Director, Urban & Environmental Policy Program
Occidental College


• Reading Harold Meyerson extol the exploits of himself and his apocalyptic/social-democratic colleagues at the Weekly "back when" is a bit like hearing the legends of Shambala, a magical locale whose stories originated in central asia but probably never existed. Meyerson's prescription for L.A.'s future hinging on the labor movement proves how out of touch he is with the leftist critique's utter failure. It has resulted in absentee officials run and funded by labor who can't even be bothered to meet their constituents, much less improve conditions in their districts. And a culture of perpetual protest by groups like the Los Angeles Community Action Network, ACORN and the Labor/Community Strategy Center.

In contrast to the fostering of these disasters during the Meyerson era this week the new crowd at the Weekly took dead aim at the so-called bus riders union and its majordomo Eric Mann (of the aforementioned Labor/Community Strategy Center).

The recent Weekly cover story on unfolding gentrification impacting the region was light years beyond anything the old Weekly contained. I've lived in Los Angeles since 1981 and remember so often shaking my head in disbelief while reading what Meyerson now wants to tout as having been a shining city on the hill. Like most legends it doesn't hold up under much scrutiny. Whatever the Weekly becomes under its new owners, it should at least not have to compete with a myth.

Dana Gabbard
Gabbard is executive secretary of Southern California Transit Advocates


• I think Harold is terrific, but I think the crux of the story is the way Contreras’ death was handled by the coroner, the cops and the bigwigs who showed up at the hospital that day.

The story should NOT be where Contreras was and what he was doing when he died, and perhaps the critique of the Weekly story is that it did not make that clear enough.

Larry Kaplan
Los Angeles


• Professor's Dreier's thoughtful, passionate letter regarding the "new" LA Weekly was completely undermined by his last sentence, where Dreier asks how activists enraged by my mother paper's Miguel Contreras cover story could "put pressure" on the Weekly's advertisers "when its ad pages are dominated by penis enlargement ads, breast augmentation ads, and dating services." Hey, Pete: the Weekly ran those types of ads when it co-sponsored Oxy's Progressive LA conference so many years ago--were you complaining about the sexy ads then?

As to the charge of tabloidism by Meyerson, Dreirer and so many others leveled at the LA Weekly and the former papers of the "old" Village Voice Media, I ask: what's wrong with tabloids? News is sensationalistic by nature--it's the duty of all great papers to tell it in a compelling, agitating way while also getting the hoi polloi to give a damn. Tabloids do this double task better than "responsible" newspapers, because those tabloids also include half-naked ladies and scandalous columns for the average Joses uninterested in City Hall politics. If people want to read happy stories or boring essays, they should stick to that timeless Sunday kiddie insert, The Mini Page. Or academic journals.

Gustavo Arellano
Staff writer, OC Weekly


• The Times would do well to replace Max Boot with Harold Meyerson and have him write about local issues. Since the days of Nick Williams the Times was a reliable Democratic paper and a good antidote to right wing radio. Somehow it has lost its way with half baked editorials and second rate op-ed writers. Current is laughable and getting worse. The paper is losing its base and unfortnately is too out of touch to realize it. The sad truth is that it is not too late to get back its base.

Walter Coombs

October 26, 2006 10:22 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor

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