By Gustavo Arellano
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By Charles Lam
For 14 years, Gordon Dillow served as the lead columnist at The Orange County Register, where he happily upended the old journalism adage about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. If you were a rich businessman, a self-styled patriot or a Christian conservative bigot, in Dillow's world, you were automatically right, no matter what horrific act you might have perpetrated. He yearned for a return to the America of yesteryear, when "We never had any trouble figuring out who to root for; all we had to do was look at the color of their [cowboy] hat."
Dillow shamelessly fetishized no group more than cops, earning my permanent moniker "bootlicker." He espoused that if police kill you—even if you're unarmed and guilty of, say, a minor infraction—the fault was yours because law enforcement can't be wrong. It wasn't an accident that some of OC's most deranged, violent cops got hailed as noble saints in his columns. Criticize the police for corruption and cover-ups, and he claimed you must also believe "the CIA toppled the World Trade Center" and "Elvis still walks among us."
In 1999, Dillow defended white, redneck Little Saigon cops who, while on duty, dismissively called Vietnamese immigrants "gooks." After admitting that for years he used the racist term "without so much as a second thought," he wrote that it was "not so easy for me" to take the side of offended Vietnamese. Instead, he advised the public to empathize with the cops' feelings. Perhaps, he explained, the officers who uttered the slur were justified because they had been "frustrated, fearful, angry" by something the immigrant had done.
With his journalism career already discredited after he championed Sheriff Mike Carona, now a convicted felon, and dirty jail deputies, Dillow argued in 2007 that cops still weren't being compensated adequately after they were allowed to retire at 50, and then collect from taxpayers as much as 100 percent of their highest salary for the rest of their lives. Shortly thereafter, a Southern California police group handed him a "Humanitarian of the Year" award.
The Dillow era whimpered out in 2008, and Register editor Ken Brusic, a piece of work himself, eventually filled the slot with David Whiting, an "outdoor" columnist. But Whiting hasn't turned out to be a breath of fresh air. Incredibly, he's determined to be the new Dillow.
After I wrote a May column criticizing jail deputies for knowingly locking a murder-happy street gangster in a cell with a suspected (but later proven innocent) sex offender, walking away, and then acting shocked by the near-fatal beating that occurred, Whiting weighed in. He spent part of one Saturday with jail deputies and, in ghost-of-Dillow fashion, concluded the officers perform their duties "with a lot of patience and a touch of grace." Imagine that: In front of a reporter for a couple of hours, the deputies were "respectful" of incoming arrestees.
Days after I hailed Fullerton businessman and blogger Tony Bushala for publicizing the savage, unwarranted killing of Kelly Thomas in July and inspiring impressive anti-police brutality protests from a cross-section of the community, Whiting weighed in. He opined that Bushala had gone too far and created a "mob mentality" against cops. As if Dillow's fingers pounded his computer keyboard, Whiting asserted that instead of being outraged, citizens should empathize with the cops who kicked, punched, stomped and beat an already-subdued Thomas.
"Unfortunately, most of the public's dealings with police are not during our best moments," Whiting rationalized. "The reality is we're all pro-cop. . . . We agree that we need law enforcement. But few of us want the job. It's just too darn difficult."
That's the tired, old Dillow canard straight from the pages of the cop-union handbook: Police excesses must be excused, and anyone who speaks up against excessive force must be anti-law enforcement. Such a mentality helps explain why, in the early weeks of the scandal, Register news articles dismissively portrayed the vicious Thomas killing as a "scuffle," "tussle" and "fight." Those ridiculous descriptions certainly didn't describe what happened when six fully armed, supposedly highly trained and physically dominant cops attacked a 135-pound fellow who ended up with his head gruesomely battered for the unforgivable crime of taking discarded junk mail from trash bins.
In his Aug. 9 column, Whiting celebrated Mike Sellers, Fullerton's police chief, as a superb public servant, but he forgot to mention that the department brazenly lied from the outset to justify killing Thomas and convince the public to ignore the death. The columnist also lectured the community that the "constructive" thing to do was to stop "speculating" that cops were guilty of any wrongdoing. Wait, he said, to see if District Attorney Tony Rackauckas came to the same conclusion following a thorough investigation.
One guess what Whiting did after Rackauckas completed his probe and charged two of Thomas' killers—officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli—with felonies. That's right: There was not a single sentence of outrage, despite the DA's revelation the cops taunted Thomas before beating him, and then laughed as his bloody, mutilated body fell into unconsciousness. Whiting found something else more worthy for ridicule. He penned his most anti-Bushala, anti-protesters column to date.
According to Whiting, the real story still isn't about police brutality, but rather "loud, bombastic leaders" who "spew vitriol" against the three city councilmen—Dick Jones, Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead—who defended the tainted cops and pretended the Thomas murder wasn't alarming. Jones, McKinley and Bankhead wear the white hats in Whiting's mind, while the troublemakers are Bushala and KFI's John and Ken, who've refused to let Fullerton PD bury the story and want the council trio recalled.
"Perhaps we've heard enough of their grandstanding," he proclaimed in an Oct. 20 column.
Encouraging public contempt for the real heroes in a major government scandal is, well, contemptible. "I've received phone calls and hundreds of emails, many supportive and many others filled with obscenity-laced anger," Whiting wrote. "A voice message last week called me a limp-wristed, wannabe tough guy, bootlicking fascist. My wife assures me I'm no fascist."
Misplaced humor over a sickening fatality might delight the PD boys. But it helps underscore the fact the Register has found a new bootlicker—ironically, the very man who once lovingly edited Dillow's columns. Listen carefully, and you might just hear the sound of someone engraving a new name on a "Humanitarian of the Year" police plaque.
This column appeared in print as "The Orange County Register's New Bootlicker: Columnist David Whiting's Kelly Thomas coverage proves Gordon Dillow, his shameless predecessor, never really left the building."