One would think that the editor of a major California newspaper would not only be an exceptional journalist – but an exceptional Californian, too. But that is not the case at the Los Angeles Times, which announced yesterday that an exceptional former New York City investment banker, Austin Bueter, would be the new editor.
Beuter, 54, served as Democratic Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s deputy for a year in 2010. Previous to that he did a stint in the Clinton Administration as a political appointee working on foreign affairs.
According to the Times, Beutner was born in New York, and grew up in Michigan. He attended the Ivy League’s Dartmouth College earning a degree in economics, became a financial analyst for Smith Barney and then became a partner in New York City’s Blackstone Group. He became wealthy. He eventually started his own New York City-based investment banking firm, Evercore Partners.
There is little doubt Beuter is an accomplished and intelligent person. And he has even admirably overcome personal tragedy, working through a year-long recovery from a very serious bicycle accident.
Yet Beuter really has only a tenuous connection to Los Angeles and it is based on money, politics and philanthropy, not education and real work experience in journalism. And he is not a journalist. He is a rich liberal from New York, educated in the Ivy League, who has served as a Democratic political appointee, and is now making editorial decisions for California’s most important newspaper. Thus, he is a pillar of the East Coast Liberal establishment, no doubt. Is that what California and the Times needs now? Will he succeed?
Beuter’s California experience is lacking. He has not lived through any of California’s major earthquakes, a Dodger World Series, an NFL Football team in Los Angeles, or a real Republican Governor. His experience in life is about Ivory Towers rather than the dinner special at Norm’s, and it is as distant from the experience of a Tea Party meeting in Palmdale that one can get. One might expect this lack of “living California” to inspire a disrespect in him for a number of California’s unique qualities, including the important initiative process, often seen by liberals as “too populist” and “dysfunctional” – because liberals can’t always control it.
With all the fine, highly educated award winning journalists available to chose, even liberals, the Times has gone with a rich East Coast Left-wing political insider and funder as their new editor. The Times makes this decision as the age of print newspapers reaches its twilight and continues its decline, and as the Times itself is meeting stiff competition from more centrist and conservative newspapers such as The Valley’s Daily News, and the new Los Angeles Register, published by the owners of the Orange County Register.
There is little doubt that Los Angeles itself is marching down a road to eminent bankruptcy. According to the UCLA/Anderson School, not one new job has been added to the rolls of the employed in the city in the last 23 years. In the meantime, public employee pension obligations are sucking close to 20% of the city’s annual General Fund, forcing reductions to taxpayers in 911 safety services and street maintenance. Major employers like Toyota are pulling out of the area for more business-friendly locations in states like Texas. The Los Angeles tax base is shrinking but government spending is not. And taxpayers are tired of the taxes, having rejected a sales tax increase last year by 55% at the polls.
It is against this looming backdrop of failure that Beuter takes the helm of the Times, as a man representing old liberal ideas that are in fact failing in Los Angeles. He is not a “Man of the People,” rather, he is a man of the wealthy, connected and liberal. On the question of Beuter’s success, surely time will tell, but we are predictably not expecting much at all.