Cartoonist Says LAPD Convinced The L.A. Times To Fire Him
The L.A. Times fired cartoonist and columnist Ted Rall for supposedly lying about an incident with an LAPD officer that happened over a decade ago. Rall, however, stands by his story and claims the LAPD must have convinced the Times to let him go.
Rall, 51, worked as a freelance cartoonist for the Times, frequently submitting cartoons criticizing the LAPD and police brutality. On May 11, he wrote an opinion piece for the Times' OpinionLA blog. He described an encounter he supposedly had with an LAPD motorcycle officer on October 3, 2001 while crossing Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, in which he was issued a jaywalking ticket. Jaywalking tickets have been something of a controversial issue as of late, one covered extensively by the Times.
Ironically, this was one of the rare times that I was innocent of even jaywalking, something I do every day. Anyway, I had done everything right. I waited for the green "walking man" signal before stepping off the curb. I walked between the crosswalk lines. I got across the street just as the flashing red signal began.
All of a sudden, a motorcycle officer zoomed over, threw me up against the wall, slapped on the cuffs, roughed me up and wrote me a ticket. It was an ugly scene, and in broad daylight it must have looked like one, because within minutes there were a couple of dozen passersby shouting at the cop.
Nicholas Goldberg, the Editor of the Times' Editorial Pages, issued a retraction on July 28, saying that the LAPD had provided an audiotape that "gives no indication that there was ever physical violence of any sort by the policeman or that Rall's license was thrown into the sewer or that he was handcuffed. Nor is there any evidence on the recording of a crowd of shouting onlookers."
The editor also wrote that in Rall's complaint filed with the LAPD, he described the officer as "belligerent and hostile," and asserted that the officer threw his license in the sewer, but mentioned no violence. Goldberg also wrote that LAPD records indicated that investigators tried to get ahold of Rall several times to address his complaint, but were unable to.
Goldberg concluded by writing that Rall's "future work will not appear in The Times."
Rall, however, stands by piece in the Times, saying that the LAPD "convinced" the Times to fire him and that the Times didn't even give him a chance to defend himself before the decision. Rall said that after the publication of his account, he got a call from L.A. Times reporter Paul Pringle, who informed him that the LAPD said he was lying about the 2001 incident and had proof in the form of an audiotape. Rall doesn't seem too pleased even with the existence of the tape, let alone what may or may not be on it.
That’s right: As far back as 2001, Los Angeles police were surreptitiously recording their interactions with the public. Did anyone know that? Even more incredible, someone at the LAPD took the time, presumably while on the clock and while spending taxpayer dollars, to dig up a 14-year-old tape recording of a Times cartoonist getting a jaywalking ticket. This, remember, is the same LAPD that couldn't be bothered to test thousands of rape kits.
The recording is not an original and has three parts. The first is an explanation of what the tape is, the second is series of traffic stops including Rall's and the final part is an investigator calling Rall and leaving a voicemail. Rall criticized the tape's audio quality, and claimed that the officer's cheeriness was sarcastic in several moments on the tape. He also said that the officer did toss his license—writing this time "on the ground"—and that a video of the event would have shown he was correct. Rall also said that you can hear the officer whistling and humming, and one point insinuated that this may have been to cover up other noises—like the chatter of onlookers—because he knew there was a recording being made. Rall said:
What a surprise, that the cops’ cherry-picked evidence, mysteriously lacking five solid minutes of intelligible sound, should back up their story!
Rall also tweeted:
The interaction between the officer and Rall begins at about the 6:38-minute mark on the recording and can be found below:
It's not the greatest quality, but a cursory listen doesn't reveal much outside a routine stop. At the end, it sounds like you can hear Rall ask the officer if he knows a good place to eat, to which the officer politely says he does not.
Rall said that Pringle asked him why he never argued with the cop during the stop, and Rall said that he doesn't argue with cops because cops can "kill you," "beat you up" and toss you in jail. It's at least a good topical point, considering Sandra Bland was arrested over mere insolence during an extremely minor traffic stop.
Rall said that he didn't write about the rough handcuffing in his complaint because he was "far more concerned and angry about being falsely charged with a misdemeanor that could have created a criminal record" and that he was concerned about any publicity surrounding the incident while he was a talk show host at local station KFI.
He said he was also questioned about his interchangeable use of the words "gutter" and "sewer" in his recounting of the incident, and that he wasn't sure why he asked the officer to recommend a restaurant, but compared it to Stockholm Syndrome.
I was stunned at the time. Not that I’m comparing myself with a rape victim — far from it — but now I better understand why sometimes a raped woman will question pressing charges or call a date-rapist at home hours after he left her. I was blathering nonsense, I guess.
Rall also took issue with the LAPD records that show they tried to contact him, but were unable to reach him. The written record Rall provides on his blog shows the LAPD had recorded numerous attempts to reach him, noting that some dates are mixed up—some of the dates are registered as being in 2001 and others in 2002. This could possibly be explained by simple human error: these dates are all in January, when people often mess up the year. In the tape, you can hear an officer attempt to contact Rall, but hitting his voicemail and leaving a message. In the comments on his blog, Rall said the answering machine was not his and other commenters point out that the man on the tape sounds like he has an accent, which Rall does not have.
He also wrote in the blog's comment section that he is having the tape analyzed.
Rall's work has not been without controversy in the past. He's been criticized for a cartoon depicting widows of of terrorism victims as more interested in the money and publicity, and a cartoon in which he wrote that the hypothetically endless Iraq war would increase the national IQ as only idiots signed up and died to serve. The Washington Post stopped running his work after a 2004 cartoon which showed a classroom in which mentally disabled children were the teachers, making a comparison to voters who elected Bush a second time.