It was the Voice of OC, a small nonprofit investigative news organization, that presented the first genuinely enterprising coverage of the Angel Stadium lease. The Voice asked the central—and obvious—question raised by the lease negotiating framework in a Sept. 19 article headlined, “What is the Actual Value of the Angel Stadium Deal?” The story, written by Adam Elmahrek, acknowledged the difficulty of placing a value on the stadium and the land surrounding it, given the uncertainty about details of any deal, including what, if any, taxes might be rebated to a developer over the years. But at least the piece began to put parameters on the size of benefit being offered to the owner of the Angels, citing two city studies estimating the value of the land at somewhere between $30 million and $380 million.
Norberto Santana Jr., editor in chief of the Voice and a former investigative reporter for the Register, said the Times has been largely absent in terms of covering Orange County public affairs recently. But he was surprised by the Register’s less than comprehensive coverage in the weeks after the agreement because the Angel Stadium negotiations “are the strangest I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stadium negotiation so one-sided or so quick,” he said.
Marroquin disputed my suggestion that initial Register coverage of the stadium lease situation had been soft, saying that three reporters—he, Martin Wisckol, and Sarah Tully—are now digging into the stadium lease negotiations and that reporting on them is “definitely a priority.” And early in November, about two months after the city agreed to its negotiating framework with the Angels, the Register finally did weigh in with an important in-depth piece on the stadium.
In the article, Wisckol, who covers politics for the Register, turned a city-commissioned report on the Angels’ economic impact on Anaheim—a report that some city council members have used to support their efforts toward a new stadium lease—into Swiss cheese. The report claimed the team generated $204 million in new spending in the city and $4.7 million in annual revenue for the city treasury, Wisckol wrote, but it “is so replete with unsubstantiated assumptions that it can’t be used as a reliable indicator of the team’s financial impact on the city, interviews and public records show.”
An email seeking an interview with Register Editor Ken Brusic about coverage of the Angel Stadium lease was answered by Eric Morgan, who is listed as a communications manager on the Register’s website and who wrote, “we’ll cover this story in the same way we cover all of our news stories—we’ll report the facts in a fair and objective way, with perspectives from the parties involved and report this Orange County-based story with team coverage and in great depth.” Morgan said he would pass along an interview request to Register Publisher Aaron Kushner, who did not contact me.
It’s unclear to me whether the Times’ minimal coverage of the Angel Stadium lease negotiations is a reflection of conscious choice or disorganization.
Shaikin said he was asked on short notice to provide news coverage of the Anaheim City Council’s vote on the lease negotiations. His editors approved his column on the lease, he said, and if they had wanted something different, they would have said so. When asked about future coverage of the lease, Shaikin said, “If you’re asking what our long-term plan is for covering this, I’d have to refer you to the editors.”
Times sports editor Mike James said Shaikin was assigned to the new Angels lease story because he had experience covering the Angels current lease, and because “the metro staff has not jumped on this one.” Shaikin will probably continue covering the lease situation, James said. But when he was asked about the column Shaikin had written—in which he gave his opinion on lease negotiations he had covered as a news reporter—James said, “That’s a gray area, and we don’t do a lot of that.” In fact, James said, he’s “not positive” he’d allow Shaikin to do it again.