The New York Times Gets LA Wrong … Again

MCDONALD REPORT--New York Times reporters often cover Los Angeles as if they are newly arrived missionaries encountering a lost Amazonian tribe for first time  — and the “unsophisticated” natives don’t know what’s best for them. It would be funny if it wasn’t so wrong. 

That mentality was on display on April 11 when the paper published, “‘A Different Los Angeles’: The City Moves to Alter Its Sprawling Image.”  The piece essentially told the world that the natives in LA have finally gotten their acts together and will build a dense city like any proper metropolis should. But as is also too often the case, the newbie missionary ignores, or has little idea of, the street-level impacts of what he or she is championing. 

Before we keep going, we believe the Times is an important newspaper that contributes mightily to American society and helps us maintain (and gain) our rights and freedoms. It provides similar, and invaluable, services on the international stage. People should read the New York Times

Let’s go back to LA. 

From the get-go, the informed reader sees trouble coming just by looking at who’s quoted in the article. No social justice activists, no homeowner groups, no good government watchdogs. In sum, no citizen, activist, or grassroots organization that knows what’s happening on the street. That’s not good. 

Instead, the New York Times talks with Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, and wealthy developer Nelson Rising. That’s it. All are members in good standing of LA’s political and civic establishment, and that establishment wants to build tall and dense — billions of dollars in profits and millions of dollars in campaign contributions can be made.  

For Hawthorne, he’s been pushing a theory called the “Third LA,” which proposes a denser Los Angeles with a more pedestrian culture. He helps to promote the politicians and developers’ agenda. 

Since only the LA Establishment gets to have its say, readers never learn why so many activists and residents are up in arms over new development.  

Right now, lower- and middle-class Angelenos from the San Fernando Valley to the Westside to the Eastside to South LA are dealing with displacement and gentrification caused by all forms of dense, luxury housing. Over the past several years, City Hall politicians have been rubber-stamping such high-end projects for deep-pocketed developers who hand over campaign contributions and other political money. 

It makes perfect sense that residents are resistant to change, also called “progress” by the L.A. establishment that kicks them out of their homes. The Times makes no mention of all that.

The establishment wants to build transit-oriented development. By only talking with the establishment, the New York Times essentially approves of that desire. But a recent UCLA study found that transit-oriented development in L.A. creates gentrification

The Times shows no knowledge of the study, but the self-righteous missionary is unconcerned about learning such details. He or she knows best no matter what, even if the tribe will suffer.

Such a missionary is also not troubled by some chicanery in order to “civilize” the natives.

In one shocking passage, which undoubtedly made LA activists do a spit take in disbelief while drinking their morning coffee, the Times noted: 

Mr. Garcetti said he planned to eliminate regulations that stymie innovation, “whether it’s the size of units, or the connectivity of transportation modes.” 

“We’re writing the rules as we go,” the mayor said, acknowledging “that can be very disruptive to people.” But, he added, “We need to get with it.” 

All of this signals a move toward building that Third LA. 

Read that again. 

In Los Angeles, the second largest city in the nation, the mayor just told the New York Times that laws and regulations that protect residents do not matter. In fact, he’s going to deregulate and make things up as he goes.

If the current president of the United States said that, the Times would have a conniption. But Garcetti, a liberal establishment figure with an Ivy League education and the son of a former Los Angeles County District Attorney, gets a pass. 

In fact, the Times appears to think that Garcetti’s by-any-means-necessary method for building a denser city is laudable. But neighborhood and social justice activists know it spells trouble.

Garcetti and the City Council have already shown they won’t adhere to city rules and ordinances that protect residents and neighborhoods from numerous quality-of-life problems, and they’ll give developers anything they want to build a luxury city that only the affluent can afford. There’s a long track record of LA politicians performing such shenanigans, which judges often find illegal. 

Again, the New York Times shows no knowledge of that. It’s what happens when you don’t talk with the neighborhood activist or good government watchdog. 

The Times’ approach in covering LA is actually humorous in a screwball kind of way — there goes that poor, nutty missionary again. But such a person can cause serious pain for the natives. 

By uncritically pushing the establishment’s vision for LA, the New York Times is actively helping Garcetti, the City Council, and developers ignore the rules, dismantle protections for residents and neighborhoods, and usher in a gentrified Third LA For Angelenos, getting forced out their homes is not progress, and it’s no laughing matter.


(Patrick Range McDonald, an award-winning investigative journalist, worked on the Measure S campaign as senior researcher and website editor. This perspective was posted most recently at Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.