The laziness of the New York Times!


Adam Nagourney, lounging around in L.A.: Very few women hold office in Los Angeles city and county government.

By “very few,” we seem to mean two, according to Adam Nagourney’s front-page report in Monday’s New York Times. At present, there is one woman on the 15-member Los Angeles city council, an elective office. There is one woman on the five-member Board of Supervisors for Los Angeles County, a much larger jurisdiction.

According to Nagourney, that’s it! The mayor, city attorney and city controller of Los Angeles are all men.

That isn’t a whole lot of women! This might have been an interesting topic, except Nagourney got involved and sleep-walked his way through the piece. For starters, he made no attempt to provide a history of such participation, except for this half-hearted effort, which occurred early on:
NAGOURNEY (8/5/13): The overwhelmingly male lineup in local elected offices has caught many people here by surprise, overlooked in the general lack of interest in this year’s campaigns. And it has become a subject of considerable chagrin, civic embarrassment and impassioned discussions about exactly what happened.

“When I was in elementary school, there were like five women on the City Council,” said Nury Martinez, the city’s lone woman in elected office, speaking in her empty Council office at City Hall. “It’s a shame and embarrassing that in a city of four million people we are down to one woman.”
We don’t know how the overwhelmingly male lineup “caught many people by surprise,” since the numbers seem to have changed for the better in the recent election. (Nagourney says the lone woman on the council just took office last week.) But Nagourney’s analyses rarely make sense, especially when found on page one.

According to Martinez, there were “like” five women on the city council at some point in the past. She doesn’t say when that was, and Nagourney doesn’t ask her. Nor does he bother figuring out if that statement is accurate.

He provides no further information on the ebb and flow of women on the city council over the course of the years. What was the high point of female representation? What, Nagourney do work?

As always, Nagourney lounges. In this passage, he suggests that a trend may be underway, but he makes no attempt to garner information beyond what he’s been told by one organization:
NAGOURNEY: “The issue isn’t that voters won’t vote for women—it’s that we don’t have enough women running,” Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said in an e-mail. “It’s a recruitment issue.”

In one measure of the representation of women in state and local government, 73 women hold elected statewide positions across the nation, or 23 percent of available positions, according to the center. That is almost identical to the percentage reported in 1993. The figure then increased through 2001, to 28 percent, but has been in a steady decline over the past 12 years, the center said.
That’s what “the center said” about women holding elected statewide positions over the past twenty years. Are their figures accurate? Nagourney will take that chance! Meanwhile, what do city councils look like in other major cities—in New York, Chicago or Houston? What are the trends in those positions?

Nagourney made no attempt to say. That would have called for research!

Nagourney did the typical thing in this very soft report. Instantly, he began quoting people saying the situation in Los Angeles is “shocking” or a shame. This gives the impression that scandal’s involved. The blood of the dead starts to flow:
NAGOURNEY: “Can you believe it?” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who works extensively with female candidates, including Ms. Greuel. “It’s part of a national trend. We are seeing this in a lot of places—in offices in statewide office, in a number of city councils. But it’s really shocking. That is a state that is very pro-women.”

The situation here has caught the attention of national women’s advocacy groups, including Emily’s List, which is planning to begin a training and recruitment campaign here aimed at enlisting women to run for office.

“We do not want to see any city without equal representation of women—and in this case, we are really, really off, “said Stephanie Schriock, the president of the organization.

Katherine Spillar, the head of the Feminist Majority Foundation, called the situation “shocking.”

“I’m very concerned,” she said. “We have gone backwards instead of forwards. Shame on Los Angeles.”
Lake called the situation “shocking” and said we are seeing this “in a number of city councils.” How accurate is her claim? Just what is the number? Nagourney didn’t bother to check.

Spillar is also quoted saying it’s “shocking,” and she declares, “Shame on Los Angeles.” But who in Los Angeles should be ashamed? Nagourney didn’t ask Spillar to say, and this passage suggests that women in Los Angeles simply aren’t choosing to run for the city council:
NAGOURNEY: Los Angeles County, with a population of 9.9 million that includes Los Angeles, has just one woman on its five-member Board of Supervisors. And the race to fill the City Council seat for Hollywood, which Mr. Garcetti vacated when he was elected mayor, gave voters a choice of 12 candidates—all men.
Who in Los Angeles should be ashamed? Los Angeles voters can’t vote for women if women don’t choose to run for these posts. Have women run in the past and been defeated?

Nagourney didn’t check.

Nagourney has always been like this—lazy, fuzzy, useless, scripted, a perfect New York Timesman. He was dealing with an interesting, important topic, but his laziness and his inertia seemed to keep him from developing information or wider perspectives.

Do women want to waste their time on the Los Angeles City Council? Nagourney quotes a few remarks about the need for influential women and women’s groups to recruit more female candidates. But he didn’t make much of an effort to examine that topic either.

Nagourney did the typical. He quoted a bunch of people expressing outrage and shock. He made the smallest possible effort to develop information and wider perspectives. That said, we thought the end of his piece was perhaps its most striking part. As he closed, he worried about the lack of role models for girls in L.A., a very important concern:
NAGOURNEY: “The role model aspect of this is very troubling,” said Donna Bojarsky, a longtime political consultant in Los Angeles. “It’s not a good picture for an up-and-coming generation.”

Ms. Martinez said women were familiar figures in Los Angeles government when she was growing up—and that was one of the reasons she ran for the City Council this year.

“Growing up, I always saw myself serving in public office, because that is what I wanted to do,” she said. “But I had people to look up to. There were people I would watch on TV and read about. I was reading about these women. The Jackie Goldbergs. The Gloria Molinas.”

“And for little girls for years to come?” she said with a sigh.
Again, Nagourney quoted a statement by Martinez which he didn’t bother confirming. How familiar were women in Los Angeles government in past decades?

Nagourney didn’t say. For the record, Molina served on the city council from 1987 to 1991. She has served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from then to the present say, providing a superb role model for Los Angeles kids of all types.

Goldberg served on the city council from 1994 to 2000. In 2000, she was elected to the California State Assembly. How many other women were in the city council back then?

We have no idea! You see, we read the Times!

Whatever! We were somewhat struck by the wringing of hands concerning role models for girls and young women in Los Angeles. We’ll agree that it would be better if there were more women in the city council, although people can’t be forced to serve in such posts.

That said, girls in California aren’t exactly hurting for female role models at this point.

As Nagourney noted in paragraph one, both of California’s senators are women (Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer). So is the state’s attorney general, who has begun to take a fairly high national profile (Kamala Harris).

Meanwhile, the state’s congressional delegation is headed by a woman who recently served as Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi). And the Los Angeles area boasts quite a few high-profile women in Congress, including Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez and Maxine Waters.

Farther north, you get Pelosi, the superb Barbara Lee and a host of others.

There are more men than women in the California House delegation (18 of 53 are women), but some of the women are very high-profile. Our view?

It would presumably be a good thing if more women served in the city council. It would also be a good thing if a couple of facts could find their way into Nagourney’s reports.


  1. maybe he has some irish-catholic heritage?

    1. i dont take my medsAugust 8, 2013 at 3:58 PM

      is this the best i can do? so it seems.

  2. Sheila Kuehl is running for LA Board of Supervisors. She termed out as Speaker of the CA State Legislature awhile back and is now getting back into politics. I think that is a good thing.

  3. What I don't get is, doesn't Nagourney have an editor? Isn't there someone who reads the story before he presses the "send" button and says, we need some more numbers here? Because the story makes little sense without more numbers. Or is Nagourney such a big shot he doesn't have an editor?

  4. In a roughly 1200 word piece, Nagourney contacted at least 7 women involved in California politics for attributed quotes and further links to a fact sheet that gives national statistics:

    I don't think it's a great article...but it doesn't strike me as lazy reporting. TDH didn't even make the effort to link to Nagourney's article.

    1. This post, critical of a New York Times article, lays out detailed reasons for three major claims:

      1) there isn't context for the statistics to be meaningful (historically or regionally)

      2) it throws in "shocking" and "shameful" without real support

      3) its conclusion that there aren't enough role models for girls is incorrect

      After reading that you, Trollmes, to disagree, tell us that the writer talked to seven women for the article.

      For the win!

    2. 1) There is a link for more context--provided you're not too lazy to click on it.

      2)"It throws in"??? WTF, those are quotes from relevant observers. That's also called research. Instead of posing as the world's greatest authority, the author consults experts in the field. Then then the author tells us what those experts said. That's how reporting works.

      3)How you arrived at this conclusion of your own is a mystery.

      All you've demonstrated is that you don't have any idea about how to write a newspaper article. Interviewing 7 people to quote for attribution in the NY Times takes a lot more effort than anything I have seen typed up in TDH post since...well, I can't remember when. The headline complaint was of laziness--that complaint does not appear to have any basis.

    3. Anon @ 10:34

      Way to plant one on the Howler hindside.

      1) There isn't context? There is only one woman on the 15 member City Council or 5 member Board of Supervisors. Over half the voting population is female. How much more context do you frigging need?

      2) Nagourney doesn't throw "shocking" and "shameful" into the picture without support. These are quotes from people the reporter interviewd about the topic.

      3)Your point is stupid and based on a fact Bob The Half Irish Lord of Truth in Media made up!

      a) Stupid because you have no basis to assess what is or is not the correct number or role models for girls.

      b) Somerby made up the fact Nagourney "worried." It is another case where Bob's facts require him to be in someone's head. Nagourney "wrote", and in fact quotes, others about the role model concerns.

      Now lets get down to the lazy, misleading work of Mr. Somberby.

      Let's remember Somerby's often used dismissal of editors who "wave something into print." That indicates this former reporter knows what editors do. They also often pare stories down, tossing aside work reporters put into their piece. Does Bob know Nagourney was lazy and didn't include the charts he seems to call for, only to see them axed by the editor? No. But including that doubt would not fit his narrative. Nagourney is lazy.

      You remember all the pieces about how McCain the Maverick and Gore the Liar became narratives? Bob has narratives too. He is what he purports to expose. His poo stinks too.

      This piece is a prime example of Bob being That Which He Harps About.


    4. Poo,

      First, as is clear to someone who can read, I was laying out Bob's points, not my opinions. I was showing how your rebuttal did not actually address his charges.

      Now to your actual rebuttal, which came later,

      1) context - you don't seem to understand what context means. A ratio of female population percentage to female office holder percentage is a value without context. If it was compared to how that value has changed historically, or compared to other regions, that would give the value meaning. It is a common journalistic practice to throw around numbers, especially large numbers, without context (e.g., "the government spent a billion dollars on this bad program," when, in context (percentage of the budget), the spending is much less than it seems). Dean Baker is on an honorable crusade against this practice in economic reporting.

      2) shocking and shameful - OK, you buy these as relevant and supported because people say so. Myself, living in the USA, the representation on this council and board is certainly not "shocking," and, if we don't feel shame over not passing the Equal Rights Amendment, we're way past feeling shame for these two august bodies.

      3) number of role models for girls - now, again, this was Bob's point, and not mine. He came up with some examples to back his up. Is the point stupid? Well, wasn't it the big finish of the article to dramatically conclude that there were fewer now than in the good old days? Oh, no, you said Bob "made up" that Nagourney "worried." Did Bob really take too big of a logical leap we he got "worried" out of this:

      “And for little girls for years to come?” she said with a sigh.

      You seem to take the rather simple stance that how quotes are deployed in a piece of writing can give no indication of how the writer feels about the subject. I can only feel pity for you when a clever and unprincipled journalist pulls out their bag of tricks, including using man-on-the-street quotes to create an impression of a commonly held belief.

    5. Anon 516,

      At this point you're just bobbing and weaving to duck the initial criticism of this post: TDH was flat out wrong--the Nagourney piece wasn't lazy.

    6. Anon @ 5:16

      By simply stating Bob's points without criticizing them you are guilty of Krugdrumdionne's syndrome, a form of paralysis in which to not attack is to agree.
      I got that from the Head Howler himself, over and over and over again.

      "It is a common journalistic practice to throw around numbers, especially large numbers, without context." Anon @5:16

      Somerby suggested, two posts after this, that the Martin family lawyers spread "three million false or unfounded claims." Is that high or low for lawyers in cases such as the Martin/Zimmerman shooting/trial? More than the historical average for Florida, or part of a growing trend in the southern region?

      3 Million. No context. Was Bob just engaging in a common journalistic practice despite Baker's crusade against this kind of high figure tossing Perhaps Bob is just lazy since he did not break down what number of those three million claims were false and which were merely unfounded. To Bob's credit he did not label the number shocking or shameful. At least not in the post where he first made them up. I am sure when he has repeated the claim as many times as Maureen Dowd has had Al Gore talk to his bald spot, they will attract more adjectives.

      You pity me for falling for journalistic tricks? I think I have your smoocher properly placed in the general vicinity of Mr. Somerby's poo chute.