Award-winning cartoonist and journalist Ted Rall has accused the Los Angeles Times of wrongly casting doubt on his professional integrity, retracting one of his columns and ending his freelance work with the paper in order to curry favor with the Los Angeles police department.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists has called for an investigation into the process resulting in the Rall’s dismissal, saying the Times “should have demanded a higher standard of proof in this matter”.
A frequent critic of the LAPD and winner of multiple national awards, Rall was formerly a staple of the Los Angeles Times opinion pages. The controversy centers on a column he wrote in May about jaywalking fines , which began with Rall’s recollection of a 2001 incident during which the cartoonist claimed he was handcuffed and “roughed up” by an LAPD officer, who threw his driver’s license into the sewer, during a jaywalking stop. Rall also says he was not jaywalking at the time.
The LAPD contacted the Times to dispute the account, providing difficult-to-hear audio recorded by the officer who conducted the stop, the text of Rall’s complaint in 2002, which mentions the discarded license but not the handcuffs, and the officer’s written denial.
The Times said the audio did not back up Rall’s story.
In July, Rall said he received a call from the LA Times’ Paul Pringle, a Polk and Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter whose focus is institutional corruption. Rall said that Pringle questioned him aggressively about the incident and then told him: “The LAPD says that none of this ever happened.”
“‘There never was a crowd, there never was any shouting at the cop, you were never handcuffed, he never roughed you up, he never threw your driver’s license on the ground,’” Rall said Pringle told him.
When Rall protested, Pringle cited the audio tape, which Rall had not known existed.
“I started to wonder: ‘Oh my god, I’m almost 52, am I getting old? Am I losing my mind? What’s going on?’”
Rall asked Pringle for the tape and said hearing it jogged his memory. He said he remembered the officer speaking to him in a tone he described as “jaunty” while handling him roughly.
Since, in his words, “that tape isn’t exactly Industrial Light and Magic”, Rall paid to have the audio cleaned up and claims it is now possible, among other things, to hear an onlooker say “ why’d you handcuff him? ”
Rall has produced both the original and an enhanced version of the recording the Times told him it heard, claiming that dialogue on the cleaned-up tape exonerates him. He also questions why the mostly incomprehensible tape was used against him in the first place.
Rall is a controversial figure, both in the newspaper world and among cartoonists. In 1999 a Village Voice article criticizing Maus creator Art Spiegelman earned him hate mail from comics artists. “I’ve lost gigs before,” he said – both over disputes about content and because budgets simply don’t sustain much editorial cartooning anymore (Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed recently resurrected that cartoon on Facebook ), but never because he had been dishonest.
But he is also a fellow of the Palast Investigative Fund, run by reporter and commentator Greg Palast , who has stuck by him. “As an investigative reporter, I was astonished that the LA Times did not even bother to do an independent analysis of the tape,” Palast wrote on his website last week.
“This was the best gig I ever had,” Rall said of the job at the Times, which he had held since 2009. “I had a warm, almost loving relationship with [editors] Cherry Gee and Susan Brenneman.”
Pringle did not respond to emailed requests for comment. Nicholas Goldberg, the editor of the opinion page who wrote the note appended to Rall’s May column, said he was not authorized to comment on the story.
The Times press office has been contacted for comment.
The LAPD did not respond to a request for comment, but the department’s union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said they “ applaud the L.A. Times firing of cartoonist Ted Rall ” in a blog post (since removed, but also issued as a press release here ) describing how, “[s]ince [Rall’s] blog post, the LAPD has approached the Times and provided reports and records of the incident, including an audiotape of the encounter”.
“I work with Ted Rall,” wrote one commenter who gave his name as Paul on the police union’s blogpost. “Too bad the officer didn’t let Rall get run over! We wouldn’t have to hear Rall’s disrespectful mouth for the last 15 years!”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015