A Brutally Liberal Cartoonist: The Secret to Newspaper 'Credibility and Prestige'?
Long-time Los Angeles Times political cartoonist Paul Conrad has died, but the most interesting paragraph of his obituary in The Washington Post is the little hint by Post writer Matt Schudel that great newspapers only gain that reputation once they become liberal:
He won his first Pulitzer in 1964, then left Denver for Los Angeles. Mr. Conrad's incisive cartoons, which he drew six days a week, helped raise the reputation of the once-moribund Times, which had parroted the Republican Party line for decades.
A similar version of this trope appeared in the Los Angeles Times itself in a story by James Rainey, but at least it suggested that there might be a difference between mediocre reporting and a Republican viewpoint. Conrad viciously attacked Nixon and Reagan with his pen, which was and is apparently the secret of media prestige:
In the early 1960s, The Times was just beginning to rouse itself from decades of mediocrity. The newspaper had been politically and economically dominant in Southern California but a laughingstock in most of the country because of its mediocre journalism and blatant Republican boosterism.
Otis Chandler took control as publisher in 1960 and, with Editor Nick Williams, decided to hire top talent to lift the paper to a higher level.
The duo, determined to bring Conrad to Los Angeles, impressed him with their resolve. "The one thing I said," Conrad recalled, "was, 'Nobody tells me what to draw.'"
The arrival of Conrad jarred many Times readers, not least the ultra-conservative members of the extended Chandler family, who already were displeased that their more liberal cousin, Otis, had taken control of the family business.
"Nick [Williams] saw that Paul was this strident and very dedicated liberal and Nick thought that I would take a real beating, which I did," Chandler said in a 2006 PBS documentary about the cartoonist. "But it was worth it, because he's a real genius. He brought enormous credibility and prestige to The Times."