Read All the Lines in an Editorial

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

We are often told that we must “read between the lines” to get a true understanding of what the words on a page mean. In the case of political campaign material, it is safer to read all the lines in the original source material from which the campaign material is quoted.

Take the contentious Measure S on the Los Angeles City ballot March 7. The measure, sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, would put a two-year moratorium on certain Los Angeles developments, avoid one time adjustments to the plan that approve specific developments and require the city council to redo the city’s planning documents.

If you read the cuts taken from Los Angeles Times editorials included in the campaign mailers that are hitting mailboxes it would seem the Times’ editors are all for the measure.

In a ten-page, slick booklet tilted, Measure S is the Solution for L.A.’s Future, Times’ editorials are quoted three times. Two from a March 21, 2016 editorial report the following:

“(Measure S) would require the city to regularly review its general plan, the city master planning document that hasn’t been updated in 20 years.”

Also from March 21: “…(T)he heart of the initiative (Measure S) has real merit. It would force city leaders finally to reform L.A’s outdated planning and Byzantine borderline corrupt development approval system.”

However, the full editorial also said this:

“But why impose a potentially harmful moratorium to get good planning reform? … having voters set development rules into stone is a terrible way to plan L.A.’s future.”

More recent mailers continue quoting the Times. Four quotes, two from editorials and two from news stories.

It is not hard for the proponents of Measure S to find lines in the editorials that back their positions. The editorials are concerned with the current way development is done in the City of the Angels with developers having great sway over projects and the master plan old and in need of repair.

The Measure S initiative, in fact, did sound alarm bells at city hall. Recently, the city council agreed to fund and update all 35 community plans every six years.

Yet, despite the impression the big L.A. daily is cheering on Measure S the opposite is true. Over the weekend, the Times released an editorial with the headline: Measure S isn’t a solution to L.A.’s housing woes, it’s a childish middle finger to City Hall. Vote no.

Expect that line to end up in a mailer soon.

Calling the Measure S vote “the most important decision voters will make” in the city election, the editorial acknowledges “legitimate concerns” of residents who are wary of too much traffic, neighborhood disruption, and wealthy developers gaming the system.

But in the end, the Times editorial argues the measure will hurt efforts to relieve the city’s housing crisis and economic development and urges a no vote on a measure it finds too broad.

But you can bet that even within this editorial written in opposition to the measure, we will see some gems taken out that praise some of goals of Measure S.

What’s an editorialist to do?

One editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times told me that the editorial writers often discuss how they might write an editorial so that neither side can use it to an advantage. On other occasions, the editorialist said, the writers understand they cannot control the way political consultants cut and paste their words…so they write what they believe and hope for the best.

Once the consultants get a hold of the words in an editorial it falls to the voters to figure out an editorial’s true meaning. It helps to read the entire editorial.

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