The Los Angeles Times – The Shameful Showboat of a Powerful Press Monopoly May Be For Sale

An Historic Mouthpiece for Downtown Financial Interests, its Monopoly Status Has Led To Unnoticed Corruption in Local Southland Cities, The Tragedy of Bunker Hill, The Chavez Ravine Scandal, Secret Deals, and Suppression of Big Stories.  Now in the Hands of Out of State Business Interests, the Local Pols and the Wealthy Elites Want it Back in Their Hands.

by Ed Murray

Dateline: Los Angeles

Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch says the Los Angeles Times may be sold soon to some local wealthy investors.  The Tribune Company denied it, but Mr. Murdoch may be right, he knows a lot of important people, and he hears things:  the whispers of the high and mighty, the beeping digital sounds of huge amounts of cash flowing into investment accounts, the rustling of papers as they are being readied by high powered lawyers.  Mere mortals can’t hear things like that.  Only a demi-god, only The Murdoch can detect these things.

Since achieving near monopoly status in the City of Los Angeles in the 1950’s, the Los Angeles Times has used its influence to push the agendas of the City’s wealthiest players, and also to push around poor people, Hispanics, and anyone else who got in their way.  The tale of social destruction spans through the last six decades, and it is now an opportune time to explore a little of the sordid history of this once-powerful media giant, now that rumors are floating around that the paper might once again be sold to some interested wealthy elites and brought back under control of the downtown Moguls of Business and Real Estate.

The Destruction of Bunker Hill

tumblr_m72vhr49tr1ruh4lto1_500Bunker Hill, just west of City Hall, used to be a stronghold of working class people in the 1940’s.  The City bigwigs hated the area, they saw it as having a blockade effect, preventing them from expanding westward.  They thought that Bunker Hill was, well, too damned big and way too tall.  So Mayor Fletcher Bowron and the Los Angeles Times started a campaign to “clear the slums” from Bunker Hill.  Having poor and working class people living up there on the Hill was just not right.   Why,  all those poor folks were literally looking down on the rich Moguls and Real Estate Kings who headquarted out of the L.A. City Hall.   What would be next, having some of them run for City Council?

The plan that was eventually put out was to launch the largest “redevelopment” project in the nation.  Everything up on that damned hill was to go:  The people, the buildings, even the Hill itself was to be cut way down.  Millions upon millions were to be spent. It was a tough fight.  There were around 10,000 people living up on the Hill, and they did not want to move.  Many worked in the downtown area, and were quite happy up there.  Things really heated up in the 1952 City elections.  Norris Poulson ran for Mayor against incumbent Fletcher Bowren.  Looking back on it, both men wanted to say “bye bye” to Bunker Hill, so one wonders what all the fuss was about.  Probably over spoils, but who keeps track of that in this City?  Not the L.A. Times.  In fact, incumbent Fletcher Bowren claimed that the Times wanted to control City government and have their own puppet in the Mayor’s office by supporting rival Norris Poulson.  It turns out Bowren was a psychic, as well as a politician.

The owner of the Los Angeles Times in those days was Norman Chandler.  He championed the Bunker Hill “slum clearance”, and also pushed for folks to vote for proposition bonds to get the money to do it.  The downtown bankers liked that a lot, Bonds are a good business.  In 1959 the Bunker Hill Project was approved.  The only long-faces were the thousands of ordinary working-class people who were pushed out of their homes and apartments, not to speak of the many businesses, shops, hotels and other commercial entities.

With the coming of the 1960’s the destruction began.  It also marked a change in leadership at the Times – Otis Chandler took over.  To get the feel of what Bunker Hill was like, here’s a great video of author Jim Dawson, with an illustrated lecture on the Lost Realm of Bunker Hill, which was at Book Soup in 2012.  It’s a wonderful history lesson.

And just in case you are wondering, yes, the “redevelopment” project was still chugging along last year, 2015.  The Hill is now dotted with massive condo projects, office buildings and other monuments, including the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion (yep, Norman Chandler’s wife), the Disney Music Center, art museums and churches, and super rich guy Eli Broad’s Museum, one of the men whispered about as a possible buyer of the Times.  In addition, we have the huge occult Aztec type layout of Grand Park which runs westward from City Hall, and is lined with City and County Offices and Courts.  It has more than a symbolic reference to the Aztec pyramid and sacrificial grounds.  It’s where the working and poor people sacrifice their hard earned wages to pay the fines and tributaries to the various courts and government buildings.  The centerpiece, the Los Angeles City Hall, with its Egyptian style pyramid atop it, was designed by John Austin, a 33rd Degree Mason.

Bait and Switch Tactic Wiped Hispanics out of Chavez Ravine and Built Dodger Stadium.

chavez revineAnother pet project of the Times and Norman Chandler was Chavez Ravine.  In the 1940s and 1950s it was home to several thousand working class hispanics and whites.  The “slum clearance” slogan was pushed here also during the Bowren regime.  Some progressive folks in the Los Angeles Department of Housing  had a plan to spend over 100 million dollars to build a series of public housing structures in Chavez Ravine.  This was the excuse to move in and buy up the housing from the working class who lived there.  The City acquired most of the property on the cheap, promising the folks the grand new public housing they were going to get.

fair priceAfter Poulson took over as Mayor in 1953, the Times and the Elites decided to put an end to the socialist virus called public housing.  They accused a few housing department employees of being “reds”, and having communist affiliations.  These accusations caused a big uproar and a surge of anti-communist feeling.  So in 1957 the City gave a shout out to Walter O’Malley, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, inviting him to come to Los Angeles, where the City would build him a swell ball park.  This was a much better solution – who would want some public housing full of Mexicans and communists?  A major league baseball team would be so much better, and bring more cash into the pockets of the wealthy moguls, so the bait and switch worked, and on May 8, 1959 an army of County Sheriffs forcefully removed the remaining Hispanic hold-outs and a convoy of bulldozers flattened the houses and quaint farms that had dotted the hillsides in Chavez Ravine.  A big win for the Times.  A big loss for the 3,800 folks who were pushed out of their homes with nowhere to go.

Here’s a video that tells the truth of this ugly incident. One wag said that maybe the Chavez Ravine operation is what Donald Trump is referring to when he wants to “make America great AGAIN”.

L.A. Times Monopoly

Although the Times did not become the “official” monopoly newspaper in Los Angeles until the Herald-Examiner went out of business in 1989, it was basically the defacto monopoly by the mid 1970s.  What happened was a devastating strike hit the Herald in the late 1960s and lasted until 1977, but by this time the Hearst owned paper was in dire straits, with circulation plunging to around 350,000 daily.  The Times took full advantage of the Hearld’s woes, and boosted its ad revenue and circulation.  With power and money, the paper went on a binge, buying up competition papers in small towns in the early 1990s.

The Times bought the Glendale News-Press and the Burbank Leader, both local Southland papers, and merged them into a once a week couple pages of the Times local editions.  They purchased other Southern California papers as well.  The effect of this was not only to increase their monopoly on news, but the merged papers carried little more than local puff and news-release type stories.  Gone were the good old days free-swinging local papers investigating scandals and keeping their eyes on City Halls and corrupt influences.  When the Tribune Company bought both the Times and later the San Diego Union it just made the situation worse.  Not only were the reporting staffs cut back for economic reasons, but only the biggest national scandals can barely be covered, the local wrong-doing in City Halls and Redevelopment Agencies across the Southland are hardly ever mentioned.

The Underground Press Bursts Forth

About the time of the Herald strike in the late 1960s a counter-culture revolution developed in the big cities across America.  Fueled by the peace movement against the war in Indochina, and a general rejection of the status quo values, the youth and a big chunk of the working class wanted something different, the truth in news reporting for a start.   Pot smoking and mind-altering drugs came into general use.  This cultural revolution also give birth to an array of alternative newspapers and comix.  Most big cities eventually had so-called “underground” newspapers, publishing stories that the young generation really wanted to read, not only in politics, but also music, art, poetry and human psychological exploration.  An arts and crafts movement began, packaged food was rejected for fresh, healthy vegetarian fare, and suddenly folks wanted to grow their own food and their own dope.

Art Kunkin, founder of the L.A. Free Press
Art Kunkin, founder of the L.A. Free Press

Los Angeles became a cultural battleground, and a small fledgling underground called The Los Angeles Free Press, exploded on the streets.  The stories were all the things that the Los Angeles Times refused to print or just ignored.  In the alternative world view the cops weren’t always so good, the Black Panthers were heroes, pot was almost necessary to deal with the lies of the establishment, and rock n’roll electrified the soul.  The Freep, as it was usually referred to, fielded armies of hippies to sell the weekly paper on major corners, supplying the long-haired vendors with some extra money to live on, and greatly increasing the status of the Freep and other undergrounds, like Open City, The Staff, and the Los Angeles Star.

Did all this bother the Times?  Sure it did.  They had lost a big portion of the young generation as readers.  This is the generation that later piled into the internet.  The hippies hated the Times, and carried those feelings forward as they aged. The working class never trusted the Times, and the Herald was in a decades long strike on its own road to oblivion, so no support from labor on that front. The effects on the Times was really felt 15 -20 years later as their once loyal readership finally started to age and wane.  No fresh blood to replace them, partly because of the memories of the youth of the 1970s.  The Times also got caught in a moral vice of its own making.  Because it was so opposed to the counter-culture revolution, it missed out on millions of dollars of advertising revenue.  A big part of that revolution was the sexual awakening, when “free love” ruled the day.   Massage Parlors opened everywhere, many actually nothing more than low level cat houses, but their ads were refused by the Times.  The Freep, on the other hand, had a different policy, called the “show me the money” policy, and soon the massage parlor and  personal sex ads were fueling the growth of not only the Freep, but many of the undergrounds.  The money was enough to sustain the entire movement for years.  And the Times never got a dime of it.

The Times Fails to Defend Real Freedom of the Press

Ships restaurant sign in mid-city Los Angeles.
Ships restaurant sign in mid-city Los Angeles.

Freedom of the Press had exploded onto the streets of Los Angeles by the early 1970s.  Scores of new alternative papers were published and distributed in metal newsracks that were placed on busy corners.  Some of the hippy Freep distributors got into newsrack distribution, flogging sexual freedom newspapers like Swing, Saturday Night Swinger, Impulse, His and Hers, and many others.  Hemp related and a stunning array of other odd political and religious newspapers appeared out of nowhere.  Rolling Stone started its life as a newsrack paper selling for 25 cents.  In front of the old Ships Restaurant in Westwood, for instance, there were somewhere around 50 newsracks at one time, making it difficult to even get on the bus at the corner.  This was a huge burst of actual freedom of the press, but neither the Herald or the Times liked it one bit.  The phalanx of alternative papers were cutting into the big boys, and that had to end.

Cities across the Southland started to pass ordinances, coincidentally all alike, limiting newsracks to only 2 per corner.  Many cities demanded that the owner register the newsrack and pay a yearly fee.  Since the Herald and the Times held most of the good spots and were thus protected they had no interest in joining any lawsuits to defend freedom of the press and fight these laws.  Many of the newsrack dealers in fact suspected that the Times was somehow pushing these laws, using its power and influence behind the scenes with various city officials, something never proven.  Times and Herald newsrack dealers put many of their racks on private property locations, where the sometimes controversial, and often randy alternatives could not go.  Denny’s and Bob’s Big Boy coming to mind. These ordinances killed freedom of the press as far as newspapers go.  Yes, you can PRINT a newspaper, but you can’t realistically DISTRIBUTE it, thus nullifying true freedom of the press as far as distributed newspapers go.  The Times failed to protect and fight for that freedom, a shameful stance that may someday come back to bite them.

Times Secret Loans to Control Newspaper Market

A little known episode in 1998 sheds light on how the Times has striven to keep control of the Los Angeles newspaper market.  When the Daily News came up for sale, the Times was afraid that the Orange Counter Register would buy it and give the Times some tough competition that it didn’t want.  Really, just how much “conservative” news can there be?  It would have been like Cheech and Chong fighting over a doobie, whoever wins, the doobie goes up in smoke.

So the Times did the only thing that true gentlemen of the wealthy elite always do, they financed another media group to buy the Daily News on the condition that they wouldn’t give the Times a lot of grief.  A secret $50 million dollar loan helped the other group buy the paper, and to make sure the new owners didn’t get too full of themselves and think they could move in on the Times main territory, the Times got an option to buy the Daily News, as reported by Editor and Publisher and by the Times itself in a special edition published years later when snoopy accountants found out about it.

Things have since become even stranger,  when the Orange County Register filed for bankruptcy late last year.  The same company also owns the Riverside Press Telegram.  So here comes the Tribune, now owner of the Times and San Diego Union, offering a 3 million dollar loan at zero interest rate to the company that owns the Register and Press-Telegram.  This would give them a crack at buying the two papers out of bankruptcy, and thus increase their monopoly over all of Southern California.  If that works out, the Tribune will own the Times, the San Diego Union, The Riverside Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register.  Any beginning psychic can see more layoffs, consolidated printing, consolidated news, and immense power over the entire Southland.  Oh, and the big hurt on real freedom of the press.    

The Dawn of a New Monopoly?

If this big business deal plays out in favor of the Tribune Co., then they could really ask a high price for the group if they indeed want to sell.  On the other hand, maybe the money losing papers will drag the whole mass of their Empire down the drain, including all the local newspapers they also own.  The Dawn of a New Monopoly or the Black Hole of all Southland Newspapers?  Only the Times will tell.