The NPR Ombudsman says that no response will be allowed to a story about mass transit in Los Angeles.
On April 21, 2011, NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story about how ? after a fifty year absence ? light rail is coming back to Los Angeles.
NPR reporter Mandalit Del Barco reported that eighty years ago, electric mass transit dominated the city.
“By the roaring 1920’s, more than 1,000 miles of electric trolley lines and train rails ran through the ever-expanding Los Angeles,” Del Barco reported.
But then in the middle of the century, the electric trolley cars disappeared.
“LA replaced the last of its streetcars with a web of freeways and bus lines,” Del Barco reported. “That led to conspiracy theories that the streetcars were dismantled by private companies who stood to profit ? General Motors, Standard Oil and tire companies. That villainous plot figured into the 1988 movie ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.'”
In fact, it was more than just conspiracy theories.
It was an actual federal crime that led to the destruction of the nation’s electric mass transit.
The companies involved were indicted, convicted, and fined for destroying the nation’s electric mass transit systems.
Del Barco says she was familiar with the criminal history of the case, but didn’t report it.
We asked the NPR Ombudsman’s office to investigate and issue a clarification ? at least tell NPR’s listeners that it wasn’t just a conspiracy theory ? that it was an indicted and convicted federal crime.
The Ombudsman office said they would look into it.
Then, late last week, we got an e-mail from the NPR Ombudsman’s office.
“Our office talked to the reporter and editor of the piece,” wrote Lori Grisham of the NPR Ombudsman’s office. “They understand your concerns, but do not believe a correction is warranted. Time is one of the main constraints when it comes to producing a radio story and they were trying to condense a great deal of history into a small amount of time.”
Grisham passed along this from Jason DeRose, NPR’s Western Bureau Chief:
“The piece makes clear there had been better public transit in LA and that it was dismantled. We chose not to describe that demise in detail. There were many, many unproven allegations of conspiracy and two official fines. We chose to characterize the numerous unproven allegations as conspiracy theories to lead into the Roger Rabbit tape.”
Grisham ends her e-mail: “I apologize that NPR will not run a correction. Thank you again for taking time to contact us.”
And thank you Lori Grisham for looking into this.
But that’s just bad form ? and one reason why America is angry with NPR.
We sent you the documented proven history of the criminal activity.
And still, Jason DeRose says that there were “many, many unproven allegations of conspiracy and two official fines.”
This was proven and convicted criminal conduct.
There was nothing unproven about it.
In fact, the destruction of the nation’s electric mass transit system was perhaps one of the most egregious ? and underreported ? corporate crimes of the century.
Brad Snell is also not happy with the NPR Ombudsman’s decision.
Snell is in the final stages of writing a history of General Motors.
It will be published in 2013 by Knopf.
“Under our celebrated system of laws, the US Justice Department’s allegation of conspiracy by defendants General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tire to monopolize the sale of buses, fuel, and tires by eliminating electric transit was transformed from theory to fact upon their conviction by a Chicago jury in US District Court on March 19, 1949,” Snell told Corporate Crime Reporter. “That judgment was affirmed on appeal (186 F.2 562 (7th Cir. 1951)) and a further appeal by defendants to the US Supreme Court was denied (cert den. 341 US 916), leaving the judgment and convictions in National City Lines as final matters of settled fact and law.”
“In 1990, the Honorable George E. MacKinnon, Senior Judge of the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC, had occasion to review the entire trial record in the National City Lines case,” Snell said.
His conclusion appeared in the Washington Legal Times on May 7, 1990.
“That Chicago trial resulted in criminal conspiracy convictions of the General Motors Corp., Standard Oil of California, and the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. for their concerted effort to replace electric streetcars with buses in numerous large and small cities,” Judge MacKinnon wrote.
“It is not a theory,” Snell said. “These are not ‘unproven allegations of conspiracy.’ It has been settled judicial fact for more than half a century. Beyond a reasonable doubt, as affirmed by the federal courts, and after denial of further review by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is an established and incontrovertible fact that General Motors, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tire conspired to replace electric transit in cities throughout America in order to effect a monopoly in the sale of buses and related products.”
“To suggest otherwise is to debase and mock our revered and time-honored system of American jurisprudence,” Snell said.
It is unconscionable that the NPR Ombudsman will not even consider running a response.
Russell Mokhiber edits the Corporate Crime Reporter.