Professionalism and lack thereof at the Los Angeles Times


Today we witness an atomically rare occurrence in the journalistic universe: an ideological split between the reportorial  and editorial sides of a major American paper, The Los Angeles Times.

This concerns the treatment of a gossip story making the rounds all gussied up as a "news" item.
For the past few days, some news sources have been titillating their readers with stories of leaks of information between government officials, representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Israeli embassy officials. Many newspapers and  pundits have ridiculed the merits of this "pseudo—scandal."

The Los Angeles Times has been among the newspapers promoting this story, which apparently is solely based on a few unnamed former and current government officials. The fact that demotions and dismissals have occurred in the State Department, the CIA, and the FBI during the Bush Administration's reorientation of  foreign policy is never mentioned; nor is the likelihood that embittered ex—employees may be pursuing a vendetta or attempting to alter policies they take exception to ever given as a reason these people may be spreading malicious gossip.

Nevertheless, "journalists" with the hope (which all of them must have nurtured since journalism school) of becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein have been investigating this "news" item for the last week. The fact is that these investigations appears to be nothing more than accepting unsolicited  gossip and hearsay means that this press craftsmanship does not hold a candle to the procedures made famous in All The President's Men.
We applaud the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times for taking a principled stand against this type of demagogy and "journalistic" practice. On the same day that the reporters chose to run another story in the paper regarding this kerfuffle, the editors had had enough and published this editorial, which found fault with the type of practices which lead to stories like this one appearing in the paper. The editors feel that the actual evidence does not appear to support the allegations implied by its reporters and questioned the wisdom given by the spinning reporters.
This split in the ranks perhaps reflects the ever—present pressure on reporters to make a name for themselves, and is a pernicious legacy of Woodstein. In a culture that adores celebrity and in a profession which measures success by scalps captured, methods used are irrelevant as long as fame is the goal. Here, reporters get a valuable by—line on a story created out of gossamer. The nameless and faceless editorial board members toil in obscurity to uphold integrity and honest professional standards. One side seeks fame—consequence be damned; the other justice and fairness.

We have taken exception to Los Angeles Times editorials in the past, and probably will do so in the future. But that does not diminish our admiration for the professionalism and good judgment they have shown today.

Posted by Ed Lasky   9 3 04