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RHETORIC WATCH : L.A. Story?

July 30, 1993

If Los Angeles were a private citizen, maybe it could sue--for defamation of character.

Take this : In Los Angeles, said ABC's David Brinkley last Sunday, "it is estimated there are 130,000 members of street gangs. That's equal to about 17 of the Army's infantry divisions, but more heavily armed." OK, he was just joking--it was the legendary Brinkley wit at play. He surely knows that the typical Army division consists of 15,000 personnel and comes loaded with everything from ground-to-air missiles to mines. And while dangerous, the average L.A. street gang is, thankfully, not as well-organized as the military. But if the comment was intended as a joke, is anybody out there laughing?

Or consider this: "48 Hours," the usually solid CBS network documentary series, did a number on Los Angeles Wednesday night. Correspondents went on for what seemed like 48 days about how far down the drain L.A. had gone. In addition to the timeworn struggling-actress sequence, there were the inevitable interviews with extreme-tension artists on all sides. No balance, and hardly anyone of goodwill escaped from the cutting room floor.

And crime everywhere. Did you know that Los Angeles, according to the latest published FBI statistics, has a lower overall crime rate than Atlanta, Miami, Detroit and Washington? Nope, not mentioned. Why no effort to put L.A.'s troubles, which are real, in any sort of overall context? So if you didn't recognize the unrelievedly grim portrait, join the crowd. The real L.A. is not a cartoon character.

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