It's old news that, like Richard Nixon, DA Tony Rackauckas has an enemies list and that the Los Angeles Timesand OC Weekly are on it. What's news is that the DA has a friends list, and Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil are on that.
On June 18, we obtained a copy of the DA's official press release distribution list. While ignoring the Times and Weekly, Rackauckas is sending press releases to the Denver Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Washington Post. Closer to home, Rackauckas seems to favor the feckless, those least likely to challenge his authority: the OC Metro, Coast, Orange Coast and the Daily Pilot get the DA's regular missives.
But the distribution list also includes producers for Oprah and Dr. Phil—shows on which Rackauckas is likely to appear in silhouette as a screwed-up, power-mad and dysfunctional patient known only as "Tony."
Editors at the Times are not laughing. They're using the state's public records act in hopes of obtaining DA media announcements. It's a cumbersome process. Every day, Times reporter Christine Hanley files requests for press releases that are faxed freely to other media outlets.
The DA remains uncooperative. On June 16, an unrepentant Rackauckas fired back at the Times. He sent letters to "news directors and managing editors" throughout the region and claimed that the Timeshad filed the public records act requests to spy on other papers or news stations.
"The Los Angeles Times' requests would appear to directly affect your rights and I would appreciate input from your legal counsel," the DA harrumphed.
The letter was vintage Rackauckas: blatantly self-serving, deviously misleading. It is further evidence of the man's profound unsuitability to serve as the county's top law enforcement officer. Nowhere did the DA admit in his letter that he had forced the paper to file the requests as its only hope to obtain press releases. There is no spying. No reporter rights have been threatened by the Times.
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But honesty has never mattered to Rackauckas, who is the only DA in county history to be the target of a scathing 100-page grand jury report for ethical lapses. The sycophants who make up his inner circle keep telling him that as long as his television image is clean he can move to bigger public office. In addition to Oprah and Dr. Phil, Rackauckas's "urgent notice" press releases go to ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's Dateline, two reporters at CNN, three reporters at KTLA, three reporters at KCAL, four reporters at CBS and 10 reporters at Fox News.
The list is, of course, subject to change. In his first term, Rackauckas showered scoops on the then-highly cooperative Times while often ignoring the Register, which had the temerity to let its top reporting sleuth investigate the DA. Nowadays, the Times has fallen out of favor and the Register is getting insider tidbits in return for saccharine coverage. Most recently, DA spokes-person Susan K. Schroeder tried to embarrass the Times by leaking to the Register new plans for private legal assistance with prosecutions.
Only the Weekly has maintained a permanent slot on the enemies list from the outset of the Rackauckas reign in 1999. As punishment our calls are rarely returned; we're occasionally lied to about cases; and we're banned from receiving the DA's taxpayer-funded press releases.
We hope we speak for our colleagues at the Times when we say membership on the enemies list is an honor to which all journalists should aspire.