By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Soon after Chideya’s report, the Times sent its sixth reporter to cover the story — its constant rotation of writers a hint that the paper had assigned the issue a low-priority. That reporter, Joe Mozingo, published a jarring — some say biased — juxtaposition of facts by identifying one of the victims of the violent attack — who had begged the court for anonymity — while granting one of the defense lawyers anonymity in the same story.
By naming the victim against her wishes, Mozingo arguably followed a Times policy of identifying all individuals aged 18 or over in criminal cases. However, the Times has touted another policy in the wake of media scandals, to keep self-serving anonymous quotes out of the paper. Yet Mozingo let an unnamed defense attorney brag he’d “impeach how the police handled the identifications.”
The Press-Telegram’s recounting of the same courtroom day was so different — filled with extensive detail about eyewitnesses’ descriptions of the clothing, jewelry and hairstyles of victims and defendants alike — that black activist Najee Ali and conservative KFI radio talk-show host John Ziegler, though strange bedfellows, publicly derided the differing accounts, with Ziegler saying, “It’s as if they were at two different places.”
Then, in an opinion piece on December 3, Times senior editorial writer Michael McGough floated an argument critics said reflected the Times’ shading of news-side race stories. In the op-ed, he wrote that hate-crime laws “could end up punishing blacks who commit violence against whites — which is a far cry from the historical experience that inspired hate-crime statutes.”
The piece prompted a fiery response by David Mills, a black former Washington Post reporter turned Emmy-winning screenwriter. In a letter to the popular Romenesko media blog, the Glendale-based Mills wrote: “You don’t have to be a card-carrying Klansman to point out that the L.A. Times surely would be treating this story differently if three black women had been attacked by 30 white teenagers hurling words like ‘F--- black people.’ ”
Mills was also aghast that Times editors buried a vivid story a day after newspapers in 20 states, Canada, the U.K. and Australia published a wire-story account of how reputed gang members rammed and ruined the car of a black woman, Kiana Alford, who testified that she saw a crowd of black youths attack, kick and beat the white women without provocation on Halloween.
Yet when Gary Spiecker, deputy editor of the Times’ Sunday opinion section, invited Mills to submit an “Outside the Tent” op-ed critical of the Times, Mills declined, later explaining in an e-mail to me, “I’d rather see the Times deal with this ‘inside the tent.’?” (Asked bythe Weekly whether the Times’ coverage has been timid, Gale Holland, courts and law-enforcement editor, declined to comment and sent the Weekly a list of many pieces the Timeshas published on the case.)
THETIMES WAS HARDLY the only media outfit to give the story also-ran status. Despite the juicy trial, Los Angeles TV stations — quick to go tabloid on unusual crime stories — didn’t even send news vans to Long Beach. The noncoverage prompted Darleene Barrientos Powells, online news producer at KCBS-2, to complain on her blog about “the deafening silence” of L.A. TV stations.
For their part, KTLA 5 and KTTV 11 avoided the trial, yet managed to send teams to cover a feel-good community meeting for “unity.” Val Zavala, executive producer of KCET’s Life & Times, told the Weekly that her station also hasn’t covered the case because most stories at KCET must be shot in one day and must remain fresh for second airings.
As to the trial winding down in Long Beach, in which the prosecution has rested its case, she’s “looking for an opportunity to do it, but I have to think, how long will it be viable? When would be a good time for us to step in?”
In the trial’s fourth week, on December 20, Times reporter Louis Sahagun finally published a tantalizing peek at some of the more troubling racial currents. He quoted Richard Love, black publisher of the tiny Long Beach Times, who claimed the white women had caused their own vicious beatings by starting a fracas. Sahagun quoted black activist Ali, head of Project Islamic HOPE, who voiced support for the white victims.
Ali later told the Weekly he organized a “Walk Against Hate” because the victims got such short shrift from the community — and from Los Angeles journalists. “If a mob of angry whites had attacked and beaten a group of young black women yelling racial slurs, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters and other black groups would have stormed the barricades and demanded justice for the victims,” Ali said, adding, “A crime is a crime and should be prosecuted according to the seriousness of it, not by someone’s race or gender. But it’s clear to me that this was a racially motivated attack against whites.”
Ali wasn’t the only black leader disturbed by the media coverage. In a December 13 column on Huffington Post, Ofari Hutchinson asked why the usual media attention was lacking, and why angry civil rights leaders who abhor hate crimes were so subdued.
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