SPECIAL LA TIMES BASHING EDITION….For the past couple of weeks the LA Times has been running an “experimental” Sunday column in which they allow their critics to savage them in print. So far this experiment hasn’t gone so well: Mickey Kaus wants a gossip column and Hugh Hewitt demands a firmer adherence to the Republican party line in reports about Iraq. Yawn.

Today’s column isn’t bad, though: Marc Cooper complains that the conventions of journalistic objectivity produce bland, hard-to-fathom copy:

As thorough as The Times’ reporting has been, it often reads as if written by acrobats in pain ? skilled professionals twisting themselves and their copy into knots as they strain to “balance” what they are actually seeing with the sometimes fantasy-based spin of both Iraqi and U.S. officialdom.

….Among the many Times dispatches from Iraq this past month, there was one tasty first-person report that boldly stood out from the lot….The Times should have the courage to run more of these first-person pieces full of personal observation, analysis and interpretation from a staff of reporters more than able to provide them. I suspect the resulting product would be contradictory ? different reporters seeing different realities. So what?

I agree. Unfortunately, since this criticism applies to all of American journalism, not just the LA Times, I’m still not convinced this experimental column is working.

This is especially true since the professional LA Times critics are put to shame today by its letter writers, who, like me, are wondering why the Sunday editorial section has seemingly decided that its target audience is fourth graders. Here are today’s letters to the editor:

Charles W. Froehlich Jr. of San Diego: “In the Jan. 23 edition, I count almost one-third of the section constituted of cartoons.”

Pauline Regev of Santa Monica: “Why not add the horoscopes, Dear Abby and a recipe or two to the newly formatted Sunday Opinion. Together with comics, the inane columns of Joel Stein and Michael Lewis, cutesy quizzes and illustrated sound bites, the dumbing down of what was once the most insightful section of your newspaper will then be complete.”

Norman M. Lobsenz of Redondo Beach: “Can someone explain why The Times published Michael Lewis’ “Domestic Drama” column (Jan. 23)?….I could not, for once, contain my irritation at the amount of useless stuff you publish while cutting out other stuff to save newsprint.”

Um, yeah. I guess I’m just one of those old-fashioned fuddy duddies, but I kinda think the editorial section should mostly contain trenchant, hard hitting opinion on the big subjects of the day. For the past two weeks, though, the entire front page of the Sunday editorial section has been taken up by a gigantic cartoon. This might be worthwhile if the cartoons were actually funny and thought provoking, but take a look at this week’s effort. WTF?

The Sunday editorial section is four pages longer than the usual daily section. In today’s extra four pages, there are a grand total of three ? three! ? actual op-eds. The rest is cartoons, experimental columns, and cutesy little primers and anecdotes.

Like a TV series cancelled after the first show, it’s time for this disaster to be put out of its misery. Surely the world contains enough bright, engaging writers with genuine opinions to fill up a serious op-ed section? And if there aren’t, why not just turn it over to Jon Stewart and Bill Maher and be done with it?

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