(Editor’s note: this May 17 story “Behind the Post: Is L.A.’s Paper of Record Missing the Story,” which appeared in the Westside Current is reprinted with permission.)
By ANGELA MCGREGOR
There was a time when Los Angeles’ paper of record, the L.A. Times could be relied on to provide political endorsements that reflected the interests and concerns of its readership.
Indeed, for a lot of voters overwhelmed by the number of choices in any given election year, the Times’ endorsements — particularly of candidates for lesser-known offices — have become indispensable, and are trusted to be thoroughly researched by fair-minded Editorial Board members who are paid to do so.
But this year, things are different. In a reply made in a social media thread by politically active, Biden-supporting, “average” Democrats, a member stated, “I’ve been reading the LA Times since I was a kid. It’s like finding out some creepy radical socialist has hijacked my Grandma’s Facebook account.”
This controversy began with the Times endorsement of Kenneth Mejia for City Controller, citing the 31-year-old’s “transparency” and zeal for “numbers and data” as evidence of his “ability to reach Angelenos.”
Thanks to social media, Mejia’s political views are painfully transparent, as was revealed just two days later in a Times article entitled, “He called Biden a rapist. Now his deleted tweets are shaking up the city controller’s race.”
Just two years ago, Mejia proclaimed Biden (for whom 71% of Los Angeles County voted) both a “corporate loving rapist” and a racist. Their article didn’t indicate whether or not the Times’ editorial board was aware of these tweets when it endorsed Mejia, although it did say they’d been “circulating for weeks.”
With the likely end of Roe vs. Wade reviving discussion among Democrats about the importance of women’s agency over their bodies, the most problematic of Mejia’s posts may be a photo of him at a 2016 Green Party rally in downtown L.A.
In it, Mejia holds up a poster of Hillary Clinton, her face photoshopped over the body of a caged Jordanian pilot who was burned alive after being captured by ISIS in 2015. In the photo, Mejia grins broadly as if celebrating her potential incarceration and torture.
Los Angeles Magazine blamed Mejia’s endorsement on the daughter of Patrick Soon-Shiong, the paper’s owner. Nika Soon-Shiong, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, is a proponent of Universal Basic Income and critic of law enforcement.
In January, she was appointed to West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission by City Councilmember, Lindsay Horvath. Declaring that “There is no correlation between crime reduction and law enforcement spending” Soon-Shiong promptly called for cutting funding for the Sheriff’s Department. At a six-hour-long, contentious city council meeting Horvath insisted that opposition to Soon-Shiong’s plan was rooted in “racism.”
On May 10, the LA Times endorsed Horvath for County Supervisor, CD3, noting her “progressive innovation,” raising concerns about an apparent conflict of interest.
The following day, the Times endorsed Erin Darling for Councilmember in CD11, calling his home neighborhood of Venice as a place “where people in multimillion-dollar houses have complained bitterly about sprawling encampments.”
The Times dismisses the other candidates (with the exception of Greg Good, grudgingly citing his extensive experience in City Hall) by saying that “None of these candidates have the experience, the compassion or commitment of Darling.”
The Times cites the fact that Darling was “twice elected” to the Venice Neighborhood Council, as well as his appointment to the L.A. County Beach Commission.
“We think Darling will hear everyone out,” the Times Editorial Board wrote. “As a lawyer, he says, he is accustomed to working out disagreements and finding common cause with people.”
Darling was elected twice to the VNC (to a Community officer position with 101 votes in 2014 and 76 in 2016), but did not serve two terms.
The February 2017 VNC agenda contained a motion, “Removal of Erin Darling from VNC Board.” The motion stated: “The Venice Neighborhood Council recommends removal of Erin Darling from the Board due to five consecutive absences from the last five board meetings.” After his re-election, Darling had not attended a single meeting of the VNC.
Before the Council could vote on his dismissal, Darling submitted a resignation letter, stating that the VNC Board “does not reflect the values of the majority of Venetians” and that “it is clear that the majority of the VNC does not welcome many who have traditionally called Venice home.”
Darling’s letter made it abundantly clear that, despite being an elected official, he had no intention of working with those who do not share his views. The letter is readily available on the internet. It’s unclear whether the Times Editorial Board overlooked it or simply ignored its implications.
As for his appointment to the Beach Commission, it was mentioned in the glowing coverage of his lavish wedding, featured in the June 2020 issue of Harper’s Bazarre. His wife, a Harvard researcher and recording artist, explained, “We…wanted to make use of public land, so when we came across the Adamson House, which is an estate museum and California Historical Site at Malibu Lagoon State Beach, it was perfect.
“The house is even under Erin’s jurisdiction as a Los Angeles County Commissioner, and it gave us a beach, a garden, and a museum wedding all in one,” his wife said.
They paid tribute to their shared passion for social justice with a ‘No Wall, No Cages’ custom-designed floral installation at the entrance to the ceremony site.
Although the Times emphatically states that Darling’s “whole professional life has been about protecting the rights of people who often barely have any,” his most prominent legal client of late has been Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter L.A.
In 2018, Abdullah was arrested after she and another woman threw a white powdery substance (said to be human remains) on LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
The charges were dropped, and Darling represented Abdullah in her unsuccessful lawsuit against the LAPD.
In September of last year, Abdullah again sued the LAPD over their response to a swatting incident at her home, and Darling again represented her. Abdullah recently made headlines for having to be forcibly removed by the LAPD from an L.A. Mayoral Debate which she attempted to attend without a ticket.
The Times says that “Intellectual honesty is the cornerstone of the editorial page. We strive to be sincere, coherent, consistent and skeptical.” But their endorsement choices seem inconsistent.
For example, on the top issue in this election — homelessness — how can they ask their readership to vote both for Darling (who has said he would continue his predecessor’s policy of not enforcing 41.18 anywhere in his district until there is housing for everyone) and, for City Attorney, Hydee Feldstein Soto, who told us she believes the homelessness crisis and the affordable housing crisis are two separate issues, and opposes the way 41.18 is being enforced because not applying the law equally through the city runs counter to the city’s charter?
Why, in their Mejia endorsement, do they praise the current City Controller, Ron Galperin for “transforming” the City’s website and hope that Mejia will build and improve upon Galperin’s work, only to dismiss that work as not aggressive enough in their endorsement of a Republican (over Galperin) for State Controller?
In my interviews with candidates for this election season, I’ve been fascinated by the moment at which, for them, politics became personal and getting involved seemed unavoidable.
For Craig Brill, it was having his neighbor knifed to death in his backyard. For Traci Park it was finding out from a friendly contractor that the City was putting in a transitional housing facility across the street from her (and abdicating its legal obligation to notify the neighbors).
Henry Stern’s family was devastated during the Woolsey fire (and his County Supervisor seemed unwilling to respond to the anguish of her constituents). For me, their responses gave a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Not in My Backyard”.
It seems likely that transformative moments like these aren’t exclusive to candidates. Amidst a rise in both violent crime and homelessness, Angelenos are fed up. They are tired of being called racists for defending the need for public safety, or “segregationists” for objecting to encampments near their schools and parks, or “gentrifiers” for objecting to million-dollar per unit permanent supportive housing developments built with their tax dollars.
If the Times’ goal is to reflect the concerns of its readership in this important, potentially transformative election, it seems they may have missed that story completely.