July 28, 2015 was a dark day for free speech.
That day, Nicholas Goldberg, an editor of the Los Angeles Times, published an open letter announcing that Ted Rall, a widely published veteran writer and cartoonist known for his passionate defense of underdogs and irredeemable contempt for corrupt politicians, greedy corporate executives and violent cops who had published his work there since 2009, would no longer be contributing his work to the newspaper.
According to Goldberg, the Times’ editorial editor, the firing was grounded on allegations that in a blog post dated May 11, 2015, Rall gave an account of an incident that occurred in Los Angeles on October 3, 2001, after he had appeared on Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher.
During the incident in question, Will Durr, a motorcycle policeman, had stopped him on Melrose Avenue, accusing him of jaywalking, even though Rall had crossed with the light, staying within the crosswalk and had reached the other side just as the flashing red signal with accompanying numeric countdown had begun. Subsequently, Rall was thrown against the wall and cuffed and a crowd of about two dozen passersby gathered and began scolding the of, demanding that Rall be released.
Shortly afterward, another motorcycle cop appeared and more or less told Durr, “What the heck are you thinking? Let him go!” Durr then unlocked the cuffs, but afterward threw Rall’s driver’s license into the gutter.
In the account, Mr. Rall goes on to discuss the LAPD’s crackdown on jaywalkers, with most of the citations occurring in the downtown area, noting that fellow Times columnist Steve Lopez is of the opinion that the $197 fine is disproportionate to the alleged offense.
The case was dismissed and Rall filed a formal complaint against Officer Durr with the LAPD, only to have their Internal Affairs Division reject it as groundless.
“At a certain point, it’s easy to conclude that this is less about pedestrian safety than it is about revenue enhancement,” Rall writes.
He was fired after the LAPD, denying Rall’s account and accusing him of slander, provided the Times with an audio recording of the incident, which according to them proves that Rall’s account is a falsehood. Goldberg claims in his letter that, “The tape depicts a polite interaction.”
At the close of the letter, Goldberg writes, “The Los Angeles Times is a trusted source of news because of the quality and integrity of the work its journalists do. This is a reminder of the need to remain vigilant about what we publish.”
However, no less than six different audio technicians have ascertained that the tape was clearly doctored. Indeed, upon listening to enhanced audio of the incident, which was released on August 2nd, evidence can be heard that the recording was altered in the form of clearly audible clicks that indicate that the audio was spliced. Despite Goldberg’s claim that “the tape depicts a polite interaction,” a little more than three minutes into the recording a group of women are heard repeatedly demanding that the handcuffs be removed.
Not only is Goldberg’s false claim that the audio captured a civil interaction a flagrant violation of basic journalistic ethics that voids his assertion that the L.A. Times “is a trusted source of news,” evidence has surfaced showing that Officer Durr hashandcuffed at least one other citizen during a traffic stop, despite his claims that he has done no such thing.
In fact, a May 10, 2015 report (published in the Los Angeles Times, of all places!!!) clearly discusses an occurrence in which Durr had stopped a college student for aggressive driving in an illegally modified Toyota Supra, and cuffed him shortly after arriving at the scene.
Moreover, the charges of slander are rather baffling, considering that over the years, Ted Rall has frequently used his cartoons to direct barbs at the LAPD for their long track record of violence, corruption and cover-ups, with no retaliatory action on their part being taken until just a couple of weeks ago.
Although the cat is now out of the bag, there have been no retractions made by Nicholas Goldberg or any other staff member at the L.A. Times, nor is there any word as of this writing that Ted Rall will be reinstated. Even more appalling, only a small fistful of cartoonists and journalists (none of them mainstream) have brought the story up for discussion, when the situation at hand clearly illustrates an encroachment upon free speech and a lack of accountability on the part of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Indeed, nobody should be surprised, as throughout America, many policemen believe that they are above the law and that their badge gives them absolute impunity, which has been the case since before the founding of the United States of America. With that in mind, if the LAPD are willing to stoop so low as to silence any claim on anybody’s part that they have done wrong by lying about what happened and compromising that person’s professional reputation and livelihood, nobody is safe.
Fortunately, the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, of which Rall served as president from 2008 to 2009, has called for an investigation of the recordings of the interaction between Ted Rall and Officer Durr.
The announcement on their website, posted August 11, 2015, reads:
Determining the truth in this matter is important to Mr. Rall’s personal and professional reputation, and to the rights of journalists to freely express themselves. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times should have demanded a higher standard of proof in this matter, and it is clear that Mr. Rall is owed a full and complete analysis of the 14-year-old tape used to make a judgment about his actions.
And on that note, shame on Nick Goldberg and anybody else at the Los Angeles Times who believed the lies on the part of the LAPD let them cow the paper into letting free speech and a free press fall by the wayside. As long as they allow this injustice to occur, they are clearly part of the problem.