Keeping an eye on the Los Angeles Times is a thankless task because, as James Lileks noted not long ago, nobody really cares what is in the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times and the Washington Post – those papers matter, but not the poor, circulation stagnant and curiously irrelevant Lost Angeles Times.

The paper matters in Hollywood, and a tiny bit in Sacramento, but beyond those precincts, hardly at all. Still, it could be a serious player given its monopoly on the creative center of the world’s entertainment complex and as the only paper with resources sufficient to covering about 20 percent of the country’s population and political clout.

Instead of seizing on its opportunities, the paper wallows in wannabe status, and butchers its foreign and D.C. coverage. The most recent examples arrived over the past few days.

Take the story of the big push to bring in a bill to drain the swamp of asbestos-related litigation. On July 11, the New York Times’ Alex Berenson and the Washington Post’s Martha McNeil Hamilton both reported clear and balanced pieces on the compromises and controversies swirling about the bill reported out of the Senate’s most contentious committee – Judiciary. The conservative brain of the Senate, John Kyl, refused to vote for the bill, but the closest thing to a centrist Democrat on the committee – Dianne Feinstein – voted for it. Big labor has questions, and the plaintiffs’ lawyers and the insurance industry are opposed. The signs thus point to the bill’s being a genuine compromise between powerful and legitimate interests.

Not for the Left Angeles Times, however, which headlined its late story on Monday as “Asbestos Bill Could Be Windfall for Business.” The David Savage piece begins with a shocking assertion: “[C]ompanies such as Halliburton … could save $3.5 billion of its pending liability for asbestos claims.”

Further down in the story, however, it is revealed that Halliburton’s liability is largely covered by insurance firms and that the real cost of a pending litigation settlement is unknown. It is impossible, on the basis of the “reporting” in the story, to even know if Halliburton would be better off lobbying against the new bill or supporting it. In short, there is absolutely no way to justify the paper’s take on the new bill, or to ignore the anti-business, anti-Halliburton bias that drove key facts such as Feinstein’s support for the law or the insurance industry’s opposition to the story’s basement paragraphs. Compare the three stories for yourself. It would be a major embarrassment for the paper if anyone cared what the paper wrote.

An even more striking example of terrible news judgment accompanied the paper’s coverage of the release of the newly discovered Harry Truman diary. This story is best approached through Rebecca Dana’s and Peter Carlson’s front-page report of the diary’s entries in the July 11 Washington Post, or William Safire’s July 14 New York Times’ column on the same subject.

The Truman diary contains eye-opening blasts of the Jews who had survived the Holocaust and their sponsors, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau’s appeal to Truman on behalf of a ship carrying survivors to Palestine – a ship that might well have been the legendary Exodus. “The Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgment on world affairs,” penned Truman. Other anti-Semitic statements also are recorded in the diary, including the conclusion that the “Jews I find are very, very selfish.”

The Times has appropriately covered Richard Nixon’s comments on Jews when the tapes made them available. The release of Truman’s diary, however, led the Times to run a small AP story buried in the first section, headlined “Hidden Diary Shows How Much Truman Liked Ike,” and which incredibly does not use the word Jews.

For the benefit of cave-dwellers reading this, Los Angeles has a sizeable Jewish population that could be predicted to care about such things as the turbulent years leading up to the establishment of the state of Israel and Truman’s attitudes towards Jews generally.

A column of this sort could be written on a daily basis – especially given the paper’s woeful coverage of Gray Davis’ handling of the California budget and its wildly partisan Sacramento reporting that manages to faithfully convey the Democratic talking points while ignoring fiscal insanity on a scale unrivaled anywhere else in the country, as thoroughly documented by USA Today among others.

But nobody cares. Not even, apparently, editor John Carroll or his deputy Dean Baquet. The Los Angeles Times has become the Argentina of American journalism – not only unreformable, but forgotten and irrelevant to all but its own employees.

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