Manzanar Committee: Times Published Unbalanced, Inaccurate Letters

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Screen grab of the online version of the Los Angeles Times Travel article about the Tule Lake and Manzanar sites.

Screen grab of the online version of the Nov. 28 Los Angeles Times Travel article about the Tule Lake and Manzanar sites.

The Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee issued the following statement on Monday in response to letters to the editor criticizing a Los Angeles Times article about the Manzanar and Tule Lake World War II confinement sites.

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In their Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016 edition, The Los Angeles Times published two reader letters in their Travel section 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.

Decades of scholarly research, not to mention a federal commission, have determined that none of that was even close to the truth, yet The L.A. Times chose to publish the two letters, supposedly in the spirit of providing “balance.”

We question how balance can be achieved by publishing content that has been proven many times over to be totally false and even worse, rooted in racism.

Just prior to midnight on Dec. 12, The L.A. Times posted the following on their Twitter feed (@LATimes): “2 letters published in today’s L.A. Times Travel section did not meet editorial standards. Our Readers Rep. will address on her blog Monday.”

As we posted in response on our Twitter feed, @manzanarcomm, “This deserves more than a ‘blog post.’”

“Typically, we’d welcome any opportunity to discuss, debate or study what our families endured during World War II,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce 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. 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.”

The Manzanar Committee believes that a post on a rather obscure blog on The L.A. Times website, rather than a statement published in the Travel section, is both inappropriate and insufficient.

“That The L.A. Times published these letters in the first place is unconscionable,” said Embrey. “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.

“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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Excerpts from the letters:

Steve Hawes, Sunland — “Japanese have an extremely strong attachment to family, and even more so back then. First-generation and, to a lesser extent, Japanese here would have been expected to follow the wishes of their elders in Japan. Some, most or almost all might have refused, but the threat was there.

“Had the Japanese been left on the streets of our city they would have been subject to hostility, injury and death at the hands of other citizens whose emotions ran high.

“The U.S. government needed to concentrate on the war effort, not keep track of every reported espionage claim leveled against the Japanese. By the way, there were also internments for U.S. Germans though not as extensive as the Japanese.

“Virtually everyone in the U.S. was assigned jobs to help the war effort. The Japanese were assigned the job of staying out of the way and not causing complications. Millions of Americans were assigned far worse jobs. Hundreds of thousands were wounded or died.

“The interned Japanese were housed, fed, protected and cared for. Many who now complain would not even be alive if the internment had not been done.”

Dick Venn — “As the U.S. was putting families into the internment housing and feeding them, the Japanese were slaughtering Filipinos by the tens of thousands and U.S. soldiers after hideous torture.

“War is evil, but I would have much rather been interned by the U.S. in California than by the Japanese in their captured lands.”

Also on Monday, Deirdre Edgar, L.A. Times contact reporter, posted a lengthy response on the newspaper’s website that read, in part: “Many Times readers have taken issue with two letters in this week’s Travel section, which criticized a Nov. 27 article about National Park sites that address issues of race and ethnicity in America’s history.

“The letters employed cultural stereotypes to suggest that the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified, and sought to minimize the hardships they endured.

“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 …

The Times’ Travel editor, Catharine Hamm, said she approved publication of the letters thinking that the writers’ views, although provocative, would be balanced by subsequent letters of response.

“Hamm said that, in retrospect, that was not the right decision, because the views expressed in the letters did not lend themselves to reasoned discussion.

“Maharaj made the same point in discussions with staff members disturbed by the letters, and in remarks to editors during The Times’ daily news meeting this morning.

“‘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,’ Maharaj said. ‘These letters did not meet that standard.’

“The Travel section plans to print letters of response in the Dec. 18 edition.”

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