Did You Know That It’s Legal for a Police Department to Own a Newspaper?

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.

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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.

9 thoughts on “Did You Know That It’s Legal for a Police Department to Own a Newspaper?

  1. Come, come, Ted – a police department is a business like any other. If Mr Murdoch can own a newspaper – or a whole chain – why shouldn’t a police department ? After all, we’re all good neoliberals now and live by the neoliberal code that so-called «economic efficiency» is not merely an aid to, but the purpose of human life (and the universe, so far as we can judge)….

    Henri

  2. After Watergate (and let us keep in mind that Watergate is sold to us as journalism’s finest moment, but it was really just Mark Felt using two reporters to get back at his boss for not being promoted), journalism returned to its bottom-feeding tendencies. Sure, some good journalism is made, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
    Equal parts omerta and “understoodedness” (understoodedness is that quality by which an entire newsroom of reporters, editors, and photographers — the cartoonists apparently never got the memo — understands without a single word being spoken or written down that certain topics are verboten), most journalistic enterprises exist to provide enough material to hold all the ads together.
    But the whole industry is bleeding out and, rather than unifying to ensure survival, they’re just coming apart at the seams.
    So the police came for Ted Rall. And the journalists said nothing. How much longer before the cops start killing journalists (“accidentally,” of course) and the journalists start realizing there’s no one left?
    If the Floyd protests don’t pfft out in another day or two, it’s possible a journo or two will die. And people will be shocked, shocked. But really, who cares? Almost none of them confront the powerful. Look at the New York Times boycrush on Joe Biden. It’s right next to the articles about $800,000 homes for first-time buyers.

  3. I’ve known that cops have a license to kill people (it’s called qualified immunity) for a long time.

    I didn’t know that cops also have a license to kill stories in the news, and the careers of those who would write them.

    I thought I was sufficiently cynical (to be able to see past corporate PR illusions) but there are always more ways to expand the realty bubble that the masses of people live within.

    So cops can kill, and then kill the stories about their kills.

    To watch the corporate media one would think that the police and the newspapers were there to protect the people themselves, and from government excesses.

    And this is different from so-called “Communist” China?

  4. The American legal system is badly broken. I’ve known about 100 lawyers. Sober, they’ll tell you how important it is to have a lawyer. Drunk, they’ll tell you the truth. Their job is to get the biggest cash advance they can. Once they’ve got it, their work is done, they must move on to the next job of talking a new client out of a lot of money. Out of about 100 lawyers, 2 were honest. One said (for $100) don’t waste your money on lawyers, you’ll just lose. And one actually defended me against a lawsuit and won. But the rest, once they had my money, did absolutely nothing to help me. And the drunk ones at a party I attended said that’s what they always do, their jobs don’t allow them to help their clients, as soon as they have the money and give their firm its share, they’re expected to go find more money, not waste time in the law library working on a case for which they’ve already been paid.

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