David Mills Tells LA Times to Shape Up on Halloween Hate Crime Coverage–Tells FBLA Why


David Mills has a letter in Romenesko, criticizing the LA Time’s coverage of the Halloween hate-crime in Long Beach. His best point:

The Halloween mob assault appears to be the worst instance of black-on-white violence in Southern California since Reginald Denny took a cinder block to the head. Why is the LA Times covering it so grudgingly? The only reference to the beatings on the op-ed page came last Sunday, when Michael McGough, a senior editorial writer, wrote of this case: “I wouldn’t dare to prejudge (it) even if the facts weren’t so murky.” He then fretted that an “unintended consequence” of hate-crime laws is that “such laws could end up punishing blacks who commit violence against whites–which is a far cry from the historical experience that inspired hate’crime statutes.”

FBLA asked Mills about his interest in this particular incident and we got a very thoughtful answer. Mills was a reporter, but is now an Emmy-winning TV writer, with credits on The Wire, Kingpin, NYPD Blue, ER, The Corner, and Homicide.

I don’t live anywhere near Long Beach, nor do I have any particular knowledge of these beatings. This case just happened to push my buttons. I’m black, I’m a former newspaper reporter (Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Washington Times), and I’m a lifelong Democrat, but as I get older (now 45), I’ve become disenchanted with the liberal orthodoxy on race. We need to talk more frankly about things like crime.

The L.A. Times coverage of the Long Beach attack is so obviously underplayed, and its reporting so passive, I have to wonder whether political inhibitions have overcome the editors’ news judgement. Do they think they’ll be accused of racist rabble-rousing if they play the daily trial coverage on the cover of the California section? In other words, are they cowardly? Or is it deeper than that? Do they truly believe, in their hearts, that a black-on-white mob assault is less newsworthy than a white-on-black mob assault would be?

As a former journalist, a case like this makes my instincts twitch. There’s so much to report on, beyond the nuts-and-bolts court coverage. What’s life been like in Long Beach the past six weeks? What’s the reaction among those upscale homeowners in Bixby Knolls? Or among high-school kids of all races in Long Beach? How big of a problem is black-on-white hate violence nationally? (The Justice Department keeps data.) If the L.A. Times had decided “We’re going to own this story,” that’s the sort of coverage we’d be seeing. Apparently, the Times doesn’t consider this a story worth owning.

As a result, the Times got beat on the one development which has drawn national attention — the apparent act of witness intimidation against Kiana Alford, the smashing of her car. The Times reported it a day late, and buried it even deeper in the local-news section. But this past weekend, an Associated Press story on the witness-intimidation angle was picked up by newspapers in at least 20 states, as well as Canada, the U.K. and Australia.

I’ve been sending emails to the Times’ ombudsman (or “readers’ representative”), and more recently to Times editorial writers, hoping that the Times might engage in a little public self-examination on the issue. The result? I was invited to write an “Outside the Tent” piece for the Sunday Current section. I declined, because I’d rather see the Times deal with this “inside the tent.”

FBLA thinks that the LA Times should get this guy into the tent and quick.