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L.A. Times badly muffs its coverage of Villaraigosa free ticket scandal

Wow, Los Angeles Times digger Phil Willon got hammered coming and going in his effort to expose the scandal in which Antonio Villaraigosa has failed to report what could amount to tens of thousands of dollars in freebies so he could attend sport, concert and awards events.

First, the inimitable John Schwada at Channel 11 scooped the Times with his embarrassing report about Villaraigosa's bizarre reasoning that he's above the rules in accepting free tickets. Second, the Times rushed its story into the Saturday, May 29, holiday weekend edition -- a paper seen by so few people that politicians often choose this date to release ugly info about themselves.

Third, Willon's story was ruined by one of the most inept headlines ever, and his lead was deeply, deeply buried by an inept editor:

"Mayor Melds Work, Play" is an absurd headline. Why doesn't Russ Stanton have some cojones when publishing an ethics scandal? How about "Mayor Ignores Gift Laws" instead?


Fourth, the story was so oddly edited that you could easily miss the lead, buried on page AA5 in paragraph 13:

On July 13, Villaraigosa's companion, KTLA reporter Lu Parker, sent out a tweet announcing that she was attending a Beyonce concert that night at Staples Center. It was the same day Villaraigosa announced that the city would not bill Staples' owner, Anschutz Entertainment Group, for the cost of city services provided at the arena's Michael Jackson memorial. Hours after a mayor's spokesperson told a Times reporter that Villaraigosa was not attending the Beyonce concert, the mayor's office put in a rush order for a proclamation for the singer, to be presented by Villaraigosa in person that night. The certificate recognized her "international success and contributions to the entertainment industry."

In other words, Villaraigosa is cranking out phony "proclamations" in order to wangle invitations to events where nobody wanted him, using his "presentation" as an excuse to kiss off California state laws all but banning such freebies. 

According to the story, Willon pored over two years of mayoral schedules and thousands of photos. He found that the mayor scheduled 81 appearances at concerts, awards shows and sports events. (We nailed this party-boy problem with our "All About Me" cover story).

Buried in paragraph 15 by an editor who must be one of Villaraigosa's cousins is Willon's finding that the mayor has reported only one of these tickets as a gift in all this time: in 2006, he got a seat worth $5,000 seat (approx) to attend the Academy Awards, which he bought at a discount. He claimed the gifted discount was worth $100.

Phil Willon deserves far better, for the tremendous effort he put in, than to be undermined by his editors' choice of publication dates; story placement (it should have run on Page One instead of that piece on odd-shaped fruit and the other one about Westsiders living in tiny apartments); and bad editing that buried the key findings.

Well, at least the bloggers noticed it, thanks to Ron Kaye.


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