Racial Politics at the L.A. Times

The newsroom at the Los Angeles Times is being roiled by complaints that the paper hasn’t done enough to recruit and retain minority journalists. Earlier today, Executive Editor Norman Pearlstein conducted a Zoom staff meeting to address the complaints.

The town hall, which spanned roughly four and a half hours on a Zoom webinar, came a day after the Black Caucus of the paper’s guild sent a letter to the paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, Pearlstine and managing editors Kimi Yoshino and Scott Kraft outlining a list of demands for a more representative newsroom.

Those aren’t the minorities we mean!

The meeting opened with Pearlstine speaking for roughly half an hour, where he admitted that, not until recently [sic], he used to think to be anti-racist meant being “colorblind.”

How silly of him.

“I have realized, just as I’ve come to understand the difference between being not racist and anti-racist, that it’s, you know, I’ve always — I can’t think of a time that anyone on staff sought a meeting with me that I didn’t take, but that’s not sufficient to deal with the issues you’re talking about. What really has to be required is to be far more proactive than I was.

Right. So the newspaper needs to be “proactive,” which sounds like affirmative action. Which has been institutionalized since around 1970, 50 years ago.

A reader writes:

I don’t get why he doesn’t say this:

Listen up!

Every one of you arrogant, self-important, entitled, over-rated jerks should get down on your knees every day and thank your lucky stars for the position of privilege you hold. Yes, privilege. It’s not a right. For every one of you a**holes there are at least a hundred more than qualified replacements of every race, creed, ethnicity and sexual orientation who would kill to have the opportunity you enjoy. You all can be replaced in a heartbeat with equally, if not more, qualified staff who would also have an attitude of gratitude for the opportunity.

So here’s the bottom line. If you don’t like it here, there is the door. We’ll be sad to see you go because we chose you for these positions of privilege. And we did so on the basis of hiring the best we could–irrespective of race, etc. We intend to continue doing so. We are not trying to nor will we have “goals,” “timetables” or any other double talk equating to set asides for government sponsored minorities. We value excellence and that’s what we recruit for.

If you don’t like it and have a bad attitude then get out now…..and don’t let the door slam your ass on the way out.

Any questions?

My friend could deliver that speech with conviction, but it isn’t hard to see why no one at the Los Angeles Times could do the same. It has been a long time since that newspaper, in common with pretty much every other news outlet in the U.S., has “hire[d] the best we could–irrespective of race, etc.” On the contrary, race, in the form of affirmative action, has been a key hiring criterion at the Times, and at all substantial U.S. businesses, for decades. Likewise, the idea that “excellence” is all that any major company recruits for–irrespective of race–has been a fantasy for a long time. That is, in considerable part, what has led us to the impasse we are currently facing.

The meritocracy ship sailed a long time ago, and that fact has left executives like Norman Pearlstein more or less defenseless against demands for more by favored staffers.