The Sock Puppetry Of The Los Angeles Times

Cross-ownership in the media business is a growing threat to the independence and diversity of the press. Numerous studies have demonstrated that when newspapers and television stations in the same market are owned by the same parent corporation, balanced coverage and local reporting suffer. One such study that was originally commissioned by the FCC was suppressed and ordered destroyed because it didn’t support the conservative chairman’s prejudice. Yet media conglomerates obsessed with expanding their power continue to lobby for weakening regulations.

The Los Angeles Times, an asset of the Tribune Company of Chicago, has been engaged in a full-court press to aid its parent in the fight to deregulate. The February 19, edition of their Business section contains an article that is nothing more than testimony on behalf of Tribune’s financial interests – at the expense of the public interest.

This is at least the third article that the Times has published on this subject in five months. There is nothing new to the arguments presented in this column. It mostly repeats the same old arguments made previously, and on which I reported here and here. They even trot out a fantasized tale of Richard Nixon’s involvement in stemming cross-ownership. Despite the fact that there is no objective truth to that claim, the Times has now inserted it into its articles twice. Both times they confessed that there was no basis for the claim, but both times they still managed to muddy the waters with it.

The new wrinkle is that they are now whining about how hard it is to find a buyer for the company which has been on the block for several months. After draconian cuts in the budget and staff (reducing the newsroom by 50%) didn’t motivate buyers, they now blame their woes on the fact that a waiver they received from the FCC to operate both the Times and KTLA-TV would not transfer to a new owner. Prospective buyers, therefore, would have to divest one of those properties, making the acquisition less attractive. Well, how about revoking the waiver now, forcing Tribune to make the divestment, then sell the slimmed-down company?

One revealing observation about this latest piece of self puffery is that the author, Jim Puzzanghera, quoted nine sources for the article. Seven of them supported the Big Media position on media policy. Is this an example of their commitment to be fair and balanced?

It’s not particularly surprising that the Times would allow itself to be used in this way by Tribune. The Times recently fired its editor and publisher and replaced them both with loyal corporate cronies from the Chicago nest. Now they are carrying out a self-serving agenda that is in itself the best argument against deregulation. While not surprising, it is still distressing to see a local paper being manipulated like a puppet by a distant master. If what’s left of the staff at the Times had any self-respect, they would yank Tribune’s arm from its ass and start to speak for itself and its community. Just who do they think they are here to serve?