Over the Edge

It's not surprising that Stan Oftelie, longtime county government employee and now executive director of the Orange County Business Council, is disappointed that the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station isn't going to be turned into an international airport. Likewise, anyone who has carefully followed LA Times reporter Jean Pasco's coverage of El Toro is aware of her obvious bias in favor of an airport. Pasco has developed a palpable disdain for everything and everyone who opposes transforming El Toro into an international airport and has given back to airport booster Bruce Nestande the political career he squandered when he resigned from the Orange County Board of Supervisors so many years ago. I've long admired Oftelie's survival skills as a Democrat prospering in a Republican county, and for nearly 15 years, I've considered Pasco a friend. But friendship cannot forgive profanity.

In her April 28 Times story, Pasco used Oftelie to help her compare the political mobilization of South County cities and voters against development of an El Toro Airport to the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society in Orange County.

It's not too much to say that Oftelie and Pasco have gone over the edge.

On many issues not involving El Toro, Pasco would perhaps know better. But here she chose to print Oftelie's slanderous comparisons as though they were authoritative and without opposing commentary. Oftelie is a well-known pro-business Democrat, but Pasco transformed him into a scholarly authority, an "armchair historian of Orange County."

Have the proponents of the El Toro airport no shame whatsoever? What's next for Jean Pasco? Comparing South County voters to Southern slaveholders? How about this analogy: the Irvine City Council's attempt to annex and plan El Toro is to politics what the Inquisition was to freedom of worship. Surely there's someone in Jean's Rolodex willing to compare Larry Agran to Pope Urban VIII, the man who sentenced Galileo to life imprisonment. And if not, just call pro-airport political consultant David Ellis.

As director of the county's business chamber, Oftelie is now a paid advocate, so he can pretty much say what he wants. But I suspect that at least a few South County businesses will find his comparisons more than a tad disturbing, if not deeply embarrassing. Does Oftelie really think South County residents are the inheritors of the anti-government sentiments associated with the rise of the Klan and the John Birchers? If so, he might not be the best person to represent the interests of business in Orange County.

Pasco is a journalist, so her active involvement in the regular trashing of South County leaders and voters on the El Toro issue remains an authentic mystery—and a personal disappointment. But most perplexing of all, I'd like to know this: Where are her editors at the Times, the men and women who permitted these vile comparisons to pass for reasoned journalism? Perhaps the paper's Chicago owners have fired all the editors, leaving no one at the controls on Sunflower Avenue. If so, the time has come for the Times to terminate its Orange County operation. There's no good reason for the Times to add journalistic humiliation to economic failure by continuing to pass off the disgruntled ravings of a spurned airport advocate as reporting suitable for publication in one of the nation's great daily newspapers. Better that we should remember the Times fondly as a newspaper that once had a sense of balance and integrity.


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