They should know


A petition is apparently circulating among the tumbleweeds in the dusty, long since evacuated newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, saying to no one that the paper’s decision to run an Onion-like (minus the funny, natch) fake news story that was really an ad for a new NBC series on the front page was “embarrassing and demoralizing.”  And no one knows embarrassing and demoralizing better than what few souls remain at that fleetingly great newspaper. The controversy, the latest St. Vitus’ dance  of that undead fishwrapper, was reported today by the sharp and appropriately named Peter Kafka  at Media Memo.  It seems that a new NBC series, Southland, which the evidently memo-deprived reviewer described in unflattering terms in the same edition, got, in addition to its banner ad, a “story” occupying about the same space as part of the deal.  It’s marked “advertisement,” of course, not unlike those ads in the back of men’s magazines that tout triumphant tales of penis enlargement, but it still seemed like a line of cheese that even LATimes’  long-battered staff wouldn’t cross.  After it was crossed. 

Unfortunately, this event calls to mind the chorus of “Cell Block Tango,” from Kander and Ebb’s “Chicago.”  They had it comin.’  The newspaper that once blanketed the actual “Southland,” rendering its owners, the Chandlers, richer than Croesus, so rich that for a brief period one daring heir, with an assist from Philip and later, Katharine, Graham of the Washington Post decided to put out a good, world-class product for a while back in the day, has been in the embarrassment and demoralization business for an awfully long time.  The place Al Martinez was told on arrival was the “Velvet Coffin” of luxe security has morphed, gradually, into a particularly disturbing reality show, where the island not only gets progressively less inhabited, but the surrounding waters rapidly and inexorably rise around it.

The pattern is familiar.  The family whose wealth and reputation is tied to the institution grow weary and distracted and decide to bail out, the company goes public, and the demands of Wall Street force it into seeking unrealistic profits that diminish the product.  Revenues decline with the attendant loss of credibility.  Layoffs, meant to stabilize, only make the product worse, circulation plummets.  Pretty soon, Jonah Goldberg works there.  You’d have to be retarded not to see where this is heading.

But the LATimes’ collapse is special, if only for its swiftness and spectacularly “embarrassing and demoralizing” moments.  Its founder, the mercurial Harrison Gray Otis, never cared about journalism, but merely making his investment in the marginally habitable LA basin pay off, and maybe shooting his car-mounted cannon at a union commie or two.  Once that gamble paid off beyond everyone’s wildest dreams, the succeeding Chandlers were able to devote at least a little of their time and efforts to the Civic Improvement the city built by their forebears desperately needed.  Buffy got her opera house, and surfer boy Otis, who ascended the throne right about the time that the New York Times was threatening to go national, got the nutty idea that making the paper better might be a good strategy.  The NYT was strangled in the humiliating, but it turned out, temporary, defeat, after his alliance with the Washington Post had brought his paper, heretofore derided as the shoddy Republican rag it was, into the big leagues.  The subsequent golden age of the LATimes lasted until he sold out.  Not a second longer.

The Staples Center scandal, wherein the “cereal killer,” a former General Mills executive that was inexplicably named publisher by the Tribune Co., colluded to split profits of a special section with an advertiser, actually got an aging Otis off his surfboard long enough to make a loud and public stink, but the die was cast.  The namesake of the family’s storied Hancock Park estate, “Los Tiempos,” was already circling the drain.

Robert Scheer out, Jonah Goldberg in.  Architecture critic Sam Hall Kaplan out, put a plant there.  They even tried to unload Al Martinez, the Times’ Mike Royko, but hastily abandoned that idea,  since a guy whose dog barked at the icemaker turned out to matter a lot more to readers than a stinkin’ bureau in Cairo, they figured out a way to keep him on until the grim reaper takes him off the payroll, once and for all.  The last vestige of NYT rivalry, the weekly tabloid Book Review, wasn’t dropped, but was joined with the Sunday Opinion page , in a cringingly thin comic book thingamajig with covers on both sides that had to be turned upside down halfway through to read.

The fact that people at the LATimes have anything left to be demoralized about is a testament to the undying resilience of the human spirit.  Or something like that.  When I lived there briefly, in 1992, one of the few things I liked about the place was reading its excellent paper each morning.

I wonder what gets Angelenos out of bed today.

UPDATE: Publisher (this week) Eddy Hartenstein defended the fake news ad, claiming that such “innovative” steps will somehow help the newspaper survive.  The ad ran over the objections of Editor (this week) Russ Stanton, and drew 70 critical letters, representing nearly all of its readers.  A meeting was called.


  1. Jim White says:

    I’m not sure they go to bed anymore, the commutes take so long they just sleep in the traffic jams.

    I lived in Pasadena from ’79 to ’83 and took the Times. It seemed good enough then, but when we moved to SF next, the Chronicle was infinitely better, especially with Herb Caen and Art Hoppe. Later, we switched to the Mercury News and got actual news. It was the best paper I’ve taken on a daily basis.

    Journalism in LA at that time had its highpoint in the CBS affiliate: Brent Musburger was the main news anchor. Jeez, we should have seen the death of journalism when he took that job…

  2. rmp says:

    You don’t mention the takeover by the Tribune Company. I take it by the time that happened, the LA Times was doomed anyway. I hope it stays alive in some form because it is better than its parent Chicago Tribune and I find useful stories in the Times almost every day. The Tribune would be even worse on local coverage if it weren’t for the competition from the Sun Times. The Sun Times figured out that local/state investigative journalism could serve a very important role and keep the paper viable. Its problem is Conrad Black and his crooks who stole so many millions. Corporate wolves and crooks are the real killers of printed papers. Is there anything wrong in our country that wasn’t caused by these selfish, vicious wolves?

    • rmp says:

      I really should apologize to the wolves in the animal kingdom. I don’t think there is any animal that comes close to these human creatures.

    • cocktailhag says:

      That was the buyout that doomed the LATimes, when they brought in a cereal guy as publisher. The real problem is the pots of money these damn things represented. That brought in the pigs.
      I wish I still had the impassioned op-ed following the Staples disaster that Otis wrote, and they ran. It was a eulogy, and I knew it.
      What’s next, rmp? You think compiling a news blast is hard… try reporting it. I fear for our future.
      Don’t worry.. Here at CHNN, we don’t award fur-bearing varmints personhood. I’ve got the coyotes on right now, keeping me warm, instead of eating people’s chihuahuas and garbage.

  3. cocktailhag says:

    The Mercury News was a good paper; I rarely have read it myself, but I read a lot about it in Davis Merritt’s “Knightfall,” about Knight-Ridder, which I reviewed in a Book Saloon here. I always thought the Chonicle was a little odd, though, with the green paper and dopey graphics, but I never read it enough to know it, so I’m unqualified to judge it journalistically.
    Here, the Oregonian is actually pretty good, as they go. I always felt superior to Seattle, which had two papers that were together less than our one. Natch, the PI, which carried Helen Thomas, David Horsey, and was marginally “liberal,” was the one to go. I wish I could buy their spinning globe and put it on CHNN World Headquarters. Maybe with a neon martini glass around it.

  4. OSR says:

    The decline of the printed media is yet, another depressing testament of how dumbed down we become. I’ve come to realize that the internet is the greatest tool a revisionist historian could pray for.

  5. timothy3 says:

    Christ, Hag, but you make me laugh:

    the latest St. Vitus’ dance

    I haven’t heard that outside of Sherlock Holmes.

    Layoffs, meant to stabilize, only make the product worse, circulation plummets. Pretty soon, Jonah Goldberg works there. You’d have to be retarded not to see where this is heading.

    I can hardly contain myself when it comes to, what?, laughter? I don’t know, I sometimes shrug (usually) regarding this stuff.
    Well, you know.
    But I do like “cereal killer”; let me be leaden-footed by saying, “Wait, you mean serial killer? So what’s “cereal”? I’m confused.”

    • cocktailhag says:

      “Cereal” refers to the fact that the first thing the Tribune Co. did as owners was bring in a guy who’d been, with some effectiveness, selling Cheerios his whole career, as PUBLISHER of the Los Angeles Times. Massive fail, that shocked that less jaded world of the 90′s.
      This development was greeted with understandable skepticism in the newsroom at the time.
      Anyway, I’m glad you like the way I try to make the devastating, diverting. What else can you do?

    • Meremark says:

      “… hardly contain myself when it comes to, what?, laughter? I don’t know, …”

      I know myself for having an iron gut than can stomach stench meat a month old, mold on carcasses, bad puns, foul alcohol, hog farms, and … worse. (By comparison, droopy cocktail hags are lovely bon-bon’s of grace and pleasure to be in the presence of.) Yet I must say I retched it — did not contain myself, hurled horrifically before I could gulp air-gut pressure to stop it, the instant my eyes read ‘Jonah G- G- G- … whatshisname.’ That kills, CH.

      • cocktailhag says:

        Tbogg posted a real pants-wetter about Lucianne’s tubby progeny the other day. He said that some bizarre righty projection was like “Jonah Goldberg telling you you could stand to lose a few.” I do wonder which hole he came out of, and more profoundly, how he found work.

  6. timothy3 says:

    Anyway, I’m glad you like the way I try to make the devastating, diverting. What else can you do?

    You give me genuine pleasure when you write as you do. This planet is fucked up, so fundamentally, that I can’t really find the phraseology to support the contention I just made (that the planet is fucked up so fundamentally).
    Hag/Tony, I so thoroughly enjoy you that I really can’t find the words for it.
    P.S., I guess I should just call you Hag? What do you think? It’s your name, after all.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Here, I prefer Hag. I think that that’s the usual protocol on the tubes. Elsewhere Tony. Again, I’m just following what I’ve learned about life and its often evil twists. Laughter, with perhaps a chemical boost here and there, is pretty much the only medicine.
      I’m glad you’re on board with that.

      • Myrna Minkoff says:

        Hi, Hag Darlin


      • Meremark says:

        In a world without great Gatsbys or daily papers, here helps: 3 Quarks Daily .COM

        One of its blog entries today (4/9), corroborates your cure-all.

        How Humor Makes You Friendlier, Sexier – From Scientific American:

        Norman Cousins, the storied journalist, author and editor, found no pain reliever better than clips of the Marx Brothers. … laughter and humor do seem to have significant effects on the psyche, even influencing our perception of pain. What is more, psychological well-being has an impact on overall wellness, including our risk of disease.

        … Amusement’s ability to counteract physical agony is well documented, and as Cousins’s experience suggests, humor’s analgesic effect lasts …. Thus, in various ways, life satisfaction may increase with the ability to laugh.

        More here. – Posted by Azra Raza at 05:45 AM

        • cocktailhag says:

          Great article, Meremark, and I’ve just recently tested a bunch of its theories. Working at the mushroom building, instead of mostly being alone as usual, I’m now working with a large crew that have been there for four years, and in the few weeks I’ve been there, I’ve made #2206 comic relief headquarters. All these guys are about to be laid off, and yet we joke about getting lost in the subbasements, and the building tipping over, and how funny it is that the place really is a mushroom, when you think about it. (they hadn’t, before)
          I like to think that hag humor is as good for them as it is for me.

  7. timothy3 says:

    Hag it is.
    As for “chemicals,” man, I’m on board with that.
    Where would we be without chemicals?
    (And, here, I mean, well, chemicals–nothing more specfic!–Christ, I don’t wanna be found out by the Man!).

    • cocktailhag says:

      I’m blessed with a purveyor of medically-sanctioned chemicals downstairs, at the same place Full Sails are going for 5.99 thus month. Fortuitous, I’d call it. Definitely help with the mood issues, and helps the humor thing along.

  8. Jim Montague says:

    Everything you said about the Times is sadly true. I subscribe to it, I used to spend hours reading it, and now, all I grab is the sports page. There was a time when you would swear that the Sunday edition weighed 10 lbs at least. Now, the regional California section has been merged into the National section, the business section is no more than 6-7 pages, and most days it feels like a small town paper instead.

    • cocktailhag says:

      When I’m down there, I buy the paper as sort of a sad novelty; a living testament to decline. Sundays are the worst. Toss out the ads, and there’s a midwestern high school’s newspaper left to read. What few people still take a paper take the NYT. Sad, and a bit shocking.

  9. timothy3 says:

    Hag, I’m glad you like the way I tried to make the devastating, diverting (you won’t mind the paraphrase?). The best I can come up with is the Walmart version of, “Hey, we can give your your meds at, what, half off? What else can you do? It’s Chemicals! Good God y’all, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”
    I’m left with ’60′s music/lyrics.

    How sad.

  10. Karen M says:

    The whole paragraph captivated me:

    The pattern is familiar. The family whose wealth and reputation is tied to the institution grow weary and distracted and decide to bail out, the company goes public, and the demands of Wall Street force it into seeking unrealistic profits that diminish the product. Revenues decline with the attendant loss of credibility. Layoffs, meant to stabilize, only make the product worse, circulation plummets. Pretty soon, Jonah Goldberg works there. You’d have to be retarded not to see where this is heading.

    I remember when they fired Robert Scheer. I wasn’t a regular reader, but it was still shocking. Now, I get his TruthDig email/newsletter regularly.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Robert Scheer was the last link to sanity as the whole of the media leapt headlong into war cheerleading prior to Iraq. And then he was gone. Seemed like a good idea at the time, like splitting your profits with Staples, or putting the op-ed upside down.

  11. Jim White says:

    How sad. Hartenstein doesn’t even know when he’s using a clever play on words:

    “Because of the times that we’re in, we have to look at all sorts of different — and some would say innovative — new solutions for our advertising clients,” he said.

    And just how do you think we got into these “Times”, Mr. Hartenstein?