Internal Resentment

Article excerpt

Los Angeles Times editors say David Shaw's analysis of his paper's coverage of the city's riots was an unnecessary 'trashing'

David Shaw's five-part series in the Los Angeles Times on media coverage of the city's police department has enmeshed him once again troversy inside the paper.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic aroused particular criticism for his comparison of the coverage of the recent Los Angeles riots by the Times and the much smaller Los Angeles Daily News, which was portrayed as covering the story more aggressively. One editor accused Shaw of "trashing" his own paper's metro news staff.

Shaw said the Daily News "consistently" gave more prominence to the event that led to the riots: the police beating of black motorist Rodney King. The four officers accused of the beating were acquitted by a jury (except for one count against one policeman) and the verdict set off the worst rioting in the city's history.

Although pointing out that the Daily News, whose principal market is the San Fernando Valley, is a "local" paper, compared with the nationally focused Times, Shaw wrote that the "scrappy challenger" in the first month after the beating made King its lead story on the front page 20 times, compared with four for the Times.

However, Shaw observed, it could be questioned whether King deserved that much play in the News while the Soviet Union was breaking apart.

Shaw also noted that the Times, unlike the News, has a separate Metro section in which it can prominently display, local stories. He also reported that the Times published "a wide range of enterprising overview stories -- on the phenomenon of group violence" and other social aspects of the turmoil that erupted in the wake of the King verdict.

But Shaw quoted Times staffers who said the paper could have done a better job of covering the King case and the rioting.

Several black staff members were bitter that the Times "did not respond to their reports of widespread police brutality in south Los Angeles before" the King incident, Shaw wrote.

The blacks, he continued, "were especially aggrieved that it was the Daily News, not the Times, that gave top priority to that pattern of excessive force in post-King coverage."

The Shaw series also tweaked the Los Angeles media, including the Times, for soft pedaling police brutality before the King episode.

In analyzing riot coverage, Shaw lauded the Times for moving "quickly and aggressively" on the matter of how Police Chief Daryl Gates and his department performed during the early hours of the upheaval but added this comment: "Although The Times provided the most comprehensive examination and chronology of LAPD behavior ... the Daily News was the first to report that 'tensions in the LAPD hierarchy were so severe that the normal weekly command staff meetings were suspended in the four weeks leading up to the riots.'"

Shaw also said the Daily News was the first to report in detail "on the seeming impotence of the Police Commission during and after the riots."

Two top Times editors were bitterly critical of Shaw's assessment of the paper's coverage of the Rodney King beating and the riots.

"David Shaw for a long time has been following a deliberate strategy of trashing our local news staff, and this is just the latest example," said senior editor Noel Greenwood.

"He is tough as hell on that staff, on restaurant critics, on wine writers, on any other target that lacks political clout within the newspaper.

"That is how he has promoted himself nationally as a fearless media critic. At the same time, he blows air kisses at the movers and shakers in the industry, whose approval he craves and needs. It is damned unfair and deceptive."

Greenwood further declared that the Times has a long record of strong and well-reported coverage of LAPD's use of force. …