aNewDomain — Nationally syndicated political cartoonist Ted Rall is suing The Los Angeles Times for defamation, blacklisting, wrongful termination and intentional distress. Rall filed his lawsuit in Los Angeles’ State Superior Court today, alleging he had been “recklessly and maliciously defamed” by two articles published by the newspaper.
Read the complaint as filed March 14, 2016, in full below the fold.
The Times in 2009 hired Rall, whose hard-hitting left-leaning political cartoons have earned him awards and controversy in equal measure. It fired him in July 2015, alleging in two published articles that he had lied in his opinion blog that accompanied a May 11, 2015 cartoon in which he criticized a Los Angeles Police Department crackdown against jaywalkers. In that blog, Rall mentioned that in 2001 he had been falsely arrested for jaywalking by an LAPD officer who threw him against a wall and put him in handcuffs, which drew a crowd of angry onlookers.
According to Times editorial page editor Nicholas Goldberg (right), the LAPD officer secretly taped his encounter with Rall.
Goldberg wrote that the LAPD gave the 14-year-old audiotape to the Times. Because the audiotape did not confirm Rall’s account, such as his claim that he’d been handcuffed and that there’d been an angry crowd, the Times fired him.
Next, a strange story turned bizarre.
“The Times rushed its decision to terminate Rall in approximately 24 hours, without following due diligence for allegations of employee misconduct, or the correct handling of audio presented to the newspaper,” Rall alleges in his lawsuit.
“More specifically,” the lawsuit continues, “the Times failed to follow its own standard procedure by neglecting to analyze, authenticate or enhance the supposed copy of the purported LAPD audiotape prior to publicly and injuriously terminating Rall.”
Indeed, days after his firing, Rall hired a Hollywood post-production company, Post Haste Digital, to enhance a digital WAV file the Times sent him of his 2001 jaywalking arrest.
The Post Haste Digital-enhanced audio file revealed a woman demanding that the police officer “take off his handcuffs,” evidencing the fact that he was handcuffed and the presence of angry onlookers.
Rall sent the enhanced audio to Goldberg, requesting that he be restored to his job based on the exonerating evidence. Goldberg did not reply, alleges Rall.
No one at The Times has spoken to Rall since his dismissal, Rall says.
Goldberg, Times ombudsman Deirdre Edgar, and then-publisher Austin Beutner (left) are named along with Times parent company Tribune Publishing as individual defendants in the suit.
Beutner himself was unceremoniously let go following Rall’s dismissal.
Weeks of controversy followed Rall’s firing and posting of the enhanced audio, drawing extensive coverage in the news media and online.
For those who followed media reports about the incident last summer, Rall’s complaint adds a number of significant details. In the complaint, readable below the fold, he alleges the following:
1.) The Times lied to readers: “The Times did not obtain the original analog micro-cassette of the 2001 recording made 14 years prior, nor the micro-cassette recording device with which it was made.”
2.) A lack of basic due diligence: “The Times did not ask an independent audio expert to authenticate or enhance the recording, or make any effort whatsoever to investigate the LAPD’s claims before Rall’s termination.”
3.) Conflicts of interest between the LAPD and the LA Times: “The Los Angeles Police Protective League (“LAPPL”), the LAPD police union, owned a multimillion dollar investment in a private equity fund managed by Oaktree Capital Management that was the largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the Times at the time of Rall’s firing.
Three months after being named Publisher and Chief Executive of the Times in 2014, Austin Beutner (“Beutner”) received the LAPPL Eagle and Badge Foundation’s In the Line of Duty award, which is given to an individual whom the LAPPL says “support[s] the LAPD in all that they do.”
One day after Rall’s firing, the LAPPL published a press release titled “The LAPPL applauds L.A. Times firing of cartoonist Ted Rall.” (The LAPPL later took down the press release amid the outcry over Rall’s firing, though a copy of the release is readable here.)
4.) The Times lied about the source of the audio: “The Times received the WAV file from a source other than the LAPD, thus corrupting the chain of evidence, making its provenance, authenticity and edited status impossible to ascertain.”
5.) The Times lied about its audio experts: Weeks after firing Rall, the Times finally hired two audio experts to examine a digital file of the LAPD audio. In its second article reconfirming its decision to fire Rall, he alleges, “the Times mischaracterized and cherry-picked selections from its experts’ reports.” Rall also claims “the Times … refused to pay [its experts] for a complete analysis of the audio dub.”
Also: “The Times did not even request higher-quality digital audio such as the CD-ROM that Rall easily obtained from the LAPD via a public records request. Being unable to start from the original analog audiotape or higher quality digital audio significantly affected the experts’ findings.”
6.) The Times tries to have it both ways. According to Rall, the Times’ approach to the audio is to confirm the police narrative in every instance, essentially saying “la la la I can’t hear you” to parts of the audio that confirm Rall’s story while describing other parts as clearly audible. “The Times claims it cannot hear things that support Rall’s account, while claiming it can hear things that do not,” Rall’s lawsuit says.
Disclosure: Rall is a staff cartoonist and writer for aNewDomain and the editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.
Here is a copy of the filing, readable in place.
Ted Rall v LA Times (Complaint)
For aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith.