LA Times' Scheer replacement, Joel Stein: "[M]ost of what I know about poor people comes from watching 'Good Times' "November 23, 2005 4:36 PM EST ››› SAM GILL
In a recent editorial shake-up, the Los Angeles Times removed liberal columnist and 29-year Times veteran Robert Scheer and replaced him with Sunday columnist Joel Stein, who, in his second offering in the Tuesday slot Scheer formerly held, wrote the following about poor people:
I know the high cost of energy takes an unfair toll on the poor because it's a much bigger percentage of their income. Those people are always getting screwed: checking account charges, easy-credit rip-offs, hangin' in a chow line. OK, most of what I know about poor people comes from watching 'Good Times.'
Stein had been writing a regular entertainment column on Sundays but ascended to the Tuesday slot after Scheer's departure. New editorial page editor Andrés Martinez, who succeeded Michael Kinsley in September, announced Scheer's departure and Stein's move into the Tuesday slot on November 15.
Stein has already begun generating a strong reaction from Times readers. In his first Tuesday column -- from November 15 -- titled "Voting for Stupidity," Stein asked readers, "You weren't one of those suckers who voted last week, were you? Wearing that dorky sticker on your chest all day like you just got named school safety guard?" He declared: "The first clue that you've been tricked into helping people in authority keep their power is when you're given a badge. It wasn't as though the bus driver slapped an 'I Rode in the Front!' sticker on Rosa Parks." The column prompted one reader to question Stein's move to the editorial page, "[I]f this is the type of writing we can expect from your Robert Scheer replacement, I am disappointed. ... I hope we can expect more substantial work from Joel Stein in the valuable space he takes up on the Op-Ed page."
In a June 12 column, Stein wrote of his style:
People don't seem to like it when I joke about race. They have no problem when I make fun of their mothers, their deepest insecurities, Darfur, even Tom Hanks. And yet when my friends in the Council on Foreign Relations talk about how China is a growing threat and I suggest installing urine shields at our Coca-Cola factories, I've suddenly gone too far.
Stein also mentioned the poor in a July 3 column (reprinted on the Jewish World Review website) condemning PBS:
There is no other station so obviously aimed at rich, well-educated, white people. Should our government be responsible for providing Edith Piaf documentaries, 98-hour histories of jazz and baseball, Broadway shows, discussions between Charlie Rose and Yo-Yo Ma and rich people figuring out how much their antiques are worth? This is a demo that was clamoring for Alan Alda before his gig on "The West Wing."
Sure, there must be some poor people who don't have basic cable and really enjoy "Sesame Street" and "Nova." But for $400 million we could have Big Bird fly to their houses every morning and teach their kids how to count in Spanish.
According to a November 1, 2004, New York Observer article, Kinsley hired Stein to write about entertainment -- not politics -- and offered him a freelance position indefinitely. Notwithstanding his hiring of Stein, Kinsley told the Observer he had reservations about Stein's previous work: "I really had problems with the column he wrote for Time." An LA Weekly article excoriating Kinsley for hiring Stein provided Stein's rebuttal, in which he pointed to a generation gap between his editorial style and Kinsley's: "I call it a generational difference of opinion. I think people under a certain age like the honesty of the solipsism, and people over a certain age think it's obnoxious."