Tag Archives: newspapers

SYNDICATED COLUMN: I’m in Awe of the Liars at the Los Angeles Times

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There’s a scene in the movie “Idiocracy” in which a character cheers as cops blow a car to smithereens. “That’s your car!” another, less dumb, character points out. The idiot, a lawyer named Frito, keeps cheering.

I felt kind of like the less-dumb guy in Los Angeles Superior Court a week ago, when I watched a lawyer for the Los Angeles Times defame me and twist the facts to a level rarely seen outside a White House press briefing.

I was Kelli Sager’s victim. Sager, a partner at the pro-business law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, is a shark. She argued before a judge that the Times was right to knowingly lie about me in its pages, that the First Amendment meant the Times was immune from defamation and libel law, and that I should pay the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars for their legal fees for having had the temerity to sue them.

And, she was successful (for the time being). It was strangely thrilling to watch a professional — granted, a professional dissembler for a newspaper corrupted beyond belief — at the top of her game.

To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson: when the lying gets weird, the liars turn pro.

For decades, the Los Angeles Times was one of the best newspapers in the United States. It was arguably the best full-service paper — like the New York Times, LA had all the foreign bureaus and deep national and local coverage required of a great news organization, along with the features New York doesn’t carry but readers like me enjoy: comics, horoscopes and advice columns.

Every newspaper has struggled to adapt to the Internet. But the LA Times has had more trouble than most. If I were in charge, I’d rebrand it. The New York Times is the national paper of news and culture, the Washington Post is the national paper of politics, the Wall Street Journal is the national paper of business, and the Los Angeles Times ought to be the national paper of entertainment — movies, music and gaming. Instead, the LA Times is doing things the same way they did in 1997, but less so.

Things turned from bad to worse in 2000, when the Tribune Company (as in the Chicago Tribune) acquired the Times. Flailing ensued. The Times’ idiocy culminated in 2005 with “Wikitorial,” a bizarre experiment that allowed readers to add to editorial content. In 2007 Tribune sold itself to real estate mogul Sam Zell, who ran up debt, sucked money out of the company and “busted” it, declaring bankruptcy a year later. It was the beginning of the end.

I began working for the Times in 2009.

Desperate for cash, the Times turned to a sketchy Los Angeles financier and billionaire with no journalistic experience, Austin Beutner, naming him as publisher in 2014. Beutner, a political ally of the LAPD who received an award for “support [to] the LAPD in all that they do” from the LAPD union months after taking over the Times, appears to have midwifed the first known acquisition of a major American newspaper by a government agency: the LAPD union moved its $16.4 billion pension fund to a Beverly Hills investment firm called Oaktree Capital, which then became the #1 shareholder of Tribune, the Times’ parent company.

Like cats and mice, cops and newspapers shouldn’t go into business together. In 2015, billionaire Beutner fired me as a favor to his friend, the allegedly corrupt $300,000-a-year LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, whom I had criticized in my cartoons. They used evidence that turned out to have been trumped-up, and which boomeranged because it supported me, to smear me as a liar and fabulist. So, I sued them for defamation and wrongful termination. The Times then fired Beutner.

On June 21, the court heard the Times’ first of three anti-SLAPP motions against me. Anti-SLAPP motions are supposed to protect free speech, but in this case the Times — part of a $420 million media conglomerate — is asking the court to dismiss my case and charge me at least $300,000 in their legal fees.

The Times has been busy in court. They’re also fighting a pair of age discrimination lawsuits filed by a sports columnist and a Pulitzer-winning reporter who say the Times tried to save money by harassing them into quitting their jobs.

Nothing is sure in life or in court, but I feel confident than a jury would agree with me that what the Times did to me was wrong. I think Kelli Sager, the Times’ lawyer agrees. Which is why she’s been working hard to keep my case away from a jury.

On June 21, Sager fed the judge a bunch of nonsense, but two things she said during oral arguments especially blew me away.

Referencing the first of two articles which falsely accused me of being a fabulist, Sager told the judge that the Times had included links to LAPD records (they’re not really from the LAPD but that’s another story) so Times readers could judge for themselves. No, actually, they didn’t. No one objected.

Sager even brought up race. She accused me, as a white man, of falsely accusing the African-American cop who arrested me for jaywalking in 2001 of misconduct —because he was black.

The mind boggles.

As we walked down the escalator, my lawyer remarked that I had never told her the cop was black. “Because I never mentioned it,” I told her. “Because it wasn’t important.”

I’m in awe.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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Amnesia: Yet Another Reason Why Newspapers Are Dying

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Legacy news organizations are failing for a lot of reasons, mostly brought upon by themselves, but there’s one that rarely if ever gets remarked upon: the fact that they have forgotten the definition of “news.”

As you and I know, news is stuff that happened that a significant number of people would like to know about. By definition, news is surprising.

All too often in recent decades, however, corporate media conglomerates have conflated news with press releases – in other words, informing us not about what we need or want to know, but about what they would like us to know.

A major driver of this trend is the misguided belief by press and broadcast organizations that the powers that be – politicians, government agencies and businesses – create news and thus must be coddled, and have all their official pronouncements disseminated in the form of news, lest they be denied access, which would of course put an end to their ability to do their jobs.

One symptom of this too close for comfort relationship between the fourth estate and those it is supposed to cover is the willingness of outlets like the New York Times to suppress or delay stories at the request of intelligence agencies due to so-called “national security concerns.”

The idea that reporters need access to PR flacks is nonsense. The opposite is true: publicists need journalists. A press conference is a news-free zone, a place where spin and propaganda rules. Unfortunately for them and for us — since the vast majority of reporting still originates in corporate-owned newspapers — the trend is accelerating.

Check out, for example, this excuse for a news story: “Obama condemns ‘brutal and outrageous murders.’”

According to Google, this story – about the president’s reaction to the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina – was reproduced over 78,000 times in American and foreign media outlets.

There is nothing wrong with what Obama said. To the contrary: I agree with him 100%. Most likely, so do you. So do 100% of sane Americans, which means perhaps 90% of all Americans. His reaction was the exact reaction that you would expect from anyone and, to my point, specifically from him.

In other words, a news “story” about President Obama saying that mass murder is bad (outside the context of, say, wars of choice and drone assassinations) is no story at all. It is “dog bites man.” And not a particularly interesting dog or a particularly interesting man.

why-newspapers-are-dying-Emerson-photo-wikimedia-commonsYou really have to question the judgment of those thousands of editors and producers who put that story out yesterday. Who, exactly, did they think that story served? Certainly not the readers or viewers or listeners. Not one of them was surprised; not one of them cared.

Every newsroom receives hundreds if not thousands of emails a day from people who want their story or product or person covered. Publishers want their books reviewed. Manufacturers want a free plug for their products. Agents want their pet musician profiled. The vast majority of them are, of course, ignored. Pertinent story: a friend who works at a major American newspaper tells me about the fax machine that no one ever checks, that runs 24 hours a day, endless press releases dumping straight into the recycled paper bin, totally pointless for all concerned. Yet I know for a fact that that same paper ran the story about Obama taking the bold risk of coming out against random mass murder. Why that story and not the others?

I’m not arguing that traditional media outlets ought to descend to Huffington Post’s SEO-optimized clickbait or BuzzFeed’s “18 ridiculously cute photos of insipid pets” listicles. But the Internet is certainly a lot better at knowing what people might actually want to read or see. Stories like the one above make that painfully obvious.

As an editor at the New York Times told me once, “the President of the United States controls the world’s largest armies and presides over the world’s largest economy. By definition, anything he says and does is news.”

They live by that attitude. They are also dying by it.

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Newspapers Saved by Slaughter

Newspaper circulation has been plummeting for the last 50 years. Media executives have tried to reverse the trend by cutting their newsrooms, shrinking their page counts and giving away their content for free online. As the circulation of Charlie Hebdo shot from 60,000 to 5,000,000 after the massacre of their staff, there may be a way forward after all.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Editors, Not Terrorists, Killed American Political Cartooning

Terrorism doesn’t scare political cartoonists nearly as much as editors — and the corporate bean-counters who tell them what to do.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre couldn’t have happened here in the United States. But it’s not because American newspapers have better security.

Gunmen could never kill four political cartoonists in an American newspaper office because no paper in the U.S. employs two, much less four, staff political cartoonists — the number who died Wednesday in Paris. There is no equivalent of Charlie Hebdo, which puts political cartoons front and center, in the States. (The Onion never published political cartoons — and it ceased print publication last year. MAD, for which I draw, focuses on popular culture.)

When I began drawing political cartoons professionally in the early 1990s, hundreds of my colleagues worked on staff at newspapers, with full salaries and benefits. That was already down from journalism’s mid-century glory days, when there were thousands. Many papers employed two. Shortly after World War II, The New York Times, which today has none, employed four cartoonists on staff. Today there are fewer than 30.

Most American states have zero full-time staff political cartoonists.

Many big states — California, New York, Texas, Illinois — have one.

No American political magazine, on the left, center or right, has one.

No American political website (Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, Slate, Salon, etc.) employs a political cartoonist. Although its launch video was done in cartoons, eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s new $250 million left-wing start-up First Look Media refuses to hire political cartoonists — or pay tiny fees to reprint syndicated ones.

These outfits have tons of staff writers.

During the last few days, many journalists and editors have spread the “Je Suis Charlie” meme through social media in order to express “solidarity” with the victims of Charlie Hebdo, political cartoonists (who routinely receive death threats, whether they live in France or the United States) and freedom of expression. That’s nice.

No it’s not.

It’s annoying.

As far as political cartoonists are concerned, editorials pledging “solidarity” with the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is an empty gesture — corporate slacktivism. Less than 24 hours after the shootings at Charlie Hebdo, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel fired its long-time, award-winning political cartoonist, Chan Lowe.

Political cartoonists: editors love us when we’re dead. While we’re still breathing, they’re laying us off, slashing our rates, stealing our copyrights and disappearing us from where we used to appear — killing our art form.

American editors and publishers have never been as willing to publish satire, whether in pictures or in words, as their European counterparts. But things have gone from bad to apocalyptic in the last 30 years.

Humor columnists like the late Art Buchwald earned millions syndicating their jokes about politicians and current events to American newspapers through the 1970s and 1980s. Miami Herald humor writer Dave Barry was a rock star through the 1990s, routinely cranking out bestselling books. Then came 9/11.

When I began working as an executive talent scout for the United Media syndicate in 2006, my sales staff informed me that, if Barry had started out then, they wouldn’t have been able to sell him to a single newspaper, magazine or website — not even if they gave his work to them for free. Barry was still funny, but there was no market for satire anywhere in American media.

That’s even truer today.

The youngest working political cartoonist in the United States, Matt Bors, is 31. When people ask me who the next up-and-comer is, I tell them there isn’t one — and there won’t be one any time soon.

Americans are funny. Americans like funny. They especially like wicked funny. We’re so desperate for funny that we think Jon Stewart is hilarious. (But…Richard Pryor. He really was.) But editors and producers won’t give them funny, much less mean-funny.

Why not?

Like any other disaster, media censorship of satire — especially graphic satire — in the U.S. is caused by several contributing factors.

Most media outlets are owned by corporations, not private owners. Publicly-traded companies are risk-averse. Executives prefer to publish boring/safe content that won’t generate complaints from advertisers or shareholders, much less force them to hire extra security guards.

Half a century ago, many editors had working-class backgrounds and rose through the ranks from the bottom. Now they’re graduates of pricey graduate university journalism programs that don’t offer scholarships — and don’t teach a single class about comics, cartoons, humor or graphic art. It takes an unusually curious editor to make the effort to educate himself or herself about political cartoons.

Corporate journalism executives view cartoons as frivolous, less serious than “real” commentary like columns or editorials. Unfortunately, some editorial cartoonists make this problem worse by drawing silly gags about current events (as opposed to trenchant attacks on the powers that be) because they’ve seen their blandest work win Pulitzers and coveted spots in the major weekend cartoon “round-ups.” When asked to cut their budget, editors often look at their cartoonist first.

There is still powerful political cartooning online. Ironically, the Internet contributes to the death of satire in America by sating the demand for hard-hitting political art. Before the Web, if a paper canceled my cartoons they would receive angry letters from my fans. Now my readers find me online — but the Internet pays pennies on the print dollar. I’m stubbornly hanging on, but many talented cartoonists, especially the young, won’t work for free.

It’s not that media organizations are broke. Far from it. Many are profitable. American newspapers and magazines employ tens of thousands of writers — they just don’t want anyone writing or drawing anything that questions the status quo, especially not in a form as powerful as political cartooning.

The next time you hear editors pretending to stand up for freedom of expression, ask them if they employ a cartoonist.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Big Bird is a 1%er

Romney’s Silly But Salient Point on PBS

“I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually, I like you, too,” Mitt Romney told Jim Lehrer in the most quoted line from the first presidential debate. “But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”

Huge news!

If deficit spending will be verboten under the Mittocracy, what will happen to all those out-of-work soldiers and defense contractors? Where will the drones crash after they run out of gas?

But let’s not talk about that either. Apparently I’m the only person in America who noticed that the military-industrial complex is about to go out of business.

People are instead focusing on Romney’s call to cut the $445 million a year the federal government–which amounts to a paltry 1.2% of 1% of the federal budget–contributes to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which subsidizes PBS and NPR.

My fellow political cartoonists are having a field day, echoing President Obama’s hat tip to the O.J. case: “Elmo has been seen in a white Suburban.  He’s driving for the border.” The New York Times’ Charles M. Blow riffed: “Big Bird is the man. He’s eight feet tall. He can sing and roller skate and ride a unicycle and dance. Can you do that, Mr. Romney?” A co-creator of “Sesame Street” dismissed Romney as “silly.”

Silly? Definitely.

But is Romney right? Probably.

Candidates and parties aren’t important. Ideas are. If we’re ideologically consistent, if we want to appear credible when we criticize right-wingers like Romney, we left-of-center types have to hold ourselves to the same (or higher) standards as those to which we subject our enemies. We have to admit when they’re correct, even–especially–when it’s about something as trivial as this.

This is a time when we have to give the devil his due.

Until recently I was unaware of the exorbitant salaries received by executives and top employees of federally-subsidized broadcasting networks. In a 2011 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) pointed out that PBS paid its president, Paula Kerger, over $600,000 a year–more than the President of the United States. “Kevin Klose, president emeritus of NPR…received more than $1.2 million in compensation, according to the tax forms the nonprofit filed in 2009,” wrote DeMint. “Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 in compensation in 2008.” (Now Knell runs NPR, which pays him about $575,000.)

Actor Carroll Spinney, who plays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, was paid more than $314,000 last year.

The liberal Center for American Progress countered: “While those numbers are not exactly chump change, it’s pennies compared to the salaries of another industry the U.S. taxpayers subsidize at much higher cost–Big Oil.”

But that’s red-herring sophistry.

Wasteful federal spending on overpaid executives is wrong, whether it’s for planet-murdering energy corporations, or on a network that airs free educational TV that helps ready kids for school with basics like counting, math and even Spanish.

Kill both.

“Like for-profit media companies, Sesame [and PBS] needs to pay top dollar to attract talent,” MSN’s Jonathan Berr argues, sounding like a Fortune 500 corporation defending sky-high CEO paychecks.

I disagree.

NPR and PBS do an OK job reporting the news–as long as it happens on a weekday–but that’s not the point.

If you accept public money, you’re in public service and should get paid accordingly. Which is to say, fairly–and at the lowest fair cost to taxpayers.

If you can’t find someone qualified to run NPR or PBS, or an actor up to the task of playing Big Bird, for $100,000 a year–especially in this job market–you’re not looking hard enough. Something is off-kilter when the studios of publicly-funded shows like NPR’s “All Things Considered” are centrally located and sumptuously furnished with mahogany tables and the latest high-tech gadgetry, while those of privately-owned 50,000-watt talk-radio powerhouses are situated in the slums and look like 1970s-era flophouses.

Salary figures for NPR “stars” like Robert Siegel ($341,992), Renee Montagne ($328,309), Steve Inskeep ($320,950), Scott Simon ($311,958) and Michele Norris ($279,909) are three to four times more than top-rated talk-radio hosts in the biggest markets get. How dare these 1%ers shake us down during pledge drives, much less collect federal taxdollars?

PBS only receives 15% of its funding from the feds. For NPR it’s 2%. As a former NPR exec confided, given the political heat they take over it, they’d might be better off cutting the strings. Then they’d be free to stop giving lying conservatives “equal time” to seem “fair.”

Why is the government giving broadcasters money they don’t need? There’s a much stronger argument for propping up newspapers, which remain the original source of 95% of news stories. Print media is in big trouble: the newspaper industry has shrunk 43% since 2000. Analysts say that even that chart-filled ubiquitous denizen of hotels USA Today may fold. If the feds want to do something good for journalism–and the well-informed populace required for vibrant democracy–they should start by subsidizing print newspapers.

But only if their editors and publishers don’t get paid ridiculous salaries.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at MSNBC’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Cats and Dogs

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Under a bill approved by the California legislature and sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, landlords who allow pets in their buildings cannot advertise in a way that discourages cats with claws or dogs that bark.

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