Comey, Mueller and Anthrax; Gubernatorial Map; Trump & NAFTA; John Carroll’s Memo
By Carl M. Cannon on May 22, 2017 09:18 am
Good morning, it’s Monday, May 22, 2017. Fourteen years ago today, John S. Carroll, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, sent a memo to the section editors of his newspaper. The son of a venerated journalist Wallace Carroll, John had covered the Vietnam War for the Baltimore Sun and the White House for the New York Times before becoming an editor. At a succession of newspapers — the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lexington Herald-Leader, Baltimore Sun and, finally, in Los Angeles — he became the most respected and acclaimed editor of his generation. Carroll was a reporter’s editor, too. I know because I worked for him at the Sun covering John’s old beat at the White House. On this date in 2003, however, John was displeased by a piece that had appeared in his own newspaper. The subject line to his memo simply said “credibility/abortion." And in it he wrote bluntly about the blatant political bias on this topic that had manifested itself in a front-page L.A. Times article. I’ll have more on this in a moment. First, I’ll point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a complement of original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following: * * * When Comey and Mueller Bungled the Anthrax Case. In a column, I offer reasons to tamp down enthusiasm about the man appointed to investigate possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sizing Up the 2018 Gubernatorial Map. David Byler has this assessment, which offers encouraging news for Democrats. What Trump Wants From NAFTA Is What He Had With TPP. Allan Golombek explains in RealClearMarkets. An America That Speaks Mandarin. In RealClearWorld’s continuing series on the U.S.-China relationship, Jeff Wang emphasizes the importance of learning a language spoken by one-fifth of the world’s population. Trump Gives Defense Hawks the Upper Hand. In RealClearDefense, Sandra Erwin previews this week’s release of the military budget. The Dangers of Loyalty in Governing. In RealClearPolicy, Andy Smarick warns that when leaders prioritize loyalty, other essential aspects of decision-making get de-prioritized. Factory Farming Threatens Public Health. In RealClearHealth, Scott Weathers and Sophia Hermann alert U.S. policymakers to the warning issued by global health care leaders last week. It’s Time to Make the World Health Organization Relevant Again. Also in RCH, José Luis Castro spotlights this week’s election of a new director-general of WHO and what qualities that leader must have. Churchill, FDR and the ‘Special Relationship.’ In RealClearBooks, Michael Poliakoff and Ted Eismeier review Lewis E. Lehrman’s “Churchill, Roosevelt and Company." Why Occam’s Razor Doesn’t Apply to Physics. RealClearScience editor Ross Pomeroy explains why a key tool for problem solving doesn’t apply to physics. * * * Although I knew John Carroll for nearly three decades and worked for him for five years, I never knew his politics — or if he even had “politics" in the way that term is usually employed. I’d have guessed that he was a moderate Democrat, or maybe an independent, but John was old-school in that regard. He gone into journalism, not government, and believed that partisanship had no place in the newsroom. On May 22, 2003, he revealed just how strongly he believed this in his memo to his top Los Angeles Times lieutenants. He got right to the point: “I’m concerned about the perception — and the occasional reality — that the Times is a liberal, ‘politically correct’ newspaper," he began. “Generally speaking, this is an inaccurate view, but occasionally we prove our critics right. We did so today with the front-page story on the bill in Texas that would require abortion doctors to counsel patients that they may be risking breast cancer." The memo continued: The apparent bias of the writer and/or the desk reveals itself in the third paragraph, which characterizes such bills in Texas and elsewhere as requiring “so-called counseling of patients." I don’t think people on the anti-abortion side would consider it “so-called," a phrase that is loaded with derision.
The story makes a strong case that the link between abortion and breast cancer is widely discounted among researchers, but I wondered as I read it whether somewhere there might exist some credible scientist who believes in it.
Such a person makes no appearance in the story’s lengthy passage about the scientific issue. We do quote one of the sponsors of the bill, noting that he “has a professional background in property management." Seldom will you read a cheaper shot than this. Why, if this is germane, wouldn’t we point to legislators on the other side who are similarly bereft of scientific credentials?
It is not until the last three paragraphs of the story that we finally surface a professor of biology and endocrinology who believes the abortion/cancer connection is valid. But do we quote him as to why he believes this? No. We quote his political views. In all our time together, John Carroll and I never discussed his own views — or mine — on the array of topics that the Catholic bishops call the “life" issues: abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and war. That said, if I had to guess, I would have pegged John as pro-choice on abortion. Yet John, who died two years ago at age 73, would have considered that irrelevant to how the issue should be covered by honest reporters and editors. John also conveyed a respect for other people’s opinions that revealed an open mind, and a comfort with the idea that he could disagree with someone without questioning their motives or intellect. Most importantly, he thought it imperative for democracy that in one-newspaper cities, readers who were liberal, conservative, or moderate should consider their newspaper an honest broker that didn’t sneer at their views or values. “The reason I’m sending this note to all section editors is that I want everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias from our coverage," he said. “I’m no expert on abortion, but I know enough to believe that it presents a profound philosophical, religious and scientific question, and I respect people on both sides of the debate," the memo concluded. “A newspaper that is intelligent and fair-minded will do the same." Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics