Policemen who kill and brutalize civilians are the story of the week, month and year. We rely on newspapers to tell us the facts about the police and police brutality—you may not read one but 90% of news still originates in newspapers before it is broadcast over the radio, television and the Internet.
But what if your local paper is owned by the police? How can you trust anything you read or see on the news? The answer is: you can’t. Yet it’s perfectly legal.
I was shocked to find this out. I learned about this grotesque conflict of interest five years ago. In 2015, the LAPD, which owned the biggest share of stock in Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the LA Times, asked the Times to fire me because my cartoons criticized the LAPD for abusing people of color. How could they say no? The LAPD literally owned them.
The LAPD also owned a substantial share of newspapers in San Diego, Chicago, Baltimore and Orlando. Yet there was no requirement to tell readers that they were ethically compromised. To this day readers of the LA Times have no idea that their cartoonist disappeared at the personal request of the police chief at the time, Charlie Beck, or that new owner Patrick Soon-Shiong has continued the LAPD’s vendetta against me for years.
For the LAPD, firing me was a double win. Not only did they get rid of a critic, they sent a chilling message to journalists throughout California: if you criticize the cops, we will get you canned. And if you see them—which I did—they will use overpriced lawyers to try to destroy you and your reputation and your finances. What reporter wants to take a chance like that? Especially when journalism jobs are almost impossible to find? Better to focus on something else or to go easy on the cops.
Police reform is important but it will get nowhere unless Congress acts. Police departments and pension funds should not be allowed to purchase stocks in media corporations.