There is a perception among my colleagues that a conscious decision has been made at the Times to magnify the LAPD’s faults while simultaneously underplaying or even ignoring its accomplishments. For example, last week the Times ran two news stories (here and here) and an editorial decrying an insurance program that compensates LAPD officers who are suspended without pay for misconduct. Even while spilling all that ink, little mention was made of the fact that the insurance program, managed by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the labor union for rank-and-file officers, was created in response to an arbitrary and capricious disciplinary system that often saw officers suspended unfairly and without recourse. Such mismanagement was typical of then-Chief Bernard Parks’s tenure and indeed contributed to his dismissal from the job, a badly needed corrective action that even the Times endorsed.
Things have improved somewhat under current Chief William Bratton, but the fact remains — and remains unexamined in the Times — that LAPD supervisors and staff officers have at times been known to be petty and vindictive, necessitating the continuation of the Protective League’s insurance program.
Further evidence of the Times‘s biases can be found in Thursday’s edition. Newspaper space is a limited commodity, and one can get a sense of a paper’s values and priorities by examining the placement and space allotted for any given story in relation to others. Thursday’s paper featured a story on the LAPD’s Medal of Valor luncheon, held Wednesday at the Kodak Theater complex in Hollywood. The story, on Page 3 of the second section, ran to some 600 words. By contrast, the two news stories on the insurance program, written by the same writer who covered the Medal of Valor luncheon, ran above the fold on Page B1 and totaled more than 1500 words.
And consider: Of the 21 officers recognized for bravery in incidents ranging from gunfights and hostage rescues to pulling people from burning cars, only six were mentioned by name, and the story recounted only three of the nine incidents for which officers were awarded medals. The most harrowing of these, a running gun battle up and down Vermont Avenue in South Central L.A. in which officers exchanged hundreds of shots with two armed men, received no mention at all.
It’s also revealing to note how other local stories were covered in Thursday’s paper. A story on reduced levels of service at an Inglewood hospital (the “minorities hit hardest” angle) made the front page of Section A and ran to more than 1400 words. L.A.’s smaller than expected carbon footprint merited 734 words, beginning above the fold on Page B1. And a story running under the headline “Gays may get another court win” got top placement on Page B1 and merited 802 words.
Still, I was pleased to see the Times covered the Medal of Valor luncheon at all, especially given the fact that they completely ignored the event last year even as they ran story after story on the LAPD’s perceived failings at the May Day rally at MacArthur Park.
Perhaps when the LAPD and the L.A. Times become neighbors next year it will lead to more harmonious relations between us. After all, even the Capulets and the Montagues reconciled, alas not before Romeo and Juliet (and a few others) were dead.