The Lies Behind The Racist Video Attack On Janice Hahn

The racist attack video directed at LA Councilwoman Janice Hahn, the Democratic candidate in the upcoming special election in California’s 36th Congressional district, is based on a thoroughly discredited three-year-old TV report on the local FOX affiliate, KTTV, which is owned and operated by the network.

While admitting the ad was offensive, TPM reports, the National Republican Congressional Committee said the ad made a good point, linking to the KTTV report as if it hadn’t been totally discredited within a matter of weeks over three years ago, as the newspaper I work for, Random Lengths News reported at the time.

The FOX report, by Chris Blatchford, aired on KTTV on April 30, 2008, and was systematically debunked by reporter Gene Maddaus in the Daily Breeze on May 14, 2008.  The Breeze is a suburban Republican newspaper that is generally critical of Hahn, but has some excellent reporters.

Summarizing his findings, Maddaus wrote, “a review of the Fox 11 News story found major flaws that undermine its central allegations. Most notably, records and interviews show that the gang intervention workers identified in the report have not received city funding. Additionally, a convicted rapist was wrongly identified as a gang intervention worker, and Hahn was mistakenly accused of providing funds directly to gang workers.”

The sole piece of hard evidence presented by FOX connecting Hahn  to the rapist, Steven Myrick, was a routine certificate for participating in a summer jobs program in 2004, a year before the gang task force was organized, and two years before his rape arrest. This was surrounded by Myrick’s own self-serving puffery about how connected he was–standard-issue BS that no reporter worth his salt would rely on without substantial corroboration, which FOX did not have. In fact, the evidence Maddaus dug up showed that Myrick was simply lying.

In addition to gang members, the FOX report was based on interviews with two LAPD officers with an axe or two to grind.  Ryan Moreno and Chuck Garcia were suing the department for having been re-assigned from the gang task force in Watts, which they accused Hahn of being involved in.  (Hahn simply passed on community complaints about disrespectful attitudes, which were incompatible with the LAPD’s efforts to embrace a less confrontational “community-based policing” approach.) The two officers lost their case in mid-June, thus giving the FOX report the air of a failed pre-trial effort to taint the jury pool. Hahn was not a named party in the suit, and everything relating to her was excluded by the judge as irrelevant before the trial began.

As senior editor at Random Lengths News, a biweekly serving much of Hahn’s district, I co-wrote a story about this whole affair and its ramifications in local politics, which appeared on June 13.   The article referenced the Breeze article, and summarized some of its main points thus:

  • “Most notably, records and interviews show that the gang intervention workers identified in the [Fox News] report have not received city funding.”

  • The group cited, Unity One, runs almost entirely on funding from private sources. Gang intervention workers like Jones are paid from that private funding, not with taxpayer money.

  • According to records provided by Toberman Neighborhood Center [the premier local social service agency] city funding that passed through Toberman goes to pay salaries for Bo Taylor, the president of Unity One, and Skip Townsend, a program manager. Hahn did not obtain that money for Unity One.

  • A “convicted rapist was wrongly identified as a gang intervention worker.”

We also noted that “recent events have left some people wondering how much blood was drawn, and whether any of it will make a difference in 2009, when she [Hahn] is up for reelection–or if it was simply intended to damage her chances for further higher office.”

In the years since then, we have reported on recurrent rumblings by mostly-rightwing individuals repeatedly promising the imminent launch of a recall campaign.  These reached an apparent high-point last summer (story here), only to collapse into dust. The disproven gang allegations are part of a grab-bag of shifting complaints  they have cited, but they have repeatedly undermined their own credibility, first by their own secretive methods–always excusing themselves by promising to go public when “the time is right”, second by failing to ever actually launch their public campaign, and third by repeatedly mentioning these publicly-refuted allegations.

In trying to defend himself, the video maker, Ladd Ehlinger Jr. said, in part, “Claim victimhood all you like, but how many people were victimized by your coddling? There’s a reason Mayor Villaraigosa took the program away from you. He’s a Democrat. So are you. Think about it.”

But the reorganization of all gang task forces into a single structure was already underway when FOX aired the original hit piece–not to mention the fact that the accusing officers blamed the entire LAPD command structure, for which Villaraigosa is responsible, not Janice Hahn.

When KTTV presented Blatchford’s report, it was introduced by anchorwoman Christine DeVine saying, “The Mayor’s Office is soon taking over control of all city anti-gang programs and plans to increase spending on gang prevention and intervention. Tonight Chris Blatchford with a FOX 11 News investigation of how some of that money has gone to the gangsters themselves.”  

As already noted, the accusation was false–but the timing was accurate: The consolidation of anti-gang programs was already underway when FOX aired its anti-Hahn hit piece.

There is a great deal more of local backstory to all this. The LAPD has a long, ugly history of racism, which it has only recently made giant strides to overcome.  As recently as  2007, there was a police riot on May Day, attacking thousands of innocent demonstrators, as well media covering the event, and people simply enjoying a day at the park.  (Random Lengths story here.)  The department has now fully embraced the pro-active multifaceted strategy of community-based policing, but there are still significant elements within the ranks who remain deeply opposed to working with the community, rather than lording it over them. This was a clear example of that.  

Add to that the fact that Hahn’s father, long-time County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, was a legendary figure principally responsible for virtually the entire first generation of both Black and Latino elected officials in Los Angeles County, and you begin to get a feel for just how much even deeper racial ugliness this latest vicious act of racism is trying to hide.