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Extraordinary for demonstrators to take to the streets to rally around a journalist

by Nick Madigan Friday, Nov. 18, 2005 at 4:13 AM

It's highly unsual, even extraordinary, for demonstrators to take to the streets to rally around a journalist, but that's just what happened this afternoon outside the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times. The cause was the firing last week of veteran columnist Robert Scheer, the last progressive voice on the Times's Op-Ed page.

http://kcrw.com/cgi-bin/db/kcrw.pl?show_code=mm&air_date=11/15/05&tmplt_type=Show

KCRW

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

It's highly unsual, even extraordinary, for demonstrators to take to the streets to rally around a journalist, but that's just what happened this afternoon outside the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times.

The cause was the firing last week of veteran columnist Robert Scheer, the last progressive voice on the Times's Op-Ed page.

At the rally, some of the demonstrators passed around slices of Wonder bread to drive home their point that the paper's editorial philosophy has become as bland as it is white.

Scheer said that publisher Jeff Johnson had offered him "not a word of explanation" for his dismissal from The Times, but that Johnson had privately told people he hated every word Scheer wrote.

"I assume," Scheer said, "that mostly refers to my exposing the lies used by President Bush to justify the invasion of Iraq."

Fortunately, he said, most people seem to realize this, but only after thousands of Americans and Iraqis have been killed and maimed as the carnage spirals out of control. "My only regret," he said, "is that my pen was not sharper and my words tougher,"

The Times, which also fired the provocative cartoonist Michael Ramirez, a conservative, issued a statement saying it intended to offer "all points of view and the broadest range of opinion" in its pages.

To its credit, The Times also published a number of letters protesting the firings, including some from readers who cancelled subscriptions. Reader Wanda Kuenzli said, "It seems a remarkable piece of irony that Scheer is being dropped now that every liberal word he has written about the Bush administration has turned out to be true."

Another reader, Stephen Rohde, who said he had subscribed to the Times for 35 years, wrote that Johnson made "a big mistake" in firing Scheer because he failed to appreciate how much readers "want the stimulation of reading varying opinions with which they agree and disagree."

"Dropping Scheer's perspective does your paper profound injury," Mr. Rohde said. "It makes you look like a narrow-minded Scrooge, a throwback to the days of yellow journalism and William Randolph Hearst, when newspapers couldn't care less about offering their readers a range of opinion."Scheer, who has a gruff, direct style that tends toward the impatient, has long incurred the wrath of the right. "I've been a punching bag for Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh for years and I think the paper finally collapsed," he said on Friday.

In a column last week on his website, Scheer wrote that a newly declassified document "blows another huge hole in Bush's claim that he was acting on the best intelligence available when he pitched the invasion of Iraq."

In the 1960's, Scheer was a correspondent in Vietnam for Ramparts magazine and joined the Los Angeles Times in 1976, the same year he conducted the notorious Playboy interview with Jimmy Carter in which the presidential candidate admitted to lusting in his heart.

Scheer, the author of six books, teaches a course on media and society at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. Scheer retains his gig on this station's program "Left, Right and Center" and was just offered a column at The San Francisco Chronicle.

Over the weekend, Scheer addressed a gathering convened by The Nation magazine, to which he contributes. He called his firing "a dumb move" and a "bad marketing decision."

The Times, he said, has 300,000 fewer readers now than when he went to work there nearly 30 years ago. "The Times needed me more than I need it," Scheer said. "I am not into suffering. I want to enjoy life, act on my passions, write about the truth. And I will."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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