Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » The USC/LA Times Book

“Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels”: https://amzn.to/3AGwzKV


A few days ago, “Washington Monthly” released its college rankings. Which differ significantly from those of the “US News & World Report”, both of which are completely different from the rankings of the “Wall Street Journal”, which focus on results, i.e. how you are doing financially after having got your degree.

Again, are you going to college for work?

Even better, go to a top school for status, it will open more doors for you than anything you learn in class.

The ancestor of the ascent of university status is Boston University. BU had a new president, John Silber, who was hated by the students, but greatly improved the school’s reputation.

That was decades ago.

Then came NYU. A zero-gravity municipal school is now a world-class institution with prestige.

Just like USC.

Again, this did not happen naturally. Rather, there was a driving force, a responsible man, who rallied alumni, leaned on donors, poached reputable professors, and hopefully donated money as well.

USC was UCLA’s poor sister. Crosstown’s rivals, UCLA had the prestige and USC was all about the money, so much so that during sports competitions, UCLA fans waved dollar bills in the stands. Yes, if you were poor, you could afford to go to UCLA, you could rise from the bottom up. While USC was seen as the institution for those with wealthy parents.

Not anymore.

First of all, UCLA isn’t what it used to be. None of the public schools in California are. Because of Ronald Reagan. He cut government subsidies. UCLA and Berkeley are better than ever, but harder than ever to break into, as schools need money from out of state to pay their bills, leaving fewer places for Californians. Supposedly, this year the population of the state is higher, but…

An education is expensive. And if you’re going to pay for it, you want to get what you pay for. And USC has gone from a security school to a status school. It’s hard to be accepted. That’s why all these parents used Rick Singer and kickbacks to get their kids in.

USC is a monolith. With a long history of insider trading. Not the Wall Street type, but the alumni type. There is a USC network in Los Angeles. It pays more than having an Ivy League degree. And now it’s not just about relationships, the school has cachet, it works all over town.

But USC is in turmoil. It’s not just the story of Varsity Blues, but…


That’s what “Bad City” is about. Misconduct at USC and the efforts of the LA “Times” to uncover it.

Well, the effort of a few journalists to find out. Because the author, Paul Pringle, a longtime reporter for the Los Angeles “Times,” claims he was suffocated by brass, the story was held up for eons and castrated before it was published.

Of course, the brass deny it now. But the brass was blown. Which must be the result of HR’s investigation, otherwise why would they be fired?

There are a lot of problems in this book.

In fact, “Bad City” is made up of two books. First, the history of scandals specific to USC, including those of an addicted medical school dean and drug supplier, and the sexual abuse schemes of a school clinic gynecologist, but also the history of the inner workings of LA “Fois.” ARE YOU INTERESTED?

It’s a big question these days. With so many opportunities, so many places to spend your time.

At first, “Bad City” is really captivating. The story of a girl who overdoses in the dean’s hotel room.

But then it becomes the chronicle of the story’s reporting.

And in the end, when it focuses more on paper, it’s a little less captivating. Again, I spent the whole afternoon finishing it.

Now LA is not a typical city. It’s a giant suburb. There is no center. And therefore, much of what happens never permeates the population. People don’t care. Downtown is a foreign place. And with the Los Angeles Times’ circulation plummeting, as well as local television news ratings, most people have no idea what’s going on.

But it’s not just in LA, but in most towns.

The only newspapers that have understood the modern world are the “New York Times” and the “Wall Street Journal”. The “Times” by becoming the leading newspaper and focusing on digital subscriptions for years. The “Journal” by having a hard paywall and being the only major journal with a right tilt. As for the “Washington Post”, it has been agitated recently, the figures are down.

How many major newspapers can the United States support?

Certainly not as much as before. And in truth, the NYT does a pretty good job of covering California, not just in the paper itself, but with its daily California bulletin.


The papers have been reduced to make the numbers work. And once you do that, you’re a second-class citizen, you’ve signed your ultimate death warrant. You provide less and less people who pay for it and…

The LA “Times” has had several owners, a series of crises at the top questioning its credibility, but… the journalists who remain are still dedicated.

This is a main theme in this book. Journalists take their job very seriously. And unlike most companies, they don’t just give in to management. There are ethical rules, finally a union. The dictatorial style of management you see in technology is not happening in the news.

And these reporters can’t make a lot of money, so they devote themselves to finding out the truth.

But it is expensive to produce news like this. And if you break a story, your competitors are there almost instantly, so readers don’t have to subscribe to the production source to read it.

And now, chances are, you’re really indifferent. Too inside baseball. But let me say that when the old institutions are shackled or die, the new institutions…do not report, they are just opinions, and journalistic standards are irrelevant. It’s just about rallying the base, and if it’s about lying, WHATEVER IT IS, the end result is what matters, WIN!

That’s what USC did. The university surrounded the wagons, made stone walls, and quietly dealt with its problems, letting offenders down easy, paying them big bucks along the way.


But if you read “Bad City”, you will be completely disillusioned. The bad guys win all the time, and the so-called good guys sleep with the bad guys!

It’s a bit like the private jet. If someone who owns one takes you, you can’t say anything bad about them, ever, without completely breaking off the relationship. And stealing may have nothing to do with your core business, but ultimately there is an intersection and…

This is how America works. The Ivys, USC alumni are almost secret societies, paying dividends all your life, which is why you want to get into these schools to begin with.

Speaking of investigative journalism, have you read the NYT article on the Navy Seals?

“Death in Navy SEAL Training Exposes a Culture of Brutality, Cheating and Drugs – The Elite Force Selection Course is so punitive that few pass, and many who resort to illicit tactics.”: https://nyti.ms/3R7hwR9

Sure, the deaths are tragic, but the real story is that everyone cheats to pass the test. They take drugs, slack off when they think no one is watching, and what does the Navy say? These are the improv skills you need in battle!

Wrap your head around that one!

You have to cheat to get ahead. And everyone who succeeds does. And if you’re not, you’re an asshole, you won’t make it. And if you’re a delinquent, good luck getting caught. Forget his tax troubles, Trump took state documents home and insisted he was allowed to keep them, to the point that his lawyers even lied about their presence. And what does his team say? DON’T CRASH IT OR THERE WILL BE VIOLENCE! Yes, Lindsey Graham said that:

“Graham predicts ‘riots in the streets’ if Trump is prosecuted”: https://nyti.ms/3B32ZAu

That’s how it went wrong, loyalty trumps truth. As for lying in court…that ship sailed a long time ago.

All this is in “Bad City”. You don’t finish it and think the good guys won, after all, even the guys who blew themselves up at USC got golden parachutes and avoided jail time. Why should you do the right thing? Why not test the limits?

Forget USC, let’s talk about Putin, the robber baron who is quite possibly the richest man in the world who obliterates opponents and rules his country as if its people were made up of children without rights. Navalny is standing, a few others. But no one at USC stood up, it was the newspaper that revealed the wrongdoing.

It’s America. And in “Bad City,” Paul Pringle does a good job of delineating it. And unlike fiction, the story is messy, which real life always is. Which makes this book a little harder to read.

Again, it has meat and cartilage. The captivating story and the sometimes boring explanation.

But unlike television, investigative reporting is slow. There are a lot of dead ends. And change happens slowly.

God, I wish it were different.

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