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Los Angeles Times Defends Recall Coverage

BY Admin  October 13, 2003 at 12:00 PM EST

The LA Times has come under fire for the timing of the articles, which ran Oct. 2-5 in advance of the Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election.

In Sunday’s edition of the LA Times, Carroll refuted charges that the stories on Schwarzenegger’s history of sexual misconduct had been politically motivated, maintaining the stories were “solidly investigated” and newsworthy.

“Are the stories significant? Some think they starkly illuminate the character of a man who has been elected to the highest office in California. Some don’t,” Carroll wrote in a nearly 1,800-word opinion piece, entitled “The Story Behind the Story.”

“Our role is to serve citizens of varying views by examining the behavior and the policies of political leaders and publishing our findings.”

The Times’ series of articles detailed the accounts of 16 women who claimed that the Republican gubernatorial candidate had sexually mistreated and humiliated them.

The decision to investigate Schwarzenegger’s reputation in Hollywood as “a man who treated women crassly” was made the day he entered the race, Carroll noted. The Republican actor-turned-politician announced Aug. 6 on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” that he would run for Democratic Gov. Gray Davis’ seat.

Schwarzenegger responded to the first Times article by admitting he had misbehaved poorly in the past, and apologized to anyone he had hurt from his inappropriate actions.

Many talk radio hosts and Republican activists accused the paper of attempting to sabotage the former bodybuilder’s candidacy by holding the stories until days before the election. Several political commentators and pundits claimed the LA Times was collaborating with Democrats and Davis.

However, Carroll said none of the articles originated from Davis’ camp, rather were the product of investigative work by veteran reporter Robert Welkos, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Gary Cohn and Carla Hall, among other journalists.

Speaking at a campaign rally Oct. 5, Schwarzenegger lashed out at the Times’ articles about the groping and harassment allegations, calling them “part of the puke politics of the Davis campaign.”

Schwarzenegger said the newspaper was “trying to derail my campaign,” adding, “They want to see Gray Davis in there. … Davis is frantic, he’s consistently pounding away, trying to dig things up from years back.”

Bernard Goldberg, author of “Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News,” also criticized the Times’ coverage.

“Here’s a newspaper that pretty much doesn’t like Arnold Schwarzenegger, so they put this on page 1 five days before the election. The reason people have less and less faith in big-time media is because they do stuff like this,” he said on Fox News.

On Election Day, Rush Limbaugh, the radio talk show host, told listeners that the newspaper’s journalists were “dastardly political assassins who use ink instead of bullets to hit candidates under the cover of objective journalism.”

In response, Carroll maintained it was the newspaper’s imperative and public duty to produce investigative journalism, even if it meant publishing unpopular stories.

“One of our goals is to do more investigative reporting. At the risk of offending still more readers, I’ll say that if you’re put off by investigative reporting, this probably won’t be the right newspaper for you in the years to come,” Carroll wrote.

One critic, whom Carroll did not name, had claimed the paper completed the first Schwarzenegger groping article several weeks before the election, but chose to sit on the story “before detonating it as a last-minute bomb. Some used the term ‘October surprise,’” he wrote.

Syndicated political commentator Jill Stewart said on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” that LA Times reporters had told her the article was completed two weeks before it ran five days before the election.

But Carroll rejected claims the paper sat on the stories, noting he assigned the work only 16 days before the story was published.

He attributed the outcry partly to the “electronic revolution,” which enables anyone’s story or opinion to be “bounced around the talk shows and the Internet, often presented breathlessly as a revelation.”

“The electronic revolution has brought us many blessings,” the editor wrote, “but it has also blindsided us with a tidal wave of pornography. In a similar fashion, we are now getting a faceful of rotten journalism — journalistic pornography, actually — in which ratings are everything and truth is nothing.”

The decision to publish the articles, however, has apparently taken a toll on the Times’ relationship with its readers. The newspaper has received a deluge of angry letters, e-mails and phone calls from readers and over 1,000 people cancelled their subscriptions in protest, according to an Oct. 5 Times article.

Carroll said the paper could have either published the stories or buried them. Faced with such options, he recalled, the paper went ahead and published them, even though he anticipated their publication late in the campaign would likely cause a backlash.

“Better, I say, to be surprised by your newspaper in October than to learn in November that your newspaper has betrayed you by withholding the truth,” he wrote. “Regrets? Not one,” he added.