Please don’t choose outrage and innuendo when the real story is better

The Los Angeles Times Letters page begins this morning with a “Shots for them, but not for you” headline from the editor and the line regarding former Governor Schwarzenegger’s shot, “But Arnold got his shot, and as the mayor assured us, ‘He’ll be back — for his second dose.’ But you, you’ll have to wait for your first.”

I didn’t plan to get mad at my local newspaper this morning. I planned to work out, read more of the Civil War book that is taking me far too long to get through, do whatever my wife told me, and play with our dogs.

But a friend sent me this note on the Los Angeles Times’ Letters page written by the editor of that page, and despite my best efforts at stoicism, I was pretty upset.

I’m upset because of the headline — “Shots for them, but not for you” — and the line about my boss, “But Arnold got his shot, and as the mayor assured us, ‘He’ll be back — for his second dose.’ But you, you’ll have to wait for your first.” Both imply he received some sort of special treatment, when that couldn’t be further from the case.

I’m upset because the true story wouldn’t generate any outrage, but it might inspire people over 65 to go get vaccinated, to have the patience to work through the clunky LA County website, and it might inspire the county to work on the site.

And I’m upset because the only purpose I can think of for framing his vaccine this way is to make people really angry, and I expect my local paper to be better than that.

In this case, the Los Angeles Times chose to frame their letters page as a fight between “us vs. them” instead of framing it in the truth. The truth is, the county vaccination process isn’t even close to perfect and the site needs a ton of work, but the public vaccination system at Dodger Stadium was good enough for a guy who gets VIP treatment everywhere he goes, so it’s probably good enough for you.

What’s the purpose of using “Shots for them, but not for you” and setting up your story with the assumption that Arnold Schwarzenegger can get the shot but the general public can’t? Why would you do that without reaching out, or at least, reading the Politico article and using the research someone else was willing to do?

I realize this isn’t a news story, it’s in the letters section, so it isn’t subject to the same scrutiny. But I also believe the LA Times has a responsibility to its readers not to print assumptions and innuendo designed to make them angry. If the LA Times had thought to reach out for the backstory, they would have found some of the same frustration their readers are expressing, but also some hope and inspiration.

Governor Schwarzenegger specifically refused to ask for any special treatment because he wanted to have the same exact experience as everyone in Los Angeles so that when he spoke out about it, it was real. His experience should give the people who are currently eligible hope, not outrage. It should inspire our citizens to be patient with the awful website. And hopefully it motivates the county and the state to raise the bat signal for the amazing tech community of California to improve the process of booking online for all of us.

His story shouldn’t make anyone upset, and it certaintly isn’t a case of “Shots for him, and not for you.”

I asked for a correction, and I was told there was nothing “factually false” but I could submit a letter of my own. I guess technically implications and innuendo can’t be factually false.

But I would like to ask the LA Times editors what message they think the readers are supposed to take from that headline and the line, “‘He’ll be back — for his second dose.’ But you, you’ll have to wait for your first.”?

Be honest with yourselves. You’re better than this.

I won’t be submitting a letter, because I’ve seen today how you might headline it. But in case you want to tell a better story, here are the facts:

  • When Los Angeles announced people 65 and older were eligible, Governor Schwarzenegger called his doctors at both Cedars and UCLA. They told him they weren’t ready yet but he could try the county.
  • He went on the county website. I don’t want to pretend this part is easy. This was so frustrating he called me to see if I would have any luck. I did not. The website is not easy to use and an embarrassment for a county that is home to Snapchat. But after an hour, he called back: it worked. He had an appointment for 8:50 the next day at Dodger Stadium. It was not close to easy, but he would tell you it was worth it.
  • I knew he planned to film his vaccination as a social media PSA, so I asked him if he’d like his security guy or me to reach out to the officials at Dodger Stadium ahead of time. He said no, he wanted to see how the process went for everyone.
  • The three of us drove together with our masks on (security, me, and the Gov) and arrived early, at 8:26am. There were 5–6 lines of cars, the same way there were for Dodger games before the pandemic, and we ended up in one of the outside lines. The person in the yellow vest with a mask on asked about allergic reactions and then started laughing and said, “Good morning Governor!” It was Mayor Garcetti. They laughed and greeted each other and he confirmed the former Governor has never had anaphylactic shock and he was allowed to drive in. This was a wild coincidence, but unless the Mayor knew we would arrive 24 minutes early and pick the outside line out of the five available, it was just that — a coincidence. One of the firefighters told us the Mayor was working there all day.
  • From there we followed the cars in front of us through a maze of cones that actually felt like Mario Kart until we were stopped and got in line beside some tents. There were probably 8 cars in front of us and a few behind, and 5–6 rows beside us in the same set up.
  • After 20 minutes, a volunteer came to the car and asked the patient’s name. His security guy said, “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” She laughed and said “No, really.” At that point Gov. Schwarzenegger chimed in “Do it now” from the passenger seat and she got very excited and told him how much she liked Terminator. They scanned his QR code the county issues, he said more movie lines to make her laugh, and then the vaccine arrived. He asked if we could film it, and everyone has seen that video.
  • After another 15–20 minutes to check for a reaction, we drove away. We called a friend who has a mother who is almost 100 and told them how easy it was. At that point, she booked an appointment for her mother later that same day. Her experience wasn’t as smooth at the stadium. Later in the day, there were more people in line and the wait was several hours. But she was vaccinated, and she would tell you it was worth it, too.

I hope the real story inspires people to fight it out with that website like it inspired her. And I hope next time, the LA Times will try to inspire with the facts instead of dividing us into us vs. them with innuendo.

Dog: Hank; Team: Dodgers; Work: @Schwarzenegger. What more do you need to know? Views are my own but I also understand I should be fired if they’re horrifying.