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Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times

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Posted on Nov 3, 2009
Angel City Press

By Bill Boyarsky

(Page 3)

The national headlines touched off a rebellion in the newsroom at the Los Angeles Times. A petition was circulated demanding an apology from Kathryn Downing, the publisher. The next day, Downing met with the staff in the company cafeteria, filled beyond capacity. For ninety minutes, she faced unrelenting, belligerent questioning. She apologized “to each of you . . . To have the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or anyone for that matter question our integrity is a horrendous place to be, and I am responsible for that.”

Otis Chandler watched all this from his ranch in Ojai. He had grown skeptical of Willes. “The Times is at great risk I think being run by people who have good intentions, are smart and so on, but no experience,” he said. “I think there’s a vulnerability.”

But Chandler no longer had any power at the Times. In 1998, he had been dropped from the board after he expressed his feelings about the family to journalist David Margolick for a 1996 profile in Vanity Fair. Margolick quoted him saying his relatives were “coupon clippers . . . elitists . . . bored with the problems of AIDS and the homeless and drive-by shootings.” He was not even offered the choice of staying on as a non-voting director, a gesture often offered to other board members.

 

book cover

 

Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times

 

By Bill Boyarsky / Based on the film by Peter Jones

 

Angel City Press, 208 pages

 

Buy the book

There were no longer any Chandlers on the staff of the Los Angeles Times. Otis’s oldest son, Norman, had undergone the same training program as his father and, like Otis, particularly enjoyed his work as a reporter. He learned how to cover the news, was intelligent, seemed to have the spark of leadership, and was popular with his co-workers. But Otis didn’t think Norman merited high command in the company:

The Chandler family would not have accepted Norman as publisher. He is not an outgoing, tough, aggressive leader as I was. He had no leadership jobs through the years as I did. He wasn’t in the service. He’s . . . gracious and kind . . . [but] if they put him in he would have failed because it wasn’t meant to be.

The issue was moot. Norman was discovered to have an inoperable brain tumor and died after a long decline.

His other son, Harry, was also interested in coming into the company, but his father didn’t offer him the opportunity for executive training that Norman had experienced. Harry finally went to work at the Times in its new media area. “I joined without him making a phone call,” Harry said. But he said Willes wasn’t interested in new media. “And I think as a Chandler, Mark Willes didn’t feel like [I was] his best friend . . . ” But even if Otis had been the pushiest of fathers, the family members controlling the board never would have given power to his sons. The Chandler era was just about over.

After the Staples scandal broke, Otis brooded at his ranch. Then he wrote a long message to the editorial department. He placed a call to the city editor, one of the few staff members he still knew, and asked him to deliver the message to the staff. The city editor, seated at his computer, took it down.

Otis read his remarks over the phone, with words reflecting his fury and sorrow:

To the employees of the Los Angeles Times, particularly of the editorial department because they have been so abused and misused . . . [by] the downsizing of the Times . . . the shrinking of the Times in terms of employees . . . the ill-advised steps that have been taken by current management . . . breaking down barriers, the traditional wall between editorial and the business departments.

My heart is heavy, my emotions are indescribable because I am afraid I am witnessing now a period in time in the history of this newspaper that is beyond description . . . I applaud the efforts of individual reporters who have spoken openly at their recent meeting with Kathryn Downing, and I also heartily endorse the letter that was presented to Michael Parks on November 2 which calls for a full and impartial publishing of all of the events that led up to the Staples controversy . . .

If a newspaper, even a great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, loses credibility with its community, with its readers, with its advertisers, with its shareholders, that is probably the most serious circumstance that I can possibly think of. Respect and credibility of a newspaper is irreplaceable. Sometimes it never can be restored no matter what steps might be taken in terms of apology by the publisher, apology by the head of Times Mirror or whatever post-event strategies might be developed in the hopes of putting the pieces back together.

When I think back through the history . . . of this great newspaper . . . I realize how fragile and irreplaceable public trust in a newspaper is. This public trust and faith in a newspaper by its employees, its readers, the community, is dearer to me than life itself.

At six o’clock that evening, after the paper’s deadline, the city editor called the entire staff together and read Otis’s words to a packed newsroom. There was silence while the message was read, followed by applause. Soon after, pictures of Otis were posted throughout the big room.

Downing called Otis “angry and bitter.” Somewhat surprisingly, his foes in the family were resentful of her statement—who was she to insult a Chandler? Even before the Staples scandal, the family had been considering selling Times Mirror. Willes had pretty much stripped the company down to its print enterprises, and it was clear by 2000 that the newspaper business was heading downhill. Downing’s insult to Otis and the intensive national coverage of the Staples controversy gave the family a final push toward concluding the sale. On March 13, 2000, Times Mirror became part of the company that owned the Chicago Tribune.

Otis said he was pleased that the Tribune Company was taking over. A few weeks later, he and Bettina returned to the paper for the first time since he had been dismissed from the board. With Bettina at his side, he walked through the entire newsroom, past the pictures of him still hanging there. He stopped at every department. The journalists crowded around him, wanting to greet him. Many were meeting him for the first time.

He had brought integrity, honor and civic responsibility to the Los Angeles Times as well as great prosperity. Aware of what he had given to the paper—and knowing those days were passing—the workers on the newsroom floor were proud to shake his hand.

“Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times”
By Bill Boyarsky / Based on the film by Peter Jones
ISBN 978-1-883318-92-5, $35
Published by Angel City Press, Santa Monica
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Boyarsky and Peter Jones
Excerpt reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.


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By Sepharad, November 3, 2009 at 10:57 pm Link to this comment

prole, you are overlooking the most important thing about the Chandler-run Times and googling on the gossipy to slake your endless thirst for any remotely anti-Semitic draft. Like the NYTimes, the LATimes was an amazingly good paper with reporters who knew they were valued, knew what they were doing. The LATimes was able to pay talented investigative writers to spend the time it takes to develop difficult stories. For their “beat” reporters, they selected the best and the brightest. At perhaps the lowest point of my own journalism career, in the mid-70s, I was reduced to editing publications and explaining the actions of the State Bar Board of Governors to the reporters from around the state who were supposed to cover it. The only bright spot in the landscape was Gene Blake, the Times main legal reporter—and no, he wasn’t Jewish (but I never held that against him).  He always did his homework well before the meetings, knew everything pertinent about the individual governors, the issues, the politics, and was an oasis of intellect and rapid analysis. He’d sit there with a little smile, neat white beard, taking the occasional note and listening very carefully while the other reporters preened and looked around to see if anyone was noticing them. In short, the contrast between Blake and most of the other reporters was so depressing I’d begun to regret my choice of profession. Mostly I spent my time, for example, trying to persuade the gorgeous female Chinese SF reporter that the real action was the boring no-fault insurance law debate, not the sexy relatively meaningless diversion of dithering about legalizing marijuana. Many reporters do not want to write about the hard, convoluted stuff, where most of the important rights and wrongs are buried. Blake had an unerring instinct for finding the important, cutting through the legal blather and writing what counted. He knew exactly what was happening when then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s atty. gen. demanded a closed meeting on judicial selections. He was always interested in the latest Legal Services attempt to prod some big firm into doing a lot more pro bono, or when the disciplinary committee was being hounded for trying to discipline the wrong influential person. But mostly it was the issues that attracted him. 

If you want to know why so much in California is screwed up, it’s because people are no longer interested in details of complex issues because they no longer have enough reporters such as Blake and Boyarsky to explain, dissect, analyze. (Blake and the SFChron’s Larry Hatfield were also the best guys to share a drink with.)

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, November 3, 2009 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment

“But he said Willes wasn’t interested in new media. “

Ooops.

File that one right next to the captain of the Titanic not be worried about the ice bergs.

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Samson's avatar

By Samson, November 3, 2009 at 3:06 pm Link to this comment

“But he said Willes wasn’t interested in new media. “

Ooops.

File that one right next to the captain of the Titanic not be worried about the ice bergs.

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prole's avatar

By prole, November 3, 2009 at 2:56 pm Link to this comment

“After the Staples scandal broke, Otis brooded at his ranch. Then he wrote a long message to the editorial department. He placed a call to the city editor, one of the few staff members he still knew, and asked him to deliver the message to the staff.”…and who might that chummy, unnamed city editor be? Why, none other than the author of the book and this review of it, despite the third person in describing the scene. And why the effusive praise for ol’ Otis? Maybe it has something to do with re-paying a debt. As another former L.A.Times reporter, Ken Reich, described it, in a ’05 interview: “The Times had a lot of Jewish reporters. Mrs. Chandler was responsible for opening up links between the Protestant and Jewish communities in raising Westside money for downtown goals. When Otis Chandler became publisher, one of the ways it changed is that it opened up to the Jewish community. It was no coincidence that The Times had as political writers me, Bill Boyarsky, Carl Brainberg, Bob Shogun. We were all Jews. The Chandlers had a good attitude towards the Jewish community.” This attitude extended to another prominent member of the Jewish community as well, the cuddly Henry Kissinger. In a transcript of a personal call to that war criminal recently released,  Chandler gushed: “The reason I’m troubling you, I’ll only take a minute of your time because I know how busy you must be, I’m calling for mother.She has written to you about speaking to about 500 ladies at the music center here on the west coast…
  Kissinger:“Let me review my calendar and get back to you by the end of the week.”
  Chandler: “Fine. How are things otherwise?”
  Kissinger:“Well, I’m getting back into the time zone. Things are going along, though. I think we’re getting something started with Australia, I mean Syria.”
  Chandler: “Henry, you are the one bright spot in the newspaper every day. The rest of the new is not very good but…
  Kissinger: “Otis, you have been a very good friend, at all times.
  Chandler: “Henry, anything you want, I’ll be here.”

How touching, two comrades-in-arms. A revealing glimpse into the incestuous relationship between power and the press. Still, the LA Times did have some redeeming features during the Otis era, most notably the excellent editorial cartoons of Paul Conrad, no great admirer of Dr. Strangelove or his similarly sociopathic brethren in Israel. 
So if “Otis said he was pleased that the Tribune Company was taking over”, in 2000, it’s not so clear how he would feel about the recent takeover by the Tribune, and with it his LA Times, in 2007, by zionist militant and AIPAC booster, Chicago slumlord, Sam Zell. But a crafty old Israel cheerleader and Gaza apologist like Boyarsky must sure be pleased!

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