Editorial: IN LOS ANGELES, DEMOCRACY HAS DIED
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD -- During my race for Mayor, I learned that Los Angeles has a = sad distinction: It is the nation's second largest city, yet not a single o= ne of its major daily newspapers, alternative weekly newspapers, television=
or news radio stations is owned by a Los Angeles company or a Los Angeles = resident. Each is owned by a huge media conglomerate that owns many, if not dozens = or hundreds of other publications (see chart below).
Yet all are full of= news about "six leading candidates" and talk about them obsessively, while= nine other candidates either go unmentioned or are lumped together in "rou= ndup" coverage that usually leaves the impression they are unserious. Why = do all the media outlets share precisely the same carefully limited perspec= tive on the race, and why do they all choose the same candidates to ignore,= if they are each staffed by different reporters and owned by different com= panies?
That question now haunts only those few candidates, and admittedly, they= include several who are inarticulate, unqualified, mentally ill, or only s= eek celebrity. At least four, though, do have ideas or experience that meri= t discussion and debate in the democratic process; in my case, I represent = the aspirations of a substantial part of the electorate that hopes to form = new cities in the Los Angeles basin.
But official and Establishment Los Angeles has systematically excluded u= s, and has done so with the complicity of organizations that once supported= democracy or that formerly were even models of the process, such as chambe= rs of commerce, labor organizations, homeowner groups, taxpayer-owned telev= ision and radio stations.
How did it happen that of 75 debates that were mounted by area groups, l= ess than five venues wanted any of the nine unreported candidates? At KPCC= , for instance, a debate first featured the six leading candidates, and the= n nine others.
Although little reference was made to their accomplishments, host Kitt= y Feldy made a point of noting that four were actors from New York, includi= ng myself. I am not an actor, and I have lived here 33 years! Why was her s= cript written to emphasize irrelevant elements of our experience?
KPCC is= a publicly-owned NPR station located in Pasadena, a thriving city near Los= Angeles. It has little role in the political life of Los Angeles, but see= ms determined to have an impact on its mayoral race. But despite its dista= nce from the fray, it too feels compelled to hew to the script of "six lead= ing candidates."
At dozens of homeowner forums, many of them with well-known leaders who= have been interacting with some of the six candidates for years, and may b= e contributors to or supporters of one, and at well-attended debates at two= state university campuses here, the six candidates were invited and the ot= her nine excluded.
Recently, at a major debate at UCLA, some of the nine candidates appea= red and demanded a chance to be heard. They were escorted out, and the fol= lowing day, the Chicago-based Los Angeles Times referred to them as "protes= tors." But they were candidates for Mayor of Los Angeles who had each gathe= red at least 500 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualif= y for the ballot.
At UCLA, they were once again protesting their exclusion from a debate= ,this time at a public university, that was being televised by a city-owned= cable channel -- which plans to run it repeatedly over the weekend before = the election. How can public entities push some candidates and ignore other= s?
I was not among the protestors this time (I have "protested" at Cal St= ate Northridge and Temple Adir Israel --which also had my truck towed from = the parking lot while I was watching the debate), yet only because I recogn= ized the futility of attempting to participate when I could be out trying t= o reach thousands of voters by other means.
Never before in my experience, except in countries where dissent, if tol= erated, was carefully "managed" so that it would fail, have I ever seen dem= ocracy so gutted of the essential elements of competition and debate. I ha= ve never endured a political campaign where all the media coverage was scri= pted by the same broad hand, or where all of the media outlets were owned o= utside the city they exploit.
A final example may be most telling. On Friday, the city clerk's offi= ce delivered ballots and voting materials to my home, having failed tonotic= e that my name is printed on the ballot. I called the media on Saturday to= tell them that a candidate forMayor had 2,000 live ballotsthat are probabl= y sufficient to change the outcome of the election. A reporter for the Dai= ly News interviewed me, but didn't run the story; news crews from Channel 1= 1 and Channel 13 also filmed me, but didn't use the story.
I was intervi= ewed by an Associated Press reporter, Greg Risling, who said he would have = a photographer to meet me downtown with my truck and the ballots at 10 p.m.= When I got there, he said the 10 his supervisor mentioned turned out to b= e 10 a.m. the next day. He would leave the story for dayside; I would call= and go downtown at 10 a.m. the next day. The supervising reporter Sunday = morning insisted I wait until 10:15 to call; by then, the photographers had= left to cover sports events; then, the photo editor said he didn't have a = camera. The reporter couldn't write the story because she couldn't reach t= he city clerk. If written on Monday, of course, it would run on Election D= ay and have no impact on the race.
What I knew deep down is that the press would not be permitted to cover= the story. They are not allowed to upset the apple cart; they are no long= er free. Something guides every word they write, and it is not something go= od or wise or decent, but something dark, evil and corporate, immensely pow= erful yet as fearful as a mouse of any threat to its careful management of = the words we read and hear, the images we see and the information we finall= y receive.
Somewhere between the latest murder and major merger, control of the p= ress has been achieved at last. By whom? Wehave to wait and find out. The= re was no other bulwark but the press between democracy and its quiet deat= h.
Clearly, we have lost something precious without a shot ever being fired= -- the democracy we and our fathers and forefathers fought, fell and died = for on so many battlefields.
L.A.'s Absentee Media
Daily News= papers (and Selected Daily Magazines)
The Los Angeles Times - Tribune=
Eng= lish Language Television Stations
KCBS Channel 2 - Viacom, New York C=
KFWB All-News Radio - Viacom, New Yo=
Alternative Week= lies
LA Weekly - Village Voice Media, New York City
Los Angeles Indepe=
ndent (chain) - Equal Access Media, Inc., Houston
Joe Shea is Editor-in-Chief of The American Reporter and a candidate for= Mayor of Los Angeles. He is driving a large truck bearing 18-foot banners= with his name and message throughout the city to reach voters directly.