Fri, Mar

Typhus at City Hall? LA Times Continues to Mislead the Public

@THE GUSS REPORT-There are many ways that the Los Angeles Times misleads the public. As this column has shown over the past few years, the paper does this with misleading reporting, lying by omission and, as I will show today, featuring non-stories while burying the most important ones of the day. 

Many believe the Times does this to advance an agenda that is in conflict with telling the public the simple truth. 

To be fair, before we dig in, let’s first give praise to Times columnist Steve Lopez, whose Saturday piece, “LA City Hall’s real rat problem: Corruption”  was spot-on as he touched in general on many of the topics you read in-depth on CityWatch in our twice-weekly publications. 

And now back to the Times’ agenda, a prime example of which was on display in its Saturday California section. 

There, above the fold, five columns wide and with two color photos, is the story of Los Angeles City Council declaring LA a sanctuary city, as if this is somehow news. But the column itself acknowledges that it is just a symbolic gesture that doesn’t change anything. In fact, the piece quotes advocates for people illegally in the U.S. as saying that the gesture, sponsored by Councilmember Gil Cedillo, is too little, too late and far less than what other major American cities have long since done, like refusing to cooperate with federal immigration agents. 

In other words, it is a non-story given prime position on the LA Times’ page. But it raises the question of why? Many say that it was done as a distraction from the real big story of a City Hall typhus, rat and flea infestation in City Hall and its surrounding homeless encampments.  

During Friday’s City Council meeting, the sanctuary agenda item was spoken about only by Cedillo, who did so at his foot-dragging pace for precisely five minutes. No other Councilmember spoke a single word on the sanctuary issue. No advocates for illegal immigrants were queried. And no members of the public bothered to speak on the subject at that time. 

So why was it featured as the top story in the Saturday LA Times California section? 

As anyone who was at City Hall on Friday could tell you, the bigger story (as evidenced by more than the usual number of television news vans parked outside) was the embarrassing story of a typhus outbreak in and around City Hall, which has long also been infested with rats and their fleas, which are buried and breeding in the complex’s carpets. One deputy city attorney has been on medical leave for months after contracting typhus. 

Yet in the Times’ Saturday California section, that story was below the fold, only two columns wide and without any photos on the front page of the section. 

At the City Council meeting, the typhus and vermin infestation agenda item was spoken on for a full 25 minutes, with multiple Councilmembers and members of the public speaking, as well as other officials tasked with confronting and fixing the issue. 

Yet to look at the LA Times, the big story was sanctuary. 

By falsely representing to the public the real story of the day, the Times mirrored the excuses put forward by Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council president Herb Wesson, who both refuse to blame the outbreak and infestation on the urine, feces and food left around homeless encampments that surround the entirety of City Hall and the neighboring civic center complex. 

Garcetti and Wesson have floated the ludicrous notion that the typhus and infestation problem occurred as a result of the nearby demolition of Parker Center, the former home of the LAPD a couple of blocks away, as if rats who resided there weren’t already thriving under and within City Hall. 

“The John and Ken Show” on KFI AM-640 has blown that notion out of the water and pummeled (as I have repeatedly done in this column) Times reporter Dakota Smith for her failure to report on the crisis accurately. They specifically identified Smith as a flunky for City Hall. 

Smith, who griped all week to City Hall employees about this column’s criticisms of her, referred my questions about John and Ken’s criticisms to a Times’ spokesperson who consistently evades direct questions. Smith said that such a referral is Times’ policy but did not respond when asked whether her complaining to people she reports on in City Hall is a Times’ policy as well. 

The Times has also failed to dig into precisely when Garcetti, Wesson and City Attorney Mike Feuer first learned about the typhus and rat/flea infestation, and why it took them this long to put the issue on the agenda. 

The Times and these city officials have steadfastly refused to blame the problem on the scores of homeless people camped around City Hall, or even mention that typhus is also carried by lice, which is commonplace among the homeless population. 

And the bigger question is this: did Herb Wesson replace the infested carpet in his City Hall suite months ago, while delaying for months any action to protect thousands of City Hall employees and guests? 

Not that the disgusting situation lacked humor. On Friday, Councilmember Paul Koretz, who John and Ken deemed “the dumbest politician in America,” said that if all the carpet in City Hall needed to be replaced, it should be recycled, rather than going into a landfill. Good luck, Mr. Koretz, in finding a recycling entity that will bring diseased and flea-infected carpet into its facility. It needs to be incinerated. 

Also, there were the screams of City Hall employees coming from one of the news vans parked outside of City Hall, where video was being edited of a rat running through the office of Councilmember Monica Rodriguez. Not funny…yet amusing. 

Perhaps all City Hall employees should do as I did and file a California (or federal) OSHA complaint against the City of Los Angeles. Here is a tip for those who do: ask for a “seaside” inspector, who instead of coming to City Hall and the civic center area by appointment, may drop-in and shut down the place with no advance notice at all.


(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has contributed to CityWatch, KFI AM-640, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Magazine, Movieline Magazine, Emmy Magazine, Los Angeles Business Journal and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. Join his mailing list or offer verifiable tips and story ideas at [email protected]. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.