Friday, August 18, 2006

Downtown News Exposes Guilty Party In SkidRowGate At LA Times!

The mystery of how an unknown writer within the Los Angeles planning or writing communities (and who had apparently briefly visited Los Angeles only twice in his life) was hired by the Los Angeles Times to write a major 'expose' of the conditions of Skid Row - and then who got almost every single 'fact' in his story dead wrong - was finally solved by Jon Regardie of the Downtown News!

Or least Regardie has exposed the name of the guilty party. But exactly how guilty he is still an unanswered question that the Times itself will - hopefully - address once their internal investigation into SkidRowGate is finished.

It all started less than three weeks ago when English college lecturer Slater wrote the lead story in the Sunday Opinion/Current section where he libeled the Central City East Assocation when he falsely claimed they had physically hosed the homeless off the sidewalks, a claim that was completely contradicted by an article in the LA Times only weeks before. I'll let Regardie tell the rest of this part of the story:

Jon Regardie

On the morning of Sunday, July 30, Estela Lopez did something many people in Los Angeles do. Before going to church, she opened the Los Angeles Times.

Unlike most people, however, Lopez was aghast at the lead piece in the "Current" section (formerly known as "Opinion"). Splashed prominently across the front page of the section, complete with a large graphic, was an opinion piece written by Tom Slater, a lecturer in urban studies at the University of Bristol in Britain. It began with a line that cast the Central City East Association, the organization Lopez heads, in a nearly draconian light.

It read (the capital letters appear on the Times website): "THE STEAM CLEANING of the streets of skid row a few weeks ago - when homeless people were literally swept and hosed out of their makeshift encampments in downtown Los Angeles by employees of the local "business improvement district" - was a troubling moment in the battle over the neighborhood's future."

There was a problem, however: The CCEA never "literally swept and hosed" anyone out of an encampment (a second reference to people being "hosed out of the way" appeared later in the piece). Instead, the organization has been working with the LAPD and other entities to clean the streets.

In an ongoing and carefully controlled process, the CCEA distributes leaflets the day before a cleaning occurs. Once the time comes for pressure washing the sidewalks - in some locations encrusted with syringes, trash, human waste and other biohazards - CCEA workers help move the homeless campers' possessions. The tent dwellers often return to the sidewalks after the washing is completed.

All of which explains why Lopez was stunned by Slater's column.

"The images that were conjured up were of the darkest days of the Civil Rights movement," said Lopez last week. A woman who spends her days working in and around Skid Row, Lopez is known for being tough. But talking about the Current column, she became emotional, her voice halting.

"I was absolutely mortified," she said before apologizing for her tears.

What the Downtown News article does not address in too much detail is exactly how many other statements in Slater's article were equally fraudulent.

I will refer you to my above first post on the subject where I describe how Slater (or whoever plied him with his 'facts') lied about Bunker Hill, affordable housing on Skid Row, rent control in Los Angeles, SRO's, loft conversions and numerous other things - and how he also chose to not just ignore, but also contradict all latest research in his supposed field of expertise - gentrification and its affects on the poor living in gentrifying neighborhoods - plus he even ignored all the current research on the history of the name Skid Row.

And this is from some who is - or at least was - going to have a book published on this subject.

So exactly how did Slater come to write on LA and LA's Skid Row - two subjects he clearly knows nothing about - and exactly where did he obtain all of his false information? Well, the answer may - or may not - surprise you. Slater says his source for the 'facts' in the article were from... an editor at the LA Times:

In a carefully worded email to Downtown News, Slater wrote: "As someone who has researched and published on gentrification, I was invited by the LA Times to place recent events in downtown in the broader context of gentrification. The information re: street cleaning given to me by the paper turned out to be incorrect. The mistake was due to a miscommunication and an editing error: it has since been duly noted and corrected, and apologies have been made by both the LA Times and myself to CCEA for misrepresenting their actions, which CCEA have accepted."

That is his bowdlerized version to the press weeks after the story hit. Below is his earlier and likely... far more accurate... response to the CCEA:

However, in emails given to Downtown News by Lopez, Slater had harsher criticism for the Times. After the piece ran, Slater, said Lopez, reached out on his own to CCEA. He wrote (the text is unedited):

"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."

Lopez responded, thanking Slater and offering some context for the current state of Skid Row and describing CCEA's efforts in the neighborhood. Slater wrote back, and included the lines (again unedited):

"Thank you for your reply. Again, I am so sorry that I was unwittingly involved in misrepresenting your organisation. I am upset with the Los Angeles Times for putting me in this position, and they have refused to admit their error in public, which is disappointing."

So the Los Angeles Times lied to him - and then refused to admit in public that they had lied to him with false information! So I guess there is no honor among thieves - or lying journalists.

So - who is the guilty party? Who is it who - apparently - not only hired Slater, but then fed him false information - and then signed off on and approved the printing of that false information?

Why, none other than Los Angeles Times Op-Ed Editor - Nick Goldberg!

More from Regardie:

Reached last Thursday, while he was on vacation, Times Op-Ed and Current section Editor Nick Goldberg, who worked with Slater on the piece, addressed the line in question.

"It was a mistake," he said by phone. "As soon as it appeared in the paper we realized it was a mistake. We were very sorry to have done it. We ran a correction and we ran a letter about the subject. We feel very bad for having misrepresented what happened. The error came about because of a misreading of the story the Times had printed by Cara Mia DiMassa. I think that the error was the Times' fault - not Tom's. The information came from us."

Part of what spurred the controversy is the article to which Goldberg referred; DiMassa's July 12 report on the CCEA's street cleaning included an interview with a man, Nelson Ware, identified as having lived in the Skid Row area for 20 years. DiMassa wrote, "Asked about the sidewalk-cleaning efforts Tuesday, Ware said that it had been done correctly, with fliers distributed in advance and a crew that did not take anyone's belongings."

Somehow, DiMassa's findings did not make it into Slater's Current piece.

Well, duh!

What is really fascination is how Tom Slater put quote marks around the most damning of the lies he told - almost as if these were the exact words fed to him by his handler. And one wonders exactly how all the other many lies were fed to him - and to what degree they were written out for him by his 'editor'?

And while I would like to think that the truth of this will all eventually come out, that would be a considerable break from the Op-Ed sections's history which even over a year after the fact still refuses refuses to correct such blatant lies as when Mike Davis said that the housing market had already crashed in San Francisco - even though it was hitting - and continued to hit - record high prices.

And though the single worst of Slater's errors was - finally - corrected in the on-line edition - it still took three phone calls from me to three different departments to get the actual story - finally - corrected on line, long after the correction itself printed. And as for all the other lies - lies that did not expose them to a multi-million dollar libel suit if had they had not been instantly corrected - not a single one of them has yet been corrected by the LA Times.

Nor has any explanation of SkidRowGate - or an apology - yet been issued by the Los Angeles Times.

Now as for why this all is so imporant - ignoring for a moment that what Nick Goldberg did is a far more serious breach of journalistic ethics than, say... making some on-line posts under fake names - well, that will be the subject of my next post.

Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Bethany said...

How's that for irresponsible journalism? Obviously the reporter was just after some scoop and didn't really care about what's going on in that other part of society. Somebody give him a spanking.