To say that political cartoonist Ted Rall is provocative is much like saying the Empire State Building is a pretty tall building or Mount Everest is quite a big hill. Rall often is, simply and unabashedly, extreme and outrageous, caustic sarcasm oozing from every panel of his cartoons. I usually agree with him—although at somewhat fewer decibels per utterance. And when his ire is aroused, as it has been lately, he can exaggerate the situation that irks him—he is, after all, a cartoonist—and maybe even stretch the truth a tad. So when he first began claiming that he’d been “fired” by the Los Angeles Times for spurious reasons, I paused before climbing on his bandwagon. For one thing, he couldn’t be “fired”: he freelances with the Times, contributing both cartoons and opinion columns.
It soon developed that not only had the Times resolved not to use any of Rall’s submissions in future (effectively “firing” him), but the paper announced its decision to the world on its website, a suspicious act on its face: Why would a newspaper feel compelled to make a public proclamation that it was no longer going to use the contributions of a freelancer? When a writer makes factual errors as the Times says Rall did, isn’t the usual journalistic practice to issue a correction? But the Times went far beyond this, and the extreme to which the paper went is highly suspicious. Why make such a public big deal about it?
The Times announcement continued, justifying its decision to drop Rall by claiming that a recent Rall column played fast and loose with the facts, thereby smearing his professional integrity as a reporter and commentator. And that, like the announcement itself, seemed a little extreme. Not only was the Times “firing” Rall in public, but it was sabotaging his reputation so he wouldn’t be able to find work anywhere else.
This is serious stuff. Deadly serious. No wonder Rall was pissed.
Almost at once, Rall claimed he was able to demonstrate that the Times, in its effort to destroy him, had abandoned customary journalistic practices, accepting accusations as factual without questioning their provenance or examining their accuracy. If true, pretty high-handed behavior on the part of the paper. And then it emerged, Rall went on, that the people making the accusations against him—the Los Angeles Police Department and, in particular, the policemen’s union (the Los Angeles Police Protective League, LAPPL)—have invested substantial sums with an investment firm that is the largest stock holder in the Times’ parent company, a distant claim to ownership that the police may assume gives them the right to dictate staffing policies at the paper.
Rall has been a frequent critic of the LAPD—calling it inept, dishonest, overly militarized and often abusive of civilians— enough to be an annoyance worth getting rid of. So it would seem that the LAPD took steps. And got results.
Despite what the Times would have us think about how sacred preserving its journalistic integrity is, to the even mildly interested observer in possession of this array of facts and assertions, it looks like the Times compromised its integrity to please the cops.
That’s the short summary of a sinister situation. Sinister because it appears that Rall was not “fired” so much for misstating some facts as he was for expressing an opinion about the police. Reprehensible (even unnecessary) though it is for a newspaper to publicly fire and defame a contributor, the issue has wider ramifications. If Rall has been needlessly smeared, he’s still merely a contributing cartoonist. If the Los Angeles Times will forsake ordinary ethical behavior (not to mention good manners) and journalistic good practice in his case to please a stockholder, what might the paper do in the case of a larger public issue—say, one more directly connected to the balance sheet and regular revenues?
And the Times is not alone in this behavior in the newspaper business. The sainthood of American journalism has always been tainted by commercialism and political power.
Next, the damning details in the chronological order of the events as they unfolded. Some of the earliest speculations were later established as fact; some, not. Italicized passages I’ve borrowed from Rob Beschizza’s article at boingboing.net and from Sam Thielman at theguardian.com, Kevin Uhrich at the Pasadena Weekly and others, as noted.
IN HIS TIMES BLOG COLUMN for May 11, entitled “LAPD's Crosswalk Crackdown: Don't Police Have Something Better To Do?”, Rall ridiculed the current policy of ticketing pedestrians who enter crosswalks after the flashing red countdown starts. How can that be illegal?
“Because, you know, it’s a countdown,” Rall wrote, “—in seconds. If you are familiar with the space-time continuum, and you have crossed the particular street before, you’re probably able to judge with a fair degree of accuracy whether you will be able to make it across in time. Why show the countdown if we aren’t supposed to use that information?”
He goes on to speculate that probably “few Angelenos know that stepping into the crosswalk after the red flash of death starts is against the law.” Besides, the ticket fare, $197, “is wildly out of proportion to the scale of the so-called offense.
“At a certain point,” Rall continues, “it’s easy to conclude that this is less about pedestrian safety than it is about revenue enhancement.”
Next to the blog is Rall’s cartoon (posted herewith), strenuously suggesting that making people race across intersections is scarcely a way of enhancing safety.
The cartoon is a fairly typical example of Rall’s editoonery. He’s taken a simple proposition—that once the flashing red countdown begins, a person needs to walk fast—and turned it into an actual race, with a woman assuming a racetrack starting stance and (just to make the circumstance even more outrageous and therefore ridiculous) a guy in a wheelchair poised to roll.
Rall began this essay by recalling a 14-year-old incident in which, caught jaywalking by a police officer, he says he was pushed against a wall and handcuffed in the street while onlookers complained about his treatment to the cop:
“Just over 10 years ago, I was ticketed—and handcuffed—for an alleged pedestrian violation while crossing Melrose Avenue. Ironically, this was one of the rare times that I was innocent of even jaywalking, something I do every day. Anyway, I had done everything right. I waited for the green ‘walking man’ signal before stepping off the curb. I walked between the crosswalk lines. I got across the street just as the flashing red signal began.
“All of a sudden, a motorcycle officer zoomed over, threw me up against the wall, slapped on the cuffs, roughed me up and wrote me a ticket. It was an ugly scene, and in broad daylight it must have looked like one, because within minutes there were a couple of dozen passersby shouting at the cop. Another motorcycle officer appeared, asked the colleague what the heck he was thinking and ordered him to let me go, which he did. But not before he threw my driver's license into the sewer [gutter; in some tellings of this incident, the cop threw Rall’s driver’s license ‘on the ground’].”
Said Beschizza (August 6): The LAPD, however, had a recording of the incident, and provided a transcript to the Times. Rall’s column was soon appended with a note from editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg, saying that Rall's description was "inconsistent" [with the audiotape], insinuating that Rall had lied about the encounter, and announcing that he had been “fired.”
The LAPD (or someone closely affiliated with it) provided, in addition to a transcript, the actual audiotape (now digitized).
Here’s all of Goldberg:
A Note to Readers
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
In a May 11 post on the Times' OpinionLA blog, Ted Rall — a freelance cartoonist whose work appears regularly in the Times — described an incident in which he was stopped for jaywalking on Melrose Avenue in 2001. Rall said he was thrown up against a wall, handcuffed and roughed up by an LAPD motorcycle policeman who also threw his driver's license into the sewer. Rall also wrote that dozens of onlookers shouted in protest at the officer's conduct.
Since then, the Los Angeles Police Department has provided records about the incident, including a complaint Rall filed at the time. An audiotape of the encounter recorded by the police officer does not back up Rall's assertions; it gives no indication that there was physical violence of any sort by the policeman or that Rall's license was thrown into the sewer or that he was handcuffed. Nor is there any evidence on the recording of a crowd of shouting onlookers.
In Rall's initial complaint to the LAPD, he describes the incident without mentioning any physical violence or handcuffing but says that the police officer was "belligerent and hostile" and that he threw Rall's license into the "gutter." The tape depicts a polite interaction.
In addition, Rall wrote in his blog post that the LAPD dismissed his complaint without ever contacting him. Department records show that Internal Affairs investigators made repeated attempts to contact Rall, without success.
Asked to explain these inconsistencies, Rall said he stands by his blog post.
As to why he didn't mention any physical abuse in his letter to the LAPD in 2001, Rall said he didn't want to make an enemy of the department, in part because he hosted a local radio talk show at the time. After listening to the tape, Rall noted that it was of poor quality and contained inaudible segments.
However, the recording and other evidence provided by the LAPD raise serious questions about the accuracy of Rall's blog post. Based on this, the piece should not have been published.
Rall's future work will not appear in The Times.
The Los Angeles Times is a trusted source of news because of the quality and integrity of the work its journalists do. This is a reminder of the need to remain vigilant about what we publish.
Editor of the Editorial Pages
ON THE PREVIOUS THURSDAY, July 23, as reported (in italics) by Sam Thielman at theguardian.com (on August 15), Rall said he received a call from the LA Times’ Paul Pringle, a Polk and Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter whose focus is institutional corruption. Rall said that Pringle questioned him aggressively about the incident and then told him:
“‘The LAPD says that none of this ever happened. There never was a crowd, there never was any shouting at the cop, you were never handcuffed, he never roughed you up, he never threw your driver’s license on the ground,’” Rall said Pringle told him.
When Rall protested, Pringle cited the audio tape, which [until then] Rall had not known existed.
“I started to wonder: ‘Oh my god, I’m almost 52, am I getting old? Am I losing my mind? What’s going on?’”
Rall asked Pringle for the tape and said hearing it jogged his memory. He said he remembered the officer speaking to him in a tone he described as “jaunty” while handling him roughly.
Since, in his words, “that tape isn’t exactly Industrial Light and Magic,” Rall paid to have the audio cleaned up and claims it is now possible to hear, among other things, an onlooker say, “Why’d you handcuff him?”
Rall has produced both the original and an enhanced version of the recording the Times told him it heard, claiming that dialogue on the cleaned-up tape exonerates him. He also questions why the mostly incomprehensible tape was used against him in the first place.
A TRANSCRIPT of the original tape is posted nearby; below is the transcript Rall later posted showing what he claims can be heard on the enhanced audiotape (the numbers are minute- and/or second-counts):
3.364 – Police Officer to Ted Rall: “You have an ID?”
7.570 – Police Officer: “... the LA County Police Department, the reason I stopped you, you got a red light, and you just walked across just as free as you wanted to, so…”
15.654 – Rall: “I’m really sorry, I totally missed…”
16.902 – Police Officer: “That’s alright, you’re gonna get a ticket for it, I need you to take that out, of your wallet, please.”
30.585 – Police Officer: “Is this your current address? ‘kay…”
34.173 – CLICK CLICK
55.363 – Police officer whistles.
1:00.580 – Police officer hums.
1:03.186 – Unintelligible noise – possibly zipper.
1:26.700 – Voice, female .
2:05.207 – Voice, unclear if male or female .
2:13.000 – Voice, female .
3:00.314 – Police officer whistles.
3:07.426 – Voice, unclear if male or female .
3:13.662 – Voice, unclear if male or female .
3:17.756 – Woman 1: “Why’d you handcuff him?”
3:21.672 – Voice, male .
3:22.549 – Woman 1: “Why’d you…” .
3:26.706 – Rall to Woman 1: … “I’m from New York”… “Yeah!”…“So I can say that.”
3:33.351 – Woman 1 to Rall: “You just tell him…” DOG BARK.
3:35.000 – Police officer whistles. Woman 1 yells.
3:37.864 – Woman 2 to Police Officer: “Don’t think about his family.”
3:39.621 – Rall: “I have a right to a…” .
3:43.500 – Woman 1: “Yeah!”
3:46.442 – Woman 2: “So he’s really detaining him?”
3:47.000 – Woman 3: “He was just jaywalking… you need to take off.. no, take off his handcuffs!”
3:54.073 – Police Officer: “No no no no. First, I’m giving him a ticket.”
3:57.179 – Woman 3: “Then take off…”
4:01.305 –Woman 2: “He’s overdressed!”
4:04.845– Woman 2: “Let’s go murder some widows!”
4:06.730 – Woman 3: “Stop it!” (shouting)
4:07.063 – Police officer: “I’m doing the right thing.”
4:11.736 – Woman 2 to police officer: “You’re gonna make a big tip!”
4:14.054 – Woman 2 to police officer: “I’m just a big girly-boy, give or take.”
4:15.908 – Woman’s voice, possibly Woman 3: “He’s behind him, this makes it…”.
4:18.738 – Woman’s voice, possibly Woman 3 or Woman 4: “Don’t forget to ride his asshole!”
4:21.054 – Police officer to women: “Well, I appreciate it.”
4:22.209 – Woman 1 to police officer: “Here, fuck me and get over it!”
4:23.450 – Woman 2, to police officer: “I mean, don’t you got other problems going on in LA right now?”
4:27.114 – Police officer: “Not especially.”
4:28.192 – Woman 2: “Well go over there.”
4:31.198 – Police officer: “Oh I feel really scared.”
4:36.500 – Police officer hums.
4:51.452 – Police officer to Rall: “Alrighty, sir, you’ve been cited for 21456(B) of the vehicle code.”
4:58.224 – Police officer: “Here, I’ll take that until we’re done, there ya go.”
5:00.930 – Police officer: “You did a violation, so…”
5:04.436 – Police officer: “I need you to go ahead and sign at the X, you’re not admitting guilt …”
5:08.094 – Police officer: “It has the before the …you…”
5:11.948 – Rall: “’Okay, can you tell me how much it is?”
5:15.317 – Police officer: “Excuse me?”
5:16.000 – Rall: “Can you tell me how much it is, or…?”
5:17.352 – Police officer: “No, we don’t know how much it is. There, I’ll show you a number on the back of the ticket. You can call and find all that information out as well as where you can go if you want to fight the ticket, or any other options.”
5:36.719 – Police officer: “Here’s your license back…”
5:42.644 – CLICK. SCUFFLING sounds.
5:46.048 – Police officer: “…copy of your citation, like I said, there’s a lot of information on the back, you might wanna read it…”
5:50.766 – Rall: “Do what? Okay.”
5:53.400 – Police officer: “Thank you sir… what?”
5:58.158 – Rall: [according to Rall’s later statement, asks whether the cop knows any good places to eat nearby]
6:00.428 – Police officer: “You know what? This is my first month here, so I don’t know any of the local eateries, unfortunately… I don’t hang out down there. Alright, have a good day.”
6:16.276 – Police officer: “Contact complete.”
THE TRANSCRIPT of the enhanced tape doesn’t record the presence of the second motorcycle cop that Rall mentioned; perhaps this cop’s comments have been removed, indicating that the tape may have been tampered with, as Rall asserts, backed (as he says) by audio experts he consulted after the tape had been enhanced (not the same experts as those who enhanced the tape).
Quite apart from the iffiness of this circumstance, what about the taping itself? Is it against the law to record someone without his/her permission? And what about the LAPD (or someone) giving the tape to the Times? Given the present state of privacy laws in this country, is that illegal? The answer to both questions: probably not.
Beschizza continues his account (his words in italics):
Calling the initial audiotape a “mucky, noisy mess,” he notes that Rall hired audio engineers at Post Haste Digital to improve the quality of the audio recording and published the results on SoundCloud.
Greg Palast, famous investigative reporter and manager of a nonprofit foundation that backs Rall's work, writes that he was also about to fire him as well [for lying or misrepresenting the facts], but asked for the [enhanced] tape first to hear it for himself.
"To my surprise–—and Rall’s glee— the crowd that he had allegedly fantasized about suddenly came alive— with three women shouting, 'Why’d you handcuff him?' and 'Take off his handcuffs!,'" Palast wrote, adding:
"As an investigative reporter, I was astonished that the LA Times did not even bother to do an independent analysis of the tape."
In an interview with Matt Stromberg, Rall says he has "absolutely no idea what Nick Goldberg was thinking" firing him.
“I asked, ‘Did you listen to the tape? You can’t hear shit on that tape? It’s a fucking joke!’ Anyone who listens to it can hear the original version supplied by the LAPD — that appears to have been tampered with — has about 20 seconds of conversation, really almost all the cop. I’m not even sure that in the original version you could authenticate that I was even there, my voice is so hard to pick up. They said, ‘This tape doesn’t seem to support your point of view.’ I was like, ‘It doesn’t support any point of view! There’s nothing there!’ So, I don’t know why they did what they did. All I know is they took the cop’s word hook, line, and sinker and did not believe me.”
With background noise removed and voices sharpened, the [enhanced] tape—though still indistinct—appears to show bystanders mocking the officer for cuffing a jaywalker. Other sounds consistent with Rall's version of events can also be heard, such as a loud zipping noise that could be plastic handcuffs being applied.
Other evidence also supports Rall. The motorcycle cop (subsequently identified as Will Durr) disputed Rall’s story by telling Pringle (who interviewed him for the ombudsman investigation) that he never handcuffed people for jaywalking, but the Los Angeles Times itself had published a report on May 10 (the day before Rall’s column) describing the motorcycle copy having handcuffed someone during a traffic stop, making Durr’s assertion appear questionable. The Times chose to disregard this debatable inconsistency on the LAPD side of the question in favor of crucifying Rall for his.
I should note here that Durr is, at present, a 21-year veteran in the LAPD and, as we’ll see anon, a highly decorated officer.
Back to The Observer, where Ken Kurson, quoted by Beschizza, writes (in italics) that the Times set out to destroy Rall's reputation and that the enhanced audio is "very persuasive."
"Publications that fire employees for the slightest perceived infraction are turning journalists into cowering stenographers," Kurson wrote, "which is no better for journalism than if they were liars … I can’t help but wonder if this two-month-old column about a 14-year-old jaywalking ticket isn’t more about getting rid of a guy who can be a pain in the ass than about inviolable journalistic standards."
ON FRIDAY, July 24, Goldberg e-mailed Rall, saying that the Times would mull over the matter through the weekend. Meanwhile, Rall sent in his weekly cartoon and commentary blog. But the editorial page for Monday was formatted without Rall’s contributions. Rall was not informed. On Monday, Rall’s work did not appear in the Times. Later that day, Goldberg phoned Rall to tell him that he’s been “fired” due to discrepancies between his story and what can be heard in the 20 seconds of the tape that are audible. The next day, Tuesday, Goldberg ran his “Note to Readers,” explaining that Rall has been “fired” because of “serious questions about the accuracy of Rall’s blog post” on May 11.
Said Beschizza: “The LA Police Union was ready with a gloating press release praising the Times' decision”—:
“So many within the LAPD were pleasantly surprised at the recent firing of the Los Angeles Times opinion cartoonist Ted Rall, which we believe was justified based on evidence proving that he lied about his encounter with LAPD officers. We especially appreciate the Times’ reaction, as the media in general often seem eager to publish material portraying the law enforcement in a negative light.”
The press release, posted the day after Goldberg’s announcement, continues with what one observer, Kevin Uhrich at the Pasadena Weekly, deems a “not-so-subtle warning to other journalists who might be thinking of writing critical things about the cops”: “This serves as an example of how an accusation and subsequent negative story about the behavior of police officers may well be inaccurate and feed a negative narrative about law enforcement. We hope other news publications will take note of the Times’ willingness to hear and respond to the other side of the story and look at the facts. We believe this process more often than not will vindicate law enforcement officers. ... We commend the Los Angeles Times for getting this story right and for doing the right thing when presented with the facts.”
Beschizza’s reaction: “Rall's caustic writing and artwork often depict police hypocrisy and brutality, so it's easy to see why the police force would want him off the payroll of one of America's highest-circulation city newspapers.”
The police union statement is no longer online; it has been removed. Rall speculates that the unfavorable coverage by The Guardian (in England!) on August 15 prompted the union to take down the statement.
RALL PROTESTED HIS “FIRING” to Goldberg by phone. Also on July 29, he described to a cartooning colleague what happened ten years ago:
“Since I was there, let me tell you what happened. I handed over my driver's license. He grabs me, shoves me to the wall, pulls my hands behind my back, and cuffs me. He stands a short distance away to write the ticket. During this time, people gather around, some berating the officer. When he's done, he walks behind me, uncuffs me and hands me the citation. He says that bit about here's your license back, and throws it on the ground.
“There was no scuffling because I never resisted,” Rall continued, “—as I said originally. There was no need for the cop to exert himself because I didn't struggle. I didn't curse. As for the whistling— doesn't that strike you as a tell? What cop does that? He's being a jerk. You can sort of hear people, particularly a woman, giving the cop a hard time, but that will require a better tape to be sure.”
The cop was whistling, Rall later speculated, in order to mask in the recording the comments people in the gathering crowd were making about his handcuffing a jaywalker. The cop, after all, knew he was being recorded: he was doing the recording. And so he was careful to say only things that the audiotape would show him being a polite and considerate police officer.
On Monday, August 3, having secured the enhanced version of the audiotape, Rall wrote Goldberg by e-mail (in italics):
On Tuesday of last week, you published "A Note to Readers" indicating that the Times had serious doubt about the veracity of my May 11, 2015 blog post and, as a result, would no longer be publishing my work. Those doubts, you wrote and told me on the phone, were based upon an audiotape of my 2001 jaywalking arrest given to you by someone at the LAPD.
As I informed you Thursday, new information has since come to light confirming my account. As I have maintained all along, I told the truth. Will Durr, the LAPD officer who ticketed me in 2001, lied when he told Internal Affairs that he did not handcuff me, that there was no angry crowd, etc.
I asked an L.A.-based company, Post Haste Digital, to analyze the LAPD-supplied audiotape. The enhanced version of the audiotape, which you can listen to here: http://anewdomain.net/2015/08/02/ted-rall-lapd-la-times-second-enhanced-tape-reveals-all/
—which proves beyond a reasonable doubt that your "doubts" were, as I told you repeatedly, completely unfounded and utterly without merit.
You did not allow me to defend myself to the members of the editorial board, or to allow them to ask me questions. You treated me as though I was guilty until proven innocent, as though the burden of proof was upon me to prove that my story was true, rather than for the police to prove that my version was not. Your logic and reasoning were bizarre and incomprehensible, as when you questioned why I did not angrily protest the arrest while I was in cuffs — although I clearly stated that I had been polite and compliant in my blog and in my complaint to Internal Affairs.
You believed the LAPD narrative based on a tape that appeared to be mostly noise.
You do not seem to have investigated the provenance of the tape, though it was provided by the LAPD, which has a long history of institutional violence, corruption and law-breaking. Despite the LAPD's poor reputation for truth-telling, you did not take the basic step of having it independently analyzed for authenticity, or to see if additional data could be found on it. It fell to me, after your editorial smear, to do what you should have done yourself, with your far greater resources than I, a freelance cartoonist earning $200 per cartoon plus $100 per blog.
As a result of your poor judgement, I have been defamed in the pages of a major American newspaper and on hundreds of websites on the Internet. You have deprived me and my family of an important source of income and a prominent position in the world of journalism. You have tarnished my reputation in a way that I will never be able to fully repair.
What you have done to me is shameful. The chilling effect you have had on American journalism, sending the message that a major newspaper will fire a journalist at the request of the police, without solid proof, and to attempt to destroy his reputation, is incalculable.
In light of this new information, Nick, I hereby request that you retain, and not destroy or modify, all communications, records and information currently in your possession and control pertaining to me and my work, and that you direct all employees of the Los Angeles Times to do the same.
In light of the new information on the audiotape, I further request that you issue a full retraction of greater or equal prominence, of your July 28 "Note to Readers." I request that you tag the original Note to indicate that it is incorrect.
In light of the new information, I request that you issue a formal apology in the pages of the Times, including your description of how you came into possession of the tape, who gave it to you or the Times, explain why you didn't bother to check the tape, and that you ask an ombudsman or independent journalistic investigator to look into this fiasco.
In light of the new information, I request that you restore my cartoons and blog to the pages of the Los Angeles Times.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you.
RALL HEARD NOTHING IN RESPONSE from Goldberg. And no retractions, apologies or reinstatements materialized. An ombudsman, however, did look into the matter; and we’ll look at that briefly in a trice.
In the meantime, in the interest of as much accuracy as I can muster at this remove in time and place, I must note that Rall might have stated in his complaint to LAPD’s Internal Affairs that he had been “polite and compliant” during his encounter, but he made no such statement in his blog of May 11. In the heat of the disputation following his “firing,” his memory may have short-circuited. After all, we know that Rall is excitable when aroused and that, in the manner of cartoonists everywhere, he exaggerates.
In perhaps the same manner, after he had listened to the enhanced audiotape and heard women in the crowd refer to his being handcuffed, Rall announced that he had been “100 % vindicated.” But even such a poor mathematician as I can tell it's closer to only 50%. The tape proves he was handcuffed. It does not prove his ID was thrown in the gutter—or that he was roughed up (just being thrown up against a wall in order to be handcuffed from behind may qualify as being “roughed up”; but the tape doesn’t establish that).
Rall is clearly his own worst enemy. His intemperate letter to Goldberg brims with hostile scorn for the recipient: repeatedly, he insults Goldberg’s judgment and his reasoning ability. How, after the vehemence of this outburst, Rall expects to be reinstated, I dunno.
Still, it’s clear to me that Rall has the moral high ground. Not, maybe, all the facts, but enough to establish credibility and with that, a claim to righteous frustration and anger.
Justifying his “firing” of Rall in his “Note to Readers,” Goldberg strenuously questions Rall’s accuracy in reporting in his blog an incident that took place fourteen years ago. In impugning Rall’s journalistic integrity, Goldberg reveals his own shortcomings in journalistic practice, just as Rall asserts.
Goldberg accepts the Los Angeles Police Department’s audiotape of the 14-year-old incident without divulging its precise source or the circumstances of its materializing at the newspaper offices. Nor did he grant an adequate hearing to Rall, an award-winning cartoonist whose work has appeared in the Times for 6 years. The fact that the Police Department could come up with an audiotape of this trivial incident fourteen years after the fact might have alerted Goldberg to the likelihood that there is more going on here than simple fact-finding.
The principles of good journalistic practice suggest that when in receipt of such questionable material (an audiotape of a minor incident discovered in files fourteen years after being filed), a reporter should carefully examine the tape (looking, say, for evidence of tampering) and should question the reason that the LAPD (or whoever) took the trouble to dig it up after fourteen years. In short, Goldberg should wonder why the tape was sent. But he apparently didn’t. (And when Greg Palast, who has known Goldberg for years, asked him about this incident, Goldberg said “he was not authorized to go on record to defend his paper.” To which Palast responded—to readers of his report at gregpalast.com—“The smell of panic in the Times’ executive suite is getting stronger.”) Goldberg did not respond to The Comics Journal's request for comment.
Rall has suggested, with some justification (as we’ll soon see), that it was the police union, the Los Angeles Polices Protective League (LAPPL) that delivered the tape. But whether it was the LAPPL or the LAPD itself is immaterial: the source is the police.
What, then, could have motivated the LAPPL or LAPD to devote the time and energy to locating a 14-year-old tape? It would appear, on its face, that the police are not simply correcting the record but are pursuing a vendetta against Rall, a frequent critic of police practices. And in refusing to publish any more of Rall’s work, Goldberg has become complicit in the police’s presumed campaign to destroy a critic.
Moreover, given Rall’s tenure as a cartoonist/columnist that the Times has published for 6 years, Goldberg should have extended to him the professional courtesy of an opportunity to make his case to the Times editorial board before smearing his reputation in public—particularly because of the poor quality of the audiotape (to which several of Rall’s colleagues who’ve listened to it can attest). And while the enhanced version of the tape is scarcely definitive for either of the parties involved, it at least suggests as many inconsistencies in the LAPD side of the dispute as it does on Rall’s side.
Had Goldberg performed his due diligence as a journalist—an obligation due to any person involved in the news but certainly due to a freelancer whose work you have been publishing for years—the Times might not have been so quick to defame Rall in public. Or so we imagine, giving the paper the benefit of the doubt (which, as should be obvious by now, the Times didn’t extend to Rall).
THE AAEC, of which Rall was president in 2009, issued a statement calling for an independent investigation of the audiotape (in italics)—:
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists board calls for an independent investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department’s tape of former AAEC president and member Ted Rall's jaywalking stop in 2001. An impartial review of the tape of this incident is badly needed in this case.
Determining the truth in this matter is important to Mr. Rall's personal and professional reputation, and to the rights of journalists to freely express themselves. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times should have demanded a higher standard of proof in this matter, and it is clear that Mr. Rall is owed a full and complete analysis of the 14 year old tape used to make a judgment about his actions.
Should an independent investigation determine that Mr. Rall’s version of the events is accurate, we call upon the Los Angeles Times to publicly apologize, and make restitution. If it is also determined that the Los Angeles Police Department or a member of the police union manipulated the tape, as Mr. Rall alleges, they also owe Mr. Rall an apology and restitution.
RALL SPECULATED at aNewDomain.net on August 19 that it was probably the police union that “complained to the Times and walked the 2001 police tape over as proof” that Rall’s version of events was wrong. The LAPPL may have had a copy of the tape because Will Durr would have had his union rep with him when the LAPD conducted some sort of hearing or inquiry about Rall’s complaint in 2001.
Rall then constructed a damning scenario, showing that the police union probably dictated that the Times can him because the LAPPL is, in effect, part owner of the paper. The chain of circumstances, Rall outlined, begins with the LAPPL’s pension fund:
“In 2009, the LAPPL (which then represented firefighters as well as cops) pension fund invested $30 million in Platinum Equity, a private Beverly Hills equity firm that owned the San Diego Union-Tribune. On May 21, 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported: ‘As LAPPL president Paul M. Weber views it, that makes the LAPPL part owner in the flagging Tribune and LAPPL officials are none too happy with the paper’s consistent position that San Diego lawmakers should cut back on salaries and benefits for public employees in order to help close gaping budget deficits.’”
On March 26 that year, Weber had made his belief in such matters pretty clear, Rall noted, quoting from a letter Weber had written to Platinum CEO Tom Gores: “Since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced.”
At the Pasadena Weekly, Kevin Uhrich comments on the same attitude, adding a little bit more information about Weber: “Virtually the first thing Weber wanted as a new shareholder was to have the editorial writers who criticized public employees and their pensions fired. The Union-Tribune’s editorial page ‘is one of the most virulently anti-public safety employee pages of any newspapers in California, if not the country,’ wrote Weber, whose union represents 9,900 Los Angeles police officers. The paper, he wrote, ‘was certainly free to express its hatred of public employees when it was under different ownership. However, since the very public employees they continually criticize are now their owners, we strongly believe that those who currently run the editorial pages should be replaced.’”
Rall then quotes more from the Times May 21 article: “Weber, in an interview, emphasized that the LAPPL is not demanding changes in the paper’s news coverage of the issue or in its staff of reporters. ‘It’s just these people on the opinion side. There is not even an attempt to be even-handed. They’re one step away from saying, “these public employees are parasites...”’”
Then Rall delivers his clincher:
“Nowadays the $18.4 billion LAPPL pension fund is managed by Oaktree Capital. Oatree is the single largest stockholder of Tribune Publishing, parent company of the Los Angeles Times.”
He concludes: “Does the LAPPL still believe its pension fund ‘ownership’ of newspapers entitles it to change out ‘these people on the opinion side’?”
One of whom, we needn’t doubt, is Rall, who adds: “I’m not surprised the cops don’t like me.”
At the Pasadena Weekly, which once published a Rall cartoon, Left Coast, focusing on Pasadena, Uhrich would not be surprised, he wrote on August 20, if police officials told the Los Angeles Times to fire Rall. Said he: “That same request was made of me many times by Pasadena police and other city officials. If the cops in LA despised Rall half as much as did Pasadena’s Blue Crew, it is certainly believable that they would set him up for some sort of fall, just as it would probably be just a matter of time before some ‘lucky’ LAPD officer would run into him on the street.”
AT THE LOS ANGELES TIMES WEBSITE, JUST THE DAY BEFORE Uhrich’s article in the PW, a report on Rall’s case by the Times ombudsman, Deirdre Edgar, declared: “Times Affirms Decision That Ted Rall’s Blog Post Did Not Meet Its Standards.” No surprise there. Edgar rehearses the circumstances of Rall’s being “fired” (introducing little new information), and then makes her report.
At the DailyCartoonist.com, Alan Gardner reports that the Times piece “is lengthy and reads like a ‘he said, she said’ piece.” He then summarizes the “important points” (to which summary, below in italics, I’ve added comments of my own, unitalicized in brackets):
■ The LA Times hired two independent “forensic audio experts,” who both have experience testifying in court cases regarding audio, to analyze the audio recordings. They allegedly refute Ted’s allegations that the audio was spliced or edited by the LAPD and both experts state they can hear no indication that anyone mentioned the word “handcuffs” —something that Ted’s independent audio experts, who produced enhanced audio recordings, say is audible. [And several other listeners, some of whom I’ve quoted herein, claim to have heard what appears in the transcript I’ve posted above—several mentions of “handcuffs.”]
■ [Rall has written repeatedly that the LAPD ignored his original complaint. Department records show that investigators looked into his allegations, questioned the officer who ticketed Rall, listened to the recording and tried repeatedly to reach Rall. Then-Police Chief Bernard C. Parks sent Rall a letter informing him that an investigation had determined his allegations were unfounded.] The LA Times released evidence (audio recordings of an officer leaving voice mail) that the LAPD did on several occasions attempt to contact Ted to get his side of the complaint that he filed shortly after the 2001 citation as well as the letter that was sent to him stating they had closed the investigation. Ted told the Times that the LAPD never contacted him. [More about this below.]
■ The LA Times researched several other accounts where Ted has written about this 2001 citation. The accounts are consistent with an accusation of being handcuffed and roughed up. Only the account that he wrote for the LA Times includes mention of a second officer showing up or the angry crowd. Earlier accounts specify that Ted’s wallet was thrown in the gutter, his Times piece he states it was his drivers license. [And in these other accounts there are other instances of minor inconsistencies (in one, he identifies Durr as African American but not in any others), all of which I attribute to Rall’s understandable—to me—anger and frustration over the incident. Given the injustice that Rall perceives that he's been a victim of (and I agree), I can understand his irritation —and I can understand that this mental state could result in his embellishing accounts of the incident with details that he either subsequently forgot or that merely added drama to his rehearsing the event all over again. Wrong, doubtless. But the details that Edgar points to as incriminating inconsistencies do not change in any substantial way the essential nature of the encounter.]
■ The LA Times interviewed the officer who cited Rall for jaywalking, who says he remembers the citation because the “encounter was free of rancor and he was surprised when Rall filed a complaint.” The LAPD paints the officer as ‘a non-problem officer,’ ‘a nice guy’ and ‘a hard worker.’
[In fact, as Uhrich points out at some length, officer Will Durr “is a highly decorated police veteran, serving 10 years in the Army before joining the LAPD in in 1994. According to the LAPD website, Durr, who is African American, was nominated for the American Legion-24th District Officer of the Year in 2006. ‘Durr was unanimously selected for this award not for one single event, but for his never-ending dedication to his profession and the public’s safety. He has been singled out and recognized on numerous occasions for his outstanding work ethic, dedication to duty, quick response, and placing himself in harm’s way in the pursuit of public safety,’ according to the site. ‘During the past year, Officer Durr has received no less than six commendations commenting on such areas as dedication to duty, outstanding work ethics, attention to duty, and embracing the mission of the Los Angeles Police Department and WTD (West Traffic Division).’”
Gardner continues: As you can imagine, Ted isn’t pleased with the Times’s response and has attacked it on his blog [Rall.com]. He posts 14 counter-points which are harder to summarize because they’re scattered – most of them are tit-for-tat responses to various pieces of the Times article. Regarding the points I summarized above, here are Ted’s responses:
■ Ted questions the credentials of the two audio forensic experts. Ed Primeau is a “a media guy who does audio forensics on the side” and Catalin Grigoras “has some impressive credentials, but having a PhD doesn’t make you correct.” The Times has not tried to enhance the audio files like Ted has. [But the Times’ experts apparently listened to an enhancement provided by the LAPD as well as the original, unenhanced version. In any case, as I mentioned before, several other listeners have reported hearing references to handcuffs. This, presumably, is the “he said, she said” part.]
■ Ted maintains that he never received a message from the LAPD [about his complaint] but when he contacted them, “they told me nothing.” [The LAPD supplied recordings of telephone calls it claims it made to Rall—fourteen years ago!— one of which included a recorded voice answer, a jokey nonsense utterance, to which a friend of Rall, J.P. Trostle, listened. Trostle, who worked with Rall on some of the latter’s books, spoke with Rall often on the phone. Said Trostle in a comment section at DailyCartoonist.com: “As someone who has frequently worked with Ted Rall in the past, and was calling him on a regular basis during this time period, I can assure you that that is NOT Ted Rall’s voice on the answering machine, or the greeting message he was using at time — which means the LAPD was calling the wrong number. So, while the police can maintain that they made ‘every effort’ to reach Rall, he never received any of the alleged six phone calls they made. I’m not even going to bother to speculate how or why this happened, just that it doesn’t clear the police of responsibility for following up. (To wit, if I sent a check off in the mail for a parking ticket and got the address wrong, I seriously doubt they would let that late fee penalty slide. It goes both ways.)” Rall also says “the guy doesn’t even sound like me”; see below.]
■ Ted admits earlier accounts mentioned his wallet being tossed in the gutter instead of his driver’s license, but he maintains he had that detail correct in the LA Times piece.
■ Officer Will Durr, who issued the citation, maintains that he’s never handcuffed anyone while issuing a jaywalking citation. Ted points out that he has handcuffed someone during a ticketing for illegal street racing [which I’ve mentioned above—admittedly, far above; the distinction here, in Durr’s mind, is presumably between ticketing for illegal street racing and ticketing for jaywalking, the latter being the sort of ticketing he’s never done before].
In his critique of the ombudsman’s conduct of the review of the case (at Rall.com), Rall says to Ms. Edgar: “How the heck did you graduate from ombudsman school? You didn’t even call me for comment. I know that’s the Times’ way, but as an ombudsman, you’re supposed to sort of pretend to be kind of independent.”
Rall also points out that in the ombudsman’s report “neither of the Times’ experts [examining the tape] disputes the presence of other people at the scene—only that they can’t hear the word ‘handcuffs.’”
IN HIS POST-OMBUDSMAN ARTICLE, Kevin Uhrich reviews other aspects of the report and a seemingly inexplicable aspect of Rall’s behavior (in italics):
Asked to explain his apparently friendly exchange with Durr after the citation was issued, in which he asked the officer to recommend a restaurant in the area, Rall said he had been “traumatized” by the incident and likened his behavior to that of “rape victims calling their rapist back, and — you know, like, days later — and wanting to get back together.
“It’s called normalizing behavior when you are under stress,” Rall added elsewhere in explaining his attempts to de-escalate a tense situation. “It’s amazing how many people don’t believe that.” ...
In his response to Edgar’s report (posted at aNewDomain.net), Rall said the Times piece “reads like lawyers wrote it,” containing a “a blizzard of misdirection, trivialities and distractions meant to convince us, somehow, that: (a) there’s nothing weird about the police still having a secret audiotape of a jaywalking arrest from 14 years ago; (b) it’s totally normal for the police to walk said tape over to a newspaper in an attempt to get a cartoonist known for not liking cops fired; (c) said newspaper has no reason to question the veracity or motivation of the cops against said cop-disliking cartoonist; and (d) said newspaper shouldn’t seek an independent review of the inaudible LAPD tape and faulty evidence the Times used against me, especially after the enhanced version aNewDomain commissioned backed up my story so well.”
Rall continued, presumably addressing his remark to Edgar: “It reads like you are readying an argument to have the enhanced tape I’ve published prevented from being heard by a jury, in the favor of your static-filled one. And you say those audio engineers enhanced the tape? I posted mine here for all to hear. You posted a lot of audio, including an answering machine where a policeman leaves a message for a guy who doesn’t even sound like me, saying it is me. But you don’t post your enhanced audio. As before, this latest communiqué raises more questions than it answers.”
Elsewhere in his article, Uhrich reports that Rall says “he didn’t report being handcuffed and roughed up [in his complaint] because he believed Durr probably had the right to cuff him, as a number of friends had theorized immediately after the incident, and it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. He also didn’t want to make too many waves, given he was working as a program host at KFI AM radio in those days.”
Uhrich continues (in italics), quoting Rall: “He didn’t abuse me. He didn’t hurt me, certainly. If he had hurt me, I would have put it in the complaint,” Rall said of Durr.
“I never thought he didn’t have the right to cuff me. I said in my blog that he cuffed me and people read into that an implication that he shouldn’t have. I was trying to make more of a broader point—that it was kind of ridiculous that he cuffed me for jaywalkng. But the complaint was about wrongdoing, and what really incensed me was that he gave me a ticket for an offense I did not commit. And it was a serious offense. I was told it was a misdemeanor. For someone to write you up falsely for something that would give you a criminal record for the rest of your life is just appalling. And that’s what really motivated me.
“I was also told that if I laid it on too thick, putting in all the stuff about being pushed around, it would just cause complications,” he said.
In the ombudsman report, Rall explains to Pringle why he didn’t make a fuss at the time of his arrest or make mention of being roughed up in his letter of complaint: “I did not want that officer, I did not want the LAPD in general, to feel that I was declaring war against them.”
The report continues: “Rall was asked why he didn’t complain to Durr during the encounter about being mistreated. Rall said he would never complain to a policeman in such circumstances for fear that the officer might arrest him, ‘disappear’ him in a jail cell for several days without filing charges, or even kill him.”
Rall goes on to Uhrich: “I hope people see the big picture here. This isn’t about whether you like my comics or if you like my politics. That’s irrelevant. This is about a police state; the nation as a police state. In a democracy, cops can’t be allowed to hire and fire journalists.”
Rall says he would take a polygraph test to prove he’s not lying. But establishing his veracity is not necessary to validate the sinister truth of the big picture. The big picture is painted in full by Goldberg’s “Note to Readers,” an astonishing revelation of journalism so arrogant as to be irresponsible, and by Weber's apparent assumption that partial ownership of a newspaper brings along with it the right to dictate editorial page staffing decisions.
Despite what the Times would have us think about how sacred preserving its journalistic integrity is, to the even mildly interested observer in possession of this array of facts, it looks like the Times sold out its integrity to please the cops. “Police state” may be a little too strong a term for this situation, but that’s Rall; and he’s not far off, it seems like.
The sinister truth is that it appears that Rall was not “fired” so much for misstating some facts as he was for expressing an opinion about the police. Reprehensible (even unnecessary) though it is for a newspaper to publicly fire and defame a contributor, the issue has wider ramifications. If Rall has been needlessly smeared, he’s still merely a contributing cartoonist. If the Los Angeles Times will forsake ordinary ethics and journalistic good practice in his case to please a stockholder, what might the paper do in the case of a larger public issue—say, one more directly connected to the balance sheet and regular revenues?
And the Times is not alone in this behavior in the newspaper business. The sainthood of American journalism has always been tarnished by commercialism and political power, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort to purge itself of those unjournalistic influences in the higher interest of reporting the facts so readers can be informed citizens. Only by focusing on good journalism can newspapers redeem themselves from their occasional lapses and justify the license that the First Amendment grants them.
Feetnoot. Rall’s latest book, a graphic biography entitled Snowden, covers the notorious whistle-blower’s leaking NASA data to the press and his subsequent escape to Russia, supplying new details. At Entertainment Weekly’s website, ew.com, the magazine presented some of these revelations “exclusively” in advance of the book’s August 25 release date, accompanied by commentary from Rall.