New Yorker Does Hatchet Job on L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa

by Randy Shaw on May 24, 2007

The May 21 New Yorker features a lengthy profile of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Unlike the magazine’s puff piece they did three years ago on San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, reporter Connie Bruck wrote an article that is best described as a political hit on California’s most powerful Latino politician.

Bruck’s account reads like a FOX News “fair and balanced” report on Barack Obama, and would be akin to the Newsom profile being dominated by quotes from his arch-enemy, Supervisor Chris Daly. The New Yorker profile is disturbing due to the magazine’s widespread credibility, and raises questions as to why its top editors sacrificed this credibility by approving publication of Bruck’s deeply-flawed political attack.

When New Yorker reporter Tad Friend wrote the magazine’s profile of Gavin Newsom, he allowed San Francisco’s Mayor to be defined by his political allies. Friend included barely any quotes from Newsom’s adversaries, and certainly did not give mayoral opponents like Chris Daly a soapbox for blasting the Mayor. Not surprisingly, this resulted in an extremely favorable portrait of San Francisco’s Mayor.

Similarly, the recent New Yorker profile of Barack Obama devoted pages and pages to quotes from longtime friends and supporters of the Illinois Senator. This too resulted in a very sympathetic account of Obama’s core character.

But Connie Bruck’s profile of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took a starkly different approach. Bruck allowed quotes from the Mayor’s political rivals to dominate her depiction of him. Rather than use the warm and fuzzy approach the magazine used to profile Newsom, Obama and most politicians, Bruck took out the long knives in portraying Villaraigosa as disloyal, untrustworthy, manipulative, and unworthy of support.

Considering that Villaraigosa’s political career owes an enormous debt to organized labor, a profile of the mayor would logically include quotes from multiple people involved in the city’s burgeoning union movement. But no Los Angeles labor representative is quoted at all, so the constituency most responsible for Villaraigosa’s election is not even given a voice in building Bruck’s profile of the Mayor.

Instead of quoting labor officials, or community activists, Bruck emphasized quotes from Tom Hayden. Bruck’s reason for highlighting Hayden’s opinion became clear when the longtime activist said that he had known Villaraigosa for nearly twenty years, and that “Antonio’s pattern is to leave people in the dust.”

Hayden explains this claim by describing Villaraigosa’s refusal to promptly endorse Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, and his friendly relationship with Governor Schwarzenegger during the campaign. Hayden interprets this as Antonio “squashing Phil,” and tells Bruck “you don’t do that. The people he leaves behind and the damage to relationships may come back like karma.”

A more objective reporter might have told readers that Angelides’ campaign was a train-wreck from the start, and describing Villaraigosa’s approach to Schwarzenegger as demonstrating his savvy in positioning Los Angeles to benefit from the Governor’s certain re-election.

A more informed reporter than Bruck would have also thought twice before associating those particular comments about “leaving people in the dust” and “leaving people behind and damaging relationships” to an activist whose own history is replete with such conduct.

Ask anyone who worked with Tom Hayden in the 1960’s and 1970’s about his own “leaving people in the dust.” Hayden has mellowed in the past twenty years, but his jealousy of Villaraigosa’s success is obvious, as Bruck and her editors should have figured out from another Hayden quote in the article.

Referring to a two-billion dollar environmental bond that Villaraigosa sponsored in the State Assembly while Hayden was the State Senate sponsor, Hayden told Bruck, “Antonio took it and named it the Villaraigosa bill, got credit for the whole thing, and ran for mayor on it.”

Those are the words of a jealous, and even bitter, man. And this should be obvious to a first-year journalism student, not to mention a New Yorker reporter. The idea that Villaraigosa’s 2005 mayoral campaign – which saw the biggest Latino voter turnout the city had ever seen in a mayor’s race – was driven by his support for a state environmental bond is so bizarre and so contrary to the historical record that flashing lights should have gone off on the computers of New Yorker editors.

A professional journalist would bear in mind that Hayden ran for Mayor in 1997 and lost by a landslide, allowing Villaraigosa to become the Left’s new standard bearer. Hayden is jealous that he never became Mayor like Villaraigosa – something that the New Yorker should have considered when reviewing his statements.

But these editors printed Hayden’s analysis. This reveals either the profound ignorance that New York City-based writers have about West Coast politics, and/or a conscious decision to bash Antonio regardless of the facts.

The New Yorker typically conveys an attitude of “we know how the world works and understand that you cannot make omelets without breaking a few eggs.” The magazine’s sophistication about human nature, and the world, is what has long set it apart in the marketplace.

But Bruck seems shocked to learn that the Mayor of Los Angeles has long been incredibly ambitious. She also finds it particularly illuminating that a politician who has risen to the level of Los Angeles Mayor has left some of his former allies feeling “left in the dust” and excluded from access to power.

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but that’s the nature of politics. Bruck would be hard-pressed to find any national figure of Villaraigosa’s stature that has not left people behind in their march to the top.

Politicians make new allies and friends as they climb up the political ladder. And while some of their early supporters become embittered when their calls are no longer returned, or they do not get the patronage job they were seeking, this is a function of politics, not personal disloyalty.

But Bruck primarily defines Villaraigosa as someone who “has alienated old supporters.” To pound this point home, the article even puts the mayor’s longtime wife in this category, referring to one of his affairs and his not wearing a wedding ring at a public event.

In 2001, mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa inspired one of the great grassroots campaigns anywhere in America over the past decades. In 2005, he defied all of the media critics who said he could not win for mayor, easily defeating incumbent James Hahn.

Since becoming Mayor, Villaraigosa has been largely loyal to the progressive base that elected him. He had not betrayed labor, he has not betrayed tenants, and he has not betrayed his Latino base.

Villaraigosa’s loyalty to the constituencies that elected him would have made a great article. But Bruck and New Yorker editors had a different agenda.

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron. Send feedback to rshaw@beyondchron.org

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