LAPD Convinces LA Times To Fire Editorial Cartoonist, Ted Rall

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Ted Rall LAPD Cartoon: By Ted Rall, September 13, 2012

Note: You can read Ted Rall’s account of what happened and how it led to his firing in the column he authored below. Rall has been a strong writer and editorial cartoonist for years who has consistently spoken out for social, economic and environmental justice. He has also been a critic of police abuse as you can see in the column below. Ted joined us when we occupied Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC and was an early supporter of the occupation. After you read the column below take action and tell the LA Times to rehire Rall and stop their cozy relationship with the all-to-often abusive LAPD. Take action here.

– PopRes

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Exclusive: Pultizer Prize finalist Ted Rall is an award-winning cartoonist, essayist and author who was just fired by The Los Angeles Times, ostensibly for “lying” about a jaywalking ticket he received in Los Angeles at the hands of a rough Los Angeles cop. We at aNewDomain stand by our columnist’s journalistic and personal integrity. Read Ted Rall’s side of the story, below. Ed.

Update July 28,2015 5 p.m. ET: Ted Rall responds to LA Times’ public statement on his firing.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 11.05.24 AMaNewDomain commentary  — As an editorial cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, I have drawn numerous cartoons critical of the Los Angeles Police Department’s abuse, corruption and heavy-handed incompetence.

Now it seems the LAPD has gotten even: It has convinced the Times to fire me.

At issue is a blog I wrote to accompany my May 11, 2015 cartoon for the Times.

It was about an announced LAPD crackdown. Not on violent crime, but jaywalking. I opened with a personal anecdote from nearly 14 years ago, when a Los Angeles police officer ticketed me for jaywalking on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. The date was October 3, 2001.

I’ll get into the allegations below the fold. But first, here is a far-from-complete sample of LAPD-related cartoons I’ve drawn for The Times and some other publications:

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Ted Rall LAPD Cartoon: By Ted Rall, September 13, 2012

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Ted Rall LAPD cartoon: By Ted RallMay 8, 2012

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Ted Rall LAPD cartoon: By Ted RallMay 11, 2015 

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Ted Rall LAPD cartoon: By Ted RallApril 20, 2015

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Ted Rall LAPD cartoon: By Ted RallAugust 14, 2014

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Ted Rall LAPD cartoon: By Ted RallMarch 13, 2015

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Ted Rall LAPD cartoon in Pasadena WeeklyBy Ted RallJuly 25, 2013

Now, regarding the 2001 jaywalking ticket about which the LAPD now calls me a liart, I should note that I wasn’t jaywalking. Not even a little bit. I was innocent.

And the cop was rough. While writing me a summons for what is, in Los Angeles, a misdemeanor, the cop shoved me around and handcuffed me. He was contemptuous, too — after issuing me a violation and releasing me, he feigned to hand me back my driver’s license.

Then he tossed it into the gutter.

I was upset. And, after discussing this incident with some friends, I fought the jaywalking charge. I also decided to file a formal complaint with the LAPD. (This is the only time I have done so.)

When I didn’t hear back, I called to check the status of my complaint. Eventually I received a letter from LAPD’s Internal Affairs division. It stated that, without interviewing me, they had found my complaint groundless.

That was the last I heard from the LAPD. Until, this past May, when I wrote a blog for the Times where I mentioned the story of when the angry cop shoved me around and threw my drivers license in the sewer.

What’s crazy is, the LAPD says I’m the one who is lying!

So, last week,  on Thursday, I got a call from Paul Pringle, a reporter for The Times.

Pringle told me that the LAPD was calling me a liar. According to the police, he said, the whole thing never happened — well, the jaywalking citation did, but that’s it. The police officer, the LAPD now claims, was scrupulously polite.

What’s more, the LAPD told Pringle the department had proof that I had misrepresented the incident.

Far from the mean, unprofessional asshole I described in my Timesblog and on other occasions, the LAPD claimed, the officer who’d ticketed me and thrown me against a wall (and my driver’s license into the sewer) was the epitome of professionalism and politeness.

And Pringle told me that the LAPD had “proof.”

Apparently, and unbeknownst to me, the LAPD officer who wrote me that bullshit jaywalking citation secretly recorded the incident — audio only, no video. We don’t know what device was used but, since this was 2001, it may have been an analog micro-cassette recorder.

That’s right: As far back as 2001, Los Angeles police were surreptitiously recording their interactions with the public. Did anyone know that?

Even more incredible, someone at the LAPD took the time, presumably while on the clock and while spending taxpayer dollars, to dig up a 14-year-old tape recording of a Times cartoonist getting a jaywalking ticket.

This, remember, is the same LAPD that couldn’t be bothered to test thousands of rape kits.

This Extremely Damning Audiotape, Pringle told me, seriously called my account — and by extension my journalistic integrity — into question. (Scroll below to hear the tape yourself, the one LAPD offers up as “proof” and which The Los Angeles Times accepted as such.)

On Monday, Times editorial page editor Nick Goldberg called to inform me that I had been fired, based on what he’d heard on the LAPD audiotape.

I was shocked. I’ve worked as a professional journalist, both in words and pictures, for more than 20 years. Journalism’s search for truth is sacred to me. When I get something wrong, I don’t hesitate to issue a correction or a retraction. 

Was it possible that I had conflated two incidents? Fourteen years is a long time. Is it possible that I’d misremembered the incident? Was I suffering some sort of memory loss?

In short: No. I hadn’t. I wasn’t.

This so-called “evidence” against me is audio-only, and crappy quality at that.

Pringle emailed me the audiofile, along with an LAPD transcript.

With Pringle listening on the phone, I listened to it for the first time. When it was finished, I was baffled. Why was I in trouble?

Seriously?

Here. Listen to it yourself:

If you’re listening to the tape, there are multiple incidents on there. My jaywalking detention begins at 06:38.

Warning: the sound quality is atrocious. You can barely hear the officer speaking and I’m barely audible. For about five minutes while I’m standing against a wall, handcuffed and waiting, you’ll be hearing wind, traffic, and for all I know, the muffled sound of something covering the mic, or perhaps it is demagnetization. If you’re a sound engineer, I’d love to hear your opinion of the authenticity of the tape.

As you listen to this recording, this recording that The Los Angeles Times and the LAPD say proves I have no journalistic integrity, that I’m a liar, bear in mind that the tape doesn’t even back up the LAPD’s account or allegations against me.

The LAPD claims the cop who arrested me was not overtly rude. This is true. Unlike me, he knows he’s being recorded. So he plays to the tape.

If you listen carefully, however, you might pick up the jovial sarcasm in his voice. Unlike the Times’ Goldberg, I was actually there. You can hear the cop whistling at about 7:30, 9:30, and 10:10. He hums at 11:11.

Has a police officer issuing you a ticket ever done that?

At about 12:15 the cop says he’s returning my license. But you can’t see him smirking as he tosses it on the ground. The audiotape “looks” fine for the cop.

A video would tell a different story.

Paul Pringle, the Times reporter who initially called me to tell me that the LAPD was calling me a liar, repeatedly challenged me on why I was so polite and deferential in the audio. Yes, sir, no sir — why didn’t I argue with the cop? Pringle demanded to know. Especially since, as he put it, I had a small crowd of “supporters” gathered around on the street? (The LAPD also denies the crowd happened.)

I told Pringle:

“I don’t argue with cops. Cops can kill you. They can beat you up. They can throw you in jail overnight, for days, even longer. They have the power of the state backing them up. I’ve been nice and non-argumentative with every cop who has ever written me a ticket, justified or not. Of course, if I’d known that the encounter was being recorded, and that my job would be at stake as a result 14 years later, I might have piped up.”

At this point I feel compelled to quote Dave Barry when I assure you I am not making this up: The cops say I was never handcuffed or manhandled.

What?

Pringle asked me about the fact that you couldn’t hear (a) the sound of the handcuffs going on my wrists or (b) the sound of my driver’s license hitting the ground. Listen to the tape: Industrial Light & Magic this ain’t. And a driver’s license is made of laminated paper.

Paper, even laminated paper, doesn’t make a heavy sound when it lands. Not here on Earth.

The LAPD told Pringle there was no crowd. Actually, there was. Melrose was a hangout for punk rock and counterculture types back then, several of whom loudly questioned why the officer was writing me up in the first place and why he’d put me in handcuffs. Others just watched.

I’m not sure, but their voices may be what you can barely hear in the background between 9:50 and 11:20. Then again, maybe not. It’s too hard to hear. When the officer whistles and hums, is he doing so in order to mask the sound of these people objecting to what he’s doing? Maybe. Maybe not.

Pringle and Goldberg, when we spoke, questioned why in the several accounts I’ve written about this, a detail changed. I had remembered the cop throwing my wallet, not just my license, on the ground. I called the place where the license landed “the sewer” as well as “the gutter.”

In southwestern Ohio, where I grew up, the two words are interchangeable. But yeah. I’m a writer, I should have been more specific on that. (Editors note: Across the United States, where the editors grew up, we used the terms interchangeably, too).

The Los Angeles Times also wanted to know: Why, at the time, hadn’t I complained about being handcuffed, but instead about my being falsely charged?

The answer is, I was, at the time, far more concerned and angry about being falsely charged with a misdemeanor that could have created a criminal record. Being roughly detained was just something I endured. Though traumatized, I hadn’t been physically injured. Moreover, I was a talk show host at KFI, a Los Angeles radio station, and certainly didn’t need any public scuffles with the LAPD.

Looking back on it now, I’m surprised I even bothered to take the step of filing a complaint. It speaks to how much I felt an injustice had been done.

But The Los Angeles Times still wanted to know why — why if this encounter was so awful, did I not ask the cop about dining options (!) after he let me go? 

Yes, you read correctly. That’s what my editors asked me. Even if the cop hadn’tbeen mean, why would I have asked him to recommend a good restaurant?

Listening to the tape now, I can’t imagine what I was thinking. The only explanation I can fathom is that I had classic Stockholm Syndrome.

I was stunned at the time. Not that I’m comparing myself with a rape victim — far from it — but now I better understand why sometimes a raped woman will question pressing charges or call a date-rapist at home hours after he left her. I was blathering nonsense, I guess.

But The Los Angeles Times editors told me they believed that inaudible tape. Why?

The audiotape, both Pringle and Goldberg told me, supports the official police narrative: no rough treatment, no handcuffs, no shoving, no angry crowd, no second motorcycle officer pulling my cop away from the scene.

What a surprise, that the cops’ cherry-picked evidence, mysteriously lacking five solid minutes of intelligible sound, should back up their story!

I, on the other hand, had nothing. I don’t surreptitiously tape things 14 years ago just so I can pull them out and use them later. Who does that? Well, besides the LAPD apparently.

Such flimsy “evidence” to lose my cartoonist position at the LA Times over.

Truth is, this is a he said/he said story. Either you believe that a Los Angeles police officer mistreated me or you don’t.

I don’t have proof for my claims.

What I do have is common sense. I’m betting you do, too.

Why would I file a formal complaint, and thus subject myself to investigation, if I were lying?

If I were lying, why didn’t I claim something more serious — say, physical injury?

What I also have on my side are the citizens of Los Angeles.

Anyone who has dealt with the LAPD, or known someone who has, won’t have much trouble imagining the incident exactly the way I describe it, which is exactly how it happened.

At the Times, however, a cartoonist under fire from the LAPD is guilty until proven innocent.

Pringle and Goldberg’s credulousness is, well, incredible.

During his interview of me, Pringle asked about my claim that the LAPD had ignored my complaint.

In fact, he pointed out, the LAPD provided a call log showing their attempts to contact me. How did I explain that? he asked.

I replied that I had been waiting by the phone because I wanted to talk to them, but that the LAPD had never called.

Did I think, then, that there was a “grand conspiracy” to falsify the call log? Pringle wanted to know.

Since when is a “conspiracy” required to fake a call log?

Notice anything funny about the log?

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Check out the dates. Don’t the police know the difference between 2001 and 2002? Doesn’t the LA Times staff?

Grand conspiracy? I doubt it. But it’s interesting that the date error doesn’t bother them. If I’d supplied that, Pringle and Goldberg would have ripped it apart.

What I don’t doubt is that the relationship between theTimes and the LAPD is way too cozy.

This much is clear: It was easier for The Los Angeles Times to throw a cartoonist under a bus than it was to stand by him in the face of institutional anger.

During my last call with Goldberg, when he called to fire me, he said he had tried to be fair.

If that was true, I asked him, why hadn’t he allowed me to defend myself in any of the meetings over the past week, in which he said the editorial board had “agonized” over what to do?

He had no answer.

I reminded Goldberg that no one had impugned the veracity of anything else I’d written for the LA Times since I began in 2009. He conceded that was true.

Given my exemplary history and the chilling effect this will have on anyone who dares to criticize the LAPD, he should have given me the benefit of the doubt over an inaudible audiotape.

For aNewDomain and the new SkewedNews satire site, I’m Ted Rall.

Addendum:

Check out the LA Police Department’s transcript, below:

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