LA Times Fires Longtime Progressive Columnist Robert Scheer
The Los Angeles Times newspaper last week announced that it was firing longtime columnist Robert Scheer. Scheer has been at the Times for 30 years and was one of the most progressive voices at the paper. In recent years, his columns took on the Bush Administration and its justifications for the invasion of Iraq. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined on the line by Robert Scheer, author of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq. He’s also co-host of the syndicated radio show with Arianna Huffington, Matt Miller and Tony Blankley. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ROBERT SCHEER: Hi.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Robert, can you talk about what happened?
ROBERT SCHEER: Well, what happened is that I had been the subject of vicious attacks by Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Sometimes Bill O’Reilly would sometimes go after me every day, and this went on for the last couple of years, and I’m still standing. I was a punching bag for those guys. I’m still standing, and the people who run the paper collapsed. And the big issue here, I think, is that the publisher took over the editorial pages, a guy named Jeff Johnson. He’s an accountant from Chicago, doesn’t know anything about what newspapers are supposed to be about, and he made a decision to get rid of the column. It had run as a column — I had worked at the paper since 1976, but the column had been running for 13 years, and I think it was a strong column, criticizing the war when the paper was supporting it.
And even as recently as last week, my last column, which I’m quite proud of, was on the Defense Intelligence Agency report that Senator Carl Levin released last week, and I wrote about how in February 2002 they knew there were no ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, that the key witness was a phony. This was released. Eight months later George Bush went before — spoke just before the Senate decided its decision and at that time knew that the key witness for this, really the only witness they had, was a phony, yet went and lied to the country. That column last week broke that news for the readers of the Los Angeles Times that the paper neglected to cover in any serious way. So, you know, it’s very disappointing.
The only other fact here that I would throw in, the paper is concerned about what the Bush administration thinks, because the Tribune Company bought the Times Mirror Corporation and now owns a television station, a very profitable one, in the same market in Los Angeles as the newspaper. And next year they have asked — they have to get a waiver in order to be able to do that, because that violates the law right now. They expected Congress — when they bought the property, they thought Congress would pass that law allowing them to have those two major outlets in the same market. It is now illegal, and in 2006 they are coming up for a waiver, and the Bush administration’s F.C.C. could easily deny that waiver to them.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, I wanted to read you some comments of the people in charge. We did try to get someone on, but they didn’t respond. Andres Martinez, the editorial page editor, said, "The opinion pages are our newspaper’s town square. Our readers expect us to publish all points of view and the broadest range of opinion, from those of our editorial board and columnists to those of our readers and op-ed contributors. And we intend to do exactly that." The Los Angeles Times publisher, Jeffrey Johnson, said, "You’ve got a new editorial page editor and a new publisher. We sat down and talked about the pages and decided to make changes." The Times op-ed editor, the opinion editor Nicholas Goldberg, said, "I think we have put together a smart, original and provocative team of writers who reflect a variety of interesting and thoughtful perspectives on local, national and foreign affairs. A good column involves a relationship developed with readers over time, and I invite our readers to develop their relationships with these engaging minds in the weeks and months to come." Your response, Robert Scheer?
ROBERT SCHEER: You know, somebody who could say that, when all isn’t said, they can condone anything. We talk about a free press. These people hide, they make a lot of money off the media. They hide behind the slogans of free press, and then they can come out with crap like that. It’s just garbage. It’s insulting to the readers. They know I have a strong — not only that I have a strong relation to readers, but so did Ramirez, the cartoonist. You know, it’s just gibberish.
The Los Angeles Times is being shroodled by — its owners are laying off 70 people this week. They’re just gonna — John Carroll, the distinguished editor of that paper, left because he said they are just going to pillage the paper. He won 13 Pulitzer Prizes in recent years for the Los Angeles Times, and he clearly — it was discussed by Ken Auletta in The New Yorker — left because he said these people don’t care about journalism. These people are just going to suck what they can out of the property. So this guy, Jeff Johnson, who is an accountant who cares nothing at all about a free press and cares nothing about journalism, he’s a right winger who supported the war, you know, who two years ago told people he couldn’t stand a word that I wrote. Why? Because I exposed how the whole Jessica Lynch thing was a fraud, when the newspaper hadn’t even covered the news story, or that I attacked the whole W.M.D. from the beginning, I attacked the war from the very beginning? And this is just one column once a week, 720 words on the Op-Ed page, and he couldn’t take that.
The decision came from the publisher. It certainly was cleared by Chicago. And then they come out with these fine sounding words about relation to readers and their obligation. It has nothing to do with that. You know, this was the case, you know, with the New York Times with Judy Miller, it’s the case with the L.A. Times and the Wen Ho Lee case, where they are now claiming we have a shield thing, we have to protect our reporters with a free press. What they are interested in at the L.A. Times is profits, and then when it’s convenient to them, they wave the flag of free press.
But you had one voice at that paper on the Op-Ed page consistently opposed to this war. I’ve been with the paper for almost 30 years. I have broken a lot of stories. The paper nominated me 12 or 13 times for the Pulitzer Prize. I was a finalist for the Pulitzer as a reporter. And new people come in, and it doesn’t go along with their politics, and they fire me, end the column, silence a voice in Los Angeles. They can’t silence it nationally, but they are able to do it there. And what they know now, because they have had the response of, I don’t know what — I hear from people in the building they have had 3,000 or 4,000 people have emailed and written letters. They have gotten thousands of phone calls. They know that the column resonates in the community. They know that people like it, and yet they don’t have room for one column once week that consistently got it right.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, I wanted to play for you a comment of or part of a speech by President Bush on Friday on Veterans Day.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: While it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war, it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began. Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community’s judgments related to Iraq’s weapons programs. They also know that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. They know the United Nations passed more than a dozen resolutions citing his development and possession of weapons of mass destruction.
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush in his address on Friday against a backdrop of soldiers and veterans. Robert Scheer, among the things he said was that it is irresponsible, his critics are being irresponsible in expressing dissent at this time. Your response.
ROBERT SCHEER: Well, this is the big lie technique, and it’s really frightening at a time when 60% of the American public know this guy is lying, and they say it. They finally have gotten it. He thinks that by reiterating this lie he can get away with it. And there are two components to it that — I mean, two such blatant lies. He dares to mention the U.N. in this speech, and yet President Bush knows the issue had nothing at all to do with so-called claims of intelligence. The issue was that the United Nations inspectors were there. The United Nations inspectors had access to everywhere they had to go. They said they were not finding these weapons. As it turns out, the U.N. got the Nobel Prize because they got it right.
And so, let’s just begin — the big lie technique here is to never discuss that. Why did you go to war when the U.N. inspectors there on the ground with access to all of the sites where they were supposed to have these weapons, and they were getting this access; that’s number one. Secondly, the argument for imminent threat, that makes you move in, kick out the U.N. inspectors — you are going to go to war — the argument is there’s a tie between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden, the guys who blew up the World Trade Center. That’s the big [inaudible]. And for Bush not to address the revelation of only last week that — certainly if he didn’t know it, maybe he’s so out to lunch he didn’t know it, but certainly the security officials in his administration knew about the Defense Intelligence Agency memorandum very clearly lining out that there was no evidence of a tie between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and so there certainly was no imminent justification.
But I would also point out he is lying about that Senate report. The fact is the Senate never made — because of the Republican leadership, the Senate never did the phase two of the report, and phase one of the report did not go into the administration’s distortion of the evidence. That was supposed to be left for phase two, and they haven’t gotten around to it, and it’s been two years.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer is speaking to us from a cruise ship in the Pacific. He is on a Nation cruise which is why you are hearing his voice breaking up. Again, the Los Angeles Times columnist, I should say former columnist, was fired on Friday after almost 30 years. The author Jonah Goldberg will now be an L.A. Times op-ed columnist, the author of Liberal Fascism. Your response, Robert.
ROBERT SCHEER: Yeah, well, that gives the — I think it shows what they’re really all about. The publisher has told — you know, if these editors, Andres Martinez and Nick Goldberg, were the least bit honest about this, they would tell you the publisher has told them he wants the editorial page to be conservative. He has specifically told them that. And so why don’t they tell their readers that? Why doesn’t the editor of the editorial page tell the readers our publisher, my publisher, my boss, the guy who owns this press — remember A.J. Liebling’s thing: Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. The owner of this paper has taken direct control over the editorial page. Jeff Johnson is an accountant. He’s not a journalist. He has said, "I am going to run the editorial page. I’m going to run the columns and the editorials," very clearly, and he’s told both of those individuals very clearly in those meetings he referred to that "I’m in charge and I want this page to be more conservative."
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Robert Scheer —
ROBERT SCHEER: And here he picks Jonah Goldberg, one of the most conservative columnists, to do his bidding for him.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. I know there will be a protest tomorrow outside the Los Angeles Times at noon. We will continue to cover the story and hope we can get the Los Angeles Times management on, as well. Thanks for joining us, Robert Scheer, former columnist at the Los Angeles Times for some 30 years.