Friday, July 3, 2009

Mike Davis, Marc Cooper, James Rainey, Michael Lacey, Jill Stewart, the L.A. Weekly, and the lies that liars tell

A friend of mine in Los Angeles has just brought to my attention a scurrilous column published in the L.A. Weekly late last month, authored by Michael Lacey, executive editor of the Weekly's owner Village Voice Media. The column is, for the most part, an attack on former Weekly staffer Marc Cooper, a good friend and colleague of mine, for his criticisms of the paper. Lacey also took on L.A. Times columnist James Rainey for his own belated story about the troubles at the newspaper (a story only published after Marc chastised the Times for ignoring the dramas that have swirled around the Weekly in recent years, especially after it was purchased by Village Voice Meda.)

Marc is a big boy and can stick up for himself, but what drew my attention was Lacey's statements about Mike Davis, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, the author of numerous books about Los Angeles, and perhaps the most insightful writer about my hometown since Reyner Banham. Lacey describes an episode in which Marc took Davis's side against Jill Stewart, now the Weekly's news editor, who had made a number of accusations against Davis. Here is how Lacey describes it:

What was Stewart’s offense?

She had dared to expose the fabrications, exaggerations and falsehoods of Los Angeles author Mike Davis, Cooper’s soul mate.

Davis is a self-described “Marxist environmentalist,” a political identity in Russia, by the way, more endangered than a Chernobyl titmouse.

Frankly, unmasking Davis’ reliance upon whoppers to manufacture an apocalyptic vision of Los Angeles was hardly Stewart’s most difficult challenge. Davis once published in the long-ago Weekly his interview with a prominent environmentalist, which was entirely made up.

Davis later admitted the con job and alibied that he was only attempting to learn how to do journalism.

There are several serious problems with this diatribe, but most egregious is the statement that Davis made up an interview. The charge that Davis made up his interview with Lewis McAdams either originated or was repeated in a 1999 New York Times story about Davis by Todd Purdum. It is a gross distortion of what really happened.

For a more accurate story, try Jon Wiener's account in The Nation later that year in which he explains the background to the hatred that many in L.A.'s power elite have for Davis, and the real story behind Davis's interview with McAdams--which really did happen, although Davis admitted to some mistakes in the way he reported it.

In fact, Lacey's version of events is so off base that it is either sloppy journalism or an all-out lie.

As a former writer for the Weekly (my heyday there was the 1980s, when Marc Cooper first came on board as news editor, the job that Stewart now holds) I can only lament the limp rag that the Weekly has become under its new owners. And this column by Lacey is a good example of their mindset. Los Angeles deserves better.

PS--Those interested in Marc Cooper's own autopsy report on the L.A. Weekly's demise can click here.

Photo: Mike Davis

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