Aisle Of Wit

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Time To Gong Rong-Gong, And All Else Gone Wrong?

The Los Angeles Times has nothing whatsover to worry about when it comes to retaining me as a reader and a subscriber.  I’m far too much an admirer of their sports and Calendar sections, not to mention their Jumble and crossword puzzles, to even think of choosing to move on.   There are days when what it delivers in size vesus cost, which on some days is more than a dime a page, seems more than a bit excessive.  But considering what little other joy I have at my disposal these days, even at that ratio I’m usually pacified.

Except when I see one particular byline, often in a prominently featured front page article that is on a beat that the current Times ownership appears compelled to continue to make a federal case.  Here’s how the Times’ website describes him:

Rong-Gong Lin II is a Metro reporter based in San Francisco who specializes in covering statewide earthquake safety issues and the COVID-19 pandemic. He won the California Newspaper Publishers Assn.’s Freedom of Information Award and the University of Florida’s Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award. He was a finalist for the Ursula and Gilbert Farfel Prize for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and the Knight Award for Public Service. A San Francisco area native, he graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004.

Here’s the first paragraph from his latest piece of work, complete with the choice of photo and caption that his employer chose to accompany it:

With an eye toward enhancing protection against the coronavirus, which is still evolving and circulating, federal health advisors said Thursday that the next round of COVID-19 vaccines should be updated to target one of the XBB strains currently dominating the viral landscape.

The unanimous recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee follows that of agency staff, who in a memo acknowledged that while older vaccine formulas can still help stave off severe disease, “protection wanes with time and is reduced against subsequent waves of variant viruses.”

Commuters with and without face masks walk through Union Station in Los Angeles in December.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Mr. Lin sure sounds intrepid, and being based in San Francisco, it’s almost understandable that he appears to be so fervent in his continued pursuit of new ways to continue to cover the pandemic, even more than a month after all actual mdandates in the county of Los Angeles expired,  Even in a week where this announcement came from another Bay Area business:  Per THE WRAP’s Robert Carnevale:

Meta updated its COVID-19 misinformation policy on Friday to not that, outside of countries that are still dealing with a COVID-19 emergency declaration, Meta will stop removing pandemic-related misinformation.

The original misinformation removal policy, which went into effect in July 2022, is no longer active in countries not experiencing an emergency declaration.

“In countries that have a COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, we will continue to remove content for violating our COVID-19 misinformation policies given the risk of imminent physical harm,” the official policy update reads. “We are consulting with health experts to understand which claims and categories of misinformation could continue to pose this risk. Our COVID-19 misinformation rules will no longer be in effect globally as the global public health emergency declaration that triggered those rules has been lifted.”

I heard plenty of progressives bitterly complaining about this yesterday, a day after I drove through the heart of Los Angeles in afternoon rush hour on a busy thoroughfare and saw dozens of shuttered businesses, virtually no one walking on the streets and the handful that were disproprtionately continuing to socially distance and wear those hideous and statistically useless face diapers hiding any semblance of emotion as their sad, distant eyes seemed to rue that they were somehow forced to be among the unfortunate few that can’t work from home, order food and supplies at will and continue to live in a bubble as they did more than three years ago.  Long before we learned the actual efficacy of vaccines and the role co-morbidites play in actual infection and deaht rates, the amount of conflated and inconsistently accurate numbers that hospitals reported to continue to receive government stipends and funding, and how much pharma and medical supply companies have profited from this pandemic.

You know, the kind of companies that Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong has personally invested in and profited enough to buy the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers with.

Now I’m by no means equating Lin’s reporting with the kind of pure bullsh-t one might see in, say, the Epoch Times.  Lin does seem to have a knack for finding credible sources for the angles he emphasizes, and in analyzing his body of work, he’s remarkably consistent in the level of urgency and importance he seems to stress at every opportunity.

My only question is–at this point, especially considering the realities Facebook/Meta has made in acknowledging the actual risk/reward in continuing to fund a policy that, bluntly, has exhausted an overwhelming amount of its users, why does a newspaper run by a billionaire who has profited from health care investments continue to insist that someone like Ling continue to receive such a prominent and consistent platform for his interpretation of information?

Is it MISinformation?  Honestly, I don’t know.  But, frankly, at this point, I’d feverishly debate, neither does anyone.

I do know what my own eyes tell me.  And it tells me we’re way beyond overtime on this issue.

Especially when the Times is simultaneously laying off some really talented people on other beats.  And as former Times sports  reporter T.J. Simers disclosed in an open letter to Soon-Shiong on his website, there’s a more impactful epidemic going on there than any XBB virus or any other variant is having at the moment:

I hate it when anybody is laid off, a journalist waking up one morning and learning their career is over.

Pat, and I think I can call you that by now, I have no problem with you as owner of the Los Angeles Times trying to save some bucks. In a moment I will try to help you with that.

But yesterday you reportedly were getting rid of 74 employees, most from the copy desk as I have now been told, because someone has the crazy idea a universal copy desk would be more economical. The economist, who came up with that idea, obviously does not understand newspapers and should be immediately laid off.

That’s 74 people who had been working hard for years who are now out of work in an industry that doesn’t do a lot of hiring. That’s 74 people who did nothing more wrong than sitting on a copy desk correcting the work done by reporters. That’s 74 people who supported their families working hard for you.

In full disclosure, Simers has a long-standing history of legal issues against the Times that goes back to the Tribune ownership that wound up in bankruptcy.  It’s an interesting read, and suffice to say after years of back and forth bitter legal battles Simers wound up a multi-millionaire, albeit one with some health issues.  None of which appear to be COVID-related.  Feel free to do your own half-assed internet research to get that back story if you’re curious.

Regardless, Simers is spot on when he points out that people in charge indeed have agendas, noble or otherwise.  And it’s pretty clear to me that Rong-Gong Lin II is the face of one that the Times continues to put front and center no matter that the calendar says it’s now June 2023, not June 2020.

These days, those that do get COVID effectively get a cold, sometimes something slightly worse.  For the most part, they recover in full.  Yes, some don’t.  But that’s true of any virus.  Any strain.  Does Lin report on that?  Of course not.  That’s dog bites man.

So why in G-d’s name does Rong-Gong Lin II’s byline continue to show up as often as it does, on the same tired and overindulgent narrative, especially at a time when the sports section is thinner and less filled with stories than it was, even after Simers left?

I don’t know.  I don’t have the forum, or the connection, to someone like Soon-Chiong to ask.  But Simers apparently does.

So I’ll punt this one to him.  Next time you write an open letter, sir, ask Pat this on my behalf:

When will Rong-Gong be gonged, or at the very least urged to report on something else besides COVID-19?

I wonder if his copy editing skills are any good?

Until next time…