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Lacey on Meyerson and LA Observed

Mike Lacey, executive editor of Village Voice Media, responds to LA Observed's posts on the Jill Stewart hiring and to Harold Meyerson's criticism of the LA Weekly...

• Harold Meyerson’s ad-hominem attack upon David Zahniser, Alan Mittelstaedt, Jill Stewart, and New Times undermines journalism in favor of cronyism. And LA Observed's speculations about staff changes at LA Weekly while understandable are simply silly.

Before addressing the more substantive problem of Meyerson’s exit interview, let me discuss the leadership issue, specifically, Jill Stewart’s addition to the staff.

“With Stewart around you have to wonder about [Laurie] Ochoa’s authority (and how much of her survival under New Times is connected to her marriage to award-winning Weekly food writer Jonathan Gold,)” observed LA Observed.

Frankly, this is the sort of conspiratorial brilliance I’d expect from someone pushing a shopping cart loaded with all their worldly possessions. (Not that I don’t like Gold’s work.) You whisper that Stewart has my ear, apparently, because she used to work for me. Well, of course she has my ear. So does Ochoa, and Ochoa is Stewart’s editor.

And Ochoa is my editor. (Say what you will, I don’t think there is much carping that I am reluctant to replace editors whose performance leaves something to be desired.)

The fact is that the news writers at LA Weekly have been asked to begin writing longer form articles rather than the daily-like shorts that had become the paper’s staple. Features like Christine Pelisek’s alarming look at staph infections in the homeless community and the spread of disease amongst city employees who deal with the displaced, as well as Zahniser’s recent expose represent this new direction.

It is my opinion that Jill Stewart is the best person to orchestrate this shift.

Yet LA Observed actually raises the issue of Stewart’s political orientation as if there was some sort of litmus test she had to pass. Calling bullshit is a non-partisan activity. The whole problem with Meyerson’s babbling is that he baldly argues that the LA Weekly should have gone in the tank because the labor leader who was the subject of Zahniser’s article was a “progressive.”

Allow me to retort.

Zahniser bravely uncovered the troubling details of the death of one of America’s most powerful labor leaders, Miguel Contreras. Meyerson wrongly alleges that somehow this terrific story was orchestrated under the influence of New Times. I wish it were so – I would have been proud to take credit for it – but the fact is, I learned about the LA Weekly’s investigation just hours before its publication.

I certainly was intrigued. In the face of misleading reports in the mainstream media, including the Los Angeles Times, Zahniser revealed that the labor leader collapsed in an herbalist botanica that was later shut down as a front for prostitution. The police busted the joint arresting a pimp and two hookers shortly after the death of Contreras. The cops specifically linked the raid to the labor leader’s death.

More alarming than these sordid details, Zahniser clearly showed that on the night of Contreras’ death, a public official, then-city councilman Martin Ludlow, attempted to interfere with the responsibilities of the coroner.

Meyerson shamelessly argues that “…we’re not covering Miguel’s private life; we’re covering his private death." Actually, Harold, when Contreras arrived at the botanica, he was very much alive. And if there is one thing journalists should have learned from their coverage of John Kennedy, it is that if you ignore the private lives of public officials, you wake up to discover that your president was sleeping with a mobster’s girlfriend.

Meyerson’s argument turns upon the novel idea that because Contreras was a “progressive” labor leader – and not coincidentally a dear friend of Harold’s -- he was above scrutiny.

Should Ludlow’s conduct be ignored because he too is a “progressive” leader? Or do Ludlow’s actions escape the befuddled and fuddy Meyerson’s comment because Harold moved to Washington D.C. long ago and didn’t have time to become air-kissing buddies with Ludlow?

The behavior and record of labor leaders and the integrity of the coroner’s office is always subject to review. Zahniser’s pursuit of an unpopular truth is a bracing reminder of why most of us are in the business in the first place – and the idea of covering up a public figure’s death ought to be repugnant not just to any journalist, but to any true progressive.

We are currently enduring small, but painful, cutbacks at LA Weekly due to budget. On this one front our staff suffers like all media organizations.

But the reasons why Meyerson’s contract with LA Weekly was not renewed transcend finance and are on display in his embarrassing note to the staff. His ethical lapses, motivated by decades of cronyism, are aggravated by his insufferable pomposity.

“Hey Kids,” is his salutation.

“Hey Hack,” is my response.

Michael Lacey
Executive Editor
Village Voice Media

***

On the other hand...

• I worked with hundreds of smart writers and editors during nearly 20 years at LA Weekly. Harold Meyerson is one of maybe two or three whom I would describe as a genius. His loss is unfortunate for the paper, and more unfortunate still for L.A.

Michael Sigman
Fomer president and publisher
LA Weekly

November 2, 2006 1:38 PM • Native Intelligence • Email the editor
 

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