Sunday, August 20, 2006

Facts vs. the LA Times

The LA Times keeps screwing up the most basic facts of the city it covers. And no one has been more zealous in exposing its mistakes than Brady Westwater. Writing as "LA Cowboy,", Westwater regularly pounds the Times for indisputable, glaring factual errors.

The latest: an opinion piece that falsely claimed Skid Row homeless were hosed off the streets in cleanup work. Westwater, who does a lot of work with the homeless, knew this was bogus the instant he saw it a few weeks ago. He began demanding answers. He's pieced together a good account, detailing how the Times gave false information to a British instructor (who has rarely visited Los Angeles), which he then used as a basis for his piece. The LA Downtown News found the instructor's identity and how he came to be hired for the piece.

The instructor, Tom Slater, reportedly wrote these mortifiying words when he found out he had been misled by the Times:

"You and your organisation have every reason to be angry. The Times completely misinformed me about what had happened with regard to the street cleaning - I was led to believe by the newspaper that "homeless people were literally swept and hosed out of their makeshift encampments", and I was asked to write an article situating these events within the broader context of gentrification. I was mortified to learn that sentence was factually inaccurate, and would like to apologise for this error. My mistake was that I trusted a respected newspaper; I should have checked the facts."

The correction that got printed was much more restrained, and less informative. Whle accusations of media bias are troublesome and get most of the attention from media critics, basic, howling errors of fact are far more dangerous to media credibility. I think ex-Timesman Ken Reich is correct that the artless Chicago-based Tribune Co. has sapped the Times of its historical knowledge of the city. I disagree with Reich on one point: He thinks its jealousy, while I think it's incompetence.

Read it all

Hat tip to Patterico and Kevin Roderick



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