When a veteran middle-school teacher in nearby Santa Monica pleaded guilty last month to "multiple counts of illegal sex acts" and molesting nine young girls, the Los Angeles Times didn't feel the story warranted their newspaper. Although the Times had reported the teacher's original arrest and some follow-up last May and June, the news of teacher's guilty plea only went as far as the paper's blog.
Last November, a coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) filed a discrimination lawsuit against his employer. The suit included the astonishing charge that the district assigned a principal to a middle school even though it knew the guy had recently faced a molestation-related investigation. Within months of his new assignment, the principal was arrested and charged with molesting four students. Again, although the paper had reported other episodes of this particular narrative, the Times jettisoned the news of this stunning lawsuit to the paper's blog and never reported it in their actual paper.
Cut to the front page of Thursday's Los Angeles Times (1/29/09). Above the fold, with an accompanying color photo, is the headline, "Mahony investigated over abusive priests." It's a serious and eye-opening headline, indeed. The article begins, "The U.S. attorney in Los Angeles has launched a federal grand jury investigation into Cardinal Roger M. Mahony in connection with his response to the molestation of children by priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, according to two law enforcement sources familiar with the case." But a deeper look into the article reveals there may be a lot less than meets the eye:
… "[Los Angeles Archdiocese lawyer J. Michael] Hennigan said he has been informed that Mahony is not a target of the inquiry." (Uhhh … Doesn't that pretty much contradict the headline?!?)
… "[Los Angeles District attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons] said that charges against Mahony are 'highly doubtful'."
… "Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor [said], 'I'd put [the gov't's reported theory for the case] in the category of creative lawyering'."
… "[U.S. Atty. Thomas P.] O'Brien declined to comment, refusing to even confirm the existence of the investigation."
Upon close inspection, the Times' piece appears pretty flimsy for an above-the-fold, front-page story. In addition, the article is based on unnamed sources, contains no new information about any abuse cases, and regurgitates information that's been reported ad nauseum over the past several years.
Needless to say, local TV outlets and talk show hosts have been having a field day in the last 24 hours in gleefully reporting what the Times has published. (Maybe that was the goal all along?)
Who knows what will transpire next in this story. But if no federal charges are ever brought against the Cardinal, can we expect an apology from the Times?
A double standard between the Los Angeles Archdiocese and the Los Angeles Unified School District? It sure seems like it.