Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How the LA Media Blew The Story Of The LAPDHQ Audit!

My latest CITYWATCH story:

Reviewing press coverage of Laura Chick's audit of the LAPD Headquarters cost overruns, there desperately needs to be some clarification from Laura Chick’s office on who was at fault.

Was it the city for not having a approved building site, the city for allowing the Civic Center Authority to not meet in ten years and the city for allowing the small 911 emergency call center to be built on the same block as Parker Center – making it impossible to later rebuilding the PHQ on the site – or was this all the BOE’s fault. Because right now – the BOE is taking a lot of the blame for decisions – it had nothing to do with.

This report might have an addendum to address the real causes for the overrun so we can prevent similar problems in the over billion or two dollars in projects that will happen in the civic center within the next ten years.

Second, the press needs to correct its existing error-filled coverage of this project. Not one story even mentioned that the city had failed to develop a master plan for the civic center after over forty years, nor did they even mention the existence of the Civic Center Authority, much less how building the 911 Center on the Parker Center block made it impossible to rebuild the PHQ on that site.

Third, the press needs to engage in some serious investigative reporting that used to be done by the much missed Jeffrey Anderson, David Zahniser and a few others during a brief golden age at the LA Weekly and as used to be done by the LA Times on huge, multi-year long investigations.

But the Times needs to learn that one or two good reporters with some real working knowledge can accomplish a lot, even when compared dozens or reporters and a huge budgets. Unfortunately, the new young hires at the Times have little interest in discovering, much less, reporting, the truth; they are only interested in pushing their own preconceived political prejudices to the exclusion of anything resembling serious news reporting.

Unsurprisingly then, the biggest winner in getting the story right came from the media outlet with the smallest budget – CURBEDLA – when Josh Williams – alone – was able to decode from the report that the Audit admitted that the blame for the overrun was not due to the BOE’s supervision.

The second biggest winder was the Downtown New which has the bet coverage and which got the most quotes from people on each side, giving the most complete and balanced coverage – but which still did not talk with a anyone who would point out the real culprits. It’s the City’s fault.

Going to the opposite end of the spectrum, the second biggest loser – the biggest we’ll save for the last – was the Daily News even though it got off to a decent start with an article covering much of the back story about the delays due to the site problems, but which emphasized the role of the BOE in that – while ignoring the real reasons. But then they blew it with an editorial that blamed the entire problem on the BOE and – somehow got the original building cost as being a 100 million as opposed to the 303 million given by both Laura Chick and the article in their own paper.

Hopefully, the new editor will eventually retract the editorial.

And that brings us to our biggest loser – The Los Angeles Times. So how did the City desk cover this major story? Did they address the real underlying problems of the city and did the editorial page then follow up with a call for true reform?

Well, no.

Because there was no story in the paper and because there was no story – there was no editorial.

A major story that dozens of other news sources covered in detail did not warrant even a single line in the Los Angeles Times. In fact, when the Business Section of the paper wrote about the contractor of the PHQ being purchased – they were the ones who had to ‘break’ the news of the audit several days later.

And that’s another reason why these disasters continue to happen. While our city faces increasingly difficult challenges, when it comes to our paper of record telling us the facts we need to know to hold our public officials accountable – there is no one at the LA Times City Desk who even knows what questions to ask – much less knows how to answer them. And the next generation being currently hired – doesn’t even give a damn.

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