Three Weeks Later (!), the LA Times Responds to Charges They Fired Me as a Favor to the LAPD

It only took a couple zillion tweets, emails, demand letters and calls from investigative reporters to get someone from The Los Angeles “No One at the Times Will Talk About This” Times to answer the many questions raised by the paper’s firing me as its political cartoonist on July 28th.

In a “Readers’ Representative Journal” post, “readers representative” Deirdre Edgar throws down a blizzard of misdirection, trivialities and distractions meant to convince us, somehow, that (a) there’s nothing weird about the police still having a secret audiotape of a jaywalking arrest from 14 years ago, (b) it’s totally normal for the police to walk said tape over to a newspaper in an attempt to get a cartoonist known for not liking cops fired, (c) said newspaper has no reason to question the veracity or motivation of the cops against said cop-disliking cartoonist, and (d) said newspaper shouldn’t get said tape checked out by audio experts.

Fortunately, readers are smarter than the people who came up with the Times’ statement.

Actual slogan! “A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards.” At the LA Times, evidently, a “conversation” is where they talk and you listen. Or when they turn off the comments. Or delete them.

Seriously, Ms. Edgar? How the heck did you graduate from ombudsman school? You didn’t even call me for comment. I know that’s the Times’ way, but as an ombudsman, you’re supposed to sort of pretend to be kind of independent.

I’ll spare you the line-by-line dissection of this ridiculous exercise in corporate media bluster. But it would be a shame, after waiting three weeks (!) for the newspaper to finally explain themselves, not to respond to a few — well, 15 — things:

I’d like to thank the Times for finally hiring a pair of “forensic audio experts” to analyze the recording. Better late — after firing someone — than never, I always say.

  1. Unfortunately, the Times still hasn’t offered the independent investigation demanded by journalistic ethics and by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. This? Just more spin.
  2. Sadly, Ms. Edgar writes: “The experts engaged by The Times, in separate assessments, said they could not hear any mention of handcuffs.” Why couldn’t Ed Primeau, a media guy who does audio forensics on the side, hear the woman demanding that Officer Will Durr “Take off his handcuffs!”? Catalin Grigoras has some impressive credentials, but having a PhD doesn’t make you correct. The Times is asking everyone who heard that woman on the enhanced tape to believe them — not your lying ears.
  3. Notice something? Neither of the Times’ experts disputes the presence of other people at the scene — only that they can’t hear the word “handcuffs.”
  4. The burden of proof in this he said/he said story ought to be on the LA Times/LAPD (gotta love that they’re on the same team!) to prove that my account was a lie. After all, they accused me, and they provided a tape, and that tape is garbage. But this is the LA Times/LAPD, where you’re guilty until proven innocent. Whatever, I’m having my own audio forensics expert analyze it…not someone who does this work on the side, either.
  5. Edgar writes: “Rall has written repeatedly that the LAPD ignored his original complaint. Department records show that investigators looked into his allegations, questioned the officer who ticketed Rall, listened to the recording and tried repeatedly to reach Rall. Then-Police Chief Bernard C. Parks sent Rall a letter informing him that an investigation had determined his allegations were unfounded.” How could they “look into the allegations” without talking to me? I never got a message from them. When I called, they told me nothing. No communications, followed by a rejection letter? That’s called ignoring your complaint. Which, as most Angelenos who complain to the cops know, is almost always what they do.
  6. Edgar cites numerous examples of me talking about my bad experiences with police, with the unsurprising result that I don’t much care for them. So? As I wrote, I have my reasons.
  7. Edgar: “A conversation between Durr and Rall is audible, and it is civil. Durr is not heard being rude, ‘belligerent,’ ‘hostile’ or ‘ill-tempered,’ as Rall has asserted. The officer is heard calmly answering Rall’s questions.” True…sort of. You do hear him whistling into the mic when the angry crowd appeared, in what is apparently his attempt to drown out their complaints and taunts. (Compare the LAPD-provided WAV file to the one I had professionally enhanced here, which reveals the angry shouts and the “take off his handcuffs” line, and others.) But as you know if you’ve watched Alex singing “Singing in the Rain” in “A Clockwork Orange,” audio doesn’t even tell half the story…especially not audio that’s 95% static.
  8. The cop knew he was being taped. He acted accordingly. Sarcastically polite on audio, pushing me around and handcuffing me in the nonexistent video we’ll never see. How can you work at a newspaper and not understand this simple playing-to-the-tape idea?
  9. The Times still hasn’t tried to have the tape enhanced. Or they did, and they’re not sharing the results. How come? Because all that stuff — the angry crowd, the handcuffs, etc. ­— is on that tape. All you have to do is clean up the static.
  10. Nor does Rall express any complaints about how is he being treated.” I just love this part. I wrote that I was compliant and polite. If I had been heard complaining about my treatment on tape, then I would have been lying. Pretzel logic!
  11. In a 2009 essay for another publication, I misremembered the cop as chucking my wallet (in which I carry my license), not just the license. Got me! I suppose I’m lucky Nick Goldberg didn’t have me executed…even though I got this very important right in the piece I wrote for, you know, him.
  12. Officer Will Durr “in his entire career, he said, he had never handcuffed anyone for jaywalking.” But he has handcuffed someone for a less serious offense than jaywalking, in an article in the Times!
  13. “Durr’s then-supervisor, Sgt. Russell Kilby, who investigated the allegations” — does the Times even know how that sounds? — “described Durr as ‘a non-problem officer,’ ‘a nice guy’ and ‘a hard worker.’” Well, he would say that. Nice, except for snottily making fun of the suspect in that Times piece about “aggressive driving.”
  14. The LAPD, Edgar says, “analyzed the tape.” Their own tape. Shockingly, it checked out!

As before, this latest communiqué raises more questions.

Who gave my file and audiotape to the Times: the LAPD, or the LAPPL police union?

Who received it at the Times?

Is the version Dropboxed to me a dub of something the LAPD gave the Times, or the same?

We know that the editorial board, typically the decision-makers in the firing of a cartoonist, was left out of the loop. So who decided to fire me in such a public, humiliating way?

What did the LAPD or LAPPL tell their contact at The Times that they wanted — what was their purpose in providing this information?

What will a highly-qualified independent audio forensics expert say about those suspicious clicks?

Why is the required ID information missing from the recording (location, ID of suspect, time, day)? Why is the tape so short?

What does the Times have to say about the angry people on the enhanced version?

Why didn’t the Times investigate the provenance of the tape before it fired me?

Why do they still refuse to let me tell my side of the story to the editorial board — and to allow an independent investigation?

Cut the crap, Timesmen. Do the right thing.

Retract your defamatory “A Note to Readers” from July 28, 2015.

Issue an apology.

Be transparent. Tell your readers exactly how this tape made its way to you, from whom and to whom, and why.

And put my drawings back in the paper. Especially the ones that give the cops a hard time for beating and killing people.

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About Ted Rall

Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.

13 thoughts on “Three Weeks Later (!), the LA Times Responds to Charges They Fired Me as a Favor to the LAPD

  1. The LAT/LARD response was vetted by the legal department. They’re gearing up for a lawsuit, and they’ll put nothing in print that would weaken their position. Retracting the original note would weaken their position. Anything other than denial would weaken their position.

    The only way you can win at this point is to file suit. Ain’t Amurrikah wunnerful?

    • You are right CrazyH, but as of now, this vindictive firing of TR was (it seems to me) initiated and researched, and the information delivered before any legal departments got involved, which basically means that no initially requesting documents for discovery were ever produced. Now they’re playing catch-up.

      You see, the cops can’t just go trolling through their files. They have to have an administratively authorized reason to initiate a document search, and will document such just to prove how they’re justifying their wages. almost always, it’s either the investigation of a crime, or the fulfilling of an FOIA request. But by editorializing his 14-year-old experience, Ted has broken no law, so there’s no justification to investigate there. If the LAPD is spending time to investigate its own employee, then that also has to initially be documented.

      Now, as I understand it, Ted did not renew any ancient request for investigating the LAPD’S abusive J-walking troll. So for whatever (covert?) investigation there most recently was, even if it started with the LA Times, a police official somewhere still had to administratively authorize (e.g., fill out a form) either for himself or some other LE employee to get paid while searching the archives … unless the archives being accessed ARE NOT (officially) public records. Of course, this begs the question, how much (and how many years of) data regarding the accused general public and collected during all publicly-financed work hours does this cop (and his legion of badge-dangling buddies) keep in his own private information-storage system? Do all cops do this? Is the police union (most likely) involved? Is it a separate system being used, or just a back-door being accessed… .

      The buck’s gotta stop somewhere. In this case, LACK of documentation is evidence of a crime. Who’s gonna throw themselves on a sword?

      Also, for the LAPD to catch up on this rogue information search, there also has to be at least some minimum of a cover up of information that just can’t fit the most recently recomposed story. As Tricky-Dick surely attest for the rest of eternity to everybody in hell, it’s forever the cover up that ultimately consumes your gonads.

      DanD

  2. When the government wants to hurt somebody with evidence in their archives, to add the force of law behind that effort, there must be a CHAIN-OF-CUSTODY produced for any evidence discovered and used. So, who started the investigation? Was it the LAPD, or did the LA Times ask the LAPD to research its archives for all police incidences it may have retained on Ted Rall?

    This is a circumstance where some Times editorial honcho can’t simply ask an LAPD honcho to do a system-wide public-records search of classified data regarding one of its employees. To keep it lawful, it must go through both organization’s legal departments. THERE MUST BE A PAPER TRAIL. If there is no paper trail, then somebody somewhere has grossly violated a number of laws, and perhaps even a RICO statute or two.

    DanD

  3. I like the part where they say this was a personal recording by the officer. Guy must have spend a fortune on mini-cassettes and have like an archive of them back home all tagged and labelled neatly. Such tireless professionalism. The police, like everyone, are all individuals, there is no such thing as an institution.

    Primeau said that voices heard in the background on Rall’s enhanced version are mostly unintelligible, and that he did not detect any mention of handcuffs. He said Rall’s transcript was “not accurate.”

    This is the point when I lost any residual doubt if I still had any. In no universe but in one where Ted is essentially correct would they write this in such a calculated way. Of course some part of the transcript is “not accurate” given the sound quality. Not detecting any mention of something is perfect for plausible deniability.

    It boils down to nobility (us) vs. the plebs (him). We politely listened to our gentlemen police officers, and to our venerable experts. Then due to fairness we guess we must hold our nose and print some of his weird angry paranoid writings – the more the better, in fact. None of this resonates with us. There must be something wrong with him, it sounds like he is afraid of what the police could do to him. Why, the police gentlemen have been unfailingly polite to us whenever they have strolled past one of our villas. And we are put off by his tone.

    Naturally we still stand by our initial statement (albeit we were forced to quietly move away from 90% of it in our present statement) – and are unconvinced by the incoherent rants of the guilty party (5% of which does not fully check out and 10% is difficult to listen to it while thinking about how hard it is to get decent help these days). Another long day at the office thinking having had to deal with readers comments. Luckily it washes off in the shower.

  4. Actually, there are two sets of evidence … that set that is legally justified and produced by the LE infrastructure, and that which is simultaneously (or otherwise extra-legally) produced by the officers themselves, and then handed over to their union archivist. Police unions do what police forces are prohibited from accomplishing, that is political manipulation via extortion and blackmail.

    This tape of Ted and the cop came from the PU’s archives.

    DanD

  5. Ted,

    This whole thing is fragmenting out of control. I would like to hear more from the two named experts who evaluated the audio tape. Do THEY agree with the reader representative’s interpretation of events?

    • @Alex: Interestingly, neither of the LAT’s belatedly hired experts denied the presence of the crowd or, for that matter, the word “handcuffs” — just said that they couldn’t hear them. Even more interestingly, they didn’t post their own enhanced versions. How come?

      • I often deal with credit card A-Holes. I often hear “we have no record of that complaint”

        … which does NOT say they never received or read my letter. Only that they didn’t bother to keep a record.

  6. You missed mentioning a key chink in the LAPD’s argument: That’s not your voice on the answering machine. You would never leave a greeting using an cheesy accent like that.

    So, while the police may have been trying to contact you, they were clearly calling the wrong number.

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