Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Politicians just hate bad media

This photo provided by HBO shows Vince Vaughn in a scene from season 2 of "True Detective."
This photo provided by HBO shows Vince Vaughn in a scene from season 2 of "True Detective." AP

The plot of the uber-complex “True Detective” miniseries merges two real-life California situations.

One is the city of Vernon, which was once just about as corrupt as its fictional counterpart, Vinci. The still-mysterious death of Vernon’s city manager is transformed into the murder of Vinci’s city manager.

The other is the state’s bullet train project. In the HBO series, sleazy Vinci politicians and a local hoodlum plot to make fortunes in land development along its route.

An early “True Detective” episode depicts a corrupt Vinci cop tracking down and severely beating a Los Angeles Times reporter who was writing a series of articles about the city.

“He’s not going to be writing that story no more,” the thuggish cop reports to his superior.

That, too, is inspired by real life. The Times did a series of articles about Vernon, which sparked an effort by some local legislators to disincorporate the tiny industrial city and, eventually, some reforms.

But in real life, beating a reporter would not have stopped a newspaper from doing such a series – if for no other reason than it would have already been completely written before publication.

That said, politicians at all levels, and not only the corrupt variety, make strenuous efforts to thwart media coverage they consider to be negative.

They range from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton using a rope barrier to fend off reporters as she marched in a Fourth of July parade to a truly bizarre situation in Bridgeport, Conn.

The Connecticut Post reported Sunday that the mayor of Bridgeport had ordered local police to issue no reports about crimes until after he had been re-elected.

When the Times began to cover Vernon, it encountered similar resistance.

“The silence always seemed designed to prevent some awful domino effect,” Times reporter Hector Becerra wrote recently, comparing the fictional Vinci to the real Vernon.

“The five council members were carefully shielded from reporters, especially those who might actually ask pointed questions. But the council members were never whom you really wanted to talk to anyway.

“Even after Vernon hired a relatively responsive spokesperson, the gears of the city worked to keep you from getting answers and certainly from cornering the town’s real movers and shakers.”

Inglewood is another small Los Angeles County community with a checkered history. It’s lost its most notable feature, the Hollywood Park horse racing track, and is trying to build a professional football stadium and lure an NFL team.

Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., the city’s former police chief, doesn’t like it that a local gadfly named Joseph Teixeira has been editing video clips of City Council meetings into critiques, particularly of Butts, that might affect Inglewood’s bid for football glory.

Therefore, the city has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Teixeira’s clips violate the city’s copyright of council videos.

The suit will almost certainly fail, but it demonstrates that politicians will to go to extreme lengths to avoid negative media depictions.

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