Two months to the day after Wayne Satz broke the story of the McMartin Pre-School molestation case on KABC in early 1984, the Los Angeles Times published a moving story about interviews with the McMartin children conducted by social workers at Children's Institute International.
The story ran on Page 1 under the headline "Puppets Help Children Shed Horrors of Abuse." The subhead beneath that said "Therapists at Institute Use Toys to Coax From Molestation Victims Secrets of Traumatized Lives." The story itself said, in part: "They have told their secrets, the little ones and the adolescents, of rape and sodomy and oral copulation and fondling, slaughtering of animals to scare them into silence and threats against them and their parents."
The story continued for almost 40 paragraphs and included such phrases as "young victims," "the assailant," "her abuse" and "tormented secrecy." None of these descriptions was qualified by "alleged" or "charged" or any similar language. Nor did the story include a single statement from a defendant or a defendant's lawyer denying guilt.
Reporter Cathleen Decker, who was barely involved in McMartin coverage (she wrote only one other bylined McMartin article), says she was simply trying in the April 2 story to relate the accounts of "awful torment" that the children were telling their parents and social workers, not to "make judgments as to the guilt or innocence of any particular person." That, she says, is why she didn't mention any defendants by name; in essence, she was telling the story through the children's eyes.
Editors reflected that view, both in writing the headlines and in putting the story in the paper in that form.
But several critics say they were stunned by the implicit acceptance of the children's charges in the story and they cited it as one of the most egregious examples of the press' contributing to public outrage about the McMartin case.
Defense attorneys say emotional, uncritical coverage is the major reason that a poll they conducted before the trial showed that more than 90% of the public thought both Ray Buckey and his mother, Peggy McMartin Buckey, were guilty. Both were acquitted by a jury last week on 52 counts of child molestation, although many jurors said they thought some molestation had occurred; the jury was unable to reach a verdict on 13 other counts.
Most of the local media, print and broadcast--and some the national media as well--contributed to the public outrage about the case. But The Times is the largest and most influential news organization in the area where the McMartin case played out over six years, so its coverage of the case has been both more scrutinized and more criticized than any other.
What emerges from a careful examination of The Times' coverage and more than 70 interviews is a tale of sharply conflicting views. Editors at The Times strongly feel the coverage was, overall, fair and balanced. But, defense attorneys and supporters, rival reporters, two prosecutors and some critics inside The Times point to flaws, large and small, in Times coverage that they say add up to unfairness and imbalance.
Debate over The Times' coverage illustrates the pressures and pitfalls faced by any large newspaper covering a legal case so intricate and inflammatory that every word is scrutinized for any sign of favoritism that might intensify the suffering for one side or the other.
Because The Times plays such a strong role in shaping the agenda and, often, the perceptions of other media in the area, critics of the paper say its coverage contributed enormously to the general public furor over the case.
Nancy Hill-Holtzman, whose coverage of the case for the Herald Examiner was praised by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Pounders as the best of any early trial coverage, said she became skeptical of the prosecution's charges over time but was often challenged by her editors because of what The Times reported on the same day.
"My editors and others would say, 'The L.A. Times says such-and-such; how come you have it different?' " says Hill-Holtzman, who now works for The Times.
Criticism of Times coverage of the McMartin case is particularly widespread among journalists who covered the case and among supporters of the defense. In interviews conducted before the verdicts were returned last week, three basic charges emerged:
* That The Times published a number of stories, especially early in the case, that seemed to assume the charges were true.
* That The Times published many stories that were biased against the defense.
* That The Times never published major investigative stories examining the prosecution's case.
Noel Greenwood, deputy managing editor of The Times, vigorously denies that The Times was biased or unfair and attributes these charges to a "mean, malevolent campaign conducted by people . . . whose motives are highly suspect and who have behaved in a basically dishonest . . . and dishonorable way."
Greenwood, who agreed to be interviewed for this story only after the verdicts were announced, declines to specify who these people are, but he says their "Monday morning quarterbacking" could be applied to the coverage of any major running story.
Critics insist, however, that had The Times been more skeptical of the prosecution in the early stages of the case, the case might quickly have shrunk to considerably smaller proportions.
"We recognize how important The Times is," says Walter Urban, who represented Betty Raidor, one of the defendants against whom all charges were dropped two years after the case began. "I think that had The Times done a major, long article, solid investigative work showing there was no child pornography, no child prostitution, no animal mutilation, maybe it would have stopped the case a lot sooner."
Given The Times' resources, says Furnell Chatman, who has covered the McMartin case for KNBC-TV, "you obviously would have expected much more. . . . There was never any real digging, and a story of that proportion should have gotten some investigative legwork."
Richard Barnes, who was city editor of the paper during most of the case, says it is inappropriate for a newspaper to try to evaluate the legitimacy of a case once it enters the criminal justice system. That's "not the way . . . a newspaper should conduct itself," Barnes says.
"We reported all the allegations and we reported all the rebuttals and the knockdowns," Barnes says. "I think we handled it responsibly."
The courtroom, not the press, is the proper venue for evaluating the prosecution's case, he says. Law enforcement and the courts can issue subpoenas and search warrants and compel testimony under oath, none of which a newspaper can do.
For all its vaunted power, journalism remains "one of the more primitive and toothless of the investigative arts," as Richard Harwood wrote this month in the Washington Post.
Greenwood says The Times is "confronted weekly with situations where people are imploring us to be the court of last resort or . . . an investigative agency because it somehow will set things right. In many, many instances, it's not an appropriate role for us."
But newspapers often examine major, controversial cases while they are in the criminal justice system.
The New York press aggressively tried to find out exactly what had happened, for example, in the cases of Bernhard Goetz, the electrical engineer who shot four teen-agers on a subway; Tawana Brawley, the young black woman who said she had been kidnaped and sexually abused by a gang of white racists, and Robert Chambers, who was accused of strangling an 18-year-old woman during a sexual tryst in Central Park.
"There are certain kinds of stories that lend themselves to further (journalistic) inquiry, even if it's coming to trial or there's been an indictment," says Bob Greene, assistant managing editor of Newsday in New York. "It's a great cop-out to say, 'Well, law enforcement has it now.' I think we have a responsibility to do these things."
Critics say The Times didn't do such a story because the paper was too quick to accept the prosecution's arguments.
"It was very clear that the Los Angeles Times thinks they (the defendants) are guilty," says Barbara Palermo, who covered much of the case for the Daily News in the San Fernando Valley. "Times coverage of the McMartin case has been the laughingstock of the press corps. No one could understand how Times coverage could differ so drastically (from the other media's) for so long without anyone at The Times noticing."
It's an Uncertain Art'
But Times editors insist that the paper did a better, more comprehensive job than the other media. Indeed The Times published many McMartin stories that didn't appear in other media.
Although Greenwood concedes that--in retrospect, on this story as on others--there may have been things the paper "would have done . . . somewhat differently," he says, "It's an uncertain art and an imperfect art."
"Did we grossly miss the mark?" he asks. "Did we conspire to cover up? Did we let the prosecution off the hook? Did we go in there with a built-in bias? No, I think that's nonsense."
The Times did publish an early, Page 1 story by Decker and Roxane Arnold, based on interviews with friends and supporters of the accused, in which the defendants emerged as "a group of people who shared not only a love of children but a morality that went beyond once-a-week churchgoing." Ten months later, the paper published another Page 1 story, by Scott Kraft, on the devastating impact that false accusations of child molestation elsewhere have had on victims of those accusations.
Moreover, some criticism of The Times may be attributed to the envy and resentment that reporters for rival, smaller papers often feel toward a giant competitor. But in this case, the criticism comes from local and national reporters and non-journalists alike.
A detailed comparison of media coverage of the case shows that on a number of occasions over six years, The Times did seem to ignore, minimize or cover late various developments that tended to raise questions about the prosecution's case--stories that other local media often covered promptly and prominently.
Some of these differences can be attributed to mere oversight, to a reporter's absence on a particular day or to valid but divergent views of a particular development. But in case after case, The Times' approach seemed to favor the prosecution (although it is equally clear that other papers' coverage at times seemed to favor the defense).
In 1985, during the preliminary hearing, for example, two vital prosecution witnesses--Kee MacFarlane, the social worker who conducted most of the original interviews with the McMartin children, and Dr. Astrid Heger, the pediatrician who said she found signs of molestation--refused under oath to disclose if they had been molested as children themselves. The defense said that if they had been molested, the experience might have "tainted" their evaluations of the McMartin children.
Judge Aviva Bobb ordered MacFarlane and Heger to respond. When they refused, she said she would construe their refusals as an admission that they had been abused.
Both the Herald Examiner and Daily Breeze in Torrance covered this development the day after each testified. The Times did not report MacFarlane's testimony until two days later--in the last half of a story about the closure of another South Bay preschool. The Times did not report Heger's testimony at all. (Four years later, when defendant Peggy McMartin Buckey testified during the trial that she had been molested as a child, The Times put the story on Page 1 of the Metro section.)
* The now-defunct Herald Examiner, the Daily Breeze, the Daily News and the Orange County Register all published stories in 1988 when MacFarlane testified that she and reporter Wayne Satz of KABC had a "boyfriend/girlfriend" relationship, and again when Judge Pounders said it was relevant for the jury to hear that information. The Times published no story on either development. But when Pounders later formally ruled that the information on the romance was irrelevant and would not be presented to the jury, The Times did report it, briefly.
* After Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner dismissed charges against five of the seven original defendants in 1986, he said in a radio interview that it was "not likely" that there had been "massive molestation" at McMartin--a comment that was reported by other local media but did not appear in The Times.
* Like most media, The Times reported one McMartin child's testimony that he had seen defendant Ray Buckey use a baseball bat to kill a horse on a farm. But unlike some media--the Daily Breeze, for example--The Times did not cover the testimony of the owner of the farm that none of his horses had been killed. (That testimony was mentioned in The Times in another story seven weeks later.)
"Times coverage from the beginning has implicitly assumed the truth of the allegations," contends Bradley Brunon, who defended Virginia McMartin until charges against her were dismissed. Brunon says coverage in the Herald Examiner and Daily Breeze was "more balanced than (in) The Times."
Other critics say there were many other stories The Times might have done that would have helped to balance its coverage:
* Unlike the Memphis Commercial Appeal (or KABC-TV in Los Angeles), The Times ran no stories of consequence comparing the McMartin case with child molestation cases elsewhere in the country.
* Unlike the Herald Examiner, The Times never published a profile of Judy Johnson, whose accusation that her 2 1/2-year-old son had been molested by Ray Buckey triggered the McMartin case. Johnson, who died in 1986, made many bizarre charges--among them that her son had been sodomized by an AWOL marine who also sodomized the family dog. Many skeptics questioned her stability and the legitimacy of her accusations. But early in the case, a Times story said the McMartin allegations stemmed from "one parent's alertness"--Judy Johnson's.
* Unlike the Easy Reader, an alternative weekly in Hermosa Beach, The Times did not cover the case's medical testimony in detail and only reported briefly the difficulty the defense had in finding a medical expert willing to testify in its behalf.
* On a number of occasions during the preliminary hearing in particular, testimony favorable to the defense was either not reported in The Times or was reported later or in less favorable terms than in some other local media.
* When then Deputy Dist. Atty. Glenn Stevens lost confidence in the prosecution's case, California magazine ran lengthy excerpts--and the New York Times quoted--from the tape-recordings he made with movie producer Abby Mann and his wife, Myra. The Los Angeles Times ran no excerpts and made only brief references to the contents of the tapes. But the paper did report that the state attorney general and the state Bar Assn. had been asked to investigate Stevens' conduct.
The paper didn't report that no action was taken against him.
The media are sometimes criticized for prominently displaying news of an arrest or a charge, then underplaying an acquittal or dismissal, thus leaving the accused feeling permanently stigmatized.
In the hysteria that followed the original McMartin charges, for example, seven other South Bay preschools were also closed amid accusations of child molestation. Criminal charges were filed at only one of these schools, and that trial ended with a hung jury.
The Times published eight stories on the closure of one school--Peninsula Montessori--even though no criminal charges were ever filed there. When the school won the right to reopen, The Times published no story until the school's owner complained. A week later, The Times published a story--based not on the ruling itself but on the state saying it would appeal the ruling. The state never appealed; The Times didn't publish a story saying that.
One Times reporter, Bob Williams, became so upset by what he perceived as the bias in The Times' McMartin coverage that he wrote memos criticizing Lois Timnick, the paper's primary McMartin reporter. Williams, a 20-year Times veteran, was a reporter in the paper's South Bay section when he wrote several McMartin stories himself, including the paper's first major reports on the impact the case had had on the defendants.
Gary Gorman, editor of The Times' South Bay section at the time, says he often found it difficult to get Williams excited about a story, any story. Williams became very excited about McMartin but was ultimately told he couldn't write about it. Why?
Greenwood, The Times editor who supervises all local and regional coverage, says he investigated Williams' charges, examined the paper's McMartin coverage and concluded that it was Williams, not Timnick, who had behaved unprofessionally.
In a seven-page memo in late 1988, Greenwood accused Williams of having developed a "strong bias for the McMartin defendants"; Greenwood said Williams had been "reckless and irresponsible" in his accusations and had "undermined a fellow reporter and seriously harmed the credibility and effectiveness of The Times." Greenwood suspended Williams for two days without pay.
(Williams provided a copy of the memo for this story.)
Several months later, Williams quit in what he calls "sheer frustration."
By then, Williams had become even more partisan in favor of the defendants than he said Timnick was on behalf of the prosecution. He himself admits he "got a little too extreme . . . at the end" and didn't handle the situation well. But he says he felt a "personal responsibility as a matter of conscience" to do something once he concluded that The Times wasn't giving the defendants a fair hearing.
Greenwood now says Williams should have come to him personally with his complaints, but both Williams and Gorman say they were unsuccessful "going through channels" below Greenwood.
Gorman and Williams were not alone in their judgment about Times coverage. As other reporters covering the case on a daily basis also came to have doubts about the prosecution's case, their coverage became more skeptical--and, in a few cases, appeared biased in favor of the defense. Times coverage did not shift, and that contributed further to the general perception in the press corps that The Times was pro-prosecution.
"When the case began to turn, Times coverage didn't generally turn with it," says Faye Fiore, who covered the case for the Daily Breeze and now works for The Times. "The (Times') coverage seemed to minimize what was becoming a strong defense case."
Although most critics tend to blame reporters for the stories that appear under their bylines, the editors who run the news operation are ultimately responsible. After all, reporters just write stories; editors put them in the paper--and editors decide who will (and won't) write specific stories and which stories should (and should not) be written.
"Where were the (Times) editors?" said one McMartin reporter who asked not to be identified by name.
In part this is asked because the paper didn't publish many of the stories one might have expected--profiles of key players, for example.
Judge Pounders not only made a number of crucial and controversial rulings, he also cut short the defense case, commented frequently on the credibility of various witnesses and found a county job for a juror to keep him on the case. During jury deliberations, Pounders agreed to withhold reading the verdicts in court until he had all 65, thus risking a mistrial if anything happened to even one juror.
By using only six alternate jurors--half as many as Judge Michael A. Tynan used in the far shorter "Night Stalker" trial--Pounders opened the case to the possibility of a mistrial from the beginning.
But unlike the Herald Examiner, The Times didn't profile Pounders--although it did publish a lengthy interview with him last April--and The Times didn't write about why he used fewer alternates.
Nor did The Times profile Kee MacFarlane (the social worker who interviewed most of the children); chief prosecutor Lael Rubin (the only one of the early prosecutors who stayed on the case to the end), or chief defense attorney Danny Davis (whose legal tactics were partially responsible for this case having become the longest and most expensive in history).
But the primary criticism of The Times is over its allegedly biased coverage, and supporters of the McMartin defendants say they wrote letters to The Times to protest, without results. They are convinced there was what amounted to a virtual conspiracy against them, on the news and editorial pages alike.
Times editors categorically reject the charge, and they insist that the paper published all the stories they thought appropriate. They say the paper was fair and evenhanded in its coverage throughout.
Peter H. King says that when he replaced Barnes as city editor of The Times early last year, he reviewed the paper's earlier McMartin coverage. While he declines to "second-guess" the coverage before he took over, he says coverage under his supervision has been fair.
"We pursued coverage of the trial in a straightforward and objective manner. . . . I have no qualms or doubts in my mind that we did a good job," he says.
Times coverage of McMartin did broaden over the past year, but critics still think it was biased, and when the Easy Reader disclosed last November that David Rosenzweig, who had been metropolitan editor during most of the case, was engaged to marry Rubin, the chief McMartin prosecutor, critics were convinced that they had finally found the smoking gun.
But both Rosenzweig and Rubin say they did not meet until July, 1988, more than four years after the McMartin case broke--and long after the basic tone of Times' coverage had been established. Moreover, Rosenzweig and Greenwood say he disclosed his romance and disqualified himself from any role in McMartin coverage within two weeks after meeting Rubin.
Rosenzweig and others at The Times say he didn't edit or discuss any more McMartin stories after becoming involved with Rubin, not even after he left the metropolitan desk early last year for a new job as assistant managing editor in charge of investigative reporting projects.
Critics of The Times remain unconvinced by these disclaimers. The Rosenzweig/Rubin romance began just a few months before the defense began to present its case in the trial; they say knowledge of the romance may help explain why The Times gave what they see as biased or inattentive coverage to the defense.
Timnick denies this charge, and there is actually another possible explanation, far more benign, for the tone and scope of the paper's McMartin coverage from beginning to end: the paper's tradition of giving reporters considerably more than the usual latitude to excel or stumble, with minimal interference from editors.
On McMartin, critics say, Timnick stumbled; she was convinced from the beginning that the defendants were guilty, they say, and her coverage--and the paper's approach--reflected that judgment.
Many criticisms of Timnick's coverage do not stand up under scrutiny; any objective reading of the roughly 200 bylined stories she has written on McMartin and related subjects since 1984 shows a sizable majority to have been straightforward, evenhanded accounts of the day's developments.
But a significant number--many of them involving crucial elements in the case--do invite questions about bias and fairness.
Timnick denies being biased and says she is "proud" of her coverage. She has tried, she says, to be "thorough and fair throughout," and reporters who are critical of her are themselves "biased in favor of the defendants."
Timnick, who had several times suggested that a story about media coverage of McMartin be written, was initially eager to discuss the subject but after conferring with two of her editors, decided she should neither respond in detail to criticism of her work nor discuss the work of others. Her stories, she said, "speak for themselves."
Timnick is a single mother who clearly feels even more strongly than most about child abuse. She has spoken publicly on the subject and was interested in it before McMartin hit the headlines; she wrote nine bylined stories on child abuse the year before McMartin--a major reason she was assigned to the story in the first place: She knew--and cared--about the subject.
"You can't be involved . . . in a case like this . . . without having points of view and opinions," City Editor King says. "Reporters that criticized another reporter have points of view and opinions. The challenge is to take those points of view and opinions and to set them aside and be dispassionate and professional in your coverage. In my time (as city editor), Lois met that challenge."
Timnick didn't write her first McMartin-related story until two months after the story broke, but she has covered the case longer and more consistently than any other reporter from any other news organization. She was responsible for much (though by no means all) of the Times' coverage cited by critics.
A reporter for 18 years--seven at The Times--before McMartin, Timnick was not experienced in covering the criminal justice system until McMartin, and critics say this was evident in her stories, especially at first.
Nevertheless, Timnick wrote a number of praiseworthy stories--among them, a profile of preliminary hearing Judge Aviva Bobb; a 1985 analysis of why the prosecution's case--"botched from the beginning," according to those interviewed--had grown weaker; another 1985 story, explaining the defense theory of the case; a 1987 article examining the case the day the trial began, and a 1988 summing up of the prosecution's case just before the defense began presenting its side in the trial.
Timnick also contributed to a story written by a Times colleague, Ted Rohrlich, explaining how Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and his staff decided to dismiss charges against five of the seven original McMartin defendants; that story was the most complete and detailed to appear anywhere on that controversial process.
Many parents of McMartin children are as complimentary about Timnick's work as the defense is critical. They say she was fair, thorough, non-exploitative and true to her word when she promised not to publish certain sensitive information.
Although Judge Pounders singles out one reporter as the best in the early stages of the trial and another as the best in the latter stages, he said several months ago that Timnick had done the best job overall of any reporter covering the trial.
But the McMartin defendants, their attorneys and supporters, and a number of reporters covering the case have long contended that Pounders and Timnick have both favored the prosecution (although most credit Pounders with trying to be fair).
Defense lawyers were so infuriated by Timnick's coverage that they repeatedly complained about her stories in open court--and refused to talk to her for months at a time. Danny Davis, attorney for Ray Buckey, hasn't talked to her during much of the case.
Craig Turner, who succeeded Rosenzweig as metropolitan editor of The Times early last year, says Timnick "tried very hard to give the defense's side and view of things, given the fact that one of the defense attorneys would not talk to her."
Volume of Coverage
In fact, The Times published more stories during the defense presentation of its case than did any other news organization, even though defense attorneys and other reporters say Timnick went to court less regularly during the testimony of defense witnesses and defense cross-examination than during presentation of the prosecution's case.
However, Roger Gunson, one of the McMartin prosecutors, also said in an interview during the trial that Timnick's coverage "probably gives a flavor that is more favorable to the prosecution than . . . what happens in court."
Nine reporters who covered the case made similar comments.
Marcia Chambers of the New York Times described Timnick's coverage as "pro-prosecution."
"She did a fairly good job, but she was too close to it," Chambers says.
Linda Deutsch, longtime court reporter for the Associated Press, says she admires Timnick's "incredible fortitude," and she suggests that Timnick has been widely criticized precisely because she's covered the case for so long and also because she represents The Times, always an easy target for would-be media critics.
Deutsch says "a lot of people . . . feel that she is absolutely bent on a conviction; I'm not that sure. . . ." Deutsch also says, however, that Times coverage during the early stages of the case "gave everybody the impression they (the defendants) were guilty."
Kevin Cody, publisher of the Easy Reader, who has said openly that he thinks all of the defendants are innocent, says, "Lois is a very good reporter and writer. I couldn't put together stories as good as she does under that deadline pressure. She just has a blind spot. . . . She follows whatever the prosecution says."
One of the stories Timnick wrote that most infuriated some of her critics, inside and outside the press corps, came in September, 1987, when her account of the day's courthouse developments said prosecutors had "introduced new evidence . . . which they say shows that the mother and grandmother of chief defendant Ray Buckey knew years before he was arrested that he was a child molester."
The "evidence" Timnick cited was a reference in a diary kept by Buckey's grandmother, the founder of the school, saying he had received counseling for a "problem" from Dr. Frank Richelieu, pastor at the Church of Religious Science in Redondo Beach. Timnick quoted prosecutor Rubin as having said outside the courtroom that Richelieu counseled Buckey for "Buckey's sexual problems involving young children."
Other reporters who covered the trial that day downplayed Rubin's charge, emphasizing another development in the courtroom--an angry outburst by Virginia McMartin and Judge Pounders' threat to find her in contempt and send her to jail.
"I cautioned our editors to use that (charge about counseling) carefully," says Nancy Hill-Holtzman, who wrote that story for the Herald Examiner. "The prosecution had promised evidence before and hadn't delivered."
The prosecution didn't deliver this time either.
Kevin Cody interviewed Richelieu and quoted him as saying he had "never counseled Ray Buckey for child abuse nor molestation." But Timnick put the molestation charge in the first paragraph of her story, the only reporter to do so. She says Richelieu did not return her telephone calls, so she didn't include his denial in the story. The Times didn't publish Richelieu's denial until almost two years later, when he repeated on the witness stand what he had said to Cody.
More often than any other print reporter covering the trial, Timnick characterized the various witnesses, especially the children; they were "confident," "articulate," "self-assured" and "attentive."
She described some other prosecution witnesses in equally favorable terms--as giving testimony that "appeared to strengthen the prosecution's case" or as leaving the witness stand with "his composure and his account of sexual abuse at the school essentially intact."
Defense witnesses didn't fare as well. She described one, for example, as having been "largely thwarted."
In addition, Timnick began one story on the prosecution's closing argument by writing, "Promising jurors straight talk and no folksy tales like they heard from the defense, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lael Rubin began. . . ."
The defense argues that Timnick generally undermined their case in a more fundamental way--by implicitly belittling their position and failing to state that position fully--as in this characteristic summary: "The defense contends that children were programmed by ambitious therapists and prosecutors to believe they had been molested and that their parents were duped."
The defense says that phrasing--and the omission of the sloppy prosecution and media-induced hysteria that helped trigger the case--casts their position in an unfavorable and almost laughable light.
Times editors Greenwood, Turner and King all decline to discuss criticisms of any individual Timnick stories. Critics can find flaws in anyone's work over a long period of time, they say.
"I don't think there's any percentage in us sitting down and going over specific stories . . .," Turner says. "If you look at the entire output of our coverage over the year (that I've been metropolitan editor), it was fair."
So why is criticism of the paper's coverage so pervasive?
Turner attributes it, at least in part, to attorney Davis' repeated attacks.
"If you say something often enough, people tend to believe it," Turner says.
But critics reject this explanation, and there clearly were flaws in The Times' coverage. That coverage contributed significantly to the public perception of the case, but the power of the press probably isn't as great as its critics maintain. Whatever responsibility the media bear for contributing to an atmosphere that scarred virtually everyone involved and left the defendants financially devastated, its impact on the legal process itself is far more difficult to assess.
Ultimately, just as it was the district attorney--not the media--that filed the charges, so it was the jury--not the media--that decided the case; not a single McMartin defendant was convicted.
Doug Conner in The Times editorial library assisted with the research for this story.
Case Takes Toll-A minister says years of stress fighting rumors that satanic rituals were performed at his church have forced him to seek disability retirement. B1 CASE TAKES TOLL
A minister says years of stress fighting rumors that satanic rituals were performed at his church have forced him to seek disability retirement. B1.