Updated after the jump with reference to a day when the Times changed its figures without noting the fact to readers. First posted at 11:41 a.m.

The Times, they aren't a-changin.' At least not when it comes to the paper's controversial coverage of abuse-related deaths of kids who have been under the care of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

Los Angeles Times assistant managing editor David Lauter stepped forward this week to defend the publication's coverage and death numbers, which critics have said were exaggerated.

In a rare move, he even struck back at critics, almost personally, calling them “writers who have a long-standing position in favor of keeping children out of foster care … “

Lauter defends the Times death numbers:

… the trend reported by The Times is accurate — a rise in abuse and neglect deaths from 18 in 2008 to 26 in 2009 and 21 in the first eight months of this year.

Added/updated: On this point, we reported earlier this month that the Times

… appears to have thrown in gang-related homicides and other deaths unrelated to county care in its Oct. 18 online report, even though it admitted that some of the pre-2008 numbers used for comparison were flawed. The Times then appeared to take out those numbers and remixed a headline in its Oct. 19 print version of that story — without explanation.

The paper, however, stuck with its assertion that abuse-or-neglect deaths of DCFS-supervised children rose from from 18 in 2008 to 26 in 2009.

He [Lauter] said accusations that the Times' reporting will cause stress and angst among social workers that could lead to more children being in peril b.s.

And Lauter said the paper hasn't ignored requests for corrections: It's just that the paper is right and, for the most part, there has been no need for corrections.

One of those critics, journalist Celeste Fremon, called some of Lauter's contentions — particularly that Times detractors have said exposing the facts would ultimately endanger children or that those writers want to keep kids out of foster care — “straw man” arguments.

Sometime LA Weekly contributor Daniel Heimpel this week tore into the Times' DCFS coverage, saying that the paper has published “myopic, misleading and reckless reporting” that “has sparked a misinformed panic, posing a very real threat to many of Los Angeles' most vulnerable children.”

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