THOSE PROFESSING SURPRISE at the public collapse of credibility at the New York Times haven't been paying attention to Mickey Kaus or Andrew Sullivan. They haven't been reading the descent into fevers of Paul Krugman or the bitter stridency of Maureen Dowd. The deep sickness at the Times had many symptoms. Believers in the "mission" of the paper just chose to ignore those symptoms.
The very same symptoms are evident at the Los Angeles Times. The ideology of the newsroom is reflexively left. The reporters, as a group, are anti-Israel, anti-Evangelical, anti-free enterprise, and virulently anti-Bush. The editorial page boasts regular contributors Robert Scheer, Arianna Huffington, and John Balzar, reliable voices of the left, though lately Balzar has retreated into the pose of hand-wringer about the direction of society.
The columnists who deal regularly with politics outside of the editorial pages come in two varieties: left and farther-left. There is more diversity at a militia meeting than at a party of Los Angeles Times columnists. What happens when a newspaper becomes an echo chamber? Obvious errors and over-the-top biases go undetected. That's what happened in New York. It is happening in Los Angeles as well.
Take last Friday's column by Steve Lopez, titled Just How Big Does the World's Biggest War Machine Need to Be? (Link requires long, tedious, and quite obtrusive registration.) Lopez was predictable, calling President Bush's landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln a "reelection-minded publicity stunt," and gently chiding the president's critics for avoiding the real issue: The U.S. military is too big. "Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't have the biggest and best war machine, especially since Sept. 11," Lopez wrote. "I just think maybe we've gotten carried away."
Lopez then turns to experts from the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C., to confirm his astonishing opinion. The Center is well known to objective reporters of national defense issues as an ideology-driven critic of the Pentagon. Even the Princeton Review advises would-be interns that the Center is "an organization opposing excessive expenditure for military weapons." Lopez either doesn't know that his facts are coming from a way-left-of-center D.C. advocacy group, or he doesn't care. He goes on to make his central point:
Bush's wimpy critics are missing the point. The question isn't: Hey, what was he doing landing on that aircraft carrier?
It's this: Why do we have nine of them?
That's right. We've got nine super-size aircraft carriers, with a 10th on order.
No other country has even one of those monsters. Are we expecting a sea battle with Al Qaeda?
But in addition to being wrong on the theory, Lopez is wrong on the facts: There are 8 Nimitz-class and 4 other carriers active, for a total of 12. And there are two on order: the Ronald Reagan and the George H.W. Bush. Lopez didn't bother with too much research, it seems, and appears genuinely to wonder why a global power that depends on the projection of force via its carrier fleet might need every ship in the fleet and needs to plan many years ahead for the replacement of the aging ships.
Lopez apparently believes that since the United States "just crushed the greatest threat to the free world in less time than it takes to conduct the NBA playoffs," that we don't need this big or this lethal a military.
And he's just one of the scores of reliably goofy "thinkers" at the Times. Ignorance on this scale cannot be dismissed as editorial discretion, but it is truly a reflection of shared values and outlooks. Either that or the editors took the day off.
Lopez's silly fuming is a symptom. Just like the Los Angeles Times's failure to cover a rally of 40,000 supporters of Israel last year. Just like the editorial decision to excise a mention of Juanita Broaddrick from a George Will column in 2001.
A suffocating sameness has blanketed the west coast's most important paper, and even though the east coast does not pay that much attention to the Los Angeles Times, the conditions for a New York Times-style fall are all in place: Everyone shares underlying assumptions. There is no independent review of "facts" or omissions. And any criticism is rejected as the ordinary carping of mossbacks.
These conditions led the paper to miss the Orange County bankruptcy in the mid-'90s, to miss the power crisis and its crazy "solution," and to overreport GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon's weaknesses while discounting the failings of Democratic Governor Gray Davis and his wholly fabricated budget during last fall's campaign. Now the Golden State is mired in a fiscal crisis of epic proportions, and not one Los Angeles Times reporter saw it coming. Why? They chose not to look, and the editors did not demand they do so.
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.
Correction appended 5/16/03: The article originally stated that there are nine Nimitz-class carriers and three others in the U.S. fleet. There are eight Nimitz-class carriers and four others.