Developing: At the councilman’s behest a local publication committed a massive ethical breach this week by unpublishing a constituent’s op-ed
Confident people don’t fear criticism. True leaders, in fact, seek it out, welcome it, and learn from it.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin is no leader. His constituents long have known that he’s a machine politician, the kind of person for whom facts and experience, much less criticism, are kryptonite. He lives in the increasingly alternate universe occupied by most of California’s political class, a place in which virtue signaling and political correctness are more real than reality.
As people’s quality of life plummets around his district, as homelessness, vagrancy, and crime spiral out of control, as entire neighborhoods descend into Third World chaos, Mr. Bonin’s track record amounts to a succession of well-documented lies. It’s no exaggeration to say that he has done more harm in a shorter amount of time than anyone ever to have represented Council District 11. Neighborhoods including Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey, and even Brentwood are unrecognizable from just a few years ago. People die on the streets of CD11 every week, yet Mr. Bonin soldiers on.
It’s getting so bad that telling lies through the media is no longer enough for Mr. Bonin. Now he seems intent on controlling the media itself, or at least the small network of publications that passes for local media these days.
It all started with a flip-flop
During his last election campaign Mr. Bonin made increased policing a central plank, unveiling a “10-point plan” to “get more cops in neighborhoods.” In a January 2017 press conference he said, “Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from a constituent that it has been weeks since they’ve seen a black-and-white unit driving through their neighborhood. Not a week goes by when I don’t hear a complaint from someone that they called LAPD, and it took forever for a unit to come, and in some cases, a unit never came.” He campaigned on the issue through the November 2017 general election (when a paltry 13% of CD11 residents voted for him, but that’s another story).
Increased policing continued to be central to his public messaging through the beginning of 2020. Last summer he boasted on his official city council website that his policies had moved “more than 600 officers” from desk assignments to patrol duty.
What a difference a shift in the political winds makes. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resultant upheaval of anti-police sentiment by some members of the public, it’s become fashionable among so-called progressives like Mr. Bonin to call for reductions to law enforcement budgets. Some even call for the elimination of police departments altogether. Mr. Bonin has heaved himself onto the bandwagon. He also is calling for restrictions (“reforms”) on police conduct, especially when it comes to use of force.
Last week he created a minor firestorm in his district when he posted what appeared to be an ANTIFA flier to his personal Instagram and Facebook pages that included the caption, “F*** the federal police.” He posted the image along with several pictures of protesters holding “defund the police” signs (the pictures were notable for their complete lack of diversity, seas of white fists on a sunny west side street, but again that’s another matter).
Of course, as both an elected official and a private citizen Mr. Bonin is free to contradict himself all he wants. It doesn’t make for good politics much less policy on the ground, but this is America and he can do as he pleases. Mike Bonin’s flip-flopping, however, increasingly crosses ethical lines and calls into question his character and fitness for the office he holds.
On Monday of this week, West L.A. resident and Bonin constituent Allan Parsons decided to call him out on a recent public survey the councilman’s office conducted related to police reform, as well as a June 2020 op-ed Mr. Bonin published with a local West L.A. weekly called The Argonaut. Mr. Parsons wrote an op-ed of his own pointing out methodological flaws and other issues with the survey* and Mr. Bonin’s misleading description of the results in The Argonaut. Called “The Real Results of Mike Bonin’s ‘Reimagining Public Safety’ Survey,” his piece was accepted and published by a local online publication called Yo! Venice.
This apparently got under Mr. Bonin’s skin, and he decided to do something about it. Something egregiously unethical: He (or a staffer) contacted Yo! Venice, an independent media outlet, and demanded they unpublish the story.
Pause to consider the totality of Mr. Bonin’s conduct. First, he concocted a thoroughly unreliable, unverifiable survey on an issue of crucial public importance. This part of his playbook at least is familiar: When he was forcing the hugely unpopular and destructive Venice Boulevard road diet he routinely trotted out fake statistics and surveys. They are designed not to elucidate truth but to validate Mr. Bonin’s position and give it the appearance of public support.
Next, he wrote a highly misleading op-ed based on the survey’s results in a local paper in which he previously has purchased paid campaign advertising totaling more than $3,000. Finally, when a constituent called him out, he used his official position as an elected official to get the story depublished.
That’s representative democracy, Mike Bonin style. This is a person who earlier this year slanderously blamed a bomb scare at the Venice Beach homeless shelter on some of his own constituents and failed to recant and apologize when the facts came out. A person who was caught on video callously walking away from a distressed homeless man – one of the individuals for whom he claims to care so deeply – who was lighting a fire in a street median and putting his hands in it.
It’s no wonder Mr. Bonin doesn’t show his face in his district much these days, at least not outside kaffeeklatsches with wealthy Palisades denizens or stage-managed appearances where he’s flanked by a dozen city officials, his perpetual human shields.
Yo! Venice must account for its decisions
There are a few inviolable rules in journalism. The first is that a publication never unpublishes a story without explanation, and a compelling one at that. As no less an authority on the subject than the Executive Editor of The Atlantic Adrienne LaFrance wrote in 2015, “removing an article from the web is still arguably the most dramatic choice a news organization can make.”
Unfortunately, that’s just what Yo! Venice did. That’s bad enough. Worse is the fact that they did it without independently checking the facts. Worst of all is that they did it s at the behest of an elected official who otherwise would be (potentially) damaged or embarrassed by the article in question. Yo! Venice’s staff apparently got a phone call and did as Mr. Bonin pleaded. That is about as big a breach of journalistic ethics as you can commit (the site did eventually republish the op-ed, but not before the story went viral).
Yo! Venice isn’t just some local rag. It is owned by Mirror Media Group, which describes itself as “a collection of hyper-local media brands.” Its holdings include the Santa Monica Mirror, Brentwood News, Palisades News, Century City News, and one of the city’s most prominent LGBTQ publications, The Pride. In other words, the company dominates local news consumed by more than a million people. MMG typically runs the same stories across multiple platforms, amplifying its editorial dominance. A single Executive Editor, Sam Cantanzaro, oversees all of the companies’ sites and publications.
Ironically, Yo! Venice appears to have repeated its sin, only this time they pulled something of Mr. Bonin’s. On July 30 the site posted an interview with the Councilman in which he discussed topics including police funding. As of this writing the video is not available, though the page and headline remain live.
Along with The Argonaut, which serves a broader community, Yo! Venice is the closest thing Venice and Mar Vista have to a local paper of record. The publication’s website boasts that it is the “#1 Local News, Forum, Information and Event Source for Venice Beach, California.” For better or worse, what they publish (and depublish) matters. That is why the editor and publisher owe the community they serve an explanation. They must answer questions like: Why did they pull a story based – apparently – solely on a politician’s demand? Who made the decision, and who was consulted in the process?
If Mr. Bonin had a scintilla of common decency he would resign and allow his constituents to choose a competent successor. Then again, the end of his political career may be a foregone conclusion: He’s up for reelection in 2022. He will have to stand and defend a track record that by any reasonable judgment is indefensible. In the meantime he can try to airbrush reality all he wants. Truth finds a way.
In the meantime, Mirror Media Group would do well to decide whether it wants to be in the news business or the propaganda business.
*The crux of Mr. Parsons’s op-ed was that it is impossible to verify who took the survey or whether they live in CD11. Based on our experience, we agree. We took Mr. Bonin’s survey on August 6 and found it to be unreliable to the point of absurdity: We completed it using an assumed name, email, and zip code. Indeed, after completing the survey once we refreshed it and tried again with a different assumed identity. It worked again. The survey essentially is useless, yet Mr. Bonin is touting it as proof that his recently discovered anti-police policies are popular. That is called state propaganda.