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[Susan notes: Feeling the reader of this letter needs to see the editorial in question, I have posted both. Kudos to Virginia Olive Hoge for calling the editors on their ugly and outrageous comparisons. ]

Published in Los Angeles Times

To the editor

The recent Los Angeles Times editorial "Image Isn't Everything" proved nothing except that the L.A. Times can dish out bash-journalism at its worst - and this one packed a knock-out punch. Why the writer managed to (in one paragraph no less!) provide analogies to pederasty and cross-country illegal trafficking (umm, is it even possible to get more sensationalist than that??) and end with the grand-standing (if cliched) line "Its a public travesty" - ouch!

But look where this stinging editorial was directed (surprise, surprise) at public education (again). Lets flip this around, and get a lot closer to the true motive of the L.A. Times. The true "public travesty" here is journalism at its worst - transparently serving a conservative cause by hammering away at one of the few remaining unionized sectors of the national economy: Public Education. The Times doesn't like it and conveniently, neither do its wealthy readers. Oh well. Image isn't everything - it sure isn't - and if The Times thinks they can pull sick journalistic stunts like this one and maintain its journalistic integrity, they are sadly mistaken. This "punch" backfired.
--Virginia Olive Hoge


LAUSD's image problem

The school district needs to focus on teaching students, not hiring more PR help.

The Los Angeles Unified School District feels misunderstood. Picked on by journalists who won't stop reporting on its payroll nightmare. (OK, there are other reasons it feels picked on, but that's the big one at the moment.)

Since January, thousands of employees have been underpaid or overpaid. The district says those who were overpaid need to return a total of $53 million, but those employees don't believe the district's figures and want hard proof before they yield one penny. At the same time, thousands of employees have been underpaid by $7 million. School officials promise to pay them what they're owed, but many of those employees don't believe the district either.

So what does the district do to correct the natural perception of its incompetence? Fix the problem? Nope. As first reported by our colleagues at the Daily News, it hires image consultants. It's paying Victor Abalos, a consultant for Supt. David L. Brewer, $178,000 for one year to restructure the district's PR department. It's also paying Michael Bustamante $90,000 for six months to focus on the payroll fiasco, and it has signed up the public relations firm Rogers Group as well. This, the paper reports, is on top of a six-person communications department with a $1.4-million budget. And they expect journalists not to pick on them?

Then again, why shouldn't the district hire image fixers? That's what the Archdiocese of Los Angeles did when reporters kept going on and on about its pederasty problem. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony moved swiftly to undo the damage -- to the church's image -- by hiring the crisis communications firm Sitrick and Co. The J. Paul Getty Trust hired Sitrick too when journalists kept poking into questionable financial practices and the pending trial of an antiquities curator.

Institutions in crisis tend to focus on their image. The trouble with L.A. Unified, however, is substance -- and money spent on burnishing its image is money not spent educating children. That's not public relations. It's a public travesty.

Virginia Olive Hoge

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