Magazine article The Washington Monthly

PRIVILEGED SON: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty

Magazine article The Washington Monthly

PRIVILEGED SON: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty

Article excerpt

SITTING HOME ON A SUMMER night a few years ago, listening to the Dodgers on the radio, I finally dropped off to sleep around midnight, score tied in the 12th.

I subscribed to two newspapers in those days: the thin and scrappy Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the rich and invincible Los Angeles Times. So it was surprising the next morning, when the two newspapers hit my driveway within minutes of each other, that the ragtag Herald had gotten the job done ("Dodgers Edge Giants in 14") while the mighty Times could manage only something like, "Dodgers, Giants Knotted in 9th."

I called the Times to complain. The sports desk transferred me to circulation, where a cheerful senior executive was happy to set me straight. "See the photograph on the front page of the sports section?" he asked. "What do you notice about it?" It was a sailboat. A purely decorative shot, taken in the ocean off Marina Del Rey, unconnected to any story. "Yes, but what else do you notice about it?" he asked me. I had no clue. "It's in color," the Times executive said proudly. "We have new color presses, and I'm afraid that means earlier deadlines. So sure, the Herald can afford to wait around for those late sports scores. But they don't give you color photos, do they?"

So there it was. Joseph Pulitzer wanted newspapers to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable;" The New York Times wants "All the News That's Fit to Print;" and at the Los Angeles Times the motto seemed to be: "We'll give you sailboats. Get your own news." (OK, it wasn't big news, but still, it was a Dodgers score in a pennant race.)

But maybe the L.A. Times got the formula right after all; the Herald is dead now while the Times prospers, earning buckets of cash as well as the respect of East Coast journalists who fly in to cover L.A.'s cataclysms and conventions. They find on their roomservice trays a newspaper fat as a Belgian waffle, with more sections than a grapefruit. And such colorful sailboats!

Still, those of us who trudge up the driveway every, morning with our sprinkler-soaked paper are far less sanguine about the Times. We know how easy it is to get yardstick-deep into an L.A. Times news story without finding even trace elements of a lead. We know that the paper is perpetually timid and clueless in its coverage of show business, a reasonably significant cottage industry in these parts. We know that the Times, in its laziness, has historically run obituaries days or even weeks after they appear elsewhere, and, in its arrogance, runs corrections without using the word "correction," preferring the more grudging headline, "For The Record." This is a newspaper that largely ignored the city's minority communities for decades and now feels compelled to pander to them, with a political correctness that neatly blends Orwell with Monty Python. …

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