Politicians and Papers: Are They Above Suspicion?

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By Roger Linnett and Jim Smith

Was it a quid pro quo, hanky panky or just coincidence that put Bill Rosendahl on the cover of the Marina del Rey Argonaut the week after that newspaper ran a full-page ad taken out by the Half-Marathon organizers at the Councilmember’s recommendation?

It was all on the up and up, or just bad timing according to both the Councilmember’s office and the newspaper’s editor. Argonaut editor Vince Echavaria told the Beachhead that there was no discussion about the advertisement prior to running Rosendahl’s mug on the front page. “I wasn’t aware of the ad,” said Echavaria.

Rosendahl’s new press aide, Tony Arranaga, was even more emphatic: “It’s just ridiculous,” and “heavens no” he said.

Apparently the Argonaut and Rosendahl are just not as conniving as Staples Center and the Los Angeles Times, who conspired to trade advertising revenue for favorable news coverage back in 1999. When the Times editorial staff got wind of it, there was a rebellion. The Times’ new publisher, Kathryn Downing, said she was not up to speed on journalistic practices (like not letting the advertisers run the paper). But this shocking breach of ethics ultimately took down the family-run paper, which became a branch office of the Chicago Tribune. Downing, her boss, Chairman Mark Willes and Editor Michael Parks, all lost their jobs in part due to this fiasco.

Why would anyone think that there might have been collusion in this case between a politician and a newspaper? Well, first of all, the Second Annual 13.1 Mile Half-Marathon was run through the heart of Venice.

Rosendahl’s email advisory of Jan. 14 noted that, as one of the conditions for granting the permit, he was requiring the organizers to take out a full-page color ad in the Argonaut newspaper, detailing the route, times, detours, etc. However, since their coverage and distribution area ends at the Mar Vista – Palms border, a large portion of the populace along the race’s route would not have been notified of the impending disruption of traffic during the event, and, insofar as last year’s event had an “incredibly detrimental impact . . . on the community,” the best method to guarantee the highest notification to residents along the route, would have been an ad in the L.A. Times or perhaps a combination of a Venice newspaper with the Culver City News or Observer.

Other reasons why eyebrows might be raised include the one week time period between the publication of the advertisement (page 2, Jan. 13) and the front page photo of Rosendahl (Jan. 20). In addition, the article that Rosendahl, a city official, posed for was about the attack on U.S. Congressperson Gabrielle Giffords. Echavaria said that Rosendahl was much easier to get a photo of than either of the U.S. Congressmembers Jane Harman or Maxine Waters.

Unfortunately, the $3,000 or more that the Argonaut received for the ad, thanks to Rosendahl’s thoughtful gesture, was apparently not perceived as a breach of journalistic ethics or political ethics, if there is such a thing, by either party.

Journalistic Ethics is a college course that many would-be writers overlook in these days of anything-goes blogs where opinion is substituted for news. The Free Venice Beachhead takes ethics very seriously, which is why we are printing this article, in spite of the firm denials of wrongdoing. As a staff-run newspaper, we don’t have to worry about what corporate bosses want to print.

Similarly, family-owned newspapers like the Argonaut, and formerly, the L.A. Times, are under much less pressure to distort the truth than are corporate-owned newspapers, radio and TV stations and networks that have to cater to their corporate masters.

We appreciate those who pointed this out to us. We’re satisfied that there was nothing more to it than a politician’s geographical confusion. Perhaps next time our Councilmember will consult a map before recommending advertisements to prospective promoters.

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