Degree of Coverage in LA Times of Sex Abuse Depends On Vocation of Abuser

On the top of its front page on Monday (12/1/08), the Los Angeles Times splashed a story about monuments and tributes being built around the country for victims of sex abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy. As always, the stories of abuse are terribly angering and extremely sad. And as we've reported before, the Times makes it a regular practice of revisiting decades-old cases of abuse by Catholic priests on its front page.

Meanwhile, however, an enormous sex abuse scandal continues to erupt in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). And unlike the clergy abuse which occurred decades ago, this scandal is happening today. For starters:

  • Steve Thomas Rooney, a former assistant principal at an LAUSD middle school, faces as many as 18 felony counts involving four underage girls. LAUSD removed two senior administrators from their posts in May for mishandling one of the cases. But guess what? The district quietly returned the pair to work. Then a third administrator, a high school dean, surrendered to face charges that he withheld evidence regarding Rooney and one of the underage female students. And here's the kicker in all of this: Rooney was assigned to his job at the middle school in August 2007 even though the District knew that police had investigated him about a sexual relationship with a student at his previous job at a high school. That former high school girl has since testified that Rooney impregnated her. (link)
  • About six weeks ago (10/21/08), a jury awarded nearly $1.6 million to three girls molested by a former LAUSD school aide. The victims were 5 to 7 years old at the time. The molester is currently serving 15 years to life in prison.
  • A former assistant football coach faces 14 felony and three misdemeanor charges including one case that reportedly involved sexually assaulting an underage girl "with a foreign object while the victim was unconscious."

While the Times has certainly reported on a number of these LAUSD abuse cases, it has not nearly given the same generous front-page coverage as with Catholic clergy abuse. The story of the $1.6 million award to those three young girls? The Times reported it with a modest 530 words on page B3. The case of the former assistant football coach? The Times reported the original arrest on page B3. (A story on Rooney made the front page once – back in March.)

Replace the words "aide" and "coach" with "priest." Now replace the term "LAUSD" with "Los Angeles Archdiocese." Now do you think the Times would continue to relegate such sickening tales of abuse to the inside of the "B" section? No … way.

To some of its credit, the Times recently pressed LAUSD for a confidential law firm report on the district's handling of the Rooney case. And that report indicated jaw-dropping incompetence by the district which allowed Rooney to return to work despite the police investigating him about an underage girl. It was great journalism by the paper to press LAUSD for the report. But the Times reported this eye-opening story for only one day, on page B1, on November 3, the day before the Presidential election! That's it.

If such a sickening report were about the Los Angeles Archdiocese, it's not hard to imagine several high-profile follow-up articles. And you can imagine a Times loafer like Steve Lopez falling over himself to rail against the Church and its leaders. As it stands, it's been months since Lopez has written about the sex scandals at LAUSD. Where are you, Steve?

Double standard? Absolutely.