Jim Murray’s career and the history of the both Los Angeles Times and the city of Los Angeles have a way of neatly fitting into the decades. There is Murray in the 1960s after he started with the paper in the decade’s second year; an innocent, exciting time, the rise of great teams in great stadiums that played such a role in building such a great city that replaced New York and Chicago as the center of a post-modern universe of wealth, political power and movie culture.
Then there is Otis Chandler, who so symbolically took over as publisher in 1960; the year of the monumental Kennedy-Nixon campaign, the Democrat nominated in L.A. vs. the Republican from L.A. The rise of a newspaper from a “Republican rag” to world class, as much a symbol of a cities’ rise as big league teams and glittering sports palaces.
The 1970s: Murray’s halcyon days, his firmament of greatness well established. For his paper, consolidation of its excellence, recognition as the best in the world. For its city, one of the few bright spots in a decade of drug abuse, sexual immorality, war, dirt and corruption.
The 1980s: the great writer’s decade of discontent, yet from it he rose like the mythical Phoenix bird. Both his paper and his city, glory and power above all previous conceptions. The New Rome. Center mass of America in the American Century.
So we enter the 1990s, and so fittingly we do, for it is in this tumultuous, very different kind of decade, that the great writer rides into a proverbial sunset, amidst praise and adoration, but at the same time a little confused by all the changes amidst; the Internet, the post-Soviet world, the changing landscape of sports. For his paper, the final, official ousting of Otis Chandler was the beginning of the end. With his departure, true excellence was replaced by mediocrity. It did not happen over night, but year by year the kind of greatness embodied by Jim Murray was lost, until only Murray remained great in a sea of political correctness and myopia. For the city of Los Angeles, a similar fate; drip, drip, drip. One event after another, symbolic or metaphorical as they may have been – had Murray not lived by metaphor? – the greatest city ceded its power. New York rallied. The South rose again. San Francisco swept past them, its sports teams, its political power, its economy and cutting edge role in technology eclipsing L.A., the old dinosaur of the Howard Hughes era gone with the last beleaguered Soviet troops leaving Afghanistan.
Pride goeth before the fall.
In 1984 a pudgy disc jockey from Cape Girardeau, Missouri named Rush Limbaugh was given the chance to air his right-wing political commentary on a local radio station in Sacramento, California. It was the year Ronald Reagan swept to victory over Walter Mondale. Angry phone calls and letters ensued. Limbaugh was almost fired until the station’s ratings began to show steady improvement. By 1988 he was syndicated nationally. He moved to New York City, where he broadcast to millions during the George H.W. Bush-Michael Dukakis campaign. Pundits have tried to dissect how Bush rose from 17 points behind that summer to a comfortable eight-point margin of victory. They could do worse than analyzing the effect of Rush Limbaugh.
He was a huge hit on KFI in Los Angeles. In liberal San Francisco he enraged listeners, but he made KNBR the biggest ratings winner in town. Left-wing commentators were weeping and gnashing their teeth, relegated to the midnight time slot while Limbaugh dominated drive time. By the 1990s he was a phenomenon. He was featured on 60 Minutes, in all the major publications, had a TV show in addition to his radio program, and wrote Best Selling books. He was extravagantly wealthy. His influence among Republicans and the conservative base was beyond all previous figures with the exception of Reagan. The left said Limbaugh lied, and ipso facto, because he lied, therefore his show would not last very long.
More than two decades later, the results are indisputable. If in fact lying will catch up to somebody in Limbaugh’s position, causing them disgrace, firing, dismissal, low ratings, and all other manner of public failure, then either Limbaugh does not lie, or he has gotten away with lying, never having been actually caught despite protestation from his enemies that what he says is not true.
This set of circumstances leaves the left in a discomfiting position, forced to contemplate a Platonic fact of political science, as with analysis of the South. In all the years they were “ignorant” and “racist” they voted Democrat. Over time as they modernized, became educated, acquired knowledge, facts and actual information, they were husbanded into the mainstream by the GOP and, therefore, voted Republican. This is the sort of straight-forward bit of pure information that is not opinion but rather manifests itself as the thing one knows when they learn all there is about it!
So too with Limbaugh. If the left was correct, that a liar will be caught, disgraced and humbled, then sent away never to be heard from again, then ipso facto, the fact Limbaugh thrives more now than ever verifies their most horrid reality, which is that he is right, they are wrong, and worse yet, millions of patriotic citizens who register and vote possess this knowledge.
Republican winning streaks cannot be solely attributed to Rush Limbaugh. Conservatives at least think the Founding Fathers were basically . . . conservative. Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, if read today by somebody not knowing it was written in 1835 and 1840, would probably be called a “conservative manifesto” placing too much of America’s success on Christianity. The GOP dominated after the Civil War, from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt. They presided over the Roaring ‘20s and the 1950s. They won big 1966 mid-terms, and Richard Nixon won by an astonishing margin in 1972. Reagan won big in 1980 and by massive sweeps in 1984, when Limbaugh was unknown outside Sacramento.
But the Republicans held power more regularly, and recovered from disaster faster, during the age of Limbaugh than they ever hoped to before him. Bush defied historical odds going back to 1840 when he succeeded his boss in 1988. The 1994 GOP mid-term sweeps were almost beyond comprehension. George W. Bush defeated a sitting Vice-President with the wind at his sails in 2000, saw his party totally buck historical trends to win in 2002, and won more votes than any President in American history in 2004. Limbaugh’s influence on the ’94 mid-terms and all of Bush’s successes is impossible to deny, but perhaps most distressing to his detractors is the fact that he always reaches the apex of his popularity, power and influence when the Democrats are in power. He rode the Bill Clinton Impeachment like a Colossus, and in 2010 unquestionably led the repudiation of Barack Hussein Obama, possibly the most complete, jarring, tidal wave of rejection any sitting President has ever endured.
The question, then, is what does any of this have to do with the Los Angeles Times? In 1990, very little. But the new editors, publisher and executives running the Times back then would have done well to listen to Limbaugh, to his complaints, and glean lessons from him on what not to do. From the beginning, Limbaugh leveled some of his harshest criticisms at what he called the “dominant media culture.” He railed against left-wing Hollywood making anti-American films, depicting Republicans as bad guys, creating the fiction that no Communists ran amok in Tinseltown during McCarthyism, while making movies like Oliver Stone’s Platoon (the American experience in Vietnam could be encapsulated by My Lai), Dances With Wolves (Native Indians were all just peaceful environmentalists of no threat to settlers), and JFK (right-wing industrialists, Pentagon brass and the CIA, not Fidel Castro or the Mob, killed Kennedy).
At the time, there was no Fox News or MSNBC. Limbaugh railed against the bias of CBS in particular, but also NBC, ABC and new cable station CNN. But his biggest peeve was reserved for the print media. Time, now thoroughly removed from the influence of Henry Luce, Newsweek, The Nation, the Washington Post, and in particular the “old grey lady,” the New York Times, were on the receiving end of his wrath, all heard by 20 million people a day. Limbaugh had broken the cardinal rule of public commentary: never criticize any entity that buys ink by the barrel. The fact that he thrived on this criticism led to what can only be another inescapable conclusion, which is that a huge number of Americans agreed with his assessment.
Having failed to prove him a liar, the left took to calling him a homophobe, a racist, and fat. Limbaugh just laughed all the way to the bank, or the nearest golf course, losing 40 pounds while at it.
But in the early 1990s, a battle was begun. Nixon had his “enemies list,” but he was paranoid. It was a given, really. The New York Times was liberal. Some called then anti-American, especially when they agreed to publish the Pentagon Papers. After Watergate the right quietly asked where was Woodward and Bernstein, Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee, the power and resources of this great newspaper, when JFK stole the 1960 election from Nixon in plain sight? These were just facts of life, to be lived with. The GOP was willing to live with it, like a West Coast baseball team that knows their home games won’t be seen by Eastern viewers at night.
But Limbaugh did not “live with it.” He made it his Holy Grail, and boy did it piss off a lot of people in East Coast publishing. But there was something unspoken in all of this. Limbaugh did not attack the L.A. Times. At the time, they still had the imprimatur of Chandler Republicanism. Cartoonist Paul Conrad was no friend to conservatives, but in the 1980s Reagan was popular, the state was still “red,” and the L.A.-Orange County political structure clung to its “conservative revolution” roots going back to Barry Goldwater. If indeed the newspaper wanted to make itself a sounding board for Democrats, there were no really viable ones on the scene to give a lot of support to. Golden State politics were dominated first by Reagan, then by Republican U.S. Senator Pete Wilson and Governor George Deukmejian. The popular notion that the L.A. Times was the “best newspaper in the world” was still a respected concept, and probably verified by any “vote” at the time. The fact they were viewed as fair, that conservatives enjoyed reading it, played into this view. After all, polls consistently have shown over the years that only 20 percent of America calls itself “liberal.” The numbers were hard to argue. Partisanship aside, Chandler was a businessman unwilling to inflame a potential 80 percent of his readers.
In 1991, the United States attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces that had invaded neighboring Kuwait. It was a highly political war. It created fissures. It started something that grew wider apart ever since.
In November of 1989 the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner shut down. With it went an institution. A great city often judged its greatness in part by its newspapers. The Times was Los Angeles. The Herald-Examiner paled in comparison, but the idea that the Times could be read in the morning, the Herald-Examiner at night, long clung as a popular notion. In San Francisco, businessmen read the Chronicle at home in the morning, then picked up the Examiner to read on the bus, the train, the ferry or BART on the way home after work. The fact L.A. had no real public transportation system did not help the Herald-Examiner’s “evening paper” designation. It could not be read while negotiating the Hollywood Freeway. But there was no Internet yet, and the paper had a following. They had great sports scribes over the years: Bud Furillo, Doug Krikorian, Steve Bisheff, Loel Schrader, Melvin Durslag.
Its closing seemed a victory for the Times. It was like New York in 1958, when the Yankees had the city all to themselves after the Dodgers and Giants split town. But it was a hollow victory, or would prove to be one. Yankees attendance actually went down in the years following their departure. Caesar captured Gaul but could not make her love him. Baseball attendance would go down all over the country, and the Yankees would eventually hit rock bottom in the late 1960s.
The Herald-Examiner’s failure was a forecast of general newspaper failure that would eventually affect the Times. Competition is what America thrives on. Absent its motivating force, complacency becomes cancerous.
Tom Johnson resigned from Times Mirror in 1990 to take over CNN. Conservative members of the Chandler clan pushed for his ouster. Privately, Johnson was disappointed that Otis did not fight for him. Circulation was at an all-time high in the immediate wake of the Herald-Examiner’s closing, 1,225,189 daily and 1,514,096 on Sundays. It passed the New York Daily News. The quality was astounding; the same long, fabulous articles on virtually any subject from any country. Something for everyone. To a true newspaper aficionado, there remained no greater pleasure than lingering for hours over each section of the Times with a pot of coffee.
The paper was at the top. The parent company owned numerous profitable businesses and other media outlets within its conglomeration. They expanded, building new plants, more out-reach. But now it was official. Long thought of as the best paper, its circulation a little lower than the New York metropolitan giants not because of a lack of quality, but due to demographics, the reading tastes of the on-the-go, hyper-active, transplanted Southern Californian; well, not anymore. Now they were “number one.” On paper.
But the beginning of the end came in 1990 in the form of a genial gent from genteel Virginia roots named Shelby Coffey III. Otis Chandler discovered him lifting weights. This was a big plus in the eyes of Chandler. Coffey was brought on board and groomed at the Dallas Times Herald, a subsidiary paper. When Johnson left he ascended. He had ideas.
USC football coach John Robinson said when he took over for the legendary John McKay, he made no changes. Why fiddle with success? He kept everything as it had been and the Trojans continued to beat Notre Dame and UCLA like red-headed step-children, capturing a national title, Rose Bowls, and continuing conquest. Not so Shelby Coffey III.
Coffey started printing editions in Armenian, Vietnamese, and as a “service to the boy and girls in uniform,” a special edition to be delivered by various forms to service personnel shipped to the growing crisis with Saddam in Saudi Arabia. Critics said he wanted his paper to be all things to all people everywhere instead of Los Angeles’ paper in L.A. A corruption scandal involving Mayor Tom Bradley was skirted by Coffey. The inside word was that Coffey did not want to go after a black Democrat.
Coffey changed the look of the paper, designing a “faster format” comparable to USA Today, disparaged as “McPaper.” He created a list of “pejoratives,” banning a slew of words, many of which were staples of the Jim Murray lexicon. It was pure censorship. Ghetto, skirt chaser, inner city, bitch, Dutch treat, Indian giver; these were among the words no Timesman dare speaketh. There is no available record of Jim Murray’s reaction, but one can imagine he viewed this as pure hogwash.
“At the height of the Shelby era, you couldn’t swing a dead cat on Spring Street without hitting some touchy member of the Diversity Committee, who would then most likely announce that such metaphor was offensive to feline-Americans and stomp off to organize a petition,” said one former staffer. He was said to water down controversial stories if they concerned “protected” political groups and liberal causes. The term “politically correct” was just becoming a common phrase. It had its roots in the Tailhook affair being investigated by female members of Congress, with Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign, and the attendant “Year of the Woman” election of prominent females to the U.S. Senate. Rush Limbaugh got a hold of the term, which is probably why it lives today, but Shelby Coffey III and the L.A. Times were among the most active in carrying out its “mission.”
Former Times staffer Dennis McDougal wrote an all-encompassing history of the newspaper and the Chandler family, Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty (2001). In it he described what probably could be called the high point of the Times’s history, its phenomenal coverage of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Coming on the heels of Jim Murray’s Pulitzer and news that they had the highest circulation in the world, they earned praise from Time magazine for having provided the “most extensive and informative coverage of the war.” Pulitzers were won for the paper’s extensive coverage of the collapse of the Soviet Union and an aborted military coup against Boris Yeltsin’s government, and also for domestic coverage of the Rodney King beating trial, thus earning another Pulitzer for this effort. From there McDougal describes a drip-drip-drip in which the paper slowly fell in many respects over the course of the 1990s.
By the end of 1992 the Times saw a cut in their profits. The paper was extended, having bought a number of entities and investments, while expanding their operation, including the creation of a huge printing plant a few miles from their main offices. But in an effort to cut costs, they began offering buy-outs to veteran staffers. Once dubbed the “velvet coffin” because no writers ever left, employment under Chandler being better than all alternatives, the paper was finally unionized and paying for it. A drain of talent began.
“It took 20 years for the paper to build up a great staff and it took just a few months to dismantle it,” observed Washington bureau reporter Doug Frantz, one of three dozen Timesmen to defect to the New York Times. In Chandler’s heyday, the Times routinely raided the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time and other established East Coast publications. Now it was going the other way.
“I remember when they paid you to come to the Times,” quipped columnist and former city editor Peter King. “Now they pay you to leave.” In less than five years, the Times lost 30 percent of its reporters. Forbes published a report on the business troubles of the newspaper industry, which alarmed many.
In 1992, Presidential candidate Bill Clinton campaigned using futuristic terms like the “Information Superhighway” and “a bridge to the 21st Century.” He was talking about the Internet, which was not invented by his Vice-President, Al Gore, but owed its roots to college and military communications projects, some of which traced to USC as far back as the 1960s.
In 1993 the World Wide Web made its “debut.” That year, Otis Chandler’s second son, Harry was put in charge of a program exploring the emerging nexus of personal computers, newspapers, and the Internet. “This Harry Chandler appeared equipped to guide the Times into a new century,” said narrator Leiv Schreiber in Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times.
Otis sent Harry a Christmas card, expressing great hope that this time a Chandler would emerge to pick up where he left off. However, a Vanity Fair piece in which Otis all but unloaded on the rest of the Chandler family derailed much of the support Harry would have needed to wrest control from the powers that now were at the paper.
“He was pitted against this nefarious group of family members; nefarious and anonymous,” said David Margolick, author of the of Vanity Fair piece. In Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times, these people are depicted as such, using shadowy, fleeting images to give them a sense of behind the scenes string-pullers.
“You never saw them. No one ever saw their pictures. They were lurking in the distance somewhere, these malign influences. Right-wing, intolerant, xenophobic people.” The article quoted Chandler saying they were “elitists,” bored with the problems of AIDs, the homeless, and other social problems. They were depicted as early 20th Century examples of Republican greed, a part of the past, yet here brought to life almost as if in a Stephen King movie, a ghost ship scene of jazz flappers. Either way, it spelled doom for Harry’s chances at succession, and in so doing it was the beginning of the end for the paper. Not only did the Los Angeles Times need a dynastic Chandler presence, Harry may well have gotten a handle on the role of the Internet before it swallowed up the paper’s profits. It was not to be.
In the meantime, Otis Chandler sat to the side. Many have speculated over the years at what he was thinking, and what his motivations were at this time. McDougal’s book described a man in repose. Chandler, the adventurer, engaged in a wild attempt to re-capture his youth. He divorced his first wife, was re-married, but had mixed relations with his children. There was a certain amount of resentment at his not having promoted his off-spring to positions of high authority at the Times over the years. That was long the Chandler way, from General Gray to Harry, Norman and Otis Chandler. Otis seemed to believe his children lacked the essential qualities of leadership necessary to steer a ship as great as the L.A. Times.
He had handed the keys to the kingdom to the likes of Tom Johnson, Shelby Coffey III, Bob Erberu, Mark Willes; and they had collectively, over time, allowed what the Chandler’s made great to slowly become, still above average, but less than outstanding. But Chandler was too busy big game hunting, trekking the ice caps, racing cars, surfing, hitting the weights; whatever he needed to do to maintain his youth.
But he and his family positioned themselves through Chandis Securities and various airtight trusts, maintaining and building enormous profits. McDougal’s book enthusiastically described the glorious rise of the paper. It did not avoid controversy, detailing Chandler family corruption, nefarious land deals such as the Owens River Valley Aqueduct, illicit gains, and the like, but by and large provided an admiring look at how they, and particularly Otis Chandler, created one of the greatest, most powerful entities in the annals of American capitalism and power.
But McDougal also did not steer away from Otis’s strange 1990s malaise, his twi-light years. He described an extremely selfish man and a selfish family. The book was written with Chandler’s grudging cooperation, unlike a 1977 tome called Thinking Big by Robert Gottlieb and Irene Wolf, which Otis gleefully reported as only having sold 5,000 copies. McDougal noted that while he admired Chandler and his paper, the former publisher would not be entirely happy with all his conclusions. His view of Otis and his family after he was forced out would fall under that category.
Otis had little good to say about his various cousins and extended family. He was the only one of them who truly made a big name for himself by virtue of actual accomplishment. Chandler had been given the keys to the kingdom, but he worked hard to forge greatness. The rest were described as being just rich San Marino conservatives, peeved at the world they now lived in, dominated by a liberal media and a Democrat Party bent on demonizing them with class warfare, aghast at a country that could elect the likes of Bill Clinton, for God’s sake! But those cousins and extended Chandler family were continuing to live in enormous wealth courtesy of the trusts established, and in particular by the business model and investments envisioned and carried out by Otis Chandler.
But the Los Angeles Times itself was hemorrhaging money. It was not just the unimpressive leadership, ideas and model of Shelby Coffey III. Bob Erberu was a USC graduate, well-placed in Los Angeles society, who somehow found himself at the top of the Times after Chandler’s departure. He was the chairman of the Times Mirror Company.
“The family should have taken Erberu out and shot him,” said Dan Akst, a business columnist. The general attitude among Timesmen was that Erberu “wrecked that company.” It was all a maize of big-money deals, stock options, inside deals between Erberu and the family. They all got rich, but they began the demise of a newspaper. The national media was noticing it all. Newsweek and Newsday among others ran stories of the Times’s financial problems.
Then came Mark Willes. The former vice chairman of General Mills, he was dubbed the “Cereal Killer” because he seemed to think he could sell a newspaper the way he sold Honey Nut Cheerios. He was the anti-Chandler. In many ways he was a product of business school theory. He had his theories, his class room concepts. The jock Chandler graduated from Stanford but nobody ever accused him of being an intellectual. He was a real-world business executive. It was like the scene in Back to School when the snooty professor tells the class how to sell “widgets,” but Rodney Dangerfield contradicts him with descriptions of how a businessman must first pay off the Mob guys, grease the unions, and keep the corrupt politicians happy.
In the mean time, Coffey made a decided left-leaning turn in the editorial and reporting of the newspaper. “The paper tries to be all things to all people, but in the process it becomes very little to anyone,” reporter David Freed of the Columbia Journalism Review wrote. “It has no soul.”
Accuse Kyle Palmer and the Los Angeles Times of “building Richard Nixon,” of being a “Republican paper,” and call Otis Chandler “greedy,” but nobody could ever say they lacked a soul!
McDougal concluded that Willes’s and Coffey’s “Column Left” and “Column Right” op/ed format split so closely down the middle that the paper now produced “politically correct pabulum.”
“Under Coffey and <David> Laventhol, the Times had developed a vacillating news policy that <Catherine> Seipp described as ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print . . . As Long As No One Gets Hurt,’ ” wrote McDougal.
Coffey was described by Buzz magazine’s Catherine Seipp as “the quintessential guilty white male: insular, kindhearted, cluelessly patronizing, endlessly infuriating.” Rank-and-file reporters contrasted Coffey from Otis Chandler, typically agreeing with her opinion, favoring Otis in comparison.
On “Black Friday,” July 21, 1995, 750 people were fired at Times Mirror Square. Willes oversaw the operation in the detached manner of a Mob hit man. The “Velvet Coffin” was thereafter called the “Pine Box.” Then Willes had a staff conference and asked the remaining employees how they could “shape people’s thinking.” Reporters, used to longtime journalistic practices of reporting both sides of a story, “sat dumbfounded,” according to Privileged Son. Willes did not say it, but the unsaid message in his pleas might as well have been, “How do we help Bill Clinton get re-elected?” A Presidential election year was coming and California was in play. Otis Chandler’s
“Republican paper” was now openly advocating for Democrats.
The old paper, with its wonderful, long, analytical articles, was now dubbed, “Read this. Quick,” by detractors. Old hands called on Chandler: please help, come back. Otis ranted to Vanity Fair about what was being done to his jewel. Michael Parks, renowned for his work covering South African Apartheid, was brought in. Richard Schlosberg and Coffey left in 1997. Otis began to evaluate his life and place in history. He did not like what Willes, Coffey, Erberu and a host of lightweights had done to his legacy.
“Can you believe this turn of events?” he wrote to his old secretary, Donna Swayze.
Dorothy “Buff” Chandler died that year. She was as responsible as her late husband or her son for the making of Los Angeles. A great city needed a great paper, a great sports palace, a President or two to emerge from its political structure, but it also needed an opera house, museums, and culture. She was the number one reason Los Angeles was now equal to New York, San Francisco, Paris, London – whether the pundits cared to admit or not – when it came to this.
Back at Times Mirror Square, employees were in rebellion. Willes’s response was that he would use a proverbial “bazooka, if necessary.” More re-organization followed. Subscriptions slipped. He was even changing the Times masthead. Old bromides promoting business and “jingoistic” slogans boosting Los Angeles and America were replaced by political correctness. Willess was accused of not understanding the Internet. Reporters were afraid to go out of the office on assignment, much less vacation, for fear that upon their return a pink slip would be waiting. Instead of one great product, Willes’s “Our Times” concept created separate papers catering to different ethnicities, languages and neighborhoods. It failed. He courted Latinos with advertising in the Mexican-American media, to no avail.
Coverage of a police shootout in North Hollywood, later depicted in a movie, awarded the paper a Pulitzer in 1998, but it was a rare bit of good news. Ranked number one in every way a paper could be ranked just a few years earlier, the Times dropped precipitously to fourth behind the New York Times, USA Today and the right-leaning Wall Street Journal. The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal were ranked ahead of them on journalism lists. Willes eliminated Chandler’s position as a director, his last official tie to his pride and joy. Otis stated he was “glad I’m not around” Willes anymore.
An untrained woman, Katherine Downing was made president of the paper. She was not qualified and offered little, but she was a woman. Otis fumed from the sidelines. He was “horrified,” offering “she knows nothing about newspapers.” McDougal described Willes during this period as similar to the Humphrey Bogart character in The Caine Mutiny court martial. Willes tried to say he “studied generals,” but whatever lessons he may have “learned” from George Patton or Sun Tzu were not correctly applied. He cut more of the paper. Readers had less to read, less to analyze and think about and pore over. They noticed. Circulation slipped more.
Then came the Staples Center fiasco. Willes presided over a partnership deal with the Lakers’ new basketball arena sponsors that broke standard journalism practices, engendering tremendous criticism from all sources. Downing was caught in the middle like a deer in the headlights. She had no idea how to handle the fall-out. Otis chimed in with public criticism. Petitions were circulated in-house protesting the deal.
Finally Otis and old hand Bill Boyarsky, one of his leaders in the glory days, approached Michael Parks to say enough is enough. They communicated their profound displeasure to the entire staff of the paper. The result: cheers throughout the corridors of the paper. Old photos of Chandler popped up. He represented a kind of cult of personality, a rallying cry against inferiority, political correctness, bad marketing, and all other forms of unimpressiveness. He was a champion, a winner. He was admired, an icon. He had been there before, but now he was heroic.
“Otis is Zeus,” deputy managing editor John Arthur raved. Then there was this classic in Privileged Son: “Otis was General Patton,” said Bill Dwyre, the sports editor, “and you want to go out and get on the tank and ride with him. If Patton comes back and says, ‘Let’s go! There is one more mission,’ you go with him.”
“Otis was also Odysseus, home from 20 years of hard sailing and not at all happy with what the suitors had done in his absence to his palace and his Penelope – his one true mistress, his Times,” wrote McDougal.
National attention followed and the paper was forced to back out of the Staples Center deal. Willes, Downing and Parks all were rudely deposed, but were not replaced by Otis Chandler or anything like Otis Chandler. Unfortunately, the final indignity that did nothing for the Chandler legacy was endorsed by the Chandler family. On June 12, 2000, the Los Angeles Times was sold to the Tribune Company, parent company of the Chicago Tribune.
What was really unbelievable was that Otis and his family just took the money and ran. They received a huge buy-out, as if they were not all rich enough already, and faded into the San Marino sunset, or wherever Otis happened to be. Between moving from mansion to mansion and his adventure trips he was never in one place very long. The Chandler’s greed did not go over well with the old Times hands who shortly before fantasized he would lead the charge in saving their beloved paper.
The sale to the Tribune Company was a symbolic gut punch of monumental proportions, meaning so much more than just a business transaction. California had built itself into the greatest state in the union through blood, sweat and tears. The Gold Rush, the Trans-Atlantic Railroad, the Owens River Valley Aqueduct, the Hoover Dam, two world wars, bridges, freeways, Hollywood, Presidents, sports dynasties and athletic “colosseums” rivaling the one that stood in Rome; all of these accomplishments had made the Golden State number one. Los Angeles was its shining city on a hill, the Times its “herald of angels.”
As California and Los Angeles rose, among those entities they surely surpassed big old Chicago, the Second City. In the late 1960s they passed them in population, but long before that they passed them in importance. Now they ceded their crown jewels to their defeated rivals, and for what?
Shelby Coffey III, Bob Erberu, Mark Willes, Katherine Downing. There were others, but this unholy foursome go down as enemies of the Los Angeles Times’s legacy, destroyers. They led the paper down a path paved with good intentions, not to hell, but to mediocrity in comparison with the pillar they once stood as. They did this terrible thing in a decade, probably less. Of the four, Coffey and Willes deserve the greatest scorn.
After the Tribune Company buy-out, the paper closed various plants. Otis Chandler died in 2006 at the age of 78. Sam Zell bought the Tribune Company and, with it, the Times in 2007. He was said to be a conservative. There is no evidence that if he is, his politics can particularly be found in the paper. They continue to flounder.
Prior to 1994, the Democrats ran the U.S. House of Representatives for all but four of 62 years. The Republicans picked up 54 seats to take control of Congress, 230 seats to 204. They captured eight U.S. Senate seats to take control by 52-48. The GOP swept a large majority of Gubernatorial elections and took over most of the state legislatures, including huge majority gains in Sacramento.
During the period between 1994 and 1996, “conservative media” swept America. Before that, there was Rush Limbaugh vs. the world. All by himself he daily battled the New York “slimes,” the Washington “compost,” the Atlanta “urinal and constipational,” meet the “depressed, slay the nation,” the “Clinton news network,” and all other forms of liberal media he blasted using humor and sarcasm, making fun of their solemnity. He was “having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have.”
The left figured they could wait him out, he was a phenomenon, a flash in the pain. He would get old, retire, depart for a retirement of golf and football. Limbaugh refused to go gently into that good night. He never went anywhere. But if his enemies felt he was just a right-wing voice crying in the wilderness with a very loud bullhorn, alone, they were astounded to discover he created a vast new industry that could only be described as their worst nightmare. By 1994-95 the radio airwaves were filled with conservative talk show hosts, most of whom drew big ratings and were quite effective. Ken “the Black Avenger” Hamblin, Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity in Atlanta, Michael Savage in San Francisco, of all places, were the beginning of a huge surge: conservative media. The left countered with Air America. It went bankrupt. Conservative talk radio got bigger and bigger and bigger, its ratings exploding wherever it was tried. A juggernaut.
Over time the right consolidated an empire. Successful publications either slanted to the right or fully doing its bidding ranged from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, Newsmax, the American Spectator, and others. Rupert Murdoch, a conservative Australian mogul, created Fox News in 1996. At least in the beginning, Fox was “fair and balanced.” Detractors said they were conservative, but that was because they just sounded that way after being dulled by liberal news since Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, who thrived when little competition was offered. Later Fox actually took a distinct right turn, but that was not until well after the start of the Iraq War in 2003, then more so in reaction to Barack Hussein Obama.
Fox became a ratings juggernaut. Cable television changed the whole dynamic of news delivery. It was a 24-hour stream. Viewers need not wait until six o’clock to sit down with a martini in time for a one-hour showing of the ABC World News. Murdoch eventually bought the New York Daily Post, HarperCollins Publishing, Fox studios, and numerous other media holdings. Whatever William Paley, Henry Luce, Katharine Graham, Otis Chandler, Arthur Sulzberger; whatever The Powers That Be once described by David Halberstam were, Rupert Murdoch now was times 10! An openly conservative man had power and was willing to use it to express a political point of view. The left exploded in indignation. The right just replied that they had been doing it from their angle for decades, and it was all just a matter of “winning in the marketplace of ideas.”
During the 1992 Presidential election, Democrat candidates Bill Clinton and Albert Gore, Jr. used effective, futuristic language in describing the World Wide Web. The Internet is too monolithic, too all-encompassing to say now what it all meant. It changed the world. Politically, it has been used with equal force, venom and deceit by the left and the right. Eventually it created something called “blogs,” which had a profound impact on the media. It rendered newspapers literally “yesterday’s news.” Its greatest impact has probably been pornographic, both “mainstream” as well as the insidious ability to easily watch children having sex without borders. In this regard, the religious among us are not disabused of the notion that it is a tool of Satan, but it has been used for much good and efficient use by those on the straight and narrow, too.
There is no question, however, that the Internet had a negative effect on newspaper circulation. By 2000 this was established orthodoxy. It was a very serious concern for people in the publishing game, whether it is daily papers, magazines or books. The Internet did not completely reduce the power of papers. In many ways they increased them, because articles could be read on-line anywhere in the world. For the writers of the articles, they found a certain amount of prestige and influence came from this. Within seconds an article written in the Los Angeles Times could be sent as a link by email to a person in L.A. to a person in Jakarta, who could read it within a minute or so, and then email comments to the writer via email a few minutes later.
One need not be the chief of staff to the President, with a subscription to 10 major papers to be pored over every morning in the Oval Office, in order to be informed. It was egalitarian and Democratic in scope.
As for the L.A. Times, as with so many other papers, many, many people read the paper regularly, only without paying for it. They tried to charge for on-line use but it went over like a dead weight. Too much was free on the Internet to pay. Forget LATimes.com. If you just want to read of the Dodger game or the press conference from Heritage Hall, it could be found at Dodgers.com, OCRegister.com, USCTrojans.com . . .
But for major newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, circulation, subscriptions, income have all gone down in the 1990s and 2000s. The future is not bright. There is no guarantee the bottom has not been reached, and that does not take into account the “next big thing,” some new technological innovation that further erodes the old print versions of the news, information and books.
But there remains a debate, a question. Have newspapers fallen because they are too liberal? This is the premise of the Rush Limbaughs of the world going back to the late 1980s. In the 2000s, Michael Savage unquestionably says it is so. The conservative media gleefully touts the premise. It is to them a Holy Grail, a premise, a justification proving that they are right about the left, they are riding the whirlwind, they have the numbers, the influence. Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity routinely crow about their high ratings compared to the poor ratings of rival MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post . . .
The right could be right, but it is not a decided issue. It is not the whole picture. Maybe the whole picture has not been painted as yet. But what is absolutely unquestioned is that the Los Angeles Times was, if not conservative, certainly fair and palatable to the right as late as 1990 or 1991. Otis Chandler was ousted. People who did not share his worldview were brought in. They imposed their opinions within the paper’s pages. Criticism ensued, and circulation dropped.
While Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly and their like railed against the New York Times and CNN for years, generally they did not criticize the L.A. Times. Perhaps it was just a left-over perception, the memory and influence of Chandler, but they were, you know, the Times. The Times was not . . . liberal? Were they?
By the 2000s they were. By then the Tribune Company owned them. Chicago Tribune politics were now L.A. Times politics. When the right found bias, they no longer relegated complaints to the East Coast publications. The L.A. Times backed Clinton, opposed Impeachment, backed Gore, opposed George W. Bush and Iraq. Jim Murray’s contemporary, Bud “the Steamer” Furillo, was an unabashed liberal, a “New Deal Democrat.” He was undoubtedly to the left of Murray. Interviewed in the mid-2000s, he was disgusted with the media’s treatment of President Bush and the Iraq War.
“I hate the war, but the way these people oppose the President, I mean, it’s almost treasonous,” he stated.
When moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger – hardly a reactionary - ran for Governor against Gray Davis in 2003, they not only backed Davis, they got in trouble, crossing journalistic boundaries in order to protect the Democrat when they printed a nebulous story about Arnold’s past actions with women. It was sad. They did not even have much influence any more. Schwarzenegger coasted to victory. National conservatives routinely lump them in with the New York Times as an example of left-wing bias. In the Southland, the conservative Orange County Register has managed to hold a competitive line, which many would point to as proof that liberal bias is bad business. The Wall Street Journal thrives.
It is still a relatively great paper in an age in which great papers are rare, mostly a thing of the past. There simply are no newspapers in the world today comparable to Otis Chandler’s L.A. Times. Comparing newspapers in the 2010s is a relative matter, not a historical one. It is not an all-consuming liberal rag. It is not nearly as partisan as the New York Times, which in the 2000s took major hits such as the Jason Blair scandal, part of a wide-ranging series of events in which several East Coast publications were found to be untruthful, printed false stories, and provided shoddy journalism, more often than not in an effort to favor a liberal cause or discredit a conservative one.
The L.A. Times tries for fairness. There are still talented scribes, hard-working editors. It still represents Los Angeles and all that means, but it has gone downhill. It gets worse, not better. For those who grew up with it in its hey day it is a sad shell of its old self.
Perhaps the Times is merely a victim of the partisan divide which goes back to the Founding Fathers and the Civil War, but which became irreparable with the Alger Hiss conviction. The left put all their efforts into backing Hiss. They never accepted his guilt. The New York Times wrote glowing retrospectives of his unfair conviction until the Venona Papers, unearthed in the U.S.S.R.’s old archives of the early 1990s, proved he was guilty.
But in sticking to him they painted themselves into a corner, the same corner they painted themselves into when they backed Clinton against all odds, then were stuck with him during Impeachment and proof of his lies. The same corner that painted them into an anti-war corner even when 1.5 million Cambodians died in a demonstration of “why we fight.” The same corner that forces a Harry Reid to declare, “The war is lost” just as “the Surge” succeeds. The right just says, “Keep saying it.” Ultimately it results in their victories at the polls and the ratings.
To those who think psychologically, who ask, “Why would somebody go against their better interests, cost themselves money, lose customers, annoy their base?” the answer might just be, “They can’t help themselves.”
But things go in cycles. The media used to be generally conservative, a la the Hearst papers. Hollywood was once patriotic. Perhaps over time it will swing that way again. If so, the uniqueness of conservative media will be lost as it all morphs into the mainstream.
Or maybe not.
The future will determine whether indeed the Times will be a-changin’ still again.
The first couple of years of the new decade appeared to be a consolidation of the American Empire. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. In the old days, the U.S. would not have done anything, as they did not fight Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat, but unlike Egypt then Iraq now was alone, not a Soviet client state. President George H.W. Bush sent the full force of American resolve into the Middle East and had the Iraqis beaten in a month or so. He had 91 percent approval ratings. There was no chance he would not be re-elected.
The historians all tried to make sense of it. Bush made a speech and called it the New World Order. That sounded about right. Whatever that was, the boss was America. A writer named Francis Fukuyama wrote an essay called, “The End of History.” The argument basically was that everything America fought for had been accomplished. Slavery, Nazism, Communism, radical terror; all had been defeated, forced to bow down at our altar.
Russian militarists tried a coup against Boris Yeltsin, but it was put down. The Soviet Union officially broke up, and pundits proclaimed, “Peace has broken out all over.”
With that came the “peace dividend.” In a new, peaceful world, we would no longer need to build mega-weapons to defeat our varied enemies. They were all slain in one form or another. Therefore, we could use the money normally spent on SDI and nukes and use it to feed the poor. “Guns for butter,” they called it.
In 1992, Bush ran for re-election, still hoping his 91 percent approvals from the Persian Gulf War would carry the day. Called the “resume President,” in the history of America he may well have been the most qualified man, with the greatest background for the White House ever, and that did not include the fact he already had four years on the job!
Pundits called the Democrat field the “seven dwarfs.” When Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton won, the Republicans laughed. He was the man they wanted to run against. He had a reputation as a womanizer who needed a full-time staffer to stem “bimbo eruptions.” He was a draft dodger running against a World War II fighter pilot twice shot down by the Japanese. There were reports that he oversaw an airplane strip in Mena, Arkansas that was a drug-running operation. His detractors described something called the “Clinton body count.” There was a list, somewhere between 15 and 100 people, who posed threats in one way or another to the political careers of Governor and Mrs. Hillary Clinton in Arkansas. All had died; in mysterious car accidents, hunting mis-fires, strange heart attacks and drug overdoses . . .
Holy cow, it was easy pickins. Clinton was not heading to the White House, he was ticketed for the “big house.” Pride goeth before the fall.
Remember the Berlin Wall, which came down amid much triumphalism in Reagan-Bush/Republican circles? Remember the peace dividend, which the media said was the money we no longer needed to spend on military hardware to defend against the Soviets? Remember after beating Saddam how “peace broke out all over” and it was the “end of history”? Well, having triumphed over these grave threats “without firing a shot,” as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said of Reagan, we stopped giving Northrop and General Dynamics and Hughes Aircraft and a host of other big, bloated giants of the Military Industrial Complex billions of tax dollars to build missiles like it was Dr. Strangelove or other something. A funny thing happened. They started laying off workers. The California economy took a dive. As California goes, so goes the nation (at least in those days).
In 1991-92, the United States was in a recession. It was, as recessions go, fairly mild. It was the kind of recession that used to hit every five years or so, but when free market principles really became the way of this land, were diverted to every 11 years or so, as in this case. The last one had occurred under President Carter. But Bill Clinton had an advisor named James Carville, and he kept repeating, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He had his guy run around America calling it, “The worst economy since the Great Depression.” In fact, the statistics later showed that it actually ended a week before Election Day, 1992, but it was too late. Bush killed himself after raising taxes in 1990 after having famously declared, “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
The Republicans were victims of their own success. If Tom Clancy or Allen Drury or some other political novelist were coming up with the best possible made-up career for a President, it would not be as good as what Bush actually did before his Presidency, but retail politics is about connecting with people. He did not speak well. He could not communicate. The actor, Reagan, could. So could Bill Clinton. Clinton was brilliant, highly educated and well read. Not just well read; he actually retained everything he read and could recall it at a moment’s notice, a rare talent. Somebody would mention an essay in an obscure journal. Clinton had read it. He was a born politician. He had a genius for it.
George H.W. Bush still would have eked out a victory over him, but Texas billionaire Ross Perot, a conservative, ran as an independent. He tapped into something America was looking for and won 19 percent of the vote. The great majority of that 19 percent came from Bush’s base. Clinton got only 43 percent, barely more than Carter when he was badly beaten in 1980, but it was enough.
America’s repudiation of Clinton, his wife’s health care plan and the prospect of allowing gays to openly serve in the military, appeared complete when the Republicans destroyed his party in the 1994 mid-terms, but Clinton was the “comeback kid” again in 1996.
Clinton benefited from the world Reagan and Bush left him. With the break-up of the Soviet empire he was able to reduce military spending. All of those tech-savvy workers who lost jobs in the Military Industrial Complex helped fuel the Internet economy of the 1990s. The Internet was a gift, like Manna from Heaven, creating a tremendous economic boon in the decade.
When the Republicans took over Congress, they imposed new policies, namely tax reduction. Clinton was smart enough to adopt House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s bills. He triangulated, ending “welfare as we know it,” and in adopting Republican philosophies enjoyed success.
In 1996 Clinton ran for re-election against Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R.-Kansas). As in the 1992 campaign, it was a draft dodger against a World War II hero. Ross Perot ran again. His influence did not cost Dole the victory, but it did not help. Clinton won, but failed again to capture a 50 percent plurality.
Clinton accepted millions in campaign donations and illegal personal money and gifts from a shadowy Pakistani businessman named James Riady and the Lippo Group. This combined with essentially “selling” America to China, and was the roots of Pakistan becoming a quasi-terror state with America the enemy. China did not have the technological capability of sending nuclear missiles to the U.S. In return for donations and bribes, Clinton allowed Red China to buy the technology to release throw weights of their missiles, thus now allowing them to reach American shores.
In 1998 Clinton was Impeached for lying under oath in a lawsuit.
Some conflicts broke out in Eastern Europe. Clinton had U.S. markings taken off American jets, replacing them with U.N. insignia, and bombed Christian churches in Belgrade. If this action in defense of Muslims resisting “ethnic cleansing” was expected to create gratitude in the Muslim world, events over the next decade proved it did not.
He had a chance to kill Osama Bin Laden, but chose not to do it. He also established as U.S. policy the premise that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and, if possible, they should be removed or destroyed.
Fueled by the Internet, the stock market exploded, but it was built on many false promises of just what the Internet could and could not do. By the time Clinton left office in 2001 it collapsed and the “dot.com” economy was lampooned as the “dot.bomb.”
After 9/11, President George W. Bush looked at the landscape and decided to “engage the enemy at a time and place of our choosing.” He saw a world in which Muslim Jihadists were attacking America and Western interests in the West, on our home turf so to speak. He found two places that were already “hell holes” – Afghanistan and Iraq – and decided to lead most of the terrorists into these two places, where they would be closely gathered together, and then send his military in to destroy them. This he largely accomplished.
First he defeated the Taliban, removing them from Kabul, Afghanistan and scattering them into the neighboring Pakistani mountains. Then he gathered much of the remaining Al Qaeda remnant, or tares to use a Biblical term, leading them into an ambush of sorts in Iraq, where he eventually defeated them.
After 9/11, the American economy tanked. On October 9, 2002 the Dow Jones Industrial Average bottomed out at 7,286. Whereby the 1990s economy was a false Internet “bubble” that burst, in the 2000s Bush built the economy back using tax cuts and solid financial principles. After inspiring confidence domestically and internationally, he led the United States to what was probably its greatest economic run ever, peaking with an incredible stock high of 14,279 in 2007.
Under President Barack Obama the economy has failed to approach such levels, the stock market mired some 4,000 or 5,000 points below Bush’s high-water mark.
San Francisco was the city, or the City, the “Paris of the West,” after the Gold Rush all the way to the 20th Century. The building of William Mulholland’s aqueduct, the rise of the film industry, the Federal highway system; by the 1960s Los Angeles was the city in the West, and eventually the world. Nobody thought the ride would end. In the 1970s, when America struggled, Los Angeles thrived. In the 1980s, when America thrived, Los Angeles led the way. Its longtime rival in everything, San Francisco, fell by the proverbial wayside. L.A. hardly noticed. San Francisco despised the fact L.A. did not care.
But years earlier in a non-descript part of the San Francisco Bay Area set next to coastal mountains called the peninsula, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made monumental discoveries and innovations with micro-chips and computers. Thus did their non-descript peninsula take on the name Silicon Valley. By the early 1990s, it had transformed the area’s economy. The Silicon Valley was cutting edge, the future. The Military Industrial Complex was a dinosaur, the past. The money, the talent, the investment once poured into the “405 corridor” between LAX and Long Beach were now poured into start-ups and high-techs between San Francisco and San Jose.
This began a huge shift in the San Francisco-Los Angeles dynamic. In the decade in which the great L.A. Times would tumble, San Francisco rose. It was a rivalry again. Once dirty, corrupt, a shadow of its once high-livin’ self, the Silicon Valley culture glamorized San Francisco again. It created something called SoMa (south of Market Street), an entire business and residential community hewed out of old, previously run-down San Francisco neighborhoods. Thriving companies, high-rise condominiums, happening nightclubs, and something people thought was almost banned in the City for years: beautiful girls. The spirit of entrepreneurial business adventure was so great that San Francisco even elected a quasi-Republican Mayor, Frank Jordan. He told people he was a registered Democrat, then winked.
In 1991, a group of high-flying Navy and Marine fighter jocks gathered at their annual Tailhook convention in Las Vegas, named after the contraption that affixes to the wheels of a jet as it lands on an aircraft carrier, bringing it to a stop. Young and full of testosterone, they drank and whooped it up. Some pretty women happened by and they whooped it up some more. Somebody complained to Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D.-Colorado). She and her female colleagues reacted as if it were the male chauvinist pig version of My Lai, the Holocaust and the Gulags combined. They hounded Navy and Marine brass endlessly. It was so bad one of the officers involved later took his own life. A Republican Senator from Oregon had the temerity to notice some women were attractive. So did one of President Bush’s colleagues from Texas, former Senator John Tower. For this they were excoriated.
Also in 1991, Bush nominated a black man to the Supreme Court. Somebody came forth and said that Clarence Thomas once offered a can of coke to a female colleague and, in so doing, made a sexually suggestive remark. Same thing. He was hounded as if he were a child molester.
As with Tailhook, the women – none of whom were the ones identified by the aforementioned as attractive - went ballistic. Schroeder, Congresswoman Barbara Boxer (D.-California) and others marched to Capitol Hill in a famed photograph, acting as if they were protecting womanhood from Thomas. His accuser was not found to be believable and Thomas was confirmed, but on lines divided to this day.
The kinds of things that happened at Tailhook were probably the kinds of hi-jinx that marked most every day of Otis Chandler’s rambunctious life, but now they were de facto crimes. Guys like Shelby Coffey III were calling them politically incorrect, and banning a slew of words that might reference this kind of now-verboten behavior. A new age was on us.
In 1992, the Democrats ran a host of aggressive women for the U.S. Senate. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Patty Murray of Washington, Carol Mosely Braun of Illinois, and both Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California were elected on Bill Clinton’s coattails in what came to be known as the “Year of the Woman.”
There is a passage in the Book of Psalms that describes men being “ruled by women,” ornamented, with “mincing, princing” steps, and “Instead of fragrance there will be a stench,” leaving men to “fall” while “The gates of Zion will lament and mourn.”
So it was in 1992.
The elections of Feinstein and Boxer marked a major shift in the SoCal-NoCal rivalry and dynamics of the state. Not only were they women, they were both Jewish and from San Francisco, considered the epicenter of liberalism. Feinstein was much more moderate. She was only nominally Jewish. She also had Catholic roots and while definitely Democrat, was and never would be viewed as a real left-winger. She was the former Mayor of San Francisco, but also owned a vacation home on the Marin County coast.
Boxer was a different story. She was Jewish, although how observant was not really known. She lived in Marin, where she had represented a district encompassing parts of San Francisco as well as Marin, Sonoma and Solano. She was highly partisan, extremely aggressive, a militant feminist, and considered as liberal as any Federal elected official in America.
In a state long dominated by the Republicans, it was jarring. Californians had long gone for strong, hawkish, white Southern California men cut out of the Ronald Reagan, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian mold. Mostly WASPS; Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, Tom Kuchel, William Knowland, Sam Yorty, Daryl Gates, Caspar Weinberger, George Schultz, Edwin Meese. Pro-business, pro-family, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.
The Southern California political scene was bereft of strength and ideas. John Seymour, a milquetoast Orange County state Senator, was appointed to the U.S. Senate after Wilson went to Sacramento. He got clocked when he tried to run on his own. Suddenly the star power, the fundraising money, the clout was in the north. But that was only part of it.
The Los Angeles economy was in the tank post-Berlin Wall but it would take more hits. In 1991, white L.A.P.D. officers beat a black motorist named Rodney King to a bloody pulp. It probably was not a rare thing, but a relatively new device was at play in the world: the camcorder. An amateur videographer caught the whole thing on tape. CNN played it over and over and over for months on end.
In 1992, the cops went to trial. South-central L.A. was none too pleased when they were assigned first the venue of Simi Valley, as white bread a town as could be found in the Southland, and naturally an all-white jury. When the jury acquitted three of the officers, wild, rampaging blacks tore up Los Angeles. It made Watts in 1965 look like the Rose Parade. Racial politics were at their most overheated.
Gangs roamed the L.A. streets. The cops, afraid of lawsuits, riots and discipline, let them ply their trades. The Bloods and the Crips ran rampant. Raiders games were veritable gang conventions. It got so bad that one day a USC football player was struck by a stray gang bullet. A few years later, Orange County, of all places, declared bankruptcy. It was totally shocking. The OC symbolized wealth, the good life.
As bad as the King riots were, the O.J. Simpson trial took the cake. O.J. was jealously claimed by western New York (Buffalo Bills) and, therefore, New York City (where he partied with Joe Namath). His hometown of San Francisco loved him, but L.A. was his domicile and place of greatest hero worship as a USC icon. He lived in Brentwood. It was “the life,” the blond bombshell wife, membership at Riviera, Hollywood fame, mistresses, a coast-to-coast free lunch, and he was welcome to it.
In 1994 he probably murdered his wife and a handsome waiter. An all-black jury acquitted him. The racial angle was infuriating. If L.A. thought they were the city that “got it right,” that did not play when it came to O.J. While USC reeled in its worst-ever football decade, O.J.’s travails, his slow speed freeway extravaganza and embarrassing trial, were the worst possible publicity.
But all of this was still not the whole story. San Francisco and the Bay Area surpassed Greater Los Angeles in just about every way. There were a few good movies made in Hollywood (Glengarry Glenross, The Player, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, American History X, Saving Private Ryan, Good Will Hunting, The Thin Red Line), but it was no replay of the 1960s and 1970s. The right continued to rail at un-patriotic, anti-family fare.
But perhaps it was on the fields of play where it really played out in its starkest terms. What a difference. The San Francisco 49ers were the most dominant team in pro football. They transitioned smoothly from coach Bill Walsh to coach Bill Seifert, from quarterback Joe Montana to quarterback Steve Young. When they won their fifth Super Bowl in January of 1995 over the San Diego Chargers, it marked what probably is the greatest continued dynasty the game has ever known. They continued to perform at a high level throughout most of the 1990s.
1994 symbolized the shift in sports power. While the 49ers went all the way, the Los Angeles Raiders, anemic in L.A. over the last years, playing before the embarrassing sight of gangbangers who took to their silver-and-black colors, packed it up and moved back to Oakland. The city where there was “no there there” was preferred to Hollywood, the City of Angels, dreamland.
That was not the half of it. The Los Angeles Rams were an institution at the Coliseum. They once played before 102,000 fans. The move to Anaheim was bad enough, but it was still L.A., kind of. But in 1995 Georgia Frontiere left for St. Louis. The last insult was their glorious 2000 Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans.
Pro football has never returned to Los Angeles. Fans were left to root for the San Diego Chargers, or the Raiders from afar, or the Packers or Cowboys or the team people said was L.A.’s “real pro football team” in the 2000s, the Trojans.
In 1991 the University of California beat UCLA in basketball. It would not have been a really big deal. Neither team was going anywhere, particularly, although the Golden Bears had recruited some recent studs. But it was the first time Cal beat the Bruins since 1961. This game was an excellent metaphor for the changing dynamics between the north and the south. UCLA appeared to have come all the way back when they won the 1995 NCAA championship in impressive style, but coach Jim Harrick became involved in an unfortunate accounting scandal that wiped out all their gains. They have never recovered. Unbelievably, in a city where champions seemed to grow on trees like oranges, UCLA’s 1995 title was the only championship of any kind won by a Los Angeles team in a major sport in the decade (unless one counts USC’s 1998 College World Series win).
In 1991, Cal annihilated USC in a football game at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. Cal had beaten the Trojans before, albeit rarely, but never ran up a score on them as they did in track meet style that year. Cal’s star running back, Russell White grew up in L.A. and was the nephew of USC Heisman Trophy winner Charles White. USC was reeling from the Todd Marinovich disaster. They were brutally bad in ’91 while Cal competed for the national championship, denied them by a close loss to eventual number one Washington.
On the decade, UCLA beat USC eight straight times. The Trojans went from 1983-95 without beating Notre Dame. USC was relatively strong, and won the 1996 Rose Bowl, but it was the worst decade in their history. Cal never got to the Rose Bowl, but the overall rivalries between Cal, Stanford, USC and UCLA were pretty even and competitive. The old stompings were a thing of the past.
The power base of the Pac-10 Conference in the 1990s was centered mainly with the University of Arizona in basketball. In football, the Washington, Arizona, and Oregon schools all caught up with USC and UCLA, if not surpassing them.
The California (then Anaheim) Angels blew the 1995 division in monumental style. That was their only hurrah. Up north, Oakland was a powerhouse of Bash Brothers fame. In 1990 they looked like the 1927 Yankees before faltering against Cincinnati in the World Series.
The sale of the Los Angeles Times, coming on the heels of the Rams move to St. Louis, were emblematic of the cities’ fall. There is really no objective way of looking at the Times’s sale to the Tribune Company and determining it to be anything other than a disaster. After that, the paper was never remotely close to what they had once been. While the Tribune take-over hurt the Times, the Hearst Corporation’s buy-out of the San Francisco Chronicle that same year had the opposite effect. The Chronicle was long a laughing stock, as much a sign of the City’s inferiority compared to L.A. as Candlestick Park vs. Dodger Stadium.
But the Chronicle improved dramatically under Hearst ownership. Scott Ostler, once a rising star in the Murray mold at the Times, was among their star sports columnists. It would not be accurate to say the Hearst Chronicle was ever as good as the Times, but at least for a while they were comparable.
“Now San Francisco has the better writers, and its ironic in that they were influenced by Murray,” said longtime Los Angeles sports radio personality Fred Wallin. “Bruce Jenkins grew up next door to him in Malibu. Scott Ostler was his protégé at the Times in the 1980s. But back in the day you’d wake up in the morning to Jim Murray and the Los Angeles Times, then read the Herald-Examiner when it came in the afternoon. I read both.”
But of all sports symbolisms, the demise of the Los Angeles Dodgers most clearly represented the way the city fell, and how the rivalry clearly favored San Francisco in sports and other ways. After winning the 1988 World Series, the team suffered on the field and had a series of embarrassments off it. Tom Lasorda was half-forced to the sidelines and in a brutal move, one of those kids born to be a Dodger, Mike Piazza was traded away.
But in 1997 the absolutely unthinkable happened. The O’Malley family sold the team to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Peter O’Malley said that changes in tax estate law enacted under President Clinton made it impossible to continue family ownership of the team with a smooth inheritance. Of all the great business moves Rupert Murdoch engineered, this remains his one glaring error. He put a man named Bob Daly in charge of the team. Daly was a movie executive with no baseball background. It was like asking Tom Lasorda to direct The Godfather. Their glory days were done.
But above all events – the election of Feinstein and Boxer, the Chronicle catching up with the Times, Cal and Stanford competing evenly with their old tormentors, the Raiders leaving L.A. for Oakland – the building of Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco, and the subsequent performance of Barry Bonds demonstrated the newfound superiority of San Francisco. It was unbelievable.
After almost moving to Tampa Bay, the Giants were saved by Safeway magnate Peter Magowan. In 1993 they made the move of all-time moves when they signed Barry Bonds. That year Bonds elevated himself to the stratosphere of a Ruth, a Williams, in leading his team to over 100 wins.
Bonds’s superstar status was the driving force behind the building of Pac Bell Park, which opened in 2000. Nobody thought it could be pulled off. Everything San Francisco did, seemingly since building the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge before World War II, failed. Unions, corruption, criminality; a host of factors always prevented them from achieving excellence.
Various attempts to build a stadium with public money had failed over the years. Voters, noting that Candlestick was “good enough for government work,” never approved, so Magowan led a private initiative. Everything about the plan and implementation was perfect.
The location was perfect. The stadium was perfect. The weather was vastly improved over Candlestick, the design of the park itself a bulwark against the wind. Pacific Bell Park was better than Dodger Stadium! The old China Basin neighborhood, once a dreary backdrop of Dirty Harry movies, already improving by the SoMa renaissance courtesy of Silicon Valley tech investment, became a prime destination of fans and partygoers seeking its upscale restaurants and bars. High-class condos with spectacular views were erected. San Francisco finally got it right.
But the building of a spectacular facility was only the first step. They needed a competitive team to excite fans. To say they accomplished that goal would be like saying Henry T. Ford accomplished his goal of getting Americans to drive cars.
Sure, Bonds was juiced out of his mind, but nobody knew it or, if they suspected, did not care at the time. No comparison, no hype is too over-the-top in describing Bonds’s incomparable performance in the 2000s, the breaking of the single-season home run record (73 in 2001), winning four straight MVP awards, eventually passing Hank Aaron on the all-time career list, and seriously bidding for the title “greatest baseball player who ever lived.”
Not only had L.A. fallen behind San Francisco while their newspaper was now just a subsidiary of Chicago, but New York passed them after a long down period. Starting with the Wall Street resurgence under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who used the RICO statutes to drive a stake into the heart of the Mob, New York cracked down on crime and smut while cleaning up the city, making it a destination again. The Yankees’ dynasty had some of its greatest glory years.
But L.A. fought back. After Ervin “Magic” Johnson announced he had the HIV virus in 1991, the Lakers entered a desultory period that lasted most the decade. The comeback started with the building of Staples Center in 1999 and the Lakers winning three straight NBA titles (2000, 2001, 2002) followed by two more in 2009 and 2010. Republican Mayor Richard Riordan led a revitalization of the downtown corridor, building new skyscrapers and attracting major corporations. The 2000 Democrat National Convention was held in Los Angeles. The two-mile stretch between Staples Center and USC was cleaned up, with the building of the Galen Center leading the re-building of the campus and surrounding neighborhood.
The air in Los Angeles was much, much cleaner in the 2000s than it had been in the 1960s, when a knife could seemingly cut it. Sports writers in the L.A. Coliseum press box gazed out upon the Hollywood sign, individual homes in Beverly Hills, the San Gabriel range. Drivers heading north on Lincoln Avenue from the airport towards Marina Del Rey came over the rise, stunned to see an unencumbered view all the way to the downtown skyline and beyond. Workers in high rises stared out at the endless basin all the way to the ocean. The citizens of West Covina discovered Mt. Baldy was actually a few miles away!
In 2002, the Anaheim Angels helped restore pride in the Southland when they beat the great Barry Bonds and the Giants in a thrilling seven-game World Series. The Dodgers parted ways with News Corporation. After Bonds’s steroid revelations he eventually faded away and the Dodgers won divisions, although they did not quite reclaim the glory of past decades.
Perhaps the rise of USC under Pete Carroll symbolized the L.A. resurgence more than any factor. Not only did he lead the program to football glory comparable with Bud Wilkinson at Oklahoma in the 1950s and Knute Rockne at Notre Dame in the 1920s, but the excitement of capacity Coliseum crowds completely revived the neighborhood and the city.
Under bad leadership, the state of California completely lost its mojo in the 1990s and 2000s. The state, built by William Mulholland, Otis Chandler, Buff Chandler, William Randolph Hearst, Howard Hughes, Darryl F. Zanuck, Louis B. Mayer, Ronald Reagan; that was no more. It had become reliably “blue,” but often the rest of America ignored them, voting their way. Its huge Electoral College votes were not needed any more. The Southwest, led by Texas, was more efficient, successful, and produced more. Ravaged by unions and illegals, California had the worst public school system in the U.S. The economy tanked. A huge migration of the middle class moved to Oregon, Nevada, Colorado. It was no longer on the cutting edge. Its trends no longer started there and led the way.
Politically, the election of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was viewed as a touch of Hollywood panache, but the thrill was quickly gone. In 2010, Republicans hoped to reverse of the “Year of the Woman” elections. Two Republican women, Meg Whitman, the founder of eBay, ran against the dinosaur Bay Area pol Jerry Brown. Barbara Boxer was challenged by ex-Hewlett Packard executive Carly Fiorina. While the Republicans won saweeping victories of breathtaking proportion, California appeared to be stuck in the 1960s. Both Republicans were beaten. The state stayed Democrat, mired in its worst period ever.
Both California and America appear to have seen their best days. It is doubtful that either the state or the country will rebound in our lifetimes, in our generation, to the glory days of Ronald Reagan, when California led the way and the greatest nation on Earth followed in its footsteps. A period of Socialism, of malaise, of unimpressiveness, in which the second rate, the low rent have become the common place, the expected, have afflicted this great country. Whether the Tea Party movement can reverse this trend remains an open question.
The Los Angeles Times under Tribune ownership completely turned from what it had been under Otis chandler. They had a guy named Robert Scheer writing op/eds that the conservatives flat called unpatriotic. George Bush and the Iraq War; maybe it was a bad idea, mistakes were obviously made, and there were no WMD found, but the Times joined a chorus of liberal voices; what they did to Bush was so far over the top that America stopped buying what they had to sell. It had a strange, unintended consequence. From a purely political point of view, liberal criticism helped the right. The unreal stance of the New York Times, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, one Hollywood movie after another lambasting Bush, none making money; it all motivated the right to vote and win. The liberals and their allies in the so-called mainstream media spawned the very things that defeat their causes and cause them to lose influence: among them, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement that, in 2010, resulted in the most total repudiation of their ideology and its face – Barack Obama – in memory, if not history!
Still, as if in a psychological daze, the left could not stop. They could not help themselves. Theirs is an odd psychosis, but we have seen it before. The left is motivated on their side as Henry Luce once was motivated on his side. Luce was convinced that he was doing God’s work, that American propaganda, even if it meant tamping down Theodore White’s reports from China, was an imperative on the side of righteousness.
The left is reacting to Luce and the Los Angeles Times pre-Otis Chandler; to Alger Hiss, HUAC and McCarthyism; to Vietnam and Watergate. In their view, past excesses by the right imbues them now with a new kind of “moral authority” to promote their liberal agenda, even if it requires lying, but this is their god! As with Hiss and Clinton and Cambodia, they have determined there is a thing called “global warning,” that it is man-made, and that Socialism is the only way to destroy it. In sticking to this stance against all facts, they dig their own grave.
Without addressing this dynamic they will keep making the same errors and paying for it all the way to bankruptcy. William F. Buckley, Jr. pointed it out as far back as God and Man Yale, but still they persist. It is in their nature.
The Rush Limbaughs of the world were their unintended beneficiaries. If ratings were supposed to be the slightest indication of who was telling the truth, Fox News appeared to be the ones doing that. The left said, no, that was not it. It was jingoism, false patriotism, war mongering. America did not buy that, either.
The newspapers say their lack of subscriptions, sales, advertising revenue, are not the result of political opinion. It is the Internet. It is failure to harness the Internet’s potential. Maybe, but if they are unwilling to look at themselves they will continue to fail. Something is very, very wrong in the mainstream media today. The Orange County Register hangs in there pretty well. The Wall Street Journal is a powerhouse, as great as ever. The Washington Times has a specialized right-wing audience, but a big one. The old powerhouses, however, are all shadows of themselves.
Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, G. Gordon Liddy; they are media giants. When they go on vacation a host of talented newcomers demonstrate their future is strong beyond them. Savage in particular . . . savages the “liberal media,” particularly newspapers like the New York Times, and magazines such as Time, Newsweek and the ultra-left The Nation. He rubs salt in their wounds, calling them out, saying they are going out of business because of their politics.
Savage and others who air similar views, like Bill O’Reilly, may be exaggerating or making the point in order to advance both their agendas and their shows. The left pointedly refuses to listen to them because in the case of Savage (not really O’Reilly) at least, these “noise machines,” as the left derides them, are just that, not to be trusted or given credence. In dismissing them, the left do themselves no favors, because no matter how uber-partisan the conservatives are – and they are – within their rhetoric is the kind of truth the liberals are not listening to and need to in order to survive. It is the ancient story, “The emperor has no clothes.” It is the same as any battlefield commander, who needs truthful intelligence in order to make the best decisions. Hoped for information, the death knell of the commander, is having that effect on the liberal media, and if they are not careful, the Democrat Party sooner than they suspect.
Air America is in the “dustbin of history.” Blogs are hard to pin down. WorldNetDaily and others thrive. Apparently so do liberal blogs like the Huffington Post and Media Matters. The left has its angels, its Murdochs, mainly in the form of a shadowy European named George Soros, who as a young man worked as a Nazi collaborator confiscating the property of Jews, and on 60 Minutes declared, "If I wasn’t doing it, somebody else would be taking it away.” If somebody like Soros attempted to exercise influence on the right, they would self-enforce his banishment within minutes.
Jim Murray steered clear of politics. The fact that his grandfather owned buildings, and Jim’s recollections trying to collect rent from some of the low-lifes living in them, probably steered him clear of the Democrats, at least after “I made my first $40,000,” but he may well have been swept up in the adulteration of FDR.
He was described by those who knew him best as most likely a moderate Los Angeles Republican, a Nixon man who “confessed” he voted for him in 1960 even though he “loved” Jack Kennedy. Watergate turned him away, but one can glean from his writings not just pathos for 1960s blacks and the downtrodden of life, but also middle class morality, even Catholic judgment, and common sense, not moral relativism. He stayed quiet during Vietnam, but his paper was not embedded with the Viet Cong, either. He would have stayed quiet about Iraq. He would not have liked what he saw in the war or with his paper. He would have thought the leftward turn a mistake.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism