Recall War's Over, But LAT Battle Rages On

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On Sunday, Los Angeles Times Editor John Carroll responded, if rather testily, to some of the heavy (and occasionally foaming) criticism levied against the paper for its Schwarzengroping coverage. The main target of his wrath, though she went unnamed, was ex-Times firebrand Jill Stewart. Today Stewart fires back, in a column that includes juicy anonymous testimony from a Times staffer. For a sensible outside perspective, start with Jay Rosen. Between the three, you get an interesting picture of an influential newspaper's inner workings.

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  1. I’m not the suspcious type, but I find Carroll’s defense implausible. He had control of how long the research would go on, and decided it’d work out just fine to release the info right before the election so this story (and not the issues) would dominate the news during the voting. (If he had no control over how long the research would take, they sure are lucky at the LA Times it took exactly seven weeks. Even if took eight weeks it would have been after the election. If it took, say, ten months, the story would have been really stale and he’d have wasted a lot of money on all those reporters out in the field.)

  2. The following appeared on Calpundit the other day in response to the Carroll apologetic:

    Here’s the problem: The Times published the story on the THURSDAY BEFORE THE ELECTION, ie. the traditional day that damaging info is ALWAYS released during during dirty campaigns to insure that it’s the final major story people see before voting. IMO, the Times made a strategic error of epic proportions by publishing when they did, undermining both their own credibility and that of the story. By and large, people seem to have taken the highly suspicious timing of the release to indicate that the information was false or exaggerated, and could therefore be disregarded.

    Now whether or not Carroll (or whoever made the decision) was in fact out to “get” Arnold with a classic Thursday surprise, he had to know (or had to be unbelievably naive not to know) that it was going to look that way. So all this whining about people misinterpreting what was done seems a little disingenuous. Personally I think heads should roll over the decision to publish that Thursday–had the story been released even Monday or Tuesday of that same week much of the criticism could’ve been avoided.

  3. Is anybody angry at Reason for it’s anti-Gray Davis blog ? Any insider testimony forthcoming from, say a Hayek apostate ?

  4. Stewart’s response to Carroll made many of the points that I had already made at this link:

    http://patterico.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_patterico_archive.html#106597087399833733

    which is not to say that I was particularly insightful, but rather to say that the points were obvious. Anybody who had followed this whole affair closely knew that Carroll was responding primarily to Stewart and Bill Bradley at the L.A. Weekly. They also knew that Carroll wildly misstated what Stewart and Bradley had reported. Thus, Carroll ended up denying phony accusations that were never made.

    I don’t think this story is going away. Stewart’s story, if true, is explosive. Her interviewee essentially says just what the first commenter on this thread says: Carroll had control over the timing of the story. *If* true, that is huge, because Carroll publicly denied any such thing. As I argued last night (at this link: http://patterico.blogspot.com/2003_10_01_patterico_archive.html#106618139571395176), Howell Raines was brought down for arguably less. Howell Raines never went on the pages of the New York Times and put his name to something very visible and public that later proved not to be true. If Carroll did that — and again, I am not saying he did, but Stewart’s interviewee is — that would be a very big problem for him indeed.

  5. What’s really odd to me is that had the story run about a week earlier, it would have turned into a Davis campaign hit piece, mailed to more households than the LAT has subscribers. In other words, I think Carroll did Schwarzie a favor by holding it that long, and that the LAT would have taken hits from the Right regardless. Let’s not forget that a number of absentee ballots had already been cast by the time this story hit the press (the story had already shown up in the entertainment press years ago so the claims were not new). As far as I can tell, the only way the LAT would have avoided criticism would be if the story were published earlier on in the campaign or before Arnold was a candidate and fewer people were paying attention.

    I still think it’s odd that all the furor is over the timing of the story rather than the fact that he (essentially) admitted the behavior. But hey, if you can’t pound on the facts or the law, pound on the table (or in this case, the messenger).

    And although Stewart is rather testy over the fact that the LAT ignored her allegations, the LAT was very forward about Davis’ pay-to-play governance style (among other flaws), which, as some of you may remember, was one of the stated reasons for the recall.

    I have no particular love for the LAT, it’s just a newspaper after all, but it seems that people are continually repeating very selective facts.

  6. I don’t know, Ann. The LA Times published a lot of other anti-Arnold and pro-Davis pieces on the front page, used lower standards of evidence than usual on such a hit piece, and decided not to look into charges against Davis which also were probably (pounding the table) true! If they’d published this a week or two earlier, and they could have, it would have allowed the issue (which, I’ll admit, seem pretty minor to me) to be absorbed into the campaign rather than be all that anyone was talking about.

  7. My furor has not been over the timing of the story. It has primarily been over the fact that the Davis story did not run. This is not excused (as Carroll tried to do) by saying: “We ran other bad stories about Davis.”

    The timing controversy is revived only because Stewart’s interview — if believed — indicates that Carroll’s explanation is not true.

  8. Of course Carroll had control over the timing of the story. He’s the freaking editor; he has control over the timing of every story.

    Carroll is asking us to believe that this story just happened to come together on the very day when, by the most amazing coincidence, it would do the most damage to the candidate he opposed.

    Uh-huh. Suuure.

  9. Agree with that last comment, though it was anonymous. I guess anonymous folks can still be right!

  10. It doesn’t excuse the LAT if the paper was motivated by anti-Arnie bias, but I think it’s true that the timing was perfect for Arnold. Imagine if this had come out before the debate, the one where candidates could question each other as much as they wanted. He would have either skipped the debate or spent the whole time talking about it, and Arianna would have gone batshit (not that she didn’t already)

  11. “It doesn’t excuse the LAT if the paper was motivated by anti-Arnie bias, but I think it’s true that the timing was perfect for Arnold. Imagine if this had come out before the debate, the one where candidates could question each other as much as they wanted. He would have either skipped the debate or spent the whole time talking about it, and Arianna would have gone batshit (not that she didn’t already)”

    Would that have hurt Arnold, or pumped up his numbers? Frankly, I think that anyone attacked by the “nasty bitch” would have poll numbers rise.

    Regardless of what release date would have hurt Arnold the most, the tactic seems to be that you release several days before the election, giving enough time for the story to circulate but not enough time for the candidate to respond. The tactic might be flawed, but it does look like a dirty partisan tactic, nontheless.

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