The conversation was presumed to be private – a seemingly forgettable hour in the lives of three elected officials in Los Angeles and the county’s top labor leader. They had huddled at the county labor federation headquarters in October 2021, ostensibly to discuss how to retain and expand Latino political power – their own in particular – amid a charged redistricting process.
But the chatter quickly took an ugly turn: racist comments slung with casual ease, along with profane jabs and petty political scheming. The kind of comments that could end careers. And, secretly, it was being recorded.
Los Angeles Times reporters who cover City Hall obtained a copy of the recording on a Saturday evening in October 2022, a year after the gathering and just four weeks ahead of a consequential mayoral and City Council election. They knew the voices and flew into action, listening, transcribing, analyzing, deciphering and in some cases translating. They had to authenticate the recording. They had to reach out to the participants. A legal threat from the labor federation had to be assessed and batted down.
Hours later, just after 9 a.m. Sunday, The Times exclusively published the first story on the notorious recording of City Council President Nury Martinez, Councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León and labor leader Ron Herrera.
The racism displayed, chuckled at or tolerated by people elected to run one of the nation’s most diverse cities rocked City Hall like few scandals ever have. The targets were many: Black people, Armenians, fellow Latinos. Especially devastating was a derogatory exchange referencing the young Black son of a white council member.
Outrage was instant. The story resonated across the country, even prompting a call for resignations from President Biden.
In the face of breaking news, Los Angeles Times excelled in swiftly delivering deep, impactful reporting, integrating social media seamlessly. Their work provoked crucial dialogue and influenced the local community and broader journalism industry profoundly, underlining the potential of journalism as a powerful agent of societal change.