An obituary in today’s Washington Post is highly instructive-it tells about a phenomenon larger even than the subject of the obituary, Otis Chandler, who “rescued” his family’s newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, from “mediocrity.”
The “swashbuckling” Mr. Chandler died Feb. 27, at the age of 78. According to the obituary, at the time Mr. Chandler, an avid surfer who once dashed out of a board meeting because the surf was up, when Mr. Chandler took over…
“…the Los Angeles Times was a profitable laughingstock. Like the Chandler clan, its politics were squarely with the reactionary arm of the Republican Party: pugnaciously anti-union, starkly anti-Communist and gleefully burying important news of Democratic political candidates.”
Chandler did not rescue his family’s paper merely by hiring bright reporters, doing good stories, and improving the look of the paper. Something else was required, as the obituary makes clear:
“Expectations were not high. However, he displayed a remarkable independence that confronted the paper’s long-held prejudices. In a key move — one that fractured family relations — he agreed to publish a long series about the John Birch Society. He ordered a strong, front-page editorial condemning the group’s ultraconservative, sometimes virulent political views.
“More than 15,000 subscribers canceled their subscriptions, but the paper made clear its new direction and in time gained hundreds of thousands of readers. Mr. Chandler spoke of the New York Times as his model for excellence.
“After the John Birch stories, other series followed about Mexican immigrants and blacks — articles that would have been unthinkable in previous years. Such progress was only to a point: No black reporter was on the staff through much of the 1960s, leading to lingering frustration over civil rights stories.”
I have no brief for the John Birch Society, and an investigation of it sounds like an interesting project. But these paragraphs are saying something more than that in-depth investigations of questionable organizations are good and that black reporters bring innumerable gifts to the craft of journalism. These paragraphs are really saying that to succeed in journalism, you have to go left.
Otis Chandler probably could not have hired talented reporters without going left, for example. The profession is simply an institution of the left. Think how hard it is for the Washington Times, an excellent newspaper (of which both Charlottes are alums), to win kudos from its peers in the profession of journalism.
There was in the WaPo obit an interesting anecdote about Chandler:
“Although the paper won a 1966 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Watts neighborhood race riots in Los Angeles, Mr. Chandler was not always as socially conscious.
“According to one story, the black journalist and civil rights activist Louis Lomax met with Mr. Chandler at the time of the riots, and the publisher said he didn’t know where Watts is. ‘Over there, where the smoke is,’ Lomax said. ‘That’s where Watts is.'”
In other words, Chandler didn’t know where Watts was, where the smoke was coming from, but he knew which way the wind was blowing-towards the left.
Things have come full circle: The now-undeniably leftwing L.A. Times, however, is once again a laughingstock. Indeed, the old media establishment itself, to which the liberal L.A. Times aspired, the ethos of which drove a millionaire surf boy leftward, is not so powerful. Dare we think that the winds are blowing in a different direction?