To: John Carroll, editor, Los Angeles Times
From: Hugh Hewitt
Subject: Your paper
Well, you lost – big-time. We both knew this before the polls closed because of the widespread disdain for the stories you dropped on Arnold in the past week. Folks had already noticed the lopsided anti-Arnold tilt of the paper, and lining up four anti-Arnold columnists in the form of Lopez, Morrison, King and Skelton didn’t help.
Can you believe your editorial page carried both Scheer and Arianna before the campaign revealed Arianna to be, essentially, disturbed?
Not one story of Gray’s personality? A buried report on MEChA? An editing and assignment team that operated essentially ad hoc, and whose lack of a plan allowed the political enthusiasms of the newsroom to take you over the cliff?
Now the paper represents the Ninth Circuit of journalism. The only question is whether you care enough to tackle the culture beyond sending memos on bias that, quite obviously, your staff either cannot understand or choose not to follow.
Your circulation is around 1 million in a state of 35 million. You’ve lost a thousand subscribers this week – perhaps more, but you can get the figures – and you cemented the public’s deep conviction that your paper neither plays fair nor cares that it is widely known not to play fair.
Have you been to a focus group lately? Tell me I’m wrong. The Times is branded as a tip sheet for the left wing of the Democrats, an extension of MoveOn.org, a Howard Dean caucus with camouflage that’s wearing pretty thin. Your paper is known for the distortions it spreads and the cover-ups it keeps. Nice reputation for the Fourth Estate. Sure, dismiss it as cranky conservatives, but why does an overwhelmingly center-left state refuse to buy your product?
It doesn’t have to be that way. You are the boss. You can make changes. The only question is whether you have the will to do so.
Look at the recall-coverage team. How pathetic was that effort, and how one-sided? Is it all bias, or is there just not enough talent to run your paper like the East Coast bigs?
The level just below you and Dean: Not really ready for primetime, are they?
And no blogs. Nothing to reflect the rising tide of Internet opinion /reporting /speed.
The New York Times may be the Old Gray Lady. The Internet has your number as Gray’s old lady.
It wouldn’t be hard to change, though. You just have to act with resolve.
Hire Weintraub back. Carol S. drove him away, so throw some money at him and get instant respect from all sides.
Make Max Boot a regular contributor – twice weekly – and find a David Brooks equivalent to go with him.
Find a general columnist who isn’t as predictable as your current line-up, and encourage him or her to talk to a few center-right people.
But primarily add or transfer talented reporters who understand budgets and interest groups and politics. When you throw amateurs at a story, you get amateur results. It showed throughout the budget crisis last summer, and glared throughout the recall.
Now, there’s a presidential campaign coming and your reputation is in tatters. Sure, you can dismiss me as a conservative, but look around you. All those critics are wrong? None of them know what they are talking about?
The paper’s down to the last dregs of readership, and no one takes your coverage seriously. The paper’s on the floor, and you can’t fall off the floor.
It will be interesting to see if you just check out, serve your three years and retire.
Or if you decide that a newspaper is a great thing when it functions as one, and make the hard choices to get back the reputation your coverage has destroyed.
Buy “Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted.” Available from ShopNetDaily.