Ted Rall LA Times Scandal: Times Trampled Own Ethics Policy. Why?

ted rall lapd latimes scandal los angeles times la times ethics policy

In the ongoing Ted Rall LAPD scandal, our reporter looked at whether the Times violated its own code of ethics when it publicly fired Rall as a result of a leaked, poor quality, 14-year-old tape from the LAPD. REPORT.

By Gina Smith (additional reporting: Ted Rall, Tom Ewing)

aNewDomainGina-Smith-anewdomain — “Credibility, a news organization’s most precious asset, is arduously acquired and easily squandered,” reads the introduction of The Los Angeles TimesEthics Guidelines, released in June 2014.

But the Los Angeles Timesrecent firing of syndicated columnist and cartoonist Ted Rall appears to be at serious odds with various ethical policies described in its own ethics guidelines, as you can see from our report on the matter below.

The Times publicly announced that it would no longer be running material from the award winning political cartoonist essayist more than two weeks ago, allegedly for lying in a 2015 column that described a 2001 encounter with Los Angeles police.  In the column, Rall wrote about being manhandled by a motorcycle cop who stopped him on LA’s Melrose Ave. The cop handcuffed him in front of a group of loudly protesting passersby, Rall wrote.

But a dub of a 14-year-old police tape provided to the Times‘ didn’t support that story at all, wrote Times editorial page editor Nick Goldberg in a public “note to readers,” which attempted to explain Rall’s firing in late July. Only problem is, the tape did not hold up.

In the days since the Times let Rall go so publicly and questioned his honesty, Rall and aNewDomain hired independent audio engineers to enhance the dub police provided to editors, a tape that contained fully six minutes of static and just 20 seconds of audible and semi-audible conversation. Thanks to the enhancements, it’s now possible to hear much more of what went on. Listen to the professionally enhanced tape here.  The enhancements do support Rall’s original claims that an LAPD officer handcuffed him and that a crowd had gathered to protest how the cop was treating him. But while Rall is vindicated, he still has been unable to get the Times to apologize, retract or even acknowledge that fact in the damning Note to Readers Goldberg wrote.

In an email to this aNewDomain reporter, Goldberg would not answer questions on this or other pertinent issues, except to say the Times  “can not comment on the issue” of Ted Rall.

Why didn’t the Times run a correction or a note that acknowledges the new turn of events? And why didn’t editors, when police presented them with the tape, do the same thing we did and move to enhance the tape, which contained fully 6 minutes of static and just 20 seconds of talk in the first dub?

The Times won’t answer, so we turned to the Los Angeles TimesEthics Guidelines for answers. Surprisingly, we found no fewer than five apparent violations of the ethics code. 
Ted Rall LA Times LAPD scandal

Ethics violation #1: Using anonymity to shield speculation

The Times’ Ethics Guidelines state that journalists should avoid quoting anonymous sources. It reads:

When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving.”

In his July 27 “A Note to ReadersLA Times Editorial Page Editor Nicholas Goldberg (pictured below) failed to identify the name of the source of the police-provided dub the paper used to determine that Rall’s published account of his police run-in was untruthful.  (Update: A professionally enhanced version of the tape Rall and this publication paid for and posted a few days afterward supports Rall’s original claims.)

The new Times guidelines hold that “sources should never be permitted to use the shield of anonymity to voice speculation or to make ad hominem attacks.”

But Goldberg’s published note, which attacked Rall’s credibility even as it publicly humiliated him, is the definition of an ad hominem attack. It is based entirelNicholas Goldberg LA Times Editorial Page Editory on accusations backed up by a mostly inaudible 14-year-old tape dub.

Click here to compare the original LAPD dub as provided to the Times and the professionally enhanced version Rall and aNewDomain posted early this week.

As everyone who has been following this controversy knows now, it turned out that Goldberg was dead wrong about Rall — and really wrong about the tape. 

The new guidelines are quite specific concerning the question of if the Times should and should not rely on anonymous sources, stating:  

An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and we should state those reasons when they are relevant to what we publish.”

Was Goldberg’s source afraid? We don’t know. And if so, Goldberg has not explained why.

Ethics violation #2: Relying on leaks, but then not following-up with more authoritative records or reporting

The Times‘ most recent ethics guidelines also state:

It is unacceptable to hedge an unverified or unverifiable assertion with words such as ‘arguably’ or ‘perhaps.’ Our job is to report what is true, not what might be.”

Here’s another apparent violation. Goldberg’s “A Note to Readers” wallows in conjecture, drawing conclusions about “what might be true” or not, and all in favor of the LAPD, apparently with no technical or deep investigation. The Times never, for instance, asked anyone to enhance the tape, even though it would’ve been easy, journalistically appropriate and fairly affordable to do it. Rall and aNewDomain were able to outsource two enhanced versions for about $1,200. Audio engineers completed that task in just a few days — over a weekend. If the Times was strapped for cash, it would have been cheaper during the week.

paul pringle latimes ted rall lapd la times scandalPaul Pringle, the award-winning Times reporter (shown at right) who was charged by the paper with looking into the inconsistencies between Rall’s published May 2015 column and the LAPD claims, emphasized to Rall another reason the evidence was stacking up against Rall: The LAPD officer who stopped Rall, said Pringle, had denied handcuffing Rall or any other person, ever. 

That sounded like a stretch from the start. So we checked it out.

Just a few minutes of web searching quickly revealed that the Times on May 10, 2015 had actually covered this LAPD officer doing exactly that. (Ironically, this was one day before Rall’s blog post.) The Times described how the officer had the driver standing handcuffed as he wrote up the ticket. The officer is pictured in that Times story (left), too.

You gotta wonder why the Times didn’t bother checking their own website.

Also, the paper’s ethics guidelinTed Rall LAPD LaTimes scandales say that “basic fact checking” includes “reviewing interview notes or public records.”

Goldberg told Rall he’d reviewed a record — but that record, the tape, wasn’t officially a public record. For instance, under California law, a citizen or media outlet would not have been been allowed to pull it from the LAPD vault or an officer’s files.

So it looks like someone at the LAPD illegally leaked the tape to the Times, and that the Times never bothered to check the tape to see if it was lawfully obtained, authentic, thorough and/or discrete.

It doesn’t appear that it checked its own ethics guidelines, either.

Ethics violation #3: Dishonorable dealings

The Times ethical guidelines also say this:

We should deal honorably with people and institutions we cover, just as we expect them to deal honorably with us.” 

But the Times organization does not seem to have treated Rall honorably in the rapid sequence of events that preceded the firing or, especially, afterward, when professionally enhanced audio clearly indicated that they had mistakenly accused Rall.

Said Rall today:

Times editors (Pringle and Goldberg) treated me as guilty before proven innocent. Then they ignored me after they were conclusively proven wrong for firing me three days later. They refused to answer my calls — or the public’s calls — for a retraction. Now they’re ignoring me.”

Times editors and the LAPD, for that matter, have yet to respond to aNewDomain’s questions or even return our reporters’ calls and emails. —Editor.

Ethics Violation #4: Failure to correct the record

Finally, The Los Angeles Times’ Ethics Guidelines says this:

When we make mistakes, we quickly and forthrightly correct the record. Readers and staff members who bring mistakes to our attention deserve our gratitude.”

The Times hasn’t done so in the eight days since we first posted enhanced audio that proved Rall was telling the truth. Why?

For further reading, check out these links:

Ted Rall-LAPD-LA Times Scandal: Timeline by Gina Smith (aNewDomain)
A Note to Readers (about the Ted Rall firing) by Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Nick Goldberg (LA Times)
LAPPL Applauds LA Times Firing of Ted Rall (by Los Angeles Police Protective League Board of Directors (LAPD.com)
LAPD Convinced LA Times To Fire Me After I Criticized Cops  by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Ted Rall, Los Angeles Times Cartoonist, Dropped After Blog Post Appears To Stretch The Truth (FoxNews.com)
Ted Rall LAPD-LA Times Scandal: A Discrepancy In The Cop’s Story  by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Ted Rall-LAPD-LA Times Battle: New Tape Proves Cops, Times Were Wrong  by Gina Smith with Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Ted Rall LAPD LA Times Scandal: Second Enhanced LAPD Tape Reveals Startling Details by Ted Rall, Gina Smith and Tom Ewing (aNewDomain
Ted Rall LAPD Scandal: Rall Vindicated, LAPD And LA Times under Fire by Tom Ewing and Gina Smith (aNewDomain news)
Did The LAPD Have A Political Cartoonist Fired? by Ryan Steadman and Guelda Voien (The New York Observer)
‘Cleaned-Up’ Audiotape of Political Cartoonist’s Clash With LAPD Bolsters His Story by Hunter Harris (New York Observer)
In Defense of Ted Rall, A Hard Guy To Defend by Ken Kurson (New York Observer opinion column)
Why Didn’t The Los Angeles Times Examine The Bad Audio from the LAPD? by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Cops Gun Down Unarmed Journalist’s Career by Greg Palast (Reader Supported News, opinion)
Ted Rall: Fisking The Los Angeles Times by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Why Won’t The L.A. Times Admit They Were Wrong About Cartoonist Ted Rall? by Susie Madrak (Crooks and Liars)
14 Years Ago, A Woman Vindicated Me Now by Ted Rall (Common Dreams)

For aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith.

Additional reporting: Ted Rall and Tom Ewing

Developing …

All image credits: aNewDomain, The Los Angeles Times, LinkedIn, Twitter and Wikimedia Commons, All Rights Reserved. 

The Scales of Justice, cover image: Talk.onevietnam.org, All Rights Reserved.

Honor image: Students.UMW.edu, All Rights Reserved.

Update August 6, 2015: LINKS

Ted Rall-LAPD-LA Times Scandal: Timeline by Gina Smith (aNewDomain)
A Note to Readers (about the Ted Rall firing) by Los Angeles Times editorial page editor Nick Goldberg (LA Times)
LAPPL Applauds LA Times Firing of Ted Rall (by Los Angeles Police Protective League Board of Directors (LAPD.com)
LAPD Convinced LA Times To Fire Me After I Criticized Cops  by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Ted Rall, Los Angeles Times Cartoonist, Dropped After Blog Post Appears To Stretch The Truth (FoxNews.com)

The LA Times fired a journalist after cops told them he lied—but did they investigate? By Rob Beschiza (boingboing)

 Ted Rall LAPD-LA Times Scandal: A Discrepancy In The Cop’s Story  by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)

Ted Rall-LAPD-LA Times Battle: New Tape Proves Cops, Times Were Wrong  by Gina Smith, with Ted Rall and Tom Ewing  (aNewDomain commentary)
Ted Rall LAPD LA Times Scandal: Second Enhanced LAPD Tape Reveals Startling Details by Ted Rall, Gina Smith and Tom Ewing (aNewDomain
Ted Rall LAPD Scandal: Rall Vindicated, LAPD And LA Times under Fire by Tom Ewing and Gina Smith (aNewDomain news)
Did The LAPD Have A Political Cartoonist Fired? by Ryan Steadman and Guelda Voien (The New York Observer)
‘Cleaned-Up’ Audiotape of Political Cartoonist’s Clash With LAPD Bolsters His Story by Hunter Harris (New York Observer)
In Defense of Ted Rall, A Hard Guy To Defend by Ken Kurson (New York Observer opinion column)
Why Didn’t The Los Angeles Times Examine The Bad Audio from the LAPD? by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Cops Gun Down Unarmed Journalist’s Career by Greg Palast (Reader Supported News, opinion) 
Ted Rall: Fisking The Los Angeles Times by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Why Won’t The L.A. Times Admit They Were Wrong About Cartoonist Ted Rall? by Susie Madrak (Crooks and Liars)
14 Years Ago, A Woman Vindicated Me Now by Ted Rall (Common Dreams)

 

About the author

Gina Smith

Gina Smith is a New York Times bestselling author and an award-winning journalist. A former correspondent for ABC News, Gina is the co-founder and editorial director of aNewDomain Media. Email Gina at gina@anewdomain.net and find her on Twitter @ginasmith888

1 Comment

  • I’m just going to make a broad generality here, but people distrust and loathe the media b/c of shady behavior like that which is described here.

    What a disappointment, the conduct of the LA Times…