Readers' Representative Journal

A conversation on newsroom ethics and standards

Category: Times coverage

Readers question play of Mitt Romney, Neil Armstrong stories

A1-8.26.12The front page of Sunday's Times featured a large profile of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a preview to the GOP National Convention, which was to begin Monday.

A similar profile of President Obama is scheduled for this coming Sunday, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

But some readers thought another article should have been the main story of the day -- the obituary of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.

The comments ran along these lines:

"As a registered Republican and a 60+ year reader of the Los Angeles Times I am offended and outraged that a picture of Mitt Romney (a politician!) should be the front main story this morning rather than Neil Armstrong," wrote Carolyn Zwirn of Los Angeles. "Neil Armstrong was a hero in every sense of the word: a brave, courageous and honorable man over whom you chose a politician."

"The world lost a hero in Neil Armstrong. That one small step for man he took  43 years ago just took a step backward when you choose to feature a presidential candidate above someone who reached for the stars, achieved it and then came home," emailed Maureen Hilt of Granada Hills.

"I was frankly appalled, but not surprised, to see the front page of the L.A. Times today with the main story not about a man who actually accomplished a lot for us in his lifetime, Neil Armstrong, but instead, a large image of a politician," said Paul J. Burke of Palmdale.

"What poor judgment to put a political candidate so prominently on the front page above Neil Armstrong, a national hero for all times to come! What were you thinking?" emailed Jorg and Anke Raue of Rancho Palos Verdes.

Managing Editor Marc Duvoisin explained:

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Location of NASA's JPL is a bit of a curiosity


If we can land a rover on Mars, surely we can identify the city where NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is located. Right?

When it came to The Times' recent coverage of Mars rover Curiosity, reader Sabrina Peck of Pasadena wasn't so sure.

"My husband has been a JPL engineer in Pasadena since 1979. Yes, Pasadena: Zip 91109," she wrote in an email. "Why do your writers assert that JPL is in La Cañada Flintridge?"

The short answer: Because it is.

But it wasn't always, and that's where the confusion comes in.

The story starts in 1936 with three scientists experimenting with rockets. That led to the establishment of a center for rocket science on the Caltech campus, in Pasadena. In 1940, when the explosions became a bit too loud and dangerous for the middle of the city, a facility was built in the foothills above Pasadena. And in 1943, the site was dubbed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

From 1943 forward, JPL was, for all intents and purposes, in Pasadena, and it had a Pasadena mailing address.

Then in 1976, residents of JPL's neighboring community voted to incorporate and became La Cañada Flintridge. The city limits included JPL's campus.

But  JPL kept its Pasadena mailing address -- which suits the La Cañada post office just fine. The Pasadena post office, which serves a city of 140,000 residents, is better equipped to manage the facility's mail than La Cañada, which serves a city of 20,000.

(In 2010, a postal carrier wrote and implored The Times to stop reporting that JPL was in La Cañada because it resulted in a flood to the city's lone post office.)

JPL's website notes the dichotomy. The mailing address is listed as 4800 Oak Grove Drive,
Pasadena, CA 91109. But this is what it says under "Directions": Street address for use in online map searches: 4800 Oak Grove Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011

The issue seems to come up each time JPL makes national news. A 1997 article by Times staff writer Bob Pool carries the wonderful headline, "We've Found Mars, but Where is JPL?"

Presumably, the mailing address is what guides national media, which have focused attention on JPL amid Curiosity's mission to Mars. A headline Wednesday declared: "Curiosity's Martian Playground is Technically Located in Pasadena"

No. Technically, it's in La Cañada Flintridge.

-- Deirdre Edgar

Photo: JPL's campus. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Story inspires young reader to reach new heights


Joshua Bloess of Duarte was so inspired by a story he saw last year in The Times that he climbed a mountain.

It was his father who wrote to tell us about it, because Joshua is 6.

The story was about a 7-year-old, Tyler Armstrong of Yorba Linda, who climbed Mt. Whitney in a single day. 

"My son saw the article about Tyler summiting Mt. Whitney last year and told my wife and I he wanted to do the same," Thomas Bloess said in an email. 

The weekend before Father's Day, Bloess said, Joshua reached the top. "Although not in a day like Tyler, he still did it."

The Bloesses spent three days on Mt. Whitney: "One day to Trail Camp, one to summit and back down to Trail Camp, and the last day to walk off the mountain."

"Thanks for publishing this inspiring story, as it inspired one little boy to get to the top," Bloess said. "The world needs more stories like Tyler's."

--Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Joshua Bloess at the top of Mt. Whitney. Credit: Thomas Bloess


'Several hundred' vs. 10,000: Debating May Day crowd estimates


Crowd estimates are notoriously unreliable, with organizers quoting larger numbers and authorities giving more conservative figures. It’s no wonder readers are confused -– or skeptical -– about the numbers reported for events such as this year's May Day protests in Los Angeles.

In an article Tuesday, an immigrant and labor-rights march downtown was said to have drawn "only several hundred people," and an Occupy protest was said to have had "about 1,000."

Reporters said the numbers came from their own estimates and from police and security officials.

But readers thought they were too low.

"One wonders what demonstrations The Times was reporting on for Los Angeles May Day," wrote Robin Doyno of Los Angeles.

"The march north on Broadway alone had more than 2,000 people. The West Wind, one of four directional approaches to downtown, contained at least 50 cars, 30 bikes and two large buses on the approach from Santa Monica to MacArthur Park. And yes, the Labor, Immigration and Occupy communities all did their own thing yet did show up for May Day in numbers much higher than reported."

Jim Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, cited a much higher estimate. He said his organization, which describes itself as "an effective political and social force in the service of the people," had 60 observers among the May Day protests.

"I am left wondering if the article's reporters were even actually in Los Angeles yesterday," he wrote to The Times. "I was present throughout the largest of the two principal immigrant rights marches and rallies, and at the first, and biggest, other reporters on the scene estimated the crowd as 'about 10,000,' not 'only several hundred,' as The Times reported."

In their coverage of the protests, the Los Angeles Daily News cited "thousands" of participants, as did KABC-TV and KNBC-TV. However, before the rallies, KCBS-TV reported that 10,000 immigrants-rights marchers were expected.

But how reliable are any of these estimates?

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L.A. riots: Readers respond to 20th anniversary coverage

Readers by the dozens have shared their memories of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which erupted 20 years ago this week
Readers by the dozens have shared their memories of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which erupted 20 years ago this week.

Those contributing their stories include:

A former National Guardsman 

A retired L.A. County sheriff's sergeant

A former LAX traffic controller 

And a former LAPD 911 operator

Readers also have weighed in on The Times' coverage of the anniversary:

"This series captivated me, about something so influential to our city's history, but before my lifetime, yet recent enough that it is engrained in its residents' memory," wrote Michael Smallberg of Northridge. "Like a sponge, I soaked up every article every day it appeared. It is this kind of local reporting that I love to read about in The Times.”

Shirley Cameron of Newport Coast had another view. "I'm wondering why The Times chose to give this so much coverage," she emailed. "It was 20 years ago, and it's something most people would like to forget."

In particular, Patt Morrison's interview with Rodney King drew a number of comments.

Alfred Gassler of Cerritos wrote: "I agree he was mistreated by the police 20 years ago. I don't feel sorry for him, seeing him sitting on a $1,000 couch. There are people that are worse off, and they don't complain."

Linda Loding of Pasadena wrote in a Letter to the Editor: "My 24-year-old son was one of the 54 people who died because of the riots. He died being a good Samaritan. I miss him every day of my life. King said of the videotape of his beating, ‘Now I laugh, I smile, when I see it.’ It is obvious that he has not learned much in 20 years, whereas I've learned to deal with the pain. Shame on you, Rodney King; I am one of 54 families not laughing or smiling."

And Sheldon Wright of Temple City wrote in a letter: "Over the years, I read about King's life, shaking my head and wondering what could have been. His frank and genuine responses to Morrison's questions give me hope as to where he is going. Time will tell, but after finishing the article, I caught myself not shaking but nodding my head."

Full coverage from The Times of the 20th anniversary of the riots is here.

-- Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Windows were broken at The Times' downtown L.A. building on April 29, 1992. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times


Afghan war photos: contrasting views

The Times’ front page story and photos on U.S. troops posing with the body parts of Afghan insurgents prompted thousands of online comments, and hundreds of phone calls, emails and letters to the editor this week.  

The  publication of the photos drew the most reaction, ranging from outrage to praise.

The debate was especially vigorous in the military community.

Here’s what a few readers had to say to The Times:


Angela Hughes wrote to the editor: "I am a retired officer from the U.S. Air Force.  I served in Iraq in 2007 before the surge when things were really violent and awful.  Those of us who serve in the Armed Forces do so freely and most of us are honorable and love our country and everything it stands for, including your right to publish whatever you believe to be newsworthy. However, all of us are human and I doubt very seriously you have any idea what it is like to be in a combat zone ...  By publishing the photos of the soldiers in Afghanistan, you have willingly put many innocent American lives in jeopardy.  I cannot understand how this was newsworthy."

Elizabeth Spatz offered online:  "As the wife of a service member currently serving in Afghanistan, I have to seriously question the decision to publish the photos of US personnel posing with deceased Afghans.  I'm no fan of this war and hope and pray for a speedy end and resolution. However, these photos will not get us there. Yes, the American public needs to have information and be well informed, but these images have the potential to put our already overtaxed military members under even more stress and potentially in greater danger. I feel there are other ways --- call for a draft, publish pictures of US military funerals, highlight the difficulties injured vets are enduring every day."

From Strykersville, NY,  Jamie Smith added: "As a parent of two military men, I am very upset with The Times decision to post the pictures in this article. The military personnel that I know would never condone these actions, and yet your article puts them at severe risk. When the media flaunts their "objectivity" it can stir up violence, not just against the few people who showed their lack of military discipline, but against innocent American military men and women around the world, and also friendly Afghan people." 

Julie Thomas commented online: "As the mother of a deployed U.S. soldier, I am outraged that you would put a story and photos that depict our soldiers as cold blooded killers. Unless you are in their “boots” you cannot image the pressure and stress they are under, what they just witnessed or what their "job" as a soldier calls for them to do… I fear for my son's life every day. "

Beth Murphy emailed to say: "I feel that there are always a few in every organization that disregard the rules. Most of our soldiers, including two of my sons, are professional, respect our country, and would lay down their life for America's freedom…  If you are concerned with these soldiers’ actions, I suggest you report it to the proper military leaders for action."

From Narrowsburg, N.Y., Thomas Prendergast wrote: "I am a former member of the 82nd Airborne Division and am extremely offended by the photos that you ran. Do you do these things to run down our country or are you just that smug?"

Others -- many with connections to the military -- had different but equally strong reactions:

Wrote John Gregory from Arcadia: "As a former public information officer of the 82nd Airborne Division, I am horrified, angered and mystified by the lack of discipline showed by troopers who posed for photos with body parts in Afghanistan. Kudos to the brave soldier who brought this sad incident to the public’s attention."

Elizabeth Apana of San Francisco weighed in: "The argument that publishing these photos puts our troops at risk is completely false. The people in Afghanistan witnessed this happening and saw the pictures being taken. The actions of the U.S. soldiers is what has offended them, and that is what will make them angry, and rightly so. If there is retribution, it is because of the actions of these soldiers, not pictures published in the U.S. If it is the stress of sending the same troops back to the battlefield again and again, then why doesn't the military do something about it? "

Commented Rose James to The Times: "As a former Army officer, you and the whistleblower are right in exposing the uncivilized treatment by U.S. military personnel. One person commented that these photos should have been given to superiors and investigated internally, but nothing would have been done and a massive cover-up would have ensued. The whistleblower would have been punished and the uncivilized brutes would been congratulated."

Added John Bute from Texas:  "Assuming the photos are real, most of the criticism I read is nuts. I'm a Vietnam-era veteran and my father fought his way through North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France....  The security danger is to the Afghans in the pictures."  

In Long Beach, Alan Brooks commented:  "The Times was absolutely correct in releasing the controversial war photos. This is providing needed information to  the American public who must make decisions about ongoing wars they are paying for. We must understand the price we pay as a society when we take teenagers, give them guns and teach them to kill. And then we cluck like hurt hens when there are psychological aberrations."

 Finally, Alli Pyrah in New York, observed: "Please ignore all the hate mail you’ll get from those who would like to intimidate journalists attempting to accurately portray the U.S. military. It’s ironic that while claiming to fight for our freedoms, these troops attempt to oppress any opinions that don’t paint them in a positive light. Many of us appreciate the truthful, impartial reporting of The Times."













Controversial Afghan war photos: Readers react

Readers reacted strongly Wednesday to the publication of a Times Page 1 story headlined “U.S. Troops Posed With Body Parts of Afghan Bombers.”

As Times staff writer David Zucchino wrote: “The soldier who provided a series of 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses to The Times did so on condition of anonymity. He served in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne’s 4th Brigade Combat Team from Ft. Bragg, N.C. He said the photos point to a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops.

“He expressed the hope that publication would help ensure that alleged security shortcomings at two U.S. bases in Afghanistan in 2010 are not repeated. The brigade, under new command but with some of the same paratroopers who served in 2010, began another tour in Afghanistan in February.... U.S. military officials asked The Times not to publish any of the pictures.”

In a statement, Times Editor Davan Maharaj said:  “After careful consideration, we decided that publishing a small but representative selection of the photos would fulfill our obligation to readers to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan, including the allegation that the images reflect a breakdown in unit discipline that was endangering U.S. troops.”

On Wednesday morning, Maharaj talked about the  story, its photos and the background of the piece in a live chat.

Some readers questioned the decision to publish the photos.

Anne Hoffler in Richmond, Va., emailed to ask: "Because of your supposed 'obligation' to the people who buy your newspaper, my husband and his colleagues will be in even more danger in Afghanistan.  Did that cross your mind?”

Jeffrey Cole of Westerville, Ohio, wondered: “What positive impact could you possibly hope for?"

Observed  C. Clingerman of Woodbridge, Va.: “Yes, we all understand that you have the right to publish whatever you want because you have freedom of speech, freedom of the press ... having said that, sometimes it's not a matter of whether or not you can, it's whether or not you should.  In this case, what's the purpose other than to make our military look bad?”

Not so,  commented “promote_liberty" online: “This has nothing to do with Anti-Americanism or making soldiers into villains. This is the position our government is putting soldiers into. Maybe if more images like this and more coverage like this was exposed ... people would be more vocal in the anti-war movement."

"Bytebear," also online, said: “The soldier who leaked these photos is correct that the chain of command has broken down.  Not just in the fact that the superior officers didn't put a stop to this behavior, but also because the whistle blower was not using the correct chain of command.  He should have reported the issue to his superiors and they should have acted.  This should never have been anything more than an internal incident."

Added Jason Tidwell  online: “Soldiers posing with dead enemies is NOT anything new. War is war, and war is hell. All the coffee-drinking, paper-reading arm-chair quarterbacks have no idea ... what our guys truly go through on a day-to-day basis.... There is no crime or misdeed here. If you don't like it, then ask your Congress to stop the war. Until then, put yourself in a 20-year old soldier’s shoes, maybe you will understand.”

In The Times article, Capt. John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the conduct depicted “most certainly does not represent the character and the professionalism of the great majority of our troops in Afghanistan.... Nevertheless, this imagery -- more than two years old -- now has the potential to indict them all in the minds of local Afghans, inciting violence and perhaps causing needless casualties.”

Kirby added: “We have taken the necessary precautions to protect our troops in the event of any backlash.”


L.A. riots: Readers invited to share stories, photos


Nearly 20 years ago, violence seared L.A. after a jury acquitted four LAPD officers accused in the videotaped beating of Rodney King.

What do you remember?

The Times is asking readers to share their photos and stories about the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Photo: Times front page from May 1, 1992.



Times adds editor, more reporters to Orange County bureau

A memo to the California staff from Assistant Managing Editor Ashley Dunn:

This week, Metro launched an important initiative: the reoccupation of Orange County.

Steve-marbleWith more than 3 million residents, L.A.’s neighbor to the south is an increasingly diverse area that warrants  attention.  The stereotypes of life behind the Orange Curtain no longer apply, and it’s up to us to reflect that change -- and interpret its meaning -- for our readers. Thanks to the Web, those eyes  are everywhere -- not confined by a physical circulation area.

The goal is to function as a state bureau. So the coverage will be more sweeping -- a mix of trend stories, analysis and culture pieces that say something about Orange County as well as the world beyond. And when news breaks – whether it be a salon massacre, a homeless killing spree or the all-too-familiar wildfires, we’ll be better equipped than ever to cover it.

Heading up the team is Steve Marble, whose previous stint as city editor in O.C. gives him the depth of  knowledge needed to  guide a team of talented reporters. Joining O.C. veterans Chris Goffard, Nicole Santa-Cruz and Mike Anton in the revitalized office are reporters Jeff Gottlieb, Tony Barboza and Rick Rojas.

And we hope to add more firepower in the not-too-distant future.

Photo: Steve Marble


Vanessa Bryant to get millions in divorce -- but is it a 'windfall'?

BryantsLakers star Kobe Bryant's divorce has been big news in Los Angeles. After the initial article in Saturday's LATExtra section that reported Vanessa Bryant's court filing, an article Tuesday looked into details of a possible settlement. The couple reportedly had no prenuptial agreement, so, the article said, Vanessa Bryant is probably entitled to at least $75 million, half of her husband’s net worth.

The article characterized this as a "windfall" for Vanessa Bryant.

Reader Pam Wilson of San Diego said she found this description "blatantly sexist."

PHOTOS: Kobe and Vanessa Bryant

"The premise is that Bryant's wife, Vanessa, does not deserve half of the couple's community property," Wilson emailed. "She is getting a 'windfall,' i.e. something she does not deserve, because obviously, Kobe was the one earning the money."

The Times' dictionary of record, Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition, defines a windfall as "any unexpected acquisition, gain, or stroke of good luck." It doesn’t suggest that a windfall is something undeserved. However, the definition of surprise or luck doesn't square with the usage in the article. A community-property settlement isn't lucky -- it's the law.

Wilson also questioned where the term came from. The second paragraph of the article reads: "But legal experts said it's clear Bryant's wife will leave the marriage with a windfall."

"Which legal expert said that?" Wilson asked. "Not one is quoted in the story as the source for that sexist characterization."

In the article, attorney Dmitry Gorin says that Vanessa Bryant will probably get "more than enough for many lifetimes." But Wilson is right, no one is quoted as using the word "windfall," which makes it appear to be The Times' description.

Though many of us would consider $75 million to be a windfall, in the context of a settlement under the state’s community-property law, "windfall" wasn't the right word.

--Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Kobe and Vanessa Bryant at a benefit in 2005. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Trash or treasure? Describing items left behind at Occupy L.A.


Since the Occupy L.A. encampment first formed at City Hall on Oct. 1, readers have given us an inbox full of their opinions on Times coverage.

Views, as expected, were mixed: Several Occupy L.A. detractors said the paper threw in its lot with the protesters, while supporters accused the paper of harboring an anti-Occupy bias (some in the latter group created the Facebook group "Occupy the L.A. Times.")

Karen Pally of Santa Monica took issue with language used in the stories about the eviction of the protesters early Wednesday.

"Several stories refer to the 'debris' and 'garbage' strewn around Occupy L.A.'s campsite at City Hall," Pally said. "This language creates a distorted and negative image.

"Before the police stormed the site, most of the tents were used as spaces for sleep, conversation, work, learning, worship or storage, and the contents were personal possessions, bedding, clothing and supplies."

If one man's trash is another's treasure, then the opposite is probably true too. As Pally said, what city workers dubbed trash included items that were part of daily life at Occupy L.A.

An article in Thursday's Times by David Zahniser and Nicole Santa Cruz described some of the things left on City Hall grounds after protesters were removed: "There were sleeping bags, luggage, cutlery, a small red guitar with a broken neck, and a collection of Ernest Hemingway stories … mattresses and dining chairs, luggage and boom boxes, books and CDs, cellphones and electric razors."

However, there also clearly was garbage. "The city said it collected 30 tons of refuse, from vats of urine to old furniture to discarded food," Assistant City Editor Steve Marble said. "Some of the items that were left behind looked like they were actually personal items that people probably would have taken with them — had there been time. But the city was concerned enough about what was left behind that refuse workers were ordered to wear hazmat suits."

Times photos also showed tents, blue tarps, blankets and pillows. Whether police should have saved those for the city's homeless, as some critics have charged, is a separate debate.

Once the items were left behind for cleanup, they became debris.

"The lawn was certainly a mess after everyone was evicted," Marble said. "Whether it was the occupiers or the police created that mess, I can't really say for certain. But I do think what we saw in the broad daylight — by any logical definition — was a mess."

--Deirdre Edgar

Photo: Tarps and other items left behind at the site of Occupy L.A. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

Outpouring of support for family orphaned by drug violence


Corina Knoll’s Column One article about Adali Gutierrez, a 20-year-old raising his four younger siblings in El Monte after their parents’ shooting deaths, has prompted an outpouring of support from Times readers.

More than 300 people have called or written to ask how they can help the family. Checks have arrived blindly in the mail -- several have been for $100; one was for $5.

The offers have included money, gift cards, groceries, a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, rent payments, computers and Internet access.

The coordinator of the L.A. County Adopt-a-Family Program wanted to match the Gutierrezes with donors for the holidays. An interior designer said she had a storage unit full of furniture that the family was welcome to. A 16-year-old wrote that she was grateful for family and wanted to help.

The director of a Catholic elementary school offered a spot for the youngest Gutierrez, 5-year-old Roxanna. Mother-daughter psychologists offered counseling. Others have offered tutoring, mentoring or simply encouragement.

For Adali’s facial scars, the result of the shooting that killed his parents, doctors offered consultations. He has an appointment Monday with Dr. Timothy Miller, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Miller also is the chief surgeon for a UCLA group that treats wounded troops.

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