‘Good Reason to Misinform’:  LA Times Sues Garcetti But Evades Important Questions

@THE GUSS REPORT-The devil is in the details at the new era Los Angeles / El Segundo Times, as it stumbles to prove it has a journalistic pulse.

Last Thursday, City Hall beat reporter Emily Alpert Reyes wrote the Times is suing LA’s absentee Mayor Eric Garcetti over records detailing the cost of his incessant out-of-state travels. 

But what is the news story here? 

Is it that the hometown newspaper is finally getting to the bottom of Garcetti’s disappearing act? Or is the story about the Timeswanting to restore its long-lost public trust by publishing an article about its newsgathering methods? (Last year, Times representative Hillary Manning told me that the Timesdoesn’t disclose those methods, yet here they are doing just that.) 

In recent months, I made similar but deeper public records requests of Garcetti’s office pertaining to his out-of-state travels, each of which was ignored. 

That may be because Garcetti’s office, knowing that I (and similarly situated writers) are not equipped with money and attorneys to file lawsuits for the transgression of hiding public records, illegally dismisses them with the standard “the public is better served not knowing than knowing” reply, which they have stopped providing altogether. 

My records requests delved into areas that, according to Reyes’ article, the Times lawsuit does not, including the stated purpose of each trip, what was the complete itinerary, who (other than City of LA personnel) accompanied him, and who, if anyone, funded other parts of each trip? 

When the City of Los Angeles eventually turns over the records, if the Timesonly reports on the cost but not the details, it will prove the Timesremains a protectionist cheerleading squad for politicians because the cost is just the pie’s crust, and not the apple filling. 

Angelenos have a right to know whether they are paying for Garcetti to go to places like Iowa and New Hampshire which, except perhaps for a Mayor’s conference, are for Garcetti to plant his delusional (let me change that: aspirational) presidential seeds. 

To wit, who can forget Garcetti smirking at Black Lives Matters protestors, and saying he was headed to Washington, D.C., to raise money for housing when, in fact, he was there primarily to raise campaign funds and hobnob? 

The taxpayers are not here to fund a de facto LinkedIn travelogue for Garcetti’s next job. They only pay for his activities as Mayor of Los Angeles, a responsibility Garcetti seems to have long-since abdicated to troubled LA City Council president Herb Wesson. 

On Friday, in a follow-up Times article by Seema Mehta, in which Garcetti deferred to the LAPD about the lawsuit, the slippery quote went like this:  

“I presume [we will disclose], unless I have a good reason to misinform you, which I don’t think I would,” he said. “Maybe I should ask why he doesn’t tell you. Maybe he has a reason. I expect you would find out regardless, so certainly we would provide ample [disclosure].” 

Say what? 

The first problem here is that Mehta did not make clear whether this quote was from Garcetti or his similarly gelatinous peer, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom talking about Governor Jerry Brown’s travel records. 

And the second, far bigger problem is the question that Mehta did not ask: “What exactly do you mean by ‘a good reason to misinform,’ and can you please provide an example or two?” 

That right there. 

What would late Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee have done if his reporter was told by a prominent politician they might have “a good reason to misinform” them, but didn’t ask what he meant by that? 

Yes, that and the apparently very limited scope of the Timeslawsuit call for the public to take a wait-and-see approach on whether the Times, under the leadership of new owner and Executive Chairman Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and Executive Editor Norm Pearlstine, is going to stop being the conduit of politicians’ deceptiveness and power-wash its way to the heart of the issues. 

Two of LA’s best pull-no-punches observers had different but not mutually exclusive views on the Times’reporting on Garcetti. 

Author and observer Joseph Mailander, Tweeted: 

@LATimes City Hall beat became too dependent on gov't itself for ‘guidance’ • So City Hall expects kid gloves from LAT, does not comply with ordinary requests • LAT used to throw up to 15 talented reporters for a City Hall story; now 3 of dubious talent.  @LATimes scribes argue more with citizens than listening to them to learn • LAT scribes using social media as a promotional device rather than to learn things insults readers two ways • LA City Hall defends self with people's money against poor Times job.” 

But Venice street artist and former mayoral candidate David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg, who won a federal 1stAmendment lawsuit against Los Angeles during Garcetti’s time as City Council president, joyously suggested that I not be so myopic about the lawsuit, in part, Tweeted: 

“(The lawsuit doesn’t) have to be, ‘news.’ It's the beginning of the end for #EricGarcetti. We should be jumping all over this saying, ‘release the documents!’ This is gonna be a big taint on Eric. Don't be too ‘journalisticy’ about this. Relish/embrace and pile on. LA TIMES TURNS ON GARCETTI!” 

What matters now depends on whether the Timestreats its readers as rubes, or pivots toward thorough and unflinching journalism.

 

(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Verifiable tips and story ideas can be sent to him at TheGussReport@gmail.com. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.