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Decline of the Times, Part 2

The Los Angeles Times rails against its defenders and shows how bad its editorial page is, too.

12:00 AM, May 23, 2003 • By HUGH HEWITT
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LAST WEEK in this space I described the Los Angeles Times's slide into mediocrity and agenda journalism. Some objected. The Nation's always reliable Eric Alterman condemned the column as "nonsensical," and then quoted one of my objections--that "columnists who deal regularly with politics outside of the editorial pages come in two varieties: left and far-left." To which Alterman replied: "Oh really. My goodness. Nora [sic] Vincent is on the page as part of what I perceive to be an affirmative action program for young right-wing lesbians."

Note that Alterman cites Vincent's presence on the editorial page as evidence against my charge that outside of the editorial page, the Times employs only leftists. I suppose I shouldn't object: After all, this is close-reading for the Nation.

Mickey Kaus, on the other hand, conceded the bias on the Times's editorial page, but not at the paper in general. Kausfiles argued that "the LAT is getting better under its new owner." About the horribly skewed op-ed pages, Kaus conceded that "Hewitt's right . . . but the LAT's recently-hired Nick Goldberg is trying to diversify it."

Both pundits came to the Times's defense. The LAT actually came to my assistance on Tuesday with a nicely timed screed by Robert Scheer, long one of the paper's stars. Scheer has now been pummeled in print, on radio, and on television for his vicious and repellant essay alleging that the United States military staged the Jessica Lynch rescue. Scheer reprinted the wild accusations of a BBC report that, by the time his column appeared, had already been widely and persuasively condemned. The BBC "journalist" behind the original report had himself been backpedaling furiously when Scheer's column hit, but Scheer ignored it all in order to allege that the rescue was a "fabrication" and a "caper." He denounced the operation by combined special forces as a "premeditated manufacture."

Glenn Reynolds and others have been treating Scheer as a piñata, and deservedly so. But where was Nick Goldberg? Or any of the Times editors?

In January 2001, the Los Angeles Times's editorial page editors performed an intervention on a nationally syndicated column by George Will, surgically extracting a reference to Juanita Broaddrick because they judged it without substance. Called on this egregious act of censorship, the paper apologized. The irony, of course, is that the paper went on credibility patrol when the subject was Bill Clinton, but now lets Robert Scheer go over the falls without raising an eyebrow.

Scheer's fevers are predictable, but if Jayson Blair had penned this story, it would now be an exhibit in his indictment. Rather than spike the preposterous column, the Times has not backed up an inch at this writing, proving that nothing is out of bounds at the Los Angeles Times, so long as the attack is directed against either Israel or America.

So the question for Mickey Kaus is quite simple: How can a newspaper that tolerates such stuff be taken seriously at any level? Hospitals don't keep quacks on staff to butcher again, nor do most law firms hang on to incompetents. Most professions ruthlessly weed out the crazies and the dangerous.

Not the Los Angeles Times.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.