In 2015, the freelance cartoonist Ted Rall wrote a blogpost for the Los Angeles Times in which he claimed a city police officer roughed him up in 2001. The Times then discredited his blogpost and fired him as a cartoonist. After the Times published an editor’s note stating there were “serious questions about the accuracy” of his claims, Rall sued the Times. Last week, part of Rall’s defamation lawsuit was thrown out.
“I brought this lawsuit in order to set the record straight and clear my name after the LA Times maliciously fired me and falsely characterized me as a liar as a favor to the LAPD, whose pension fund owned the parent company of the LA Times when this happened, and to the police chief, the political ally of the publisher whom I had mocked in cartoons,” Rall alleged to iMediaEthics by e-mail. “This was a disgusting, egregious conflict of interest hidden from the Times‘ readers, and it ought to be illegal.”
Rall provided iMediaEthics a copy of his complaint, which is against Tribune Company, Tribune Publishing Company, Tribune Media Company, Tribune Interactive, Tribune Media Net Inc., Tribune Publishing, Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, the Los Angeles Times itself, and four individuals at the Times, including the readers’ representative Deirdre Edgar. The lawsuit that was thrown out last week was against the four individuals. Rall’s other claims against the companies will be addressed at later court dates.
The Los Angeles Times declined to comment to iMediaEthics about Rall’s blogpost or the case.
Rall’s original May 2015 blogpost accompanied a cartoon he drew for the Times about the “LAPD’s current ticketing crackdown.” He detailed being handcuffed for jaywalking back in 2001, calling the incident “an ugly scene” and claiming an LAPD officer threw his driver’s license in the sewer, handcuffed him, “roughed me up” and ticketed him. He wrote that he complained to the LAPD and found out his case was dismissed.
The LAPD disputed his blogpost, providing an audiotape that discredited Rall’s claims of physical violence, being handcuffed, having his license thrown in the sewer and onlookers shouting, the Los Angeles Times‘ editorial pages editor Nicholas Goldberg explained in a July 2015 note to readers atop his post. In addition, the Los Angles Times noted that Rall’s written complaint to the LAPD didn’t support his claims.
“In Rall’s initial complaint to the LAPD, he describes the incident without mentioning any physical violence or handcuffing but says that the police officer was “belligerent and hostile” and that he threw Rall’s license into the “gutter.” The tape depicts a polite interaction,” the Times wrote. “In addition, Rall wrote in his blog post that the LAPD dismissed his complaint without ever contacting him. Department records show that internal affairs investigators made repeated attempts to contact Rall, without success.”
While Rall stood by his blogpost and complaints, the Los Angeles Times said the LAPD’s evidence prompted “serious questions about the accuracy of Rall’s blog post.” Further, the Times said it “should not have published” the blogpost and “Rall’s future work will not appear in The Times.”
Rall told iMediaEthics this week he still stands by his post as “accurate and true” and argues that an audio enhancement of the tape the LAPD provided the Los Angeles Times backs up his claims.
In response to that editor’s note disputing Rall’s blogpost, Rall sued the Times for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Rall’s lawyer, Nare Avagyan, argued in court that the Times‘ editor’s note was unnecessary. “That is not an issue of public interest,” she said, according to the Times.
The Times, on the other hand, argued it accurately reported on official records from the police and there was no evidence of any errors in the newspaper’s editor’s note.
The judge, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin ruled in favor of the Times‘ anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion, to Courthouse News Service.
In a blogpost after the verdict, Rall criticized the ruling, but said “the fight continues.” Rall explained his case is being handled in three “tranches” and that the next lawsuit will be heard July 28th. “Perhaps in order to run up her legal fees, LA Times attorney Kelli Sager split the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motions against me into three tranches of defendants, each with its own set of documents and hearing dates,” he claimed.
The Los Angeles Times declined to comment to iMediaEthics on the case or Rall’s blogpost.
In a 2015 story about Rall’s firing, the New York Observer reported on Rall’s past. “In 2004, The New York Times dumped him—even cleaned out the archives of his work—for a cartoon called ‘Terror Widows’ that depicted the wives of September 11 victims greedily counting the riches they received in settlements.”