Listening just now to NPR talking about internal affairs departments that “self investigate” the police, I naturally think about my now-notorious encounter with an LAPD motorcycle officer on October 3, 2001.
First and foremost, the cop watched me cross the street legally, with the signal, within the crosswalk, safely, without traffic. He arrested me for jaywalking. He knew it was false. He wrote me a bullshit ticket because he could. I assume he needed the numbers.
He roughed me up and handcuffed me for no reason. This was after I’d already voluntarily presented my ID. Obviously I wasn’t going to run away.
He was snotty and rude throughout the encounter, which culminated with him uncuffing me and throwing my driver’s license into the gutter after pretending to hand it back to me. I was scrupulously polite and cooperative the entire time.
I filed a complaint with the internal affairs department of the LAPD. They never contacted me. I called and left a message but they never got back to me. Finally they sent a letter saying that they had investigated and found my claim groundless. Of course, they never investigated. How could they? They never talked to me.
IA is a joke. That same year, the internal affairs division of the Los Angeles police department found that zero out of 1356 bias complaints were legitimate. At the same time, fewer than 2% of police officers are responsible for over 50% of complaints filed by citizens. That’s one hell of an interesting coincidence.
Numbers are similar elsewhere. In New York, internal affairs investigated 2495 reports of police bias over four years. IA agreed with citizens 0% of the time, cops 100% of the time.
A person well-connected with LAPD asked around the department about my cop. “A real asshole,” he reported back. “He has a terrible reputation.” That’s not surprising. The officer worked for the infamous West Traffic Division, where quotas were so rampant that police who refused to issue false tickets were retaliated against and discriminated against. The city ultimately had to pay out millions of dollars to settle lawsuits filed by good cops who were treated like shit by the LAPD because they followed the law.
(This was the cop the LA Times pretended to choose to believe over me when I related the above account in a blog for the LA Times. They fired me and labeled me. I sued. The LA Times has fought ferociously to avoid letting me have my day in court over this. Right now things look pretty bleak. Even though the LA Times knows for a fact that I told the truth, and have admitted as much in court, they continue to try to bankrupt me. So far it’s going well. For them.)
To put it mildly, I have no respect and only contempt for the police. And I have even less respect and even more contempt for what pretends to pass as a system of justice. The whole system needs to be destroyed.
On June 5th you issued a statement acknowledging the role your newspaper has played in the racist oppression of people of color. “The Los Angeles Times has a long, well-documented history of fueling the racism and cruelty that accompanied our city’s becoming a metropolis,” you wrote. You promised reforms, including “addressing the concerns of people of color in the newsroom.”
You admitted that this is merely a start and asked for suggestions for how the Times can redeem itself and earn the trust of readers, especially people of color.
I will take you at your word.
To begin with, the Times should come clean about its longstanding, cozy relationship with the LAPD. And it should end this deep conflict of interest, which makes it impossible for your paper to report objectively about the police. When the media fails to hold the police accountable they are free to abuse the citizens they are supposed to protect.
My case shines a light on how the media censors critics and breeds self-censorship by journalists. I was the Times’ editorial cartoonist from 2009 to 2015. My cartoons often criticized police brutality and racist policing. Instead of stopping their abuse of minorities, however, the police repeatedly demanded that the papers that ran my cartoons fire me. Those requests fell on deaf ears until 2014, when the Times brought in a new publisher, Austin Beutner. Beutner, a hedge fund billionaire who is now superintendent of LA schools, midwifed a deal by which the $16.4 billion LAPD pension fund purchased #1 shareholder status in Tribune Publishing, which owned the Times and 14 other newspapers. (Yes, it’s legal for the cops to buy media companies.) Sealing the deal and in violation of the Times’ ethical guidelines, the LAPD police union gave an award to Beutner.
The LAPD police union has a history of buying newspaper stock. They don’t hide their motives. They seek to remove negative coverage of the police from “their” papers. “Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced,” the union’s president explained in 2009, after it acquired interest in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Months after the LAPD-LA Times deal, then-LAPD police chief Charlie Beck arranged a secret meeting at Beutner’s office. Fire your cartoonist, Beck demanded. Beutner agreed.
But firing me was not enough for Beck. The LAPD also wanted to send a chilling message to journalists throughout the Southland: if you criticize the police, we will destroy you. So the Times published a smear job about me.
The Times’ article didn’t mention the meeting between Beck and Beutner. It didn’t talk about the LAPD pension fund’s ownership of the Times. To this day, those facts have never been revealed to Times readers. The piece relied upon faked evidence provided by Beck to characterize me as a liar (in a blog about jaywalking, of all things). I proved the evidence was bogus and that I had been truthful, yet editorial page editor Nick Goldberg—under orders from Beutner—ignored it.
Goldberg later admitted that the truth didn’t matter. The Times was determined to ruin me and didn’t care that I had done nothing wrong. Inexplicably, Goldberg still works at the Times.
My case is not just about me. It opens a window into why and how the Times’ relationship with the police corrupts its commentary and coverage.
It shows why and how victims of police brutality have been ignored or diminished.
It explains why and how police narratives are taken at face value, no matter how ridiculous. While I was being given the bum’s rush, reporter Paul Pringle, assigned to be the Times’ hatchet man, told me that he had verified that the bogus LAPD materials were authentic. How? I asked. “The LAPD told me,” he said. I laughed. He was serious, though. Pringle still works at the Times too. He recently won a Pulitzer Prize.
How can anyone read about what happened to me and still believe anything the Times has to say about cops?
Mr. Pearlstine, if this is not empty talk, if you are serious about turning over a new leaf, you should address my case. Hiring more people of color in the newsroom is overdue, important and necessary. But black reporters aren’t more likely than white journalists to go after the police if they’re equally afraid of getting fired. Everyone at the Times knows what the paper did to me; they know it can happen to them too if they go “too far” against the cops.
The LAPD got rid of their most irritating critic and a pundit who made going after police brutality a priority. The Times never replaced me.
The LAPD terrorized other journalists. They won.
Rehiring me would make a powerful symbolic statement that the Beutner era of corruption and complicity with the police is finished. It would demonstrate you do not edit a police propaganda rag. You could take down the two libel-filled articles about me that are still on your website. You could issue a retraction and an apology.
The LAPD has since divested itself of its Tribune stock. The Times’ current owner, Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong, should pledge not to enter into financial partnerships with law enforcement agencies.
Like many other papers, the Times relies on the police to tip off reporters about breaking local news. This relationship should be severed. Reporters ought not socialize with cops, much less rely upon them for stories. Refusing to be a police lapdog requires hiring more journalists—but Soon-Shiong is a biotech billionaire. He can easily afford them.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
That’s what I was thinking last Thursday as I watched oral arguments in the California Court of Appeals in Los Angeles.
Case after case came before a three-judge panel. They concerned a variety of matters. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions, were at stake. More importantly, so were hard-built professional careers and reputations. With so much that mattered hanging in the balance, you’d hope to see these cases handled with sensitivity, decorum and thoughtfulness—and you’d be sorely disappointed.
There was a real estate deal gone wrong that I would have needed to read up on in order to understand. A physician was resisting a subpoena for his patients’ records filed by the state medical board, which suspected him of overprescribing opioids. And there was me, former editorial cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, defending myself from an “anti-SLAPP” motion that, if successful, would end my lawsuit before it began and bankrupt me with a court order for me—the victim—to pay the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars for their legal fees.
It ought to be illegal for a police department to own a newspaper. But it’s not. In 2015 the LAPD pension fund was a major shareholder of Tribune Publishing, owner of the Times. Annoyed at my cartoons about him, then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck asked the Times then-publisher Austin Beutner, now LA schools superintendent, to fire me as a political favor. He did. Beck also wanted my reputation destroyed so I could never work again, in order to send a message to journalists: don’t mess with the LAPD. Beutner, Beck’s political ally and a man with ambitions to become mayor or governor, complied by ordering that the paper publish two libelous articles about me portraying me as a liar.
The second one was published after I proved I had told the truth.
I sued for defamation and wrongful termination in 2016.
Since then Times attorney Kelli Sager, who also represents the National Enquirer in its smear of gay icon Richard Simmons, has waged a scorched-earth litigation campaign designed to intimidate, harass and delay my quest to clear my name. Sager filed the anti-SLAPP, a law designed to be used by individuals to defend themselves against powerful corporate entities, against me. She convinced the court to force me to pay $75,000 just to be able to continue my case for something called a “Section 1030”—a law whose intent is to discriminate against out-of-state plaintiffs (I live in New York.) Last week, during oral arguments in open court, she compared me to a “pedophile.”
Last summer the lower court in L.A. ruled against me on the anti-SLAPP, saying that even though I showed that I was truthful and the Times was not, I must pay $330,000 (as of then) in legal fees to the Times. I appealed, which is why I was in court last Thursday.
We knew it was going to be tough. Shortly beforehand the court issued a “tentative opinion” that indicated the Court of Appeals planned to buy Sager’s arguments lock, stock and barrel. Those arguments were lengthy and complicated but they could be summarized as: the First Amendment allows newspapers to publish anything they want, the truth doesn’t much matter and if you slap a veneer of officialdom on libel—in this case, the Times claimed, it was merely reporting on what the LAPD said about me—it becomes “privileged,” i.e. inactionable.
First, he pointed out, the tentative opinion disregarded California anti-SLAPP case law that requires that I be given the benefit of the doubt, not the Times, when considering their anti-SLAPP motion. In Overstock.com, Inc. v. Gradient Analytics, Inc. (2007), for example, the court ruled that “the plaintiff’s burden of establishing a probability of prevailing is not high: We do not weigh credibility, nor do we evaluate the weight of the evidence. Instead, we accept as true all evidence favorable to the plaintiff and assess the defendant’s evidence only to determine if it defeats the plaintiff’s submission as a matter of law.” The tentative opinion was rife with references to my supposed (in)credibility and purported to evaluate the evidence presented.
The justices seemed surprised by Jeff’s argument. They asked him to cite case law examples. He did. They wrote them down.
I hope they take notice and change tack, still, anti-SLAPP motions are commonplace in California courts. How could any judge be unaware of important cases like Overstock or the standard that plaintiffs get the benefit of the doubt in anti-SLAPP?
Jeff countered the Times’ argument that they were merely passing on what the LAPD records given to them said. It matters because “fair and true” journalistic reports about government records are “privileged.” Much of the Times’ hit pieces against me concerned the Times’ own cursory sham investigation of me. One judge asked Sager whether the Times was arguing that both the LAPD and the Times’ references were privileged. Sager repeated that the LAPD ones were, repeatedly ignoring the Times question until, after being pressed, she played dumb, insulting the court’s intelligence by pretending not to understand the issue.
No one pressed her on that or on her “pedophile” remark. Whereas the judges expressed great concern for the reputation of the doctor in the previous case about overprescribing, none spoke against comparing a cartoonist to a pedophile, further slandering me.
Jeff asked why the court’s tentative ruling ignored our most important anti-SLAPP case law precedent, Wilson v. CNN. There was no clear answer. Whether it was intentional or they forgot, people have been fired from far less prestigious jobs for considerably less shoddy work.
Lewis asked the court to consider the chilling message they would send to journalists at news outlets like the Times if they ruled for the Times against me: if you criticize the LAPD, you can be destroyed even though you did nothing wrong. And you can’t sue. There is no redress. There is no justice.
We await the court’s ruling.
UPDATE: Listen to the oral arguments here:
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
“Such censorship is not unconstitutional,” Coll reminds readers. “The First Amendment protects us against governmental intrusions; it does not (yet) protect speech on privately owned platforms.”
The U.S. government is rarely in a position to censor Americans’ freedom of expression. Because the vast majority of censorship is carried about by non-government entities (like the social media companies blocking Jones) the First Amendment only bans a tiny portion of censorship.
Some government agencies do censor the press. A federal judge ordered The New York Times to halt publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The LAPD, whose pension fund owned part of the parent company of The Los Angeles Times and was angry about my work criticizing its brutality and incompetence, ordered the Times to fire me as its cartoonist. They complied. Annoyed by an editorial in the local paper criticizing them for conducting random searches of high school students at basketball games using dogs, the police in Baker City, Oregon created a fake dossier of crimes committed by the editorial writer, which they used to get him fired from his job.
These cases are covered by the First Amendment. But they are outliers.
We can’t protect existing rights if we don’t understand the current parameters of the law. New rights arise from unfulfilled political needs and desires; we can’t fight for expanded protections without defining what is lacking yet desired. Schoolchildren and student journalists, both public and private, are constantly running up against censorship by teachers and administrators. Employers constrain political speech, obscenity and other forms of expression on the job. These are free speech but not First Amendment issues.
In recent decades opponents of free speech, mostly but not exclusively on the right, have relentlessly conflated First Amendment debates with those over free speech. The effect has been to reduce society’s expectations of how much freedom we ought to have to express ourselves.
Take the Jones case.
Writing for the website Polygon, Julia Alexander provides us with a boilerplate (liberal) response to Jones and his allies’ complaints that the big social media companies are suppressing his free speech. First she described some of the episodes that prompted banning Jones, such as pushing PizzaGate and Sandy Hook shooting denialism. Then she pounces: “It’s not a freedom of speech issue, nor one of censorship,” Alexander writes. “The First Amendment…gives American citizens the freedom of speech…The United States government isn’t bringing the hammer down on Jones. This isn’t a political issue, as badly as Jones might want to pretend otherwise.”
See what Alexander did? In just a few sentences she squeezes and smooshes the extremely broad practice of “censorship” into the relatively tiny box of “the U.S. government…bringing the hammer down.” I don’t mean to pick on her — I’ve seen this same exact ball of sophistry used over and over by countless other pundits.
Of course Twitter, Facebook et al. are censoring Jones. Of course the First Amendment doesn’t cover him here. Obviously it’s a freedom of speech issue. The question — the question pro-censorship folks like Alexander doesn’t want us to ask — is, is it right?
For what is right is not always what is legal (see: slavery). Alex Jones and his allies may or not be legit. Their political arguments often are not. But the question they’re asking here is legit and important: should companies like YouTube have the power to suppress speech — any kind of speech?
Alexander ends with a message you ought to find chilling: “Don’t publish vile content, and your video will probably be a-ok.”
Who gets to define “vile”? Alexander? Mark Zuckerberg, apparently.
Obviously it is a political issue. But that’s not the main point here.
Free speech used to belong to the man with the means to buy ink by the barrel. Now you can buy a newspaper for pennies on the dollar, but who will read it? Much if not most of the political debate in our civic life takes place on platforms owned, controlled and censored by the companies blocking Jones’ content. They write and enforce their own rules. As private companies they are unaccountable to we, the people. We don’t know how they make censorship decisions or who makes them.
Perhaps this is a splendid state of affairs. Maybe Americans don’t mind surrendering control of political debate to faceless tech giants.
Whatever we decide, however, we deserve a transparent discussion. We ought not to let ourselves be fooled into falsely equating free speech to the First Amendment. Free speech means exactly that: everyone and anyone can say anything at all, anywhere they please, to anyone.
Every First Amendment case is a free speech issue. But only a tiny fraction of free speech issues is a First Amendment case.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
Steven Spielberg’s new movie “The Post” depicts a newspaper’s decision to defy the government, risk its financial health and imprisonment of its editors in order to report a hard truth and defend the press’ First Amendment rights by publishing the Pentagon Papers.
After the Washington Post’s decision to inform the American people that top government officials had known that the Vietnam War was unwinnable yet had repeatedly lied about it for years, editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) dumps a pile of out-of-town newspapers on a desk for publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) to see. We’ve started a “rebellion,” Bradlee informs Graham. We’re no longer alone speaking truth to power.
No way would that happen today.
I was pleased to see that “The Post” highlights the pressures and biases that weighed against publication: a publisher undermined by sexism and low expectations, a paper trying to raise capital under the eye of nervous bankers, the Nixon Administration’s take-no-prisoners prosecutorial abuse by a vicious attorney general, and — not least — the Post’s cozy establishmentarianism, centered around Graham’s famous hard-drinking salons where reporters hobnobbed with the officials they were supposed to cover objectively.
After a lot of wavering and gnashing of lawyerly teeth, Graham finally makes the call: go to press.
The key point of this story, which isn’t made in the movie and few younger moviegoers are likely to be aware, is that it was her decision to make. The Graham family held controlling interest in the Washington Post Company. Great newspaper families like the Grahams, the Chandlers and the Sulzbergers were quirky and often had bad politics. But they also had something today’s corporate, publicly-traded media outlets do not: editorial freedom.
They didn’t always do the right thing. But they could. So sometimes they did.
Sadly, those days are gone.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, reportedly a right-leaning libertarian, bought the Post in late 2013. What reception would a Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers) or an Edward Snowden get if they contacted a Post reporter today, under Bezos?
Snowden’s case is indicative. The Post and three other papers published Snowden’s NSA leaks in 2013, months before Bezos took over. In 2016, the Bezos-owned Post called upon President Obama to refuse Snowden’s pardon application. In so doing, wrote Glenn Greenwald, the Post “achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source — one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.” (The other three papers were pro-pardon.)
Even more obnoxiously, the Post’s Snowden editorial didn’t mention its major conflict of interest related to intelligence agencies like the NSA. Amazon — the Post’s sister company under Bezos — had the CIA (where Snowden also worked) as a $600 million client. That’s more than twice what Bezos paid for the Post.
Coincidence? Je pense que non.
The Los Angeles Times sells “Speaking Truth to Power” hoodies. But when the power is the LAPD — and the LAPD owns the paper — the Times publishes lies. My regular readers are familiar with the sordid details of my 2015 firing by The Los Angeles Times as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. You’re not much of a political cartoonist in L.A. if you don’t go after the militarized, racist, violent LAPD — and the Times published many of my anti-LAPD/anti-Beck toons over the years. So did the Pasadena Weekly, which drove the boys in blue so nuts that they asked its publisher to fire me. PW refused.
Then the Times’ corporate parent, the Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, hired an LAPD-connected billionaire and wannabe politician, Austin Beutner, as publisher for the Times. Beutner appears to have midwifed a deal in which the LAPD patrolmen’s $16.4 billion union retirement fund moved to a firm that invested eight figures into a fund containing Tribune stock. (Given that newspaper stocks in general and Tribune specifically had been losing value, it’s a fair assumption that the buy was more about influence than taking care of retired LAPD officers.) Within weeks — and explicitly against Times rules — the same union issued an award to Beutner for his “support [of] the LAPD in all that they do.”
Beck asked his friend Beutner to use ginned-up “evidence” to fire and smear me; Beutner, the cop-award winner, complied, and even stayed the course after the truth came out and I was vindicated. My defamation case against Beutner and the Times is in court.
The Times never disclosed to its readers about Tribune’s business relationship with the LAPD union.
Come to think of it, isn’t it weird that a company with more than half a billion dollars in business with the CIA is allowed to own a major news organization like the Post?
Given the Trump Administration’s attacks against “fake news” and the news media, it may seem paradoxical to suggest government action as a solution to the corruption of the news media as we’re seeing at outlets like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. But the evidence is clear. Outrageous deals such as those between the Post’s owner and the CIA and between the Times’ owner and the LAPD amount to government censorship of the news media — a violation of the First Amendment’s fundamental principle.
Congress should prohibit such arrangements.
(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” co-written with Harmon Leon. His next book will be “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
It has been a while since I filled you in on what’s going on with my lawsuit, so if you’ve been wondering, here’s what’s what.
The original judge in my case, Teresa Sanchez-Gordon, retired. That was a bummer for me because she seemed to understand the case and its importance, and for the most part, she ruled in my favor. LA Superior Court handed the LA Times’ anti-SLAPP motion against me over to a temporary substitute judge, a retired gentleman brought back for a few months in order to help the court dig out of its formidable backlog. Judge Joseph Kalin informed us that he had over 500 cases on his docket. He also said that he had read all of the documents in my case over the previous week. Considering that they are over a foot high and amount to thousands of pages, call me skeptical. No human being could possibly handle all that work.
Adding to the challenge was getting sabotaged by my own lawyers. Rather than send a seasoned litigator to argue the crucial anti-SLAPP hearings (of which three were scheduled), Shegerian & Associates sent a junior associate just a few of years out of law school to argue against Times attorney Kelli Sager, a veteran litigator with decades of experience at a major white-shoe law firm that represents giant corporations trying to crush workers. She was timid, unprepared and failed to fight back when Sager said things that simply weren’t true. Unsurprisingly, the judge ruled against me.
With two more hearings to go, I asked the firm to send out the litigator that we had agreed upon. Carney Shegerian responded with a Notice of Termination. That’s right: my own lawyer fired me! It’s not because I was rude or anything like that. I wasn’t. I don’t know why he did it but I do know that other lawyers tell me that this kind of behavior, dumping a client right before a crucial hearing, is highly unethical.
I managed to find a new attorney in time for the next hearing, but Judge Kalin refused to grant me a continuance to allow my new lawyer time to familiarize himself with my case, and forced me to do my own oral argument. Naturally, the Times lawyer didn’t grant me the basic courtesy of a continuance. All along, they have been playing by scorched-earth tactics.
OK, so I did better than the junior litigator: the judge acknowledged that I had told the truth about my jaywalking arrest in 2001. Which means that the Times never should have written those two articles libeling me and that they should have retracted them and that they should have hired me back immediately. Instead, Judge Kalin ruled that, as a newspaper, the First Amendment gives the Times the right to publish anything, even lies, because of the anti-SLAPP law. Strike two.
Now we go to the Court of Appeals, where we will ask the Court to reverse Judge Kalin’s ruling.
I have a sharp new legal team for the appeal: appellate attorney Jeff Lewis and trial lawyer Roger Lowenstein. We’ve been strategizing and I feel we have a strong case base on the both the content and the spirit of the law, not to mention precedent.
We are drafting our appellate brief, which for anti-SLAPP the court considers de novo, or without consideration for the lower-court ruling. Then the Times gets to respond. Then the court sets a hearing date. Best guess right now is that the appeal will be heard in mid-2018.
If we prevail at that stage, then the case really begins: discovery, subpoenas, depositions of Times employees, etc. If we lose, that’s it. And I’ll owe the Times hundreds of thousands of dollars in THEIR legal fees. Anti-SLAPP is brutal and desperately needs reform to stop these megacorporations from abusing it to crush individual plaintiffs.
In the meantime, I will be incurring substantial costs related to the case, so if you feel inclined to support my fight against the collusion between the LA Times and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, you can help out at http://gofundme.com/tedrall.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. The LA Times protected Beck as an anonymous source in violation of its Ethical Guidelines, which prohibit such anonymity.
If you live in or near Los Angeles and you have Friday mornings off, here’s a Save the Date: LA Superior Court, 111 North Hill Street, downtown LA. Take the elevator up to the 7th floor, to Department 74. Friday, July 14, 2017 at 9 am: be there or be square.
I’ll be defending myself against The Los Angeles Times, which colluded with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck to fire me two years ago. Personally. Pro se.
I’ll be acting as my own lawyer.
My crime? For six years my cartoons in the Times criticized the police in general, the LAPD in particular and Chief Beck personally because of his department’s deplorable history of brutalizing civilians and murdering people of color, widespread corruption and incompetence.
I don’t blame Beck, the LAPD and the LAPD police union, the Los Angeles Police and Protective League (LAPPL) for hating my guts. I’m a political cartoonist. I pissed them off. Cartoons still matter.
If LA cops were nicer and smarter, of course, they wouldn’t have gotten mad at me. They would have remembered their slogan — “to protect and to serve” — and started doing that and stopped beating up young black men. Instead, the LAPD was out to get me.
Being hated by the cops wasn’t new. In addition to the Times, I drew cartoons for Pasadena Weekly. Publisher Kevin Ulrich remembers that I was “infuriating cops, ticking off prosecutors and politicians, and regularly challenging the powers that be at City Hall.” In other words, doing my job.
“In his latest controversy, Rall suspects police officials told the Times to fire him, which would not be surprising,” Ulrich wrote in 2015. “That same request was made of me many times by Pasadena police and other city officials. If the cops in LA despised Rall half as much as did Pasadena’s Blue Crew, it is certainly believable that they would set him up for some sort of fall, just as it would probably be just a matter of time before some ‘lucky’ LAPD officer would run into him on the street.”
Indeed, that’s exactly what I learned after the Times fired and slimed me, portraying me to their readers as a liar and a fabulist in not one but two pieces. The chief of police told the Times to fire me.
So they did.
Chief Beck read a cartoon I wrote about the LAPD’s latest nasty crackdown on the phony crime of jaywalking, which disproportionately targeted working-class and people of color with $200 fines they couldn’t afford. In an online blog I wrote to accompany my toon, I mentioned that I’d been arrested for jaywalking by a mean cop in 2001. The officer, I wrote, had falsely accused me of jaywalking. He threw me against a wall and handcuffed me. An angry crowd gathered.
Beck strolled the single block between the Times and LAPD HQ and walked into the office of then-publisher Austin Beutner. Beutner, a billionaire, didn’t have newspaper experience. But he wanted to be mayor. And Beck was his only major political ally.
The LAPD had long enjoyed a cozy relationship with the Times. The paper relied on the cops for tips, especially after years of slashing the budget for reporters. Cops even ate in the Times cafeteria (me, I had to sign in). But things had gotten even more lovey-dovey under Beutner.
A couple of months after Beutner became publisher, the LAPPL awarded its pet billionaire its “Badge & Eagle Award” for “their dedication to law enforcement” and supporting the LAPD “in all that they do.” Never mind the paper’s “ethical guidelines,” which state: “Awards: Staff members should enter their work only in contests whose central purpose is to recognize journalistic excellence.”
Newspaper stocks have been reliable losers for a long time. But the LAPPL viewed Tribune Publishing, the Times’ parent company, as a solid investment — in influence. As Tribune’s stock plunged, the LAPPL spent tens of millions in pension funds to effectively become the Times’ #1 shareholder. Nothing new there — back in 2009, the LAPPL bought a chunk of the San Diego Union-Tribune, then told a newspaper that that investment bought influence, influence it planned to use to force the firing of editorial writers it didn’t deem sufficiently pro-cop. That paper was the Times.
Whole lotta cozy going on.
Beck gave Beutner an audio recording secretly made by my cop back in 2001. This proves Ted Rall lied, Beck told him. It shows no angry crowd. No handcuffing. No mistreatment.
The audio was almost all static and traffic noise.
After they canned me and published their first attempt to destroy my journalistic career and send a chilling message to police critics, I had Beck’s secret audio sent to a company that cleaned up some of the noise.
“Take off his handcuffs!” one woman yelled at the cop.
People were on there, all right. And they had lots to say — angry things about police brutality — to the cop.
Did the Times admit they messed up? Nope. They doubled down, publishing a second piece — this one full of even more lies.
So I sued. Did they admit they messed up? Nope. They doubled down, filing a “anti-SLAPP” motion that — get this — argues that I censored the Times with my lawsuit. For having the temerity to try to clean up my libeled reputation, the Times is asking a judge to force me to pay their legal fees — which they say will be at least $300,000.
I lost the first of three anti-SLAPP motions. The main event, against the Times itself, is Friday, July 14th. My attorneys fired me after the first loss, so I’ll be on my own. That’s right: I’ll be representing myself in court.
If you care about a free press, please be there. I’m free for lunch after.
(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.)
Are you one of those Americans who say it’s too easy to file a lawsuit? As I can tell you from personal experience, it’s anything but. The canard that U.S. courts are jammed up by litigious jerks is based on anecdotes spread by corporate propaganda.
We do need “tort reform” — but we should make it easier to sue, not harder.
What about all those “frivolous lawsuits” you’re always hearing about? You hear about them because deep-pocketed corporations run TV ads complaining that they’re being victimized by predatory trial lawyers. The truth is, big companies don’t want to be held accountable in the courts for their misdeeds. What most people don’t know is that judges are good at ferreting out frivolous lawsuits before they get very far. If you get sued, the first thing your defense lawyer will do is file a “motion for summary judgment” — a request that the judge throw out the case because it’s weak. Between this and other methods of winnowing out bad cases, at least 95% of civil claims never make it to trial.
The dirty secret is that American courts have created so many hurdles to sue that it’s become daunting for all but the most determined plaintiffs to pursue justice. My case against The Los Angeles Times illustrates how hard it is for an individual to sue a large entity.
The Times fired me as its editorial cartoonist in July 2015, apparently as a favor to LAPD’s police chief, whom I had mocked in my cartoons.
Neither I nor Times readers were aware that there was a conflict of interest between the paper and the fuzz: the LAPD’s union pension fund was a major shareholder of the Times’ parent company.
It ought to be illegal for a government agency or an entity associated with a government agency to buy stock in a media company — but it isn’t.
The Times published an article accusing me of having lied in a blog post. I was able to show that I’d told the truth. But after I sent the Times the exonerating evidence — which attracted worldwide media attention and calls for my reinstatement — instead of issuing a retraction and giving me back my job, Times executives doubled down, publishing a second piece reaffirming the first one. In March 2016, I filed suit in LA Superior Court against the Times for defamation, wrongful termination, blacklisting and other charges.
As I expected, the Times’ defense attorney filed a motion to dismiss my case on the grounds that it was not meritorious. The judge denied.
After that, California’s legal and financial hurdles became nearly insurmountable. When free speech groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation get behind something, I’m usually all for it. The First Amendment is my religion. But speech advocates’ support for a federal anti-SLAPP law is wrong — and terrible for freedom of expression. Perhaps they haven’t thought this all the way through.
Twenty-eight states and D.C. have passed anti-SLAPP laws. On paper, they sound great. A “SLAPP” (strategic lawsuit against public participation) is a lawsuit the plaintiff doesn’t think he’ll actually win. The purpose of a SLAPP is to harass you by forcing you to hire a lawyer and tie you up in court. It’s an intimidation tactic sometimes used by big companies to silence individual whistleblowers and critics. Is the problem really widespread? No one knows. No one has done a serious study.
If you get sued in a state with an anti-SLAPP statute, your anti-SLAPP motion is a powerful tool. Discovery (depositions, subpoenaing of evidence) halts. If the judge rules in the defendant’s favor that a suit is frivolous, the case gets tossed and the plaintiff pays the defendant’s attorney fees. This is supposed to make jerky plaintiffs think twice before filing a SLAPP.
There are two big problems with this theory.
First, anti-SLAPP isn’t likely to deter frivolous SLAPPs filed by wealthy companies and individuals. Wealthy entities have more than enough money to litigate anti-SLAPP and to absorb the potential awarding of attorney’s fees to defendants. In fact, proponents have never come up with any statistical evidence that anti-SLAPP laws deter frivolous lawsuits.
Second, the intent of anti-SLAPP laws — to protect the little guy from the big guys — is constitutionally prohibited. You can’t grant rights to some defendants but not others; there are plaintiffs and defendants, period. So there’s nothing to prevent a rich megacorporation from using anti-SLAPP against Joe Schmoe.
Which is how the LA Times, the fourth largest newspaper in the U.S. and part of a $512 million media conglomerate, was allowed to file an anti-SLAPP motion against a $300/week cartoonist. In other words, the Times censored my cartoons and tried to ruin my journalistic career for their owners, the police. Then they accused me of violating their First Amendment rights!
Starting with their anti-SLAPP motion, Times’ lawyers have unleashed a barrage of tactics to delay my suit and harass me. And it’s worked — for nearly a year, I haven’t been able to question Times editors or LAPD officials under oath or subpoena documents that would help me build my case — or my defense to the anti-SLAPP motion. I’ll get my case before a jury in 2018 or 2019 — if I’m lucky.
Or I’ll be broke.
Three days of anti-SLAPP hearings in Rall v. Los Angeles Times begin February 28th in LA Superior Court. My attorneys spent many hours preparing our opposition to that motion. Legal fees aren’t cheap, so the expense of defending against an anti-SLAPP filing before the case even begins is enough to deter some plaintiffs from filing valid lawsuits.
If the judge rules for the Times, I’ll be ordered to pay the Times their legal fees. The Times told the court their bills would be at least $300,000. If she rules for me, the Times can and probably will appeal to the Court of Appeals. That means more work for me and my lawyers and months, maybe another year, of delay — and justice delayed is justice denied. If the appellate court agrees with the Times, my case gets thrown out and I’ll have to pay the Times’ bills — which by then will be significantly higher.
I know I’m right. And I think the law is on my side. But by filing a lawsuit in an anti-SLAPP state, I’m risking bankruptcy. How many would-be plaintiffs get scared away from pursuing their legitimate claims? How many defendants get away with illegal behavior by abusing anti-SLAPP laws?
Anti-SLAPP opens the door to unfair defense tactics. LA Times lawyers invoked an obscure California statute to require me, as a non-California resident, to post a cash bond to guarantee the Times’ legal bills if they win on anti-SLAPP. They asked for $300,000; the judge knocked it down to $75,000. Just to keep my case going — before it begins, really — 75 grand was the cost of entry.
Thanks to concerned readers who gave to my GoFundMe campaign, I raised the $75,000. After I turned over the money to a bond company who filed it with the court (more fees there), the Times tried to get the case thrown out on the ground that the form hadn’t been filled out perfectly.
Still think it’s too easy to sue?
There’s hope for change. In 2015 Washington State became the first state to find its anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional because it denies plaintiffs their fundamental right to a trial by jury. Anti-SLAPP, the Washington Supreme Court ruled, “seeks to protect one group of citizen’s constitutional rights of expression and petition — by cutting off another group’s constitutional rights of petition and jury trial.” Minnesota and D.C. may do the same.
Congress should pass a federal law about this — one that bans anti-SLAPP laws.
(Ted Rall 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.)
The LA Times was expecting good news yesterday: that, because I’d be unable to raise $75,000 cash bond to continue my lawsuit for defamation and wrongful termination, and defend myself from their perverted “anti-SLAPP” motion.
Sadly for them, they were informed that the bond had been filed and had been received by the court. Thanks to more than 750 contributions through my GoFundMe crowdfunding page, my case will move forward.
In the Times’ ongoing attempt to prevent a jury from hearing about their sleazy collusion with the Los Angeles Police Department and repeated lies to Times readers, attorney Kelli Sager, however, complained that the bond “had omitted several defendants who are part of the litigation” and “said she was concerned the omissions would prevent the defendants from enforcing the bond.” The space on the form doesn’t have enough room for all the defendants in the case.
The judge ordered Sager and my attorneys to confer in order to fix the bureaucratic detail.
My attorney Carney Shegerian Carney Shegerian called the Times’ anti-SLAPP motion “borderline frivolous.”
“The thinking behind it, unfortunately, is really you just scare plaintiffs because there’s a huge fee-shifting component to it that can be applied and so plaintiffs can get very scared,” Shegerian told Courthouse News Service. “It really just chills civil rights litigation and it chills defamation litigation like this one.”
That’s how much The Los Angeles Times is demanding that I pay them.
After they fired me for phony reasons.
After they published lies about me.
They set out to destroy me, but the truth came out and ruined their plan. So now they’re determined to bankrupt me — by abusing the court system.
One year ago, TheLos Angeles Times fired me in what became known as The Ted Rall Scandal. I’ve been their cartoonist since 2009. Never had a problem. Was never late. Never did anything wrong. My bosses never had a complaint — to the contrary, I received nothing but praise.
What I didn’t know, and my editors didn’t know to tell me, was that the political cartoonist of The Los Angeles Times isn’t allowed to criticize the police. I wish I’d been informed. I have principles, but I also have to eat. If they’d told me the cops were off-limits, I wouldn’t have criticized the LAPD, police brutality, corruption or incompetence. If I’d known that LAPD chief Charlie Beck enjoyed special most favored nation status on the LA Times editorial page, I would have left him alone.
But no one told me. So I did what cartoonists are supposed to do: I criticized and ridiculed and made fun of the cops.
Unbeknownst to me, dark forces were aligned against me.
In 2014, Tribune Publishing, the Chicago-based $499 million conglomerate that was the parent company of the LA Times, brought on a brutal, cynical billionaire named Austin Beutner as its new publisher. Beutner had made his money in the 1990s, raping the ruins of post-Soviet Russia. He had big political ambitions: mayor of Los Angeles, perhaps even governor of California.
Beutner had no experience in newspapers. Probably never even delivered one as a boy. But Beutner had what Tribune wanted: a contact list full of potential investors. As for Beutner, he figured he’d use the paper to make up for his lack of name recognition among voters. It was a match made in hell.
Beutner made good on his promise to bring cash into the troubled Tribune organization by midwifing a deal between his only political ally, the LAPD’s police union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League) and Oaktree Capital, a Beverly Hills based investment firm. The LAPPL moved its $16 billion pension fund to Oaktree. At the same time, Oaktree became the number one shareholder in Tribune. The local police owned the local paper.
The LAPPL made no secret of its appreciation. Weeks after being named publisher, Beutner was given the LAPPL’s 2014 Badge and Eagle Award for “support[ing] the LAPD in all that they do.”
In July 2015, the fuzz called in their chit with Beutner.
As has only recently been revealed by my lawsuit against the LA Times for defamation and wrongful termination, the plot against me began with a conspiracy at the highest levels of city government and the corporate media elite.
Chief Beck secretly met with Beutner. He handed him documents, as well as a CD-ROM containing an audio recording, that he convinced Beutner would be adequate proof that I was a liar and a fabulist, and therefore sufficient legal cause for firing me. And not just for firing me. They wanted to make an example out of me. They were out to destroy me. So they published not one, but two articles — something they’d never done before, ever — calling me a liar.
I was freelance. Why not just tell me I was no longer needed? Because Beck and Beutner thought I’d be a pushover. And because they wanted to send a message to every journalist in Southern California. Don’t criticize law enforcement. If you do, your career will be over.
Times readers have never been told the source of these documents. I would never have found them if I hadn’t filed my lawsuit. In brazen violation of the newspaper’s own rules governing the ethical conduct of journalism (ironically written by the author of the second smear piece, Deirdre Edgar), Beutner and his minion who wrote the first smear piece, editorial page editor Nick Goldberg, protected Beck as an anonymous source.
The key evidence used against me, both to fire me and to use as the focus of two unusual articles published by the Times in their campaign to destroy my journalistic career, was the audio file. It contained about 20 seconds of audible speech and over six minutes of road noise.
That recording, secretly made by a police officer who arrested me for jaywalking in 2001, supposedly proved that I had been treated politely by the cop, not rudely handcuffed as I had written in the Times. Cheap and/or careless, the Times didn’t have the “evidence” authenticated or analyzed. Big mistake.
Driving the point home, the LAPD public information office said that the audio never came out via official means. In other words, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ginned up the evidence from somewhere else: probably a self-made, crappy dub made by the police officer himself 14 years before. It wasn’t official evidence. It wouldn’t have been admitted in court and it shouldn’t have been used to fire anyone — something a real journalist, not a billionaire financier, would have known.
I eventually obtained a copy of the official audio file from the police department itself via a public records act request. What a difference! It was clean. It looked different. And it was different. Without any enhancement at all, you could hear an angry crowd of people yelling at the officer about my mistreatment.
By this time, the Times’ ridiculous assault on free expression had blown up in their faces. Social media and the Internet had gone crazy. Journalists of all political stripes had come to my defense. Tribune, knowing that they had screwed up, fired Beutner so unceremoniously that he wasn’t allowed to use his own email account to say goodbye, and was escorted by security guards out of the building.
All I wanted was my job back and a retraction. An apology would be nice too. I don’t know why, even after all this, the Times is fighting this lawsuit. The way they’re acting, you would think that I was the one who had hurt them.
Their latest legal maneuver is beyond belief. Although discovery hasn’t begun yet, things haven’t been going well for them during initial hearings in court. That’s how it goes when you don’t have a legitimate defense for your indefensible actions. So their lawyer is resorting to scorched earth tactics. The last thing they want is for 12 Angelenos to listen to my case, consider both sides, and render justice.
The sleazy move their lawyer cooked up is to file an “anti-SLAPP” motion against me. California legislature passed the anti-SLAPP law to stop the following scenario: “A deep-pocketed corporation, developer or government official files a lawsuit whose real purpose is to silence a critic, punish a whistleblower or win a commercial dispute.” (Those words are by the LA Times’ editorial board, written two weeks after they smeared me!)
I’m not a deep pocketed corporation. I’m not a developer. And I’m not a government official. I’m a critic. So I’m the one this law was designed to protect.
Incredibly, the Times’ lawyer is arguing that I, an individual freelance cartoonist with a five-figure income, is quashing the Times’ free-speech rights! If they convince the judge that they are right, my case gets thrown out and – get this – I’m going to have to pay their attorneys’ fees!
Even more incredibly, they asked the judge to force me to post a $300,000 bond now, in advance, to guarantee their attorneys’ fees if they win their anti-SLAPP motion. She knocked it down to $75,000. But it’s not like the 10% bail that you hear about on TV. I owe the entire $75,000 on or before Thursday, August 18. My lawyers and I prepared a brief to fight it, but because the Los Angeles court system is so backed up, we can’t get a hearing until next summer. So another words, I either cough up $75,000 by next Thursday, or the Times gets away with what they did to me.
If you like to read more about the case and/or contribute to my fundraiser – I am not going down without a fight – please click here or go directly to http://gofundme.com/tedrall.
(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. His new book, the graphic biography “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” is now available.)
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.