Manzanar Committee Decries LA Times’ Publication of Inaccurate Letter About JA Incarceration — Again

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In May 2017 at the Japanese American National Museum, then Los Angeles Times Publisher Davan Maharaj (right), Karin Wang of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, mystery writer and former Rafu Shimpo editor Naomi Hirahara, and author and journalist Richard Reeves discussed the media’s mistakes during the public hysteria generated by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the lessons learned for today’s media. This event followed the 2016 incident in which The Times published letters defending the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

The Manzanar Committee issued the following statement on Dec. 8.

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On Dec. 8, the Manzanar Committee, sponsors of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and Manzanar At Dusk events, denounced the publication of a letter to the editor in The Los Angeles Times that attempted to justify the forced removal and unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese/Japanese Americans in American concentration camps and other confinement sites during World War II.

To make matters worse, this is not the first time that The Times has failed to live up to their journalistic responsibilities in this regard. Indeed, the publication of the letter in question is more than reminiscent of a 2016 incident — almost two years to the day — when they published two very similar letters.

In response to David L. Ulin’s op-ed piece on Nov. 27, 2018 about the Manzanar National Historic Site, one reader wrote, “President Franklin D. Roosevelt acted not out of xenophobia toward Japanese Americans, but rather his intent to protect citizens after a horrendous act of war perpetrated by the Empire of Japan.”

The reader added, “It is fairly easy, 73 years after the resolution of the conflict, to Monday-morning quarterback his actions, but I don’t remember many who thought his response to keep us safe was worthy of shame.”

As we stated in our response to The Times’ publication of two letters to the editor that criticized Caroline A. Miranda’s Nov. 28, 2016 story “Our National Parks Can Also Be Reminders of America’s History of Race and Civil Rights,” “The letters essentially claimed that the incarceration of Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents in American concentration camps during World War II was justified and that those incarcerated posed a threat to national security. One letter even equated Japanese Americans with Japanese nationals, asserting that there was no difference between American citizens of Japanese ancestry and the Japanese military.”

The reader who responded to Ulin’s op-ed piece said, essentially, the exact same thing. Once again, we noted in our response to the 2016 letters that “Decades of scholarly research, not to mention a federal commission, have determined that none of that was even close to the truth.”

Back in 2016, The Times responded to the outcry regarding the two letters, stating, “Davan Maharaj, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Times, said the letters did not meet the newspaper’s standards for ‘civil, fact-based discourse’ and should not have been published. He said The Times apologizes for the distress the letters caused.”

Maharaj added, “Letters in The Times are the opinions of the writers, and editors strive to include a range of voices. But the goal is to present readers with civil, intelligent, fact-based opinions that enlarge their understanding of the world. These letters did not meet that standard.”

Without question, the Nov. 28, 2018 letter did not meet that standard, either. As such, we are outraged that The Times would publish the letter, repeating their transgression two years prior.

In response to the 2016 incident, Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey criticized The Times for failing in its responsibility to its readers and for lacking journalistic integrity.

“Typically, we’d welcome any opportunity to discuss, debate or study what our families endured during World War II,” said Embrey. “But the flawed assumptions, the lack of anything even closely resembling factual information and even worse, the primitive understanding of what happened to our community exhibited in these letters makes it impossible to engage in any type of meaningful discussion.”

“I fear these letters are yet another example of our current political climate, where well-established facts are questioned or simply dismissed as opinion, and where the dusting off of archaic, discarded theories is the order of the day,” added Embrey. “Respected and reputable institutions like The Los Angeles Times must not relax basic journalistic standards. We, as a society, must not allow our political and social discourse to be dominated by those who have no regard for our Constitution and who are willing to ignore the fundamental principles of our democracy in the name of patriotism and national security.”

Two years later, we are disappointed and dismayed that apparently, nothing has changed at The Times in this regard and as we did two years ago, the Manzanar Committee demands that they explain their actions and apologize for their grave error in judgment.

“That The L.A. Times published these letters in the first place is unconscionable,” Embrey said in response to the 2016 letters. “We believe an apology for this disservice to its readers and especially to all those impacted by the unconstitutional, racist acts of the United States government during World War II is due. Furthermore, we believe a statement correcting the blatantly inaccurate information contained in these letters is warranted, and that it should be published in both the print and online editions of the Travel section. A blog post is insufficient.”

As previously stated, it is apparent that The Times has not learned from their mistakes two years ago. In this case, they have displayed the exact same lack of journalistic integrity, especially in light of their explicitly stated letters policy. Furthermore, any explanation and apology must be published in the print and web editions of the Opinion section, where the original op-ed piece and the letters were published. Relegating any response to an obscure blog post or another section of the newspaper/website is unacceptable.

Back in 2016, then-Editor-in-Chief and Publisher Maharaj responded quickly to our efforts to engage him and we appreciated his candor and cooperation in that matter. We hope that The Times’ current management will do the same in this case.

Again, as Embrey stated back in 2016, “Nothing less is acceptable from a newspaper that many consider to be one of the finest in the world. We trust that The L.A. Times will act accordingly and without delay.”

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