November 16, 2005,
Mickey Kaus noted recently about the Los Angeles Times dropping its longtime lefty columnist Robert Scheer: "If I could press a magic button and end his career I probably would." But doesn't it sound like that button has just been pressed? Although maybe not quite, because now Scheer's column has migrated to the Huffington Post. So I've been having a little trouble understanding all the liberal hand-wringing, which this week included a picket protest outside the Times. Scheer, who doesn't need the money, is now going to write for a place that doesn't pay. Isn't this what's known in the trade as a happy ending?
Which reminds me: Too bad that my friends at Pajamas Media, which celebrates its launch today in New York, first welcomed, then had to drop, my friend Luke Ford a convert to Orthodox Judaism who blogs about L.A. media on a site he discusses openly and about porn on another he doesn't. Luke has a running joke with me, whenever he appears on 60 Minutes or another magazine show as an expert on the porn industry, that what he'll be discussing on TV is Jewish theology. So when I missed seeing him the other night I enjoyed being able to explain it was because I'd just been assigned a Times op-ed, due the next day, discussing Christian theology.
In my case, this was actually true. The Times had asked if I'd write a commentary about a Bush-bashing sermon the Rev. George Regas gave two days before the 2004 election at All Saints Church in Pasadena, which got the Episcopalian congregation, long known for its progressive politics, in trouble with the IRS for electioneering. It's funny they thought of me for this, because it's not like I'm known for reading the paper every day wondering, "But what does this mean for the Episcopalians?"
I enjoyed the chance to write about the topic, though. Then the Los Angeles media site L.A. Observed noted over the weekend that the latest Sunday opinion pages included "a trio to make liberals shudder about the new Scheer-less Times: Dennis Prager, Cathy Seipp and the pseudonymous 'Jack Dunphy.'"
Now I don't mind the thought of making liberals shudder, but this really should be taken with several grains of salt. Yes, Scheer was dropped from the new, post-Michael Kinsley op-ed page as well as Michael McGough, who seems to be fairly liberal; I never read McGough's column and don't know anyone who did. Also axed are the Times's rightwing political cartoonist, Pulitzer Prize-winning Michael Ramirez, along with David Gelernter, who was replaced with fellow east-coast conservative, NRO's Jonah Goldberg.
But I'd say the loss of Scheer is more than offset by the addition of two new local liberal columnists: Erin Aubry Kaplan, from L.A. Weekly, and freelancer Meghan Daum, who will write about cultural issues. Ramirez won't be replaced. So the regular lineup on the Times op-ed pages now tilts slightly more left than it did before.
Much noise is being made out here regarding the loss of Scheer's views on the Times op-ed page. But those reflexively lefty views, via Kaplan, will continue to be heard. Only now they'll be heard through the voice of someone younger, and female, and, as they say, "of color" all of which matter much to those from Scheer's side of the political spectrum. So I'm a bit puzzled by all this wailing about the departure of an older white man, when it coincides with the arrival of a younger black woman.
I doubt I'll agree with Kaplan's columns in the Times any more than I did with Scheer's, but at least I don't already know exactly what she's going to say on every single subject. With Scheer, I really did, even when he was on his campaign against the possible loss of the 310 area code for fellow westsiders a few years ago. Heaven forbid the Barbra Streisand set would have to learn a whole new set of three digits!
My friend Matt Welch, Reason magazine's media critic, may have had a point when he argued to me the other day that Scheer is an L.A. institution, especially among Times readers, and so perhaps should have been retained. But I also suspect that Scheer had long passed his sell-by date. And at a time when newspapers are desperately trying to attract younger readers, keeping on every old timer probably isn't the best way to do it.
But enough with old media on to new media, specifically, the soon-to-be-renamed [UPDATE: It's now called Open Source Media] bloggers consortium and news service Pajamas Media. (Full disclosure: I've signed up with them, and am in New York for the launch.) The other noises I've been hearing from (liberal) media folk in L.A. these days are that because Luke Ford was dropped at the insistence of the porn-hating main Pajamas investor, what other kind of interference should we expect?
My suspicion is, probably not much. The reality is that with some media moneymen there are certain lines you just don't cross which doesn't necessarily mean they're always meddling. You'll never read a pro-abortion-rights article in The San Diego Reader, for instance, or an anti-Israel one in The New Republic. But other than that, these are freewheeling, eclectic publications.
Luke himself is something of a new media pioneer. He's also one of its real characters a Seventh Day Adventist minister's son, originally from Australia, who was raised to be a Christian missionary but converted to Orthodox Judaism some 15 years ago. He's always been a hard-line social conservative, yet in the late '90s he began reporting online about the porn industry. This has brought him far more trouble over the years than getting dropped by Pajamas Media.
Don't bother lecturing him on how terrible porn is; he'll agree, and also claims that his coverage possibly keeps the business from being even worse. Once an angry subject drove Luke to East L.A., kicked him out of the car, bashed his head against a lamppost a few times, and drove off. That didn't deter his porn muckraking. But being ejected from four Orthodox synagogues did (a fifth has since accepted him), so he sold his original porn-reporting site four years ago.
A couple of years ago, the U.K. magazine Arena named him one of the 50 most powerful people in porn. And yet he regularly assumes an Elmer Gantryish tone of moral superiority. When I once pointed out he really can't have it both ways, he snapped: "I can have it as many ways as I like... I'm Luke Ford, your moral leader, and live in a drug-induced fantasy world of unparalleled hypocrisy."
He's fond of children and is careful with them to the point of primness. If we're chatting in a coffee shop, for instance, and my language or subject matter gets even slightly salty, Luke will raise his eyebrows and shush me lest children at the next table overhear. Even when no child is around, I've never heard Luke use even one four-letter word.
So last year when he needed someone to man the book-selling table at a party for his two self-published books one, his autobiography; the other, a collection of interviews with Hollywood producers I agreed to let my daughter Maia, then 15, handle it. She chatted pleasantly with everyone from Orthodox Jews to adult-industry people, who were on their best behavior. Plus, it was a learning experience at one point, Maia gently correcting an actress who handed over a $50 bill for a $28 book and asked for, "uh, $12 change."
"I guess that's why she had to go into porn," Maia told me later.
Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy's World. She is an NRO contributor.