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'LA Times' Readers Protest Scheer Ouster

by Dave Astor Friday, Nov. 18, 2005 at 4:05 AM

Between 200 and 300 people picketed outside the Los Angeles Times Tuesday afternoon to protest the paper's decision to drop liberal columnist Robert Scheer, according to a crowd estimate provided by one of the rally's organizers. The newspaper, however, said there were only about 55 people there.


Editor and Publisher

'LA Times' Readers Protest Scheer Ouster

By Dave Astor

Published: November 15, 2005 5:55 PM ET

NEW YORK Between 200 and 300 people picketed outside the Los Angeles Times Tuesday afternoon to protest the paper's decision to drop liberal columnist Robert Scheer, according to a crowd estimate provided by one of the rally's organizers. The newspaper, however, said there were only about 55 people there.

Karen Pomer, a media activist who helped organize the protest, said there may have been 55 people when the rally started, but more than 200 came and went during the following hour.

She added that the crowd was more than expected. "This was totally word of mouth, it was the middle of the day, and downtown Los Angeles is not the easiest place to get to," she told E&P. "There was a lot of energy and a lot of anger."

According to Pomer, there was also support for the rally inside the Times. "Reporters were looking out the window giving us a thumbs' up," she said.

Pomer said picketers handed out white bread to symbolize their belief that moves such as dropping Scheer are making the Times more bland. There were also various signs, including some referring to Times Publisher Jeff Johnson. One read: "Johnson No, Scheer Yes." Another read: "Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for supporting the new corporate agenda."

Representatives of the picketers also asked for a meeting with Johnson. Pomer said the Times expressed willingness to have Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez and Op-Ed Editor Nicholas Goldberg attend, with Johnson possibly -- or possibly not -- attending as well.

"We made a good-faith offer for them to meet with the two editors directly responsible for those pages," said Martha Goldstein, the paper's vice president of communications, who also provided the crowd estimate of 55 people.

But Pomer said people opposing Scheer's ouster want to meet with Johnson. "He's the one who makes the final decisions about who's fired and hired," she explained.

A specific meeting has not been set up, according to Pomer and Goldstein.

When asked her reaction to the protest, Goldstein replied: "People are certainly free to demonstrate to make their point of view known."

Goldstein declined to say whether Scheer would be reinstated. "A decision was made to introduce a new lineup of columnists that cut across a wide spectrum of points of view," she said. "The decision to discontinue Bob Scheer's column was part of a bigger set of changes."

In a note to readers, Martinez wrote: "Some readers have complained that the Times is conspiring to silence liberal voices on the Op-Ed page. Others have gone so far as to suggest that Scheer is being punished for opposing the war in Iraq. But that is hardly a badge of shame around here -- the newspaper's own editorial page opposed the decision to invade Iraq."

He added: "The truth is that we now publish more Op-Ed columnists ... than ever before, including more liberal voices (and conservative ones) than ever before. It's also true that some of our columnists are not easily labeled on either side of the ideological divide, which we think is healthy."

But people protesting the firing feel nobody in the new lineup comes close to duplicating Scheer's voice. In a letter sent to E&P Tuesday, Marcy Rothenberg, who canceled her Times subscription, said: "The paper has done an abysmal job covering the Iraq war, and its editorial pages have become less and less complex, compelling, challenging, and balanced since the Tribune Co. took over. Scheer's ouster -- while administration apologist Max Boot continues to hold court -- was the last straw. I've already signed on to Mr. Scheer's new Web site. If I have to go online to get REAL news and nuanced, intelligent commentary ... then I will!"

Goldstein was also asked about rumors that approximately 70 Times staffers may soon lose their jobs. She replied that the paper is currently looking into the state of its operations. "When we have something to announce, we will," she said.

Scheer's column is distributed by Creators Syndicate.

Dave Astor (dastor@editorandpublisher.com) is a senior editor at E&P.

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