Jewish World Review May 13, 2004 /22 Iyar, 5764

Stefan Kanfer

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High Road in La-La Land | Recently, Los Angeles Times editor John S. Carroll addressed a packed room at the University of Oregon. His lecture was entitled, "The Wolf in Reporter's Clothing: The Rise of Pseudo-Journalism in America."

"All over the country," said Carroll, "there are offices that look like newsrooms and there are people in those offices that look for all the world just like journalists, but they are not practicing journalism. They regard the audience with a cold cynicism. They are practicing something I call pseudo-journalism, and they view their audience as something to be manipulated."

He made a special point of criticizing Fox News and some talk show hosts, including the egregious Bill O'Reilly, who mislead their viewers while claiming to inform them. Carroll added that while much of the media has ended up "in the gutter," the L.A. Times was taking "the high road."

Admirable points made by the editor, and that road is always worth taking. Trouble is, those statements came from a gentleman who dwells in a mansion of Thermopane.

A few years back, the Times was embarrassed by a sports scandal right in its own newsroom. Some sports reporters were instructed to hype the New Staples Sports Center for a special issue of the paper's Sunday magazine. The Times and Staples were scheduled to split the ad revenue when the whistle blew.

More recently, the Times was notorious in its pseudo-coverage of the Gray Davis vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger recall campaign. So biased was it that even Susan Estrich, a Professor of Law at USC, and a Democrat who managed Michael Dukakis's 1988 campaign, became outraged. The battle was coming to a close when the Times found some women who complained that Schwarzenegger had groped them several years before. Estrich stated, "This attack, coming as late as it does, from a newspaper that has been acting more like a cheerleader for Gray Davis than an objective source of information, will be dismissed by most people as more Davis-like dirty politics." And so they did. And so more than 1,000 readers canceled their subscriptions to the newspaper. And so the GOP grabbed the governorship.

And then there was the business of the doctored photograph. A Times staff photographer, Brian Walski, was canned after it was revealed that the shocking, and widely discussed, picture—of a British soldier threatening Iraqi civilians—was actually two photographs merged together.

But perhaps the most flagrant of the paper's journalistic violations, has been its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the latter is almost always seen in a sympathetic light, and the former in the guise of a loathsome, dictatorial occupier. In 2002, the worst year of terrorism in the region, the Times devoted exactly one article to the blinded and maimed victims of Palestinian terrorists. Needless to say there were many, many pieces on the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people.

The Times' claims of even-handedness were put to rest with a cartoon, entitled "Worshipping Their G-d," showing two figures before the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

One is on his knees, the other standing, bowed in prayer. The large stones, however, are not the customary ones. These are arranged to spell out the word HATE. The artist, Michael Ramirez, later defended himself by stating that the kneeling man was actually a Moslem praying. But the keffiah identifying him as Islamic is practically invisible, and besides, Moslems do not pray before the Wall.

But never mind. There will always be excuses for tastelessness, for biased journalism posing as objective reportage, just as there will always be claimants to the high road speaking to undergraduates and journalism students who don't know any better. And are unlikely to learn how to behave professionally from the big glass house in the West.

JWR contributor Stefan Kanfer is the author of a dozen books on a wide range of subjects. His last two biographies: the recent Ball of Fire, about the sources of Lucille Ball's comedy, and Groucho, concerning the life and wit of Groucho Marx, were both national bestsellers, as was The Last Empire, a social history of the De Beers diamond company. One of his novels, The Eighth Sin, centering on the fate of gypsies during World War II, was a Book of the Month selection, and led to an appointment on the President's Commission on the Holocaust. Kanfer was a writer, critic and editor at Time magazine for more than 20 years; his articles and reviews have appeared in most major publications. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including installation as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library, among many other awards. Currently he is the drama critic for the New Leader magazine, and serves on the editorial board of City Journal, a quarterly published by the Manhattan Institute.

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© 2004, Stefan Kanfer