(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Los Angeles Times became one of the nation’s great newspapers under the leadership of its dynamic publisher, Otis Chandler. While the Times had long been influential in the politics and cultural life of Southern California, it had also been renowned for the bias of its news columns and its staunchly conservative editorial policy. The paper was highly profitable, but in journalistic circles was not thought of in the same respectful terms as the nation’s first-rate papers, The Washington Post and The New York Times. Under Otis Chandler, the Los Angeles Times moved to the center politically and at the same time established a reputation as a reporter’s newspaper that broke big stories and competed on an equal basis with its eastern rivals. By the 1980’s, the Los Angeles Times had achieved journalistic stature at the top of the American media.

Unlike the families who headed The New York Times and The Washington Post, however, the Chandlers were not able to keep their newspaper empire together. Where the Sulzbergers succeeded in retaining control of The New York Times and the Graham family built The Washington Post into a media conglomerate, the Chandlers in the end could not maintain the cohesion and sense of common purpose of a true journalistic dynasty. They succumbed to the allure of the hundreds of millions of dollars that came from the Chicago Tribune interests when the Los Angeles Times was sold in the late 1990’s. In a little more than a century, the Chandlers had come from obscurity to great wealth in the newspaper business, only to see their accomplishments taken over by others. Their saga is, however, one of the most interesting and complex in the history of American journalism.

In this well-researched and lively book, Dennis McDougal traces the evolution of the Los Angeles Times and Southern California from the 1880’s down to the present day. A writer for that newspaper for a decade, McDougal brings a rich background to his subject. His previous work on Hollywood and other aspects of Southern California life have given him a mastery of the bright and dark sides of the City of Angels. For this project, he also enjoyed the cooperation of Otis Chandler and his family, who opened up to McDougal in a series of candid weekly interviews. Few intimate areas of Chandler’s life were left unexplored. McDougal also combed the Los Angeles Times archives thoroughly. The result is a multidimensional account of a man who made a great newspaper only to see it become so profitable and attractive that it passed out of his control. In McDougal’s pages, Otis Chandler emerges as something of a gifted but flawed tragic figure in U.S. journalism.

The Los Angeles Times got its start as the city was becoming an attraction for Easterners and Midwesterners seeking a warm climate and economic opportunity during the 1880’s. Otis Chandler’s ancestors, Harrison Gray Otis and Harry Chandler, made it the local newspaper that spoke for the boom psychology and political conservatism of the region. In a series of battles that featured violence on both sides, the Los Angeles Times sought to exclude labor unions and pushed the interests of the Republican party. In 1911, a bitter labor dispute even led to the dynamiting of the newspaper’s headquarters. The trial of the men involved, the McNamara brothers, became one of the most sensational such proceedings in the history of U.S. law.

The Chandler family grew wealthy from its newspaper and the profitable real estate ventures that opened up for political insiders. McDougal is adept at showing how the Chandler fortune expanded thanks to their political connections and economic clout. The Los Angeles Times provided limited coverage of this phase of California’s growth. The newspaper was a cash cow, but its news columns were slanted and its reporters were precluded from following stories that revealed the nexus between money and power under the warm skies of the Pacific coast.

McDougal follows the interplay between the Los Angeles Times and the rise of Southern California in the first half of the twentieth century with an impressive amount of analytical skill. He untangles the corruption-laden process by which Los Angeles obtained that water needed to slake the thirst of its booming population. There is also very interesting material on the sordid history of the Los Angeles police department in...

(The entire section is 1863 words.)