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Relentless Criticism: Sixteen Months after the Los Angeles Riots, Coverage by the Local Media Continues to Be Blasted

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Relentless Criticism: Sixteen Months after the Los Angeles Riots, Coverage by the Local Media Continues to Be Blasted

Article excerpt

SIXTEEN MONTHS AFTER the Los Angeles riots, local media continue to be blasted for their coverage of the event and its aftermath.

Most of the criticism is directed at television but newspapers are taking a great deal of heat from the public, community leaders, activists and minority journalists.

Figuratively, the fires were again fanned at the Los Angeles convention of the Asian American Journalists Association.

At a panel on the subject titled "Can We All Get Along?" Los Angeles Police Commissioner Jesse Brewer, a former top cop, cautioned the media against relying on inflammatory spokespeople in the minority communities in covering civil disturbances.

"We are not monolithic," said Brewer, who is black. "You are often getting statements from some very provocative, very volatile people who spit venom every time they open their mouths."

Brewer said he would like to see "equal time" given to more representative leaders in the minority communities.

Ed Chang, a Korean-born professor at the University of California, Riverside, objected to what he alleged was the media's habit of depicting "gun-toting" Koreans in writing about the tensions between blacks and Koreans.

Chang noted that gun sales tripled after the riots "but all your focus has been on Koreans arming themselves, not on the fact that many other people are buying guns."

The panelist also faulted the media for making Koreans look "stupid" in interviews because many of them cannot express themselves well in English. He urged newspapers and broadcast stations to send interpreters along with their reporters.

Ramona Ripston, director of the Southern California office of the American Civil Liberties Union, was a bit kinder to the media, saying they cannot be blamed for other factors causing racial animosity such as the city's high jobless rate.

"When people are competing for scarce resources, there are problems," she said. Ripston praised the Los Angeles Times for its comprehensive, post-riot analysis of the last year's outbreak, calling the series "magnificent."

This was one of the few rewarding moments in the evening for Times editor Shelby Coffey III who, with Jeff Wald, executive editor of news programming for KCOP-TV, represented the media on the panel.

Even Ripston fired a few rounds at the press. She criticized reporters for having a "mind-set" when covering ethnic communities. "They know what they want to say before they go out there and if they don't hear what they want to, it won't be reported," she charged.

Ripston also chided the Times for failing to tell readers that the "Rebuild L.A." project was a "sham."

"It wasn't going to work and it has not worked but the Los Angeles Times fed into it," she said of the project, which has produced few results.

Smiling, Coffey retorted that Ripston was "listening too much" to right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh. He said the Times' "Voices" column has provided an outlet for a wide variety of viewpoints from people who usually do not appear on the op-ed page and who have skewered "Rebuild L.A."

Coffey also defended the paper's coverage of the project, calling it fair and balanced.

Another panelist, Jorge Mancillas, director of the Latino Merchants Association, said the media should have sounded the alarm that "Rebuild L.A. …

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