Does The Times (and all local media, for that matter) really believe in the democratic process? Los Angeles has the highest-paid City Council members in the nation. If you read The Times and other news outlets, all but a single Los Angeles City Council race is over before election day. In reality, eight City Council seats are up for election Tuesday, and six are contested. But according to The Times' Feb. 21 endorsement of Ron Galperin for District 5, only that race is "in serious question" (the editorial page isn't endorsing in other council races).
The non-coverage of all contested City Council races extends beyond the editorial page. The Times' news pages have failed to cover the numerous challengers to entrenched City Council incumbents, thereby tacitly endorsing the status quo. Our city is at a crucial crossroads during a major economic crisis, but The Times is apparently rushing to determine the winners before the races are decided.
Take, for example, the race in City Council District 13. Council President Eric Garcetti, arguably City Hall's No. 2 man, faces a strong opponent in Gary Slossberg, a Harvard Law School graduate, former L.A. Unified School District teacher, public interest attorney and elected neighborhood council member. Slossberg is obviously a viable candidate to challenge the entrenched City Council power structure, yet The Times seems to have a hands-off policy with regard to L.A. City Council incumbents. The result is to marginalize all the legitimate challengers who lack the financial resources to wage a traditional campaign.
The Times and local media may consider these races non-competitive, but incumbents such as Garcetti don't. Otherwise, why would they be spending tens of thousands of dollars on television campaign ads? What do they know that The Times doesn't? How many resources does it take for The Times to cover all races with one challenger apiece?
The Times would do well to recall that in 1990, a poorly funded challenger named Paul Wellstone successfully unseated a very well-funded and entrenched incumbent U.S. senator from Minnesota. Wellstone was dismissed by the local media for much of his campaign, as was Jesse Ventura some years later before he became Gov. Ventura. Wellstone became a revered and successful legislative leader in the Senate. Both Wellstone and Ventura pulled ahead in their respective races after public debates against their better-known and better-financed opponents. If a challenger garners enough signatures to get on the ballot and runs an informed and substantive campaign, The Times and other local media should cover that race as their most fundamental responsibility. Real democracy depends on the media doing their job and not merely acting as tools of the existing power structure.
How will the effective leaders of tomorrow rise to key positions if the media decide that elections are determined simply by the amount of money raised as opposed to the real and critical issues raised? Under such a system, only the rich and entrenched will ever be considered viable candidates. A perfect example is The Times' relatively extensive coverage of the speculation surrounding whether billionaire real estate developer Rick Caruso would run for mayor. Caruso never became a candidate. The Times thoroughly covered this non story, but it has all but ignored the very real challengers to City Council incumbents.
Democracy without true public debate and real media coverage cannot survive. True representative government requires aggressive reporting on the issues that we face and those who seek to represent us. For The Times to meekly go along with the status quo is a shameful dereliction of its responsibility to all L.A. residents.
David Bell is president of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. Robert Blue is past chair of the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times