Cartoonists call for review of tape used as evidence to cut ties with Ted Rall
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is calling on the Los Angeles Times to review police evidence the newspaper used to justify terminating its relationship with a cartoonist for factual discrepancies.
The evidence in question is an audio recording of a confrontation between cartoonist Ted Rall, whose work appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and a Los Angeles Police Department officer, who stopped Rall for jaywalking in 2001. The Times has said that the version of events on the recording contradict a May 11 opinion blog written by Rall in which he describes being "roughed up" by the officer while a "couple of dozen" passersby shouted at the cop:
All of a sudden, a motorcycle officer zoomed over, threw me up against the wall, slapped on the cuffs, roughed me up and wrote me a ticket. It was an ugly scene, and in broad daylight it must have looked like one, because within minutes there were a couple of dozen passersby shouting at the cop.
The Los Angeles Times added an editor's note to Rall's post more than a month after it was published saying that new evidence from the LAPD called into question several of Rall's statements. According to the Times, which assigned an investigative reporter to look into the discrepancies, a complaint filed by Rall after the incident and an audiotape of the stop did not back up his assertions:
In Rall's initial complaint to the LAPD, he describes the incident without mentioning any physical violence or handcuffing but says that the police officer was "belligerent and hostile" and that he threw Rall's license into the "gutter." The tape depicts a polite interaction.
In addition, Rall wrote in his blog post that the LAPD dismissed his complaint without ever contacting him. Department records show that internal affairs investigators made repeated attempts to contact Rall, without success.
Rall says his relationship as a contributor was ended by Editorial Page Editor Nicholas Goldberg.
On Wednesday, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists posted a statement on its website requesting that the newspaper launch an independent investigation into the tape, calling the review "badly needed."
Determining the truth in this matter is important to Mr. Rall's personal and professional reputation, and to the rights of journalists to freely express themselves. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times should have demanded a higher standard of proof in this matter, and it is clear that Mr. Rall is owed a full and complete analysis of the 14 year old tape used to make a judgment about his actions.
Since the editor's note was published, Rall has published several statements calling into question the Times' decision to sever the professional relationship, saying the newspaper did not diligently verify the evidence. On his website, he has called the decision "hasty," accused the LAPD of lying and demanded the Times apologize, retract its editors note and continue publishing his work:
The Times knows they were wrong, yet they’re refusing to reverse their decision, apologize, or retract ” A Note to Readers” that calls me a liar and a fabulist, from latimes.com. The LAPD police union also still has up a gloaty sinister blog post threatening other journalists to toe the line lest they be next.
At the center of the dispute is the audiotape, which is one of the pieces of evidence used by the Times to justify severing ties. Rall, who says he obtained the tape from Los Angeles Times investigative reporter Paul Pringle, paid to have the audio enhanced professionally. On an enhanced version of the tape, Rall says, a woman's voice is audible asking a police officer to uncuff him. He says this runs counter to the Times' assertion that there is no evidence of a crowd of shouting onlookers.
In an email to Poynter, Rall said he was recently contacted by a representative from the Los Angeles Times who said the newspaper reviewed his case and refused to issue a retraction.
"Essentially, they're doubling down," Rall said.
The discrepancy between Rall's interpretation of the tape and that of the Los Angeles Times calls for a non-partisan arbiter to make sense of the matter, said Jack Ohman, president of the association and the editorial cartoonist of The Sacramento Bee.
"An independent inquiry would resolve them," Ohman said in an email to Poynter.
Rall is a former president of the association, which in 2008 boasted 300 members from a variety of American newspapers and elsewhere.
Contacted Thursday, the Los Angeles Times did not comment further. When asked by Poynter whether he is considering legal action, Rall said he was "exploring all of my options."
"I have tried to give them as long as possible to do the right thing because I would much rather go back to drawing cartoons than to spend the next few years in court," Rall said.
Although the association is calling for some kind of restitution for Rall if an independent entity vindicates him, Ohman said it's unclear what that restitution might entail.
"We're not a legal body," Ohman said. "That's for a legal body to decide."