Jill Stewart Interview

I've read Jill Stewart for years in Buzz Magazine, the LA Weekly, New Times LA and other outlets. In March 2002, I went to a writer-party thrown by Cathy Seipp and Amy Alkon, where I met Jill for the first time. Nine months later I worked up the courage to take her to lunch. A few months later, I asked her for an interview.

I speak by phone with Jill 1/1/03.

Luke: "Laexaminer.com calls you the angriest woman in Los Angeles."

Jill laughs.

Luke: "I think it's meant as a compliment."

Jill: "That's funny. People when they first meet me, say [in a surprised tone], 'Oh, you're really nice.' I get all my angst out in my writing. I don't need a therapist."

Luke: "The other day my friend Fred called. He said, 'Hey, Jill Stewart just called here looking for you. Wow, if you talk to her again, tell her I am a big fan'."

Jill laughs: "I never know how people are going to react. I have a big gay following because they like how I dish, which is funny because I don't do any gay issues."

Luke: "Where did you grow up?"

Jill: "Kirkland, Washington, near Seattle. It was a town of 20,000 but now it's the Brentwood of Seattle and is packed with expensive condos. It's where all the Bill Gates millionaires decided to buy homes. It's a 25-minute drive across the bridge."

Luke: "What did your parents do for a living?"

Jill: "My Mom was a homemaker and my Dad was a pipefitter. I have three brothers and one sister. I'm the baby. My sister does customer care for Bank of America. My youngest brother runs an architectural supply store. My oldest brother is in construction and my middle brother passed away."

Luke: "What were you like in high school?"

Jill: "I was like an angry anti-education, anti-public school, this is stupid, ridiculous, we aren't learning anything. Why are we doing this? This doesn't work. I was the class treasurer and class secretary. I ran for various offices. I was in a mixed clique. One of my best friends was a hood, drug-person, so I mixed into that crowd even though I was the only person in the group who didn't take drugs. And I was in the cheerleader-class president crowd [even though Jill was neither].

"I went to an alternative college called Evergreen in Olympia, Washington. I majored in sociology and education."

Luke: "How did your interest in journalism develop?"

Jill: "In the fifth grade, we all had a favorite teacher named Trixie, Trixana Koch. She got us involved in this little class paper. Then we all had her for ninth grade. She was the best teacher any of us ever had. She was our friend. So later on in college, when I walked by the campus paper, I saw them all in there having a blast on deadline night, laying out the paper, editing each other's stories and having great conversations... It reminded me of ninth grade and all the great stuff we did. I popped in and I never got out of there again. I ended up being the editor of the college paper (The Cooper Point Journal) in my senior year.

"Then I went to Stanford for my Masters degree in journalism. They encouraged us to try to make money on a freelance piece to get into journalism in a real way. I got the idea of doing a straight business piece on the economics of the porn industry in San Francisco, with no morality in it and no discussion of the politics. The Mitchell Brothers were famous and they had these big theaters that were popular.

"I called them up. They thought it was charming that this young college student wanted to do a straight piece with no dumping on them. I met them. They gave me an interview. They hooked me up with all sorts of people to interview and I found some fascinating numbers on the money that was pouring in on all kinds of things, not just the big X-rated films they were making but these little loop movies that guys were going to see in these X-rated bookstores. I wrote a freelance piece that ran in the Sunday magazine of one of the Sunday newspapers and I got paid a lot of money for it. It was my first big journalism cash. I graduated from Stanford after nine months in 1979.

"One of the visiting lecturers in the program, Dick High, became the publisher of a paper in Casper, Wyoming, the Casper Star Tribune. He offered me a job. It was the biggest paper in the state with a circulation of about 90,000. I arrived in November. It snowed the first day I got there. It snowed every day I was there. It was the coldest winter since about 1880. It was nasty.

"I had this assignment to go up Casper Mountain where a woman had gone over the edge of the road unbeknownst to anyone and had crawled slowly up the edge in 20 below weather, with a 20 below windchill factor added on to it, and had thrown her arm over the edge of the road and been seen by someone and had been saved, though of course she was going to lose fingers. I'm trying to write in 40 below and the ink freezes in my pen. I use my pen to scratch into the paper, ripping away, so I can at least keep track of a few things like her name. I'm wearing a city skirt from California and pumps. I was miserable.

"The best thing was I could do whatever I wanted. I spent about a month investigating this story I heard that you couldn't get an abortion anywhere in the state. It was a conservative place. It was legal to get an abortion but none of the doctors were willing to give abortions. None of the hospitals were willing to give abortions because the pressure from society was so strong that even if you agreed you should be able to have them, your hospital and practice would come under such pressure, you'd be spurned by the social mores of the area.

"Because it was such a small population, you could call every major obstetrician and every major hospital in the state and ask them. I found out that you couldn't get an abortion. All the women were going to Denver and telling their husbands they were going shopping. I wrote a big piece about it.

"That very week, the Associated Press called me from Los Angeles. I had taken the test there. It was about 20 below that day. The guy said, 'Hi Jill, it's Steve Loeper from the Associated Press. You did well on the test and we'd like to hire you to come to sunny California.' It was Friday. I said I would love to come. I could be there Monday.

"I left in a U-Haul and I was there on Monday. That Sunday, there was a huge layout in the paper on my abortion story with photographs and charts. They had a sit-in in the newsroom with women and children with signs from anti-abortion groups. I missed the whole thing. One of the big regrets of my whole career. I didn't get to see it. I didn't get to bask in the glory. Nothing.

"I worked for the AP for six months and then I moved to the Long Beach Press Telegram for almost six years, the first long stint of my career. I became good buddies with Dennis McDougal and Mark Gladstone. We all later went to the LA Times. I was at the Times from 1984-1991."

Luke: "And your experience at the Times was good, bad or indifferent?"

Jill: "It was good in the sense that I did well. They liked my work. I was destined for good things. It was bad in that I really hated my job and I was desperate to get out of there because they were sanitizing the news. They were over-managing reality. It wasn't honest and it wasn't right and I couldn't stand it."

Luke: "This was the Shelby Coffey era."

Jill: "I wrote about urban affairs, government, poverty, and affordable housing. I covered County Board of Supervisors and City Hall. There were common repetititive activities that happened on the City Desk and has only recently abated somewhat - the problem of taking out the best quotes. You come back from a major event where all sorts of controversial things have happened, accusations back and forth between government and people and between people and people in a poor neighborhood where they want to do redevelopment... Lots of hot-headedness and people grabbing microphones from one another. You'd come back with a good story about the drama of it all and the City Desk, as a matter of routine, would take out the best quotes. The most controversial, hot-headed stuff, stuff they don't think the public could handle. To me, this was the antithesis of what journalism was all about - their deciding that the general readership should not be exposed to the things that the journalists were exposed to. I found this to be outrageous, something that I've been assured by many people did not happen at the New York Times. That happened every single day.

"The other thing that happened every day was the managing of the news where you come back and tell them what happened and the City Desk would then tell you what they story was. The LA Times was an editor's paper, not a writer's paper. The City Desk would force you to slant the news. They didn't single me out, this was just an every day thing. The reporters were hammered down. The morale at the LA Times was as low as it could go. We would go across the street to the Redwood Bar and people would just talk in desperate terms about the condition of journalism in Los Angeles. But nobody ever quit. Some journalists didn't care. They didn't know that anything different was out there. They were followers rather than leaders. They figured the editors know what they're doing, which I found disgusting.

"Then one day, this reporter Keith Love quit and became a publisher of a small paper. He was the first person in that era, right in the middle of having a good career, to voluntarily leave the paper. I started thinking, 'Ohmigod, you can just quit the LA Times?' They called it the "velvet coffin." Keith Love's quitting got me thinking that I could make a new life and have a great career and it doesn't have to have anything to do with this awful place that is sanitizing and slanting the news and bending over backwards to special interest groups and sacred cows, and you can do real journalism somewhere. I fermented on it for many months and then finally walked in one day and quit and moved to Prague.

"One day, LA Times columnist Al Martinez had walked up to me and said, 'Prague. You've got to go to Prague. It's a romantic fantasy. It's a fabulous world from another era. It's the best.' I was thinking about moving overseas. He gave me some booklets. Eastern Europe seemed like a great idea because it was all changing rapidly. So when I quit, I walked over to Al and said, 'I'm going to Prague.' He said, 'Ohmigod, I had no idea I was influencing you like that.'

"So Norm [Jensen, Jill's live-in boyfriend since 1982, a screenwriter] and I moved to Prague. Norm said he was willing to go anywhere I wanted. He knew how unhappy I was at the LA Times. When I told him I was going to quit, he said, 'You should've quit a long time ago. That sucks.'

"I did some work in Prague for the English-language paper Prognosis. Mostly I goofed around, wrote a screenplay, and freelanced for LA Weekly and Editor & Publisher. When I realized it was only an 18-hour drive to Athens and you could see every country in between, I just traveled.

"After a year, I moved to North Carolina for a year and finished my screenplay and spent my 401K money. I don't have a title for my screenplay. I'm in the middle of redoing it. I moved back to LA in the middle of the riots and got a contract to write cover stories for the LA Weekly (edited by Kit Rachlis and then Sue Horton) and for the LA Times Sunday magazine."

Luke: "At a party a few months ago, you said you would never work for the LA Weekly. It's Stalinist."

Jill: "They used to let me write cover stories. I wrote a profile of Dick Riordan. I said this is an interesting guy who is going to be an interesting mayor. He's a weird liberal Republican. They would never publish that now. I don't even understand what they are doing now. It used to have more oomph."

Luke: "Do you think Kit Rachlis is doing a good job with Los Angeles Magazine?"

Jill: "I haven't read Los Angeles Magazine for a year or so.

"I freelanced for Buzz Magazine for five years. I did a column for them called Power Brokers. Editor Allan Mayer suggested that I take all the stuff I know about the city leaders and all the stuff I never got to say in the LA Times and just talked about over cocktails and put it in a column. I started writing my opinionated views in my Power Brokers column. My first piece was called "Ship of Fools," and it was a small thumbnail sketch of every single city council member. It was just vicious. It was poorly received in city hall. Nobody had ever written something like that. There was a discussion going on about bringing civility to political discourse in America and I had gone in the other direction."

Luke: "How did you learn to put on the armor and handle the backlash that your opinionated writing caused?"

Jill: "I've never really felt any serious backlash. I don't really care if I piss people off. I like that it makes people talk, discuss and argue. I get so much support. I get lots of phone calls and comments and it usually runs nine-to-one thank you. 'We need you. Have I ever told you that you make my day?' That sort of thing. The people who fume keep it to themselves."

Luke: "Did you hit your stride at Buzz?"

Jill: "No, that came later, because in the magazine world you have to be classy and you can't be calling people names. You can't be super-honest. Then New Times came along and you could be completely honest. If you could prove it, and if you could argue it, you could print it."

Luke: "Was that the most freedom you've had as a journalist?"

Jill: "Completely. New Times lasted just under six years."

Luke: "Do you already feel nostalgic for it?"

Jill: "I miss it horribly. Every day I think it's awful that I can't pick up a New Times and that it's awful that we're not going to have a Monday morning news meeting to figure out who are the biggest evildoers of the week."

Luke: "How did you develop your friendship with Richard Riordan, particularly considering that New Times knocked him around?"

Jill: "He liked getting criticized. He enjoys the give and take of politics. He has a good self-image of who he is. When he gets whacked, it doesn't really bother him. He doesn't like inaccuracies. That drove him crazy. But opinion that he disagrees with, he doesn't mind.

"At his cafe downtown, he got a C rating from the County on health issues. The Finger did a whole piece that the place was out of Bombay, India. The paper commissioned a good cartoon drawing of Riordan and a giant rat in a chef's hat serving up slop to a customer.

"Riordan called the morning after the paper came out and Rick Barrs, the editor, is wincing when he hears it's Riordan on line two. Riordan says, 'Listen, I want to get a hold of that artist. I want to buy that cartoon. Where is he? I want to find him. I love that cartoon. I need to reach him right away.' And he paid the guy good money and bought it.

"He's a real person. He's not running around trying to phony up his public persona. He screws up in public. I grew to really like him over the years even though I didn't agree with him on things like the environment. I went after him on several things like noise at the Van Nuys Airport, a big problem in the Valley. Riordan's policy was to ignore the problem.

"I lived 32 blocks south of the Van Nuys airport in Encino but my house, every morning, would shake from the aircraft leaving the airport. I thought it was an earthquake the first morning we lived in the house. And we're nowhere near the sound footprint. I called the realtors and asked, 'How come no one warns you when you move to Encino that the place has this huge airport noise problem?' And the realtor said, 'Encino doesn't have an airport and it doesn't have an airport noise problem.' And that's how Riordan operated too. So I just pissed all over him about that.

"He had a complete blind spot about the environment. I argued with him about that all the time. Playa Vista. What a disaster. He was blind on that and I used to whack him all the time. I think public officials should just be thrown against the wall for the some of the decisions they take on these things and so that's what I do to them.

"Riordan would be pissed off but it's not like he holds a grudge. He'd say, 'Jill, I totally disagree with you on this. You're wrong. I'd wish you'd wake up. So you want to get lunch next week and talk about XYZ issue?' Other public officials might hold a grudge forever if you attack them. There are a lot of people who can roll with the issue and understand that you are just a journalist holding their feet to the fire on major things that will affect thousands of people.

"Another public official who can handle it is Zev Yaroslavsky. He's a Democrat. You can go after him on an issue but in a month, he'll give you an interview on another topic because he knows it's your job to hold his feet to the fire."

Luke: "Have you noticed other journalists criticizing you, using words like angry or spiteful?"

Jill: "I've heard that a number of editors at the Los Angeles Times have said that about me but no one has ever said it to my face. Apparently, they felt that the reason I often attacked the LA Times as a weak newspaper, which has sold out and had too many sacred cows and special interest groups that it was protecting, was that I was bitter about my experience at the LA Times. But I've never felt bitter about it. I just felt sad. Bitterness would be if you got screwed in your job."

Luke: "You don't object to how they treated you. You object to how they treat everyone."

Jill: "I was treated well. I was doing well in my career there. There wasn't any bad treatment or a glass ceiling. I enjoyed my assignments. I felt I was paid well and I got my merit raises, blah, blah, blah. It was my disgust. I guess they are trying to find a reason that makes them feel good that they are still there."

Luke: "Is the LA Times significantly better under its new ownership?"

Jill: "That's what I'm trying to figure out. I keep hearing that they are really changing it and I have seen some stories that would never have seen the light of day under Shelby Coffey. My friend Dave Ferrell wrote a profile of Gray Davis about a month before the election in which he talked about his obsession with his hair. How it's been one of his lifelong obsessions since college. How he has no personal friends. He dumped all his college friends the moment he got into serious politics and he hasn't spoken to many of them since. They all find him to be a freak. One of them said, 'We think of him as a cypher.' The article just went on and on about what a freak he is, what a bizarre, friendless, hair-obsessed freak the governor is. It was a short stiletto-sharp profile. Devastating.

"Dave was even allowed to put some commentary in. In the third or fourth paragraph, he put in how odd it is that a person of his stature has no close friends. I called Dave immediately upon reading it. I was lying in the bathtub. I picked up the phone. I said, 'Dave, this is unbelievable. How did you get this in the paper?' Dave said, 'I swear I didn't do anything. I just wrote it and it showed up in the paper.' We just sat there in silence. He didn't have to fight for it. He didn't have to pull any strings for it. I said, 'Maybe the paper's changing?" He said, 'Maybe it is.'

"I've seen some other evidence [that the paper is changing]. I've seen some riskier writing. They're starting to let the writers say what they saw. Not so much locally yet, but an example of more investigative, hard-hitting was the Harrier series. That was a blasting series, a major investigative slam. I thought it was beautifully done and head and shoulders above their usual investigative approach. I assume it comes straight from the new management."

Luke: "Do you sense morale is picking up there?"

Jill: "I've heard it is although everyone is worried now. They are going to do something locally. They're going to begin identifying deadwood and sending people to places like the Inland Empire. That's going to hurt morale because nobody knows who's deadwood yet. But I'd say morale has been building over the past six months because of the new emphasis out of Washington (the investigative team). That's exciting. It makes people feel better.

"After the initial shock, a lot of people like the new look of the paper. I like most of it. Now, supposedly, they are going to get around to fixing Metro, the weakest link in the paper. They know it."

Luke: "How are you liking talk radio?"

Jill: "I've been doing commercial radio, filling-in over at KFI. That's weird. I spent four years as a guest on Larry Mantle's show on KPCC. That's like a normal conversation with complicated sentences about complicated issues. You can talk as much as you want. Commercial radio is more like what you would say to your friends at the bar after your third drink. It's fast, quick and fun, not too much depth because you've got to move on. 'Ohmigod, we need to talk about cloning for an hour. We've got 20-minutes to prepare.' At best, you're doing entertainment. Doing NPR for four years doesn't prepare you in any way for doing commercial radio."

Jill Stewart's new new twice-monthly column launches Thursday, Jan. 9, in five weeklies (Pasadena Weekly, San Diego City Beat, Sacramento News & Review, V.C. Reporter) around California, and the tentative title will be Capitol Punishment. "I didn't think that up but I love it. I will have about 350,000 circ. in my new setup."

Here are some folks I need to talk to round out my Jill Stewart profile.

Enemies list - Jackie Goldberg, Ruth Gelernter. Mark Cooper of LA Weekly. Mike Davis.

Friends - Patt Morrison. Dick Riordan. Susan Goldsmith. Bob Hertzberg. Larry Elder.

Unclear - Steve Soberoff, president of Playa Vista.

Editor of the now-defunct Buzz Magazine, Allan Mayer, says: "Jill Stewart is one of those writers who makes it fun and easy to be an editor. You just tee her up and then get the hell out of her way. The fact that the L.A. Times let her escape all those years ago is one of the most devastating indictments of the old regime's mediocrity."

Ken Layne writes: "I barely know Jill, but I sure love her stuff. When I returned to L.A. in 1999, after many years abroad, her column and The Finger gave me a weekly crash course in L.A. politics. It's impossible to figure out what's going on from teevee news or the LAT. Yet I could read Jill's column and feel like I knew whatever was actually important. Not being able to work with Jill and the gang at New Times is one of my great regrets. (The paper was closed a few hours after I was talking to Rick Barrs about taking an editor job.)

"I hope I'll be able to work with her at a new paper. Meanwhile, she's doing one of the best radio shows in town on KFI-AM. Her writing is biting, smart, full of cheap insults and ultimately the best version of any local/state political story."

Jill's friend, author Dennis McDougal, mentions her in his 2001 book on The Los Angeles Times: When reporter Jill Stewart profiled Mayor Tom Bradley, she returned with a portrait of a politician who had probably been in office too long and owed too many favors to special interests.

"I was told to go back and star over," said Stewart. "I was told that the mayor was a great man and that was to be my starting premise, not that he might be a screwed-up man with problems. They said, 'This isn't about what you think; this is about what the Times thinks.'

"One revelation that none in the Bradley task force expected to find was a girlfriend, twenty-four years Bradley's junior, who had used her unusual relationship with the married mayor as leverage for a lucrative public relations business. The reporters ept months confirming every detail of the relationship and even softened the implication by referring to the woman who peddled access to the mayor as Bradley's "close personal friend" instead of his mistress.

"The Times lawyers cleared it for publication and the, the night before it was to go to press, Shelby called the desk from a skiing vacation in Aspen and ordered out every reference to this woman being Bradley's lover," said one of the reporters in disgust. "No one would ever admit it, but we all knew that it was because Bradley was black and his mistress was white."

A Chat With Susan Goldsmith

I talk to investigative reporter Susan Goldsmith (six years with New Times LA) by phone 1/5/03. She's out of breath from playing with her baby and sneezing from allergies (unexpected 80-degree days in the middle of winter). Susan's computer broke down and she's been off-line for weeks.

Goldsmith has won numerous national awards for investigative reporting. She speaks Spanish fluently. She's worked as a reporter in Los Angeles for twelve years, most recently at the now-defunct New Times LA.

Susan says: "Jill Stewart's a great one to profile."

Luke: "She's spunky."

Susan: "She's totally spunky. I consider her one of my best friends in the whole world. I think Jill is the most interesting, fearless journalist in all of Los Angeles. She's unafraid to take on anybody, liberal Democrat, black, white, latino, environmentalist, conservative. You name it - Jill will take them on and do it well and smartly.

"Jill brought me to New Times. The one thing I was happy about when New Times LA closed was that people would stop talking to me about Jill Stewart. Everywhere I go, people want to bitch about her. They want to praise her. Hello? Does anybody read what I do? She just knows how to work it. People picked that paper up and threw that paper down because of her. Everywhere I went, people would say, 'I hate Jill Stewart.' Or, 'Jill Stewart is my idol. She's the best journalist.'

"Even after the paper closed, I went to a party with my husband, and people were talking about Jill. I said, 'When does it stop?'

"Jill has a tremendous instinct for what's interesting, for what isn't being said that should be said."

Luke: "So many people hate Jill Stewart but I'm having a hard time finding any to go on the record, particularly at the LA Times."

Susan: "They call her 'Shrill Jill' over there."

Luke: "None of them will go on the record. They will snipe to me through anonymous email addresses about Jill and Cathy Seipp, but they won't put their names behind their comments."

Susan: "The cowardly LA Times people they always are... Look at the paper and go figure. What do they have to say about Jill? They think she's shrill and hysterical?"

Luke: "They think she's gotten where she's gotten through her good looks."

Susan: "Jill will love to hear that. That is wonderful. The thing I also love about Jill is that she is so thick-skinned. She doesn't let it ruffle her. Some journalists, they're so touchy about sh--. Jill loves it. She doesn't care. One day she came into an editorial meeting and said, 'I got the best hate mail today. They called me an attack dog with pretty hair.'"

Luke: "Did you ever see the hate get her down?"

Susan: "Never. I don't think it energized her. I don't think she was out to make enemies. She had people who loved her, who were sending her fan mail. You would go to the fax machine. I did investigative reporting for New Times, some expose on some horrific something. There'd be two letters. Jill would've done some column calling Grey Davis a scuzzball and there would be a hundred letters. 'Jill sucks. She's stupid. She doesn't know what she's talking about.' And, 'Jill's the only journalist in California saying the real stuff that needs to be said.' People would say mean stuff but she was thick-skinned about it. She felt like she was doing her job. Columnists who don't ruffle feathers should get out of the business.

"I love Cathy Seipp's columns. I think she's the best TV writer in America. I met Cathy through Jill. We're not really friends but I admire her and I email her regularly because I think she's the best. I loved what she did at Buzz Magazine."

Luke: "Jill told me that nobody chews her out to her face."

Susan: "Because they're afraid of her because she's smart. Jill has a lot of fans in high places, like Dick Riordan [former mayor of Los Angeles]. She was a fan of Dick Riordan even though she took him to task at times. He would call her from Serba-Croatia to ask her for her advice on stuff."

Luke: "Jill complains that the LA Times sanitizes news. Why do you think the LA news media is so lame?"

Susan: "I really don't know. We have the most fascinating news town in America. I thought New Times was fantastic. We called ourselves 'The gnat that roared'. Some of it was juvenile and retarded but a lot of it was well-written and fascinating and controversial. People had to pick it up. That never happens with the LA Times or the LA Weekly. No one feels like, 'Ohmigod, what's in today?' That's how it was with New Times. I think it is tragic that the LA Times and especially the LA Weekly wrote our obits. That they should be the ones that survive. That worthless pompous piece of sh-- newspaper [LA Weekly]. I don't know how the city has gotten to this.

"I thought Buzz Magazine was interesting."

Luke: "Far better than Los Angeles Magazine."

Susan: "Far better. LA Magazine. Amy Wallace writes a cover story about what it's like to have fake-boobs for two weeks."

Luke: "And I thought that was better than most of them."

Susan: "Yeah, like the Christmas gift guide. It's so dull. I had so many people call me after New Times closed. 'What are we going to do without your paper?' Were you a fan of New Times?"

Luke: "Some of it. I could've done without the 15th cover story on pederast priests. I liked many of the Mark Ebner cover stories. Peter Gilstrap was great. He did the best article ever on me. The stories on the Kaballah Center and that Long Beach professor with the kooky views on Jews."

Susan: "Jill is an amazingly generous person. She brings out the best in her friends. She's not jealous. She wants everyone to do their best."

Luke: "I've noticed her supporting other writers at the Cathy Seipp - Amy Alkon parties. Jill buys the books of our fellow writers."

Susan: "One year I won a bunch of awards at New Times. You might think other colleagues might be bummed that they did not win as much but Jill threw a party for me to celebrate."

When Will Luke Get His Balls Back?

XXX writes: Luke, you want to know my feelings on Jill Stewart? Well, let me tell you. My shotgun is loaded, and the next time they dry fire their chrome-handled .45 on me, I'm coming out blasting. I got a 350k life insurance policy on my head and I'm crazier than Mel Gibson in his lifts in "Lethal Weapon."

Before I get into Stewart, let me say this: All this Queen for a Day crap with Cathy Seipp and now Jill is getting a little boring. What are you now, Art F--king Linkletter? I liked you better when you were the psycho cyber-stalking Anita Busch, a good egg who doesn't deserve the sh-- you give her.

Re the c--t licking that's now going on per Cathy and Jill, who cares what the guys from the LA Examiner think about journalists in L.A.? Let them jack off with Dick Riordan on their prototype "New York Observer." You think Riordan has the stones that Carter does, the Carter who bankrolls the N.Y. Observer? Carter loses $5 million a year and will never make a dime with that paper. The first time an advertiser bitchslaps Riordan over a story, Riordan will punk out every journo within a five-mile radius to keep the money happy. If Riordan really wanted to run a paper, it would be up and running by now or at least he'd have an advertising guy laying the ground work for humping ads. And if Ken and Matt of the LA Examiner want to be Riordan's butt boys, fine. But don't waste server space hyping something that will be a joke if it doesn't get aborted in the first place.

I met Jill when I walked into Buzz, a magazine that survived for seven years when it had everything going against it. I watched her mature at New Times LA, a weekly that died after six years when it had everything going for it. Be that as it may, Jill delivers the goods. She's a hell of a columnist because she writes well, has an opinion, and ain't afraid to pick up the phone and call anybody anytime.

Before I get into more dry humping of Jill, one kernel of unreported truth. One thing no one ever says out loud about Jill is that powerful men dig pissing in her ear and getting slapped around by her because she's one hot babe. All that red hair, decent tits and great ass go a long way. You think Tom "I'll have another drink" Hayden spilled his guts to her because he liked her friggin mind? I'll bet ya my SUV that Hayden wanted tang from Jill. And if he got a little, hey, I never pay California state tax anyway.

True story: the first time I walked into a Buzz contributor's luncheon at Maple Drive, I said to Allan Mayer, "Not only are you one hell of an editor, dude, but you got fine taste in p---y."

Now Allan could get away with this sorta show because the men who wrote for him were either gay, chewed up like yours truly, or were Jerry Stahl, whose whole act was based on looking like he'd rather steal a woman's purse than f--- her.

Back when I was a stud, had hair, no wife and kids, and washboard abs, I saw Julia Roberts without makeup and buck naked. She's a great actress, but there's a good reason why she hated the real Erin Brockovich. You didn't want to run for the door when Erin got down to do the nasty. Meanwhile, Mayer's Buzz harem had natural beauties who were smart and could write and think.

Besides Jill, the top Buzz babes were Cathy Seipp, Sandra Loh and Holly Palance, who inherited daddy Jack's great bones. Now I love Loh, because at these Maple Drive Buzz lunches she made no qualms about pretending she was at some Algonquin Table. She was there for the great grub. She would wear a ratty black sweater that would highlight the food that fell out of her mouth. She ate fast and kept her head down while she cleaned her plate. A real man's woman. She was also great to the late Don Rawley, one of the late Buzz gay crew who was the bravest of us all.

Jill and I were the only ones who ever ordered hard liquor at these lunches - and the booze was free! That says a lot about Jill: if she wants something, she goes for it and she's not worried about being politically correct.

Now there's a lot of ugly women in daily journalism who are jealous of Jill, so don't hold your breath waiting for the L.A. Times to hire her. It's just a crying shame that New Times LA f--ked up and she lost her real estate.

New Times LA editor Rick Barrs had a murderers' row of alt journos: Jill, Tony Ortega, Susan Goldsmith, and one mean managing editor, Jack Cheevers, who was pissy and petty, but knew his sh-- and was perfect for an alt paper. But Rick ran the paper like it was an alt in Phoenix, not in L.A., and that's why Jill lost her job. Rick refused to suck Hollywood d--k, and if you want to survive in publishing in this town, ya gotta suck Hollywood d--k now and then. Look at the L.A. Weekly: they protect their political writers by giving the L.A. masses what they want: entertainment covers!

Somebody at New Times LA was so obsessed about not being the L.A. Weekly, they forgot that L.A. readers know entertainment stories are just the bullshit that brings them into the tent. Instead of having a kiss ass David Lynch story on the cover that would allow readers to enjoy Jill Stewart, Barrs would have to run a cover on some gang-banger band from East L.A. for his entertainment cover. Two problems with that sh--: nobody on the west side of L.A. gives a sh-- about that cover, and none of the Spanish speaking dudes on the East side who followed the gang-banger band on the cover knew what the f--k New Times LA was. I loved Rick Barrs, but is it any wonder that by the time he was running six covers in a row about sex scandals in the Catholic church, the only folks advertising in his paper were professional sex workers? (Note to Rick: I know Mike "Save the Whales" Lacey put you up to a lot of this s--t. Next time he reaches for a drink, sock him one for me.)

The point of all this, Luke? If you're going to lick these babes fine butts, there's gotta be a strategy that goes somewhere. If you're gonna cyberstalk Anita Busch, why not go after editor John Carroll at the L.A. Times or editor Laurie Ochoa at the L.A. Weekly and tell 'em you're going to go insane and take them with you unless they hire Jill and Cathy? I've got tons of dirt on Carroll and Ochoa that I'll gladly give you for free if it means that little redhead and flasher Cathy get their print real estate back.

Jill Stewart Profile


R.J. Smith writes in the April 2003 Los Angeles Magazine: From the moment she started writing for the now-defunct New Times Los Angeles in 1997, Stewart has been a maximum-impact journalist, the most adored and execrated columnist in town. Invective, the more personal the better, fuels her writing and her notoriety. Senator Barbara Boxer is "Chief Prostitute of the Beltway." State assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg is a representative of "the gay Mafia" and "a dominatrix." City councilman Ed Reyes is "Reyes the Rat."

...Joel Kotkin, a fellow at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy and at the Milken Institute. "Middle-class Los Angeles has one great public advocate, and her name is Jill Stewart. If the L.A. Times had any liveliness to it, they'd hire her. But they won't, because she's alive, she's breathing, she's real—a Valley chick."

L.A. Weekly news features editor Marc Cooper quit New Times in 1999 rather than have his byline appear beside Stewart's. "I don't get the interest in her," he says, "unless it's as a freak show. She's a sideshow attraction. You pay money to see the bearded lady, but you don't pay her to watch your kids." She's an itch Cooper just can't scratch enough. He sums up: "If I had to say what she is, I'd say she was a rather conventional crank. She's like Howard Jarvis with freckles."

When Stewart was a metro reporter at the Los Angeles Times in the late '80s, her politics were left of center and she argued for more stories about the poor. But over time she became enraged at the way editors rewrote her stories and at the political correctness that flourished under former editor Shelby Coffey III.

Stewart has a propensity for writing about subjects in which she is personally invested, without coming clean. A longtime pal of Richard Riordan, she used her column to go after the mayor's enemies (Jackie Goldberg, Mark Ridley-Thomas) and advance his pet interests (replacing the school board, among others). She regularly blasted the Los Angeles Times for crimes against the Republic, but many readers had no way of knowing that she had quit the paper with a bitter taste in her mouth. Consider her piece of April 30, 1998, written as an open letter to then city editor Bill Boyarsky—you'd never know that he had been her mentor or the Times her tormentor. She decried: "As you know, Bill, for the past decade the Times has driven out journalists who show sparks of independence and leadership." Guess who?

She's half of a great columnist, inspiring meaningful outrage, braving provocation, effortlessly against the grain. Stewart might just be the best half-a-columnist living in Los Angeles.


Rachel Cohen writes laexaminer.com: What a condescending piece! His biggest complaints against Stewart is that she's pals with Riordan and she was wrong about the color of the Rog Mahal! And boy, Marc Cooper's got a jealous bone--to use a Stewartism--what a weenie.

Ken Layne writes: I like what RJ Smith does, but he's a bit of a pussy, isn't he? Why make these softball-goofball jabs at Jill when you know they won't stick, and don't even make sense? Ah, all press is good press, etc., and Stewart looks lovely in the photo.

Matt Welch writes: Yeah, I really didn't get the whole "she doesn't come clean" bit. And he didn't seem too alarmed by his conclusion that one couldn't imagine a daily hiring her. Doesn't that say something pathetic about dailies -- that they can't imagine a place for the only L.A. columnist in a decade (or three) to actually get people excited about local politics & governance, on account that she has the bad manners to use words like "rat" and "weenie"? But, whatever. I know *I* won't be looking that good at 48....

DAVID EHRENSTEIN writes Jim Romenesko: "Where on earth does RJ Smith (re his Los Angeles magazine bouquet to Jill Stewart) come up with this stuff? "She has gotten a half-dozen marriage proposals from fans and is a cult figure among gay men who adore her take-no-mess divahood." Well I can't vouch for the marriage proposals, but this is one gay man who finds her "diva" credentials wanting. I've met Stewart several times both when I worked for New Times: Los Angeles and afterwards. She's a "smart cookie" in current media terms -- meaning that she's right-wing, devoted to exocriating anyone so much as perceived as "to the left" and quick to reach for the schoolyard taunt -- such as her insistence on calling Jackie Goldberg "The Duchess." While her personal style is, as they say "brisk," she isn't near egregious enough for MSNBC. But if Mara Liason should keel over (and perish the thought!) she'd be right at home on Faux News propping up Brit Hume and Tony Snow. Happily, those in search of real journalism can still count on Sy Hersh."

Dana Gabbard writes laexaminer.com: This was a pretty lame article. The author appeared to make do with speaking to some cronies and critics along with memories of Stewart's old New Times columns and articles. Sadly with the state of modern journalism often you can get away with a minimal effort. My take was Stewart was dead on one in three columns. For instance I was 100% in agreement with her regarding Jackie Goldberg. Yet at other times she seemed to be ranting for the sake of ranting or exorcising her mad-on against the L.A. Times (which admittedly is a mediocre paper when it comes to local coverage). At least the article mentioned Stewart's friendship with Riordan appearing to color her coverage of his often dubious activities. One trait of Stewart's is a tendency to champion dubious politicos and civic leaders. Remember how for the longest time she tried to paint Richard Alatorre as a tribune of the people and victim of a L.A. Times vendetta? Once his dirty linen began getting public exposure Stewart abruptly stopped covering the Alatorre story. Likewise for the since defunct Buzz Magazine she did a gushing profile of publicity hound Tom Hayden. Remember Cathleen Connel's run for mayor in 2001? It was mostly distinguished by how late she entered the race, how quickly she raised a ton of money by shaking down westside funding sources and how poorly she did. Yet Stewart in a New Times article profiling the primary candidates offhandly opioned Connell was the best one of the field. How about attacking Danny Bakewell (who I agree with Stewart is a less than sterling character) by quoting Ted Hayes, self proclaimed homeless advocate (and obvious publicity hound)? Hayes once mentioned in the L.A. Times that encampment of homeless living in quonset huts he runs west of downtown (called Justiceville) has a monthly budget of $6,000! It isn't clear how much of that Hayes pays himself as salary. But certainly he seems not all that credible to be quoted decrying Bakewell as a poverty pimp. I realize we lack in this region hard hitting political columnists (like Dan Walters in Sacramento or Matier & Ross in the bay area). But I agree with the article Stewart was at best half a good columnist. I guess I fault her editors who should have not allowed her to be so self indulgent. But like journalism itself the quality of editors these days often leaves something to be desired.