The LAPD, or someone associated with the LAPD, slipped an audiotape of my 2001 arrest for jaywalking to my employer, The Times. Paul Pringle, the LAT investigative reporter assigned to question me, grilled me about supposed discrepancies between an account I wrote for the Times and the LAPD’s version of the jaywalking arrest. The LAPD claimed I flat-out lied in my account, and was demanding my head from the LA Times.
The audio the LAPD provided to the newspaper, Pringle said, portrayed a nice officer, totally polite and professional, on a routine stop.
In my column, published in May 2015, I wrote about the rude cop who handcuffed me and treated me so badly that it drew an angry crowd of protesting onlookers. I wrote about some shouting bystanders, even.
But Pringle told me he was sure that the LAPD audiotape was authentic. And on the 6:30 tape — fully six minutes of which was incomprehensible noise and static — the LA Times investigative reporter told me there was nothing to indicate that the LAPD was making a false accusation.
How did Pringle know the tape hadn’t been tampered with?
Because the LAPD — sorry, I’d be laughing if I weren’t, you know, fired as an editorial cartoonist because of this — assured him it was authentic. That’s why the Times — one of the nation’s top newspapers — believed it.
One of the nation’s former top papers doesn’t seem like itself these days.
Neither Pringle nor the guy who fired me, editorial page editor Nick Goldberg (both pictured at right), bothered to send this poor quality tape out to an expert to see if it had been edited or altered, or to find out whether it was possible, via audio enhancement to discern more voices. (Just relying on six minutes of mostly unintelligible garbage did nothing to confirm or deny anyone’s side, really.)
After Goldberg canned me, I had the recording analyzed. On the latest, professionally-enhanced tape which aNewDomain and I posted earlier this week, you can hear voices — a lot of them — loudly demanding that the cop “take (the) handcuffs off” and protesting how he reacted to a routine jaywalking stop. Listen here.
The two enhanced audio tapes I was able to get within a few days of the Times’ firing me cost around $1,200. Unfortunately, the Times, after firing me, had raced ahead with a humiliating editor’s note penned by Goldberg that announced the Times was parting company with me because I lied.
Moreover, the tech people told me, it’s almost certain that the tape was spliced — that is, it was edited to remove material. I guess whatever was removed would support my case even more.
It also would explain why the tape is so short at about six minute, 20 seconds. The stop, the handcuffing and the officer thowing my driver’s license into the gutter when it was all over sure took a lot longer than that.
But who spliced the tape? And why?
Splicing would explain the absence of some memorably loud moments, such as when the officer ordered me to stand in place. It also left out any recording of an LAPD colleague who zoomed up on a motorcycle and urged the cop to leave me alone.
Clumsy editing would also explain why the tape appears to be truncated, missing the required date, location and ID information the officer is legally obligated to include when taping a stop, per the LAPD handbook.
That was probably lost when they lopped off the last part depicting the other cop, audio engineers told me.
Splicing would also explain why the LAPD transcript was not, as required, certified by an official department transcriber.
So this got one of my colleagues at ANewDomain wondering: is The Los Angeles Times always this slipshod when it comes to checking out audio or video tapes? Surely the possibility that a recording might have been altered or otherwise rendered inauthentic does cross their minds?
A quick check finds that — and this is good — the Times generally tends to uphold journalistic standards in this area.
I found numerous examples. Here are a few:
A 2002 Osama bin Laden audio tape was questioned in a quote included in a Times article on the basis that it might have been “spliced.”
In 2003, Saddam Hussein was on the run after being deposed by the U.S. invasion. The Times called it “the latest tape purportedly from Hussein,” included the qualifier “if a new audiotape aired Friday is authentic,” and wrote that it was “said to have been made Sunday.”
In 2004, Osama bin Laden released an audio tape calling for “holy war.” The Times was careful to note that “CIA experts are analyzing it for authenticity.”
In 2014, then-LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks were captured on an audio tape made illicitly by his girlfriend. Whether the tape was real was included as something readers deserved to know in the Times article: “The Clippers have not confirmed that Sterling is the voice on the tape and in a statement said the owner doesn’t hold the views expressed in the recording. Stiviano’s attorney, Mac Nehoray, said Sunday the tape is authentic.”
The notable exception to the Times’ longstanding interest in whether or not an audio tape is legit, apparently, is when considering firing a cartoonist at the request of the LAPD. Because the cops don’t like his cartoons, what with their annoying “Please don’t shoot black people” motif.
At The Los Angeles Times, it appears, cops tell editors what’s legit — and who to hire and fire.
UPDATE Aug. 6, 2015: 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 [exclusive] 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 [exclusive] by Ted Rall (aNewDomain commentary)
Ted Rall-LAPD-LA Times Battle: New Tape Proves Cops, Times Were Wrong [exclusive] by Gina Smith with Ted Rall(aNewDomain commentary)
Ted Rall LAPD LA Times Scandal: Second Enhanced LAPD Tape Reveals Startling Details [exclusive] by Ted Rall, Gina Smith and Tom Ewing (aNewDomain)
Ted Rall LAPD Scandal: Rall Vindicated, LAPD And LA Times under Fire by Tom Ewing, 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)
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)