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L.A. Times columnist Jim Rainey

Thursday, February 11, 2010

HH: Now joined by Jim Rainey, Los Angeles Times columnist, who’s column is linked at He wrote about Jim, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, good to have you.

JR: Hey, thank you.

HH: I want to talk about reporting and transparency, so I want to start with some easy questions to establish for our audience who Jim Rainey is. Who’d you vote for, for president, in 2008?

JR: In 2008, I voted for president. Let me describe my voting patterns to you. I voted for candidates of both parties and of neither party. And I haven’t previously disclosed that as part of my reporting. So I even voted for Ross Perot, which may qualify me as either a hero or some sort of fool with your listeners.

HH: Okay, you’re shorter than President Obama, but it’s still not quite as short as I need. Was it Obama or McCain in ’08?

JR: I’m not going to talk about that.

HH: How about 2004? Was it Bush or was it Kerry?

JR: Like I said, I’ve told you about as much as I’m going to tell you about who I voted for president. Part of the point of my column which you are having me on to discuss was that, I think one thing that’s happening in a lot of the media now, sometimes on talk radio, certainly on cable TV, is people are getting put into these silos. I know you want to deposit me into the appropriate silo, which is the, I think Mr. O’Reilly calls us the far, far, far, far left wing loon.

HH: Jim, honestly, the truth?

JR: But…

HH: I don’t have any idea who you are or what you believe.

JR: Right.

HH: I read your columns.

JR: Right.

HH: I’m just trying to get you focused so the audience can understand who you are.

JR: Right. And the point, yeah, and the point of my column, and so I will talk about who I am, but the point of my column, and I think the point, unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear Bill and Barry on, but I think what they would say is that they want to be judged a little bit on who they are. They want to have what they call transparency. But as you pointed out, I think, in your column you wrote online today, they want to be judged based on what they report. And so I think if you look at what I’ve written and reported before, there’s been a pretty good mix of topics that I’ve talked about, and there’ve been positions that, you know, you could characterize them in one place on the ideological map. But I think if you looked at everything I’ve written, you know, it would be hard to peg me in one place or another.

HH: Actually, I don’t…no, I don’t even care about that, Jim. I care about the audience coming to this conversation and understanding whether or not I’m talking with a classic MSM’er, or someone who will surprise. So let me go back.

JR: Okay.

HH: How about Schwarzenegger/Angelides. Did you vote in that one?

JR: I honestly don’t remember voting in that one, although I tend to be a pathological voter. Here, I’m going to help your audience understand who I am.

HH: Now Jim, work with me.

JR: Here’s…I’m going to work with you.

HH: No, okay.

JR: Here’s a column that I wrote, columns that I’ve written…

HH: Jim, this is a filibuster.

JR: …within the last…no, it’s not.

HH: Jim, it is. I’ve just got like six questions here. Just answer, and then we can go to this. Let me just get my quick questions in, okay?

JR: I told you, I’m not…

HH: Okay, I’m done with the voting.

JR: If you’re going to continue to go through the list of…

HH: I’m done with the voting.

JR: I’m not going to, you’re not going to…

HH: You’re not going to tell me. I understand.

JR: So within the last couple of weeks, if you’ve been reading my column, you’d see that I wrote a column…

HH: Jim.

JR: …about President Obama, and how he hasn’t been transparent, nearly as transparent as he said…

HH: Like you’re…

JR: …he would be.

HH: All right.

JR: And we’re talking about transparency, so I’ll talk to you about the last column I wrote about transparency.

HH: Jim, here is my next question.

JR: That column…

HH: Jim…

JR: …said that the president should come clean with people…

HH: Who cares?

JR: …among other things, as you know…

HH: Jim…

JR: …and you’ve probably talked about…

HH: Why should I care what you say about the president, when you won’t tell me anything about you?

JR: Well, because this, what I’m telling you is that what I, what I don’t think should be done is, I think I should be judged based on what I’ve written. I want to talk to you about…

HH: But why…you could be a complete fraud. You could be the Z Best of columnists, but you won’t tell us anything about that. And so all I really…listen…

JR: No, what, you’re saying I won’t tell you anything about that. I want to tell you I’m a columnist. I want to tell you about my columns. But you don’t want to talk about that.

HH: No, I want to ask you…

JR: You want to come up with some categories so that you can put me into a certain position…

HH: So my audience can judge.

JR: …so that your audience can then try to stereotype me and judge me in a certain way. And I’m saying if they’ve read my column, they might have read that I took on the New York Times for bashing John McCain and…

HH: It doesn’t matter a lick.

JR: …and saying that he had a mistress when they had no proof whatsoever that he had…

HH: Nobody cares about that.

JR: But no, I think…

HH: Honestly, I think this is why journalists have no clue why people hate them.

JR: Well, what you’re saying, so what you’re saying, so what you’re saying is this is why you have no clue what we do. What I’m telling you is…

HH: Jim, I have been a journalist as long as you have.

JR: No, no, no, no. Let me finish my sentence. What I’m telling you is what we want to be judged on, as Dr. King would say, is the content of who we are, the content of our work.

HH: But Jim, that’s impossible to do unless we know whether or not you’re pushing an agenda that is thinly disguised.

JR: Right. And the way you can tell what agenda I’m pushing is by looking at what I’ve written.

HH: That’s crap.

JR: You don’t want to.

HH: That’s crap. That’s just crap.

JR: And apparently, and apparently from the way you’re conducting this, which I’m not surprised, but you don’t want to talk about the content of what I’ve written.

HH: I want to ask…

JR: And that’s why I came on. I came on to talk about that.

HH: I will. I had literally six questions which you could have answered in five seconds.

JR: Okay, let’s run through them. Let’s run through them.

HH: Do you own a gun?

JR: Do I own a gun? Yes, I own a gun.

HH: Do you support concealed carry laws?

JR: Uh, do I support concealed carry laws? I really don’t have a position on that.

HH: Are you pro-choice or pro-life?

JR: Uh, I really don’t have a strong position on that, either.

HH: Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

JR: Uh, you know, I’m not, that’s not something I’ve written about. I’ve been to Iraq and I supported the surge in Iraq.

HH: Did you support the invasion of Afghanistan?

JR: Certainly, yes.

HH: And so not knowing, go back to Iraq, since you’re very clear on Afghanistan, you’re not clear on what you thought about Iraq?

JR: At the time, I, you know, I probably, I don’t recall. I didn’t write about it at the time. I think the Afghanistan question for a lot of people was a lot clearer for reasons that we all know.

HH: Okay, do you go to church?

JR: Do I go to church? I sometimes go to church, yes.

HH: And what denomination?

JR: Uh, my family is Catholic. I wouldn’t call myself a, I wouldn’t call myself a faithful person, though, in that sense. I consider myself faithful in other senses, but I’m not a regular, practicing member of any religion. So I’m a godless atheist.

HH: Okay, that’s like Lobdell. Do you watch a lot of television?

JR: Do I watch a lot of television? Not very much. I, you know, I watch occasionally.

HH: And when you watch, what do you watch?

JR: What do I watch? Uh, a little bit of everything. I mean…

HH: I mean newswise.

JR: Mainly sports.

HH: But I mean newswise.

JR: Newswise? All day long I have on three stations here – Fox, MSNBC and CNN.

HH: What do you think of Glenn Beck?

JR: What do I think of Glenn Beck? Uh, I think he’s a pretty extreme character.

HH: What do you think of Keith Olbermann?

JR: I think he’s pretty extreme, too.

HH: Do you drink?

JR: Do I drink? What, exactly?

HH: Anything. Booze.

JR: Yeah, sure.

HH: Do you smoke?

JR: Do I smoke? No, I don’t smoke.

HH: Do you own a house with a mortgage?

JR: Yes, I do.

HH: Did you lose money in the market crash?

JR: Did I lose money? Well, I have a 401K, and certainly, yes, I lost money in the market crash, yes.

HH: Do you own stocks?

JR: Uh, I don’t know that I own any individual stocks at this moment. I think I own mutual funds mainly through my 401K.

HH: Does your wife work outside of the home?

JR: I feel like I’m, are people really learning from this?

HH: Yes, they are, and I’ll tell you why in the second segment. Does your wife work outside of the home?

JR: Does she work outside of the home? She works, but she is a writer like me, and most of that work she does in the home. But she has to work. We need two incomes like most Americans to support us.

HH: And do you disclose what she does when you write about anything that might impact what she does?

JR: She writes a lot about women’s, you know, she writes for women’s magazines, predominantly, and she writes fiction for children.

HH: And now…oh, cool.

JR: So there’s not very much overlap with that and what I do.

HH: I’d like to interview her. I had my first child’s fiction thing…so Jim, what I just established, and really, it would have taken three minutes. Have you ever told your readers 90% of what you just told me?

JR: Have I ever told them? I’ve probably in my columns, and some of it has come up. But…and I don’t doubt that some of it will come up in future columns when it’s pertinent. If I’m writing about Iraq, certainly, I would, you know, I could very easily get into my feelings about Iraq. But probably not that my wife writes children’s books. I’m not writing about children.

HH: I’ll come right back.

– – – –

HH: Jim, in the last segment, painful though it was, I was trying to demonstrate one thing, which you had not disclosed much of who you are to your audience directly over the course of twenty years at the L.A. Times, but you are mad at for disclosing information about the fact that they’re invested in the companies that they’re investigating. I don’t understand. When journalism is supposed to be about the truth, how you can object to people telling truth while you defend it from a position of not disclosing.

JR: Well, yes. You actually know from reading my column. I’m mad about this and I objected to them disclosing? No, I think it’s great that they disclose, and you know also from reading my column, I mean, Bill Lobdell did, you know, I don’t have to say this, it’s evident, he did great work here at the L.A. Times. He very well may do great work with this site, with Mr. Minkow. And I think as you said in your little piece on your website today, the proof, as I’m trying to say about what I’ve written, will be in what they do. What I also was referring to, though, there’s been a long tradition at newspapers, and I think it’s been a good one, I think it’s been to good effect, that when you’re writing about business in particular, that it’s probably for the best, yes, disclosure is fine, but it’s probably for the best if you don’t have any direct, financial interest in what you’re writing about.

HH: Why?

JR: And that’s…well, because there have been instances, and if I’d known we were going to get into this depth, I would have brought some to you, but there’s certainly been instances, even some of the more reputable newspapers, news organizations in the country, where people when they didn’t tend to these rules, they wrote things that they did write to try and influence stocks to go in a direction. And it was apparent that they were doing that to benefit themselves financially. Now you know, I don’t know Bill really, really well, but I’ve known him pretty well over many years. I don’t expect him to do that. But I think the reason those rules were put into effect at, you know, this paper and a lot of, most of the other news organizations in the country, is because of the concern that there could be an appearance of conflict. And actually, the reality of a conflict.

HH: So what’s the difference, Jim, between the concern over the appearance, or more importantly, the reality of conflict, when political reporters and media reporters in mainstream media, are writing about politics and media, not disclosing who they vote for, not disclosing what they believe, and then fifteen of them go to work for the Obama administration.

JR: Right.

HH: How is that other than utterly and totally corrupt, and the reason why people do not trust journalists?

JR: Well, utter…and I told Bill this the other day when we were talking about this, because I told him the disclosure, you know, the disclosure question, I don’t think, is…I have mixed feelings about it, what you should and shouldn’t disclose. I know he cited this statistic, too, about how many folks had gone to work for the Obama administration. No doubt some of them voted for Barack Obama. At least the only one I know well who went to work there for the Transportation Department is someone who was nervous about the condition of our industry, like a lot of people are, and who frankly, I’m not going to name names, because I’ve, this person won’t have a chance to defend themselves, but was thought of on the campaign trail as being someone who was extremely friendly to John McCain. And if anything…

HH: Thought of by whom, Jim?

JR: Thought of by the people in the…I mean, McCain…

HH: By your little closed universe of journalists who reinforce each other?

JR: No, no, no. No, no, absolutely not, because I covered John McCain, and I actually, you know, I thought there was much ado and fire about John McCain myself.

HH: But we don’t care. I mean, this is…

JR: No. Well, you said you do care about someone’s biases. You wanted a…

HH: No, we don’t care what you think about John McCain…

JR: You cared a minute ago, and you wanted me to disclose. And now…

HH: No, we don’t care what you think about John McCain. We care about…

JR: You just wanted to know if I voted for him, but you don’t want me to…one thing I talked to Bill about…

HH: Exactly. You won’t tell us who you voted for, so I don’t believe anything you say.

JR: Okay. So in the disclosure…right. Well, so in the disclosure, let’s say I tell you I voted for Barack Obama or for George Bush. And then once I voted for George Bush, he gets into office, and he does some things that I start to get queasy about. Like for instance, I disagree with the invasion of Iraq, I have problems with his policy on trade, whatever it may be. Is that, should the disclosure be constant and should it be on all issues? Or should, I mean, should I write an essay, in effect?

HH: The disclosure that matters in the world of political reporting should be rather continual and timely, so that we can then judge your reporting both before and after based upon what you do.

JR: Okay.

HH: It is, in fact, I am a model of disclosure.

JR: Okay.

HH: I am an open book, and people can adjust what they think about what I say based upon everything they know about me.

JR: Right.

HH: But you on the other hand are a closed book.

JR: But you, but you…no, I’m not.

HH: You get the last 30 seconds.

JR: No, I’m not a closed book at all. I mean, in fact, I just answered most of your questions about where I stand on this. My, I’m only getting 30 seconds more, huh?

HH: Well, you can come back. I’ll hold you over if you want to come back.

JR: No, I’m just, I want to tell you that people should read what we write, and if they read what I write, they’ll see that I’ve been critical of MSNBC, said there’s bias in their news coverage. I’ve been critical of Obama, saying he hasn’t been fully transparent. I’ve criticized the New York Times and others that are part of your liberal conspiracies that you like to talk about.

HH: I have never said liberal conspiracy in my life. Not once.

JR: Well, you said 95% of the liberal left…

HH: That’s not a conspiracy. Come back, Jim, after the break.

– – – –

HH: Jim, I hope you stuck around.

JR: I’m here.

HH: Have I been fair to you?

JR: I think so. It’s been lovely.

HH: Jim, now be honest.

JR: So I want to educate your listeners a little bit here, though, because I did read on your website that 90, what is it, 95% of us in there, I’m not sure I made the cut with what I’ve said, that I still qualify as a liberal left activist. I’m afraid I might have fallen out of that company. But just so your listeners know, because I’m afraid they don’t, do you know what the major investigations, front page investigations are that this newspaper, the L.A. Times, has conducted over the last year? Do you know who the targets were and the folks that were unhappy with that coverage?

HH: I don’t read your newspaper.

JR: Okay. Well, you read my column, right, or else I wouldn’t be on.

HH: I read your column, because…

JR: And that’s it? That’s the only thing you’ve read?

HH: I…

JR: Well, so what you’ve missed is, then, you’ve missed a year-long investigation that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist about Service Employees International, one of your favorite organizations, which was a takedown of their local here, their biggest local in the country for fraud. My colleague, Paul Pringle, hiding his far, far, far left orientation, spent a year taking SEIU apart in sections. Meanwhile, you’ve got my colleague who sits very close to me here who cover L.A. Unified, and the teachers there who have been writing actually in a couple of series, about the problems with incompetent teachers and the problems with tenure taking on probably another one of your favorites, the teachers unions in California. That’s been all over the front page, and has also won a lot of acclaim. And before that, I’m sure, I know you know about our coverage of Martin Luther King Drew hospital, which of course was routinely slammed by another person you defend all the time, Maxine Waters. So if those are the probably, not probably, those are the three biggest investigations in recent times, along with we’ve been writing about nurses and other low wage, often unionized work and all the problems with licensing and underperforming nurses. So somehow, the paper has, I guess intentionally gone on a campaign to cover up these far, far, far, far, far left leanings by putting these investigations all over the front page of the paper.

HH: And do you believe those three investigative stories, and maybe double that number, six, in any way go to the point that 95% of the people working in your newsroom are liberal left?

JR: I think, well, the 95% is just a figure you made up, and I don’t know where that comes from.

HH: Actually, I didn’t make it up. It comes from the Pew polling based upon journalists who would disclose who they voted for in the past.

JR: Right.

HH: It’s primarily East Coast newsrooms.

JR: Right.

HH: I think it’s about 90, 92%.

JR: Well, we’re not on the East Coast, and I don’t know what the percentage is. Look, I’m not going to argue that a lot of folks in here, I mean, I think if people are smart in here, you know, they’re probably registered decline to say, so probably in neither party.

HH: Jim, not registered. Jim, let me ask you, this is very serious. If it turned out that in fact that 90% or more of the L.A. Times journalists either voted for Obama or would have, had they not decided not to vote, would that impact the work product of the Los Angeles Times?

JR: I think, and what I said, I believe I made reference to in the column today, I think there have been times when the paper and the political orientations of people here.

HH: Gosh, this is agonizing.

JR: …has been reflected in the work. And actually, one reason that you know that is because unlike a lot of organizations, both talk radio and especially an outlet like MSNBC, or an outlet like Fox, we have folks here, we have a reader’s representative. Prior to me, we had David Shaw, who you know, won a Pulitzer Prize in part for covering our own dirty laundry.

HH: Oh, I know, tell me about Staples again.

JR: Wait, wait, wait. No, he did a…

HH: Wait, wait. What is this…

JR: And he did a series, he did a series about the fact that the language…

HH: You are Obama in print.

JR: …and he did a series about the fact that abortion was unfairly covered here…

HH: Jim, it doesn’t…

JR: …the language that the paper used was unfair. Our editor subsequently criticized a story on that, and…

HH: Jim, I could walk through a thousand counterexamples – when you guys edited the George Will column to exclude the smack on Clinton, when you didn’t cover…

JR: Well, no, you say you can cite a thousand, but you can’t. And actually, if you look at our coverage of Obama…

HH: How about the Schwarzenegger hit job on the week of the election? How about the 40,000 Jews that you did not cover demonstrating against the biased Israel coverage?

JR: Well, are you saying, are you saying that those stories, are you saying…

HH: I’m saying these examples…

JR: Are you saying the Schwarzenegger stories weren’t true, and that harassment never took place?

HH: No, I think they were timed to try and prevent him from beating Gray Davis.

JR: Well, there’s absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever.

HH: Well, I’m glad you think that. We don’t believe that. But Jim…

JR: And if…well, you don’t have to believe it. I mean, the other thing is, when you look at the coverage of…

HH: Jim, I asked a question. You still haven’t answered the question…

JR: And what I’ve said to you before, what I told you before…

HH: If 90% of your journalists…

JR: And what I told you before…

HH: I don’t want to talk over you, Jim, but you’re filibustering and people can hear that. If 90% of your journalists are liberal left, would that impact the work product of the paper?

JR: Right. I told you already that I think there have been at times, and I think the time where it…yes, I think there are times.

HH: Yes, it would.

JR: Yeah, but you’re not going to let me complete the thought.

HH: No, because I want to come back to that, but go ahead.

JR: What I think on social, I think on social issues in particular, there are times when, and that’s even more reason the editors in the ways I’ve talked about have to lean over backwards, because I think yes, in this state in particular, I mean, you know, the polling would show that people like, for instance, on some of these issues, are leaning in favor of the liberal position. And I think you’ve got to lean over backwards to make sure you don’t have those biases. I think the thing in traditional news organizations, that there are conversations every day, and people try to overcome those. Are there times that we’ve screwed up and we haven’t? Absolutely. And…but there are, what I’m objecting to is the sense that you’re having, that someone who is from one orientation can’t write a story that goes against their own predisposition, and that they can’t…you know, supposedly, and there were times when Obama certainly got very positive coverage. I mean, there’s no doubt about it. But you could look at the front page of our paper during the campaign, and since then, and there were plenty of tough stories. In fact, when people were going crazy about he’s a Muslim, he’s a Muslim, which he’s not. We know.

HH: Who went crazy about that?

JR: Well, there was, on the blogosphere. I mean…

HH: Who? That’s made up.

JR: The percent…

HH: That’s a total red herring.

JR: No, it is not a total red herring.

HH: It is a total red herring.

JR: …because…

HH: There isn’t a single responsible journalist in America, center, left or right or conservative who said Obama was a Muslim.

JR: Yeah, well…

HH: That’s just a joke.

JR: Yeah, it’s not a joke. And there was lot of implication, and there’s still recently about a quarter to a third of the people in polling who say that they believe that.

HH: That’s a canard. During the break, go to your Google, Jim. Come back after the break, give me one journalist ever, one journalist who’s on a reputable anything, from any station, that ever said Obama was a Muslim. Just one. I’ll be right back.

– – – –

HH: Let’s go back to Jim Rainey of the Los Angeles Times.

JR: (Dead line)

HH: Oh, Jim hung up on us. What a surprise. What a surprise. He only agreed to do two segments. He was not obligated to come. But when you make a statement like the whole Muslim thing, and people did say it, and then you walk away from the phone call? Not good. That’s why people don’t believe the L.A. Times.

End of interview.

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