Los Angeles Times Faces Backlash Over Controversial Photo Caption

Exterior view of a building with a large sign on top that reads "Los Angeles Times" in bold, black letters. The sign sits atop a modern structure with a row of reflective windows. The overcast sky forms the backdrop.

Amid concerns of rising antisemitism in the United States, the struggling Los Angeles Times finds itself at the center of a controversy concerning a recent photo caption that has angered prominent members of the Jewish community.

Los Angeles, home to the third-largest Jewish community in the world, is grappling with increasing tensions among its diverse, multicultural residents. A motion introduced on June 26 by city councilmembers Katy Yaroslavsky and Bob Blumenfield requested funds to bolster security in LA for Jewish institutions following violence that broke out during dueling protests in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Pico-Robertson on June 24.

In response to the situation, Yaroslavsky and Blumenfield’s motion requested that $400,000 be allocated to the Jewish Federation’s Community Security Initiative, $350,000 for a contract with a private Jewish security firm, Magen Am, and another $250,000 for the Jewish Community Foundation. The funds would improve “security for places of worship, community centers, and schools, particularly within the Jewish community.”

The motion, discussed at a city council meeting on July 2, drew protests from Palestinian and Jewish organizations. As a result, Yaroslavsky moved to discuss a substitute motion on July 31, which will include funding for organizations of all denominations.

“Due to legal concerns raised by the City Attorney’s office and feedback from colleagues and the Mayor, we revised our original motion to make funding available to all faith groups, and doubled the amount of funding to $2 million. Because the substance of the original motion changed, it was continued to a future council meeting in order to comply with Brown Act posting requirements,” Yaroslavsky said in a press release on July 8.

A diverse group of people are protesting inside a government chamber. Signs held by attendees include one that reads "CEASE FIRE NOW!" and a Palestinian flag. The caption reports that the protest is against a plan by the City to fund security for Jewish spaces.
This is the original Los Angeles Times photo caption that ran for about two hours.

However, the most significant and newsworthy outcome of the proceedings has little to do with the motion itself or even the associated protests, but the wording of a photo caption used by the Los Angeles Times in its coverage of the situation.

The original story, “A plan to fund $1 million in security for Jewish spaces is amended after a protest at City Hall,” included a lead image with the following caption:

Groups against a proposed City Council resolution to fund Zionist defense training pack the council chamber as they spoke out against the motion on Tuesday, July 2, 2024, at City Hall in Los Angeles, CA. The motion would provide upwards of $1 million to Pro-Israel vigilante/security companies for Zionist defense training. (Myung Chun / Los Angeles Times).

This caption did not sit well with some readers, especially those within the Jewish community.

“I think the blatantly false caption reflects a deep bias against the legitimate safety concerns of Jewish residents in Los Angeles,” Los Angeles resident and Jewish activist Sam Yebri tells The Hollywood Reporter. Yebri is also a trial lawyer and former LA city council candidate. “Protecting Jewish Angelenos from being bludgeoned in their neighborhoods or at their synagogues should not be controversial or even connected to the Israel-Palestine conflict,” he continues.

On X, formerly known as Twitter, Yebri called the image caption “inexcusable” and “antisemitic” while asking the publication to change it.

The Los Angeles Times did change the caption within a couple of hours, but the impact of the original caption has lasted much longer.

A diverse group of people inside a large hall holds up signs with various messages, including "CEASE FIRE NOW!" and another person waves a Palestinian flag. Many are seated on pews, and some are wearing face masks. The atmosphere appears to be of a protest or demonstration.
The Los Angeles Times updated its photo caption about two hours after the story was initially published on the afternoon of July 2, 2024.

In a “For the record” update on the original story, LA Times writes, “Earlier captions accompanying this article stated that city funding was being proposed to pay for pro-Israel vigilante groups. The proposal called for funding for pro-Israel security companies.”

Yebri still thinks more should be done.

“Why won’t the LA Times apologize for its virulently antisemitic caption?” Yebri asks on Instagram. “Was it a mistake or does the LA Times really believe the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Foundation, and Magen Am are ‘Pro-Israel vigilante/security companies for Zionist Defense training?'”

“Asking for 600,000 Jewish Angelenos,” he continues. “Will there be any consequences for anti-Jewish racism in Los Angeles?”

According to The Hollywood Reporter, inside sources at Los Angeles Times told Yebri that the caption was a draft that had been accidentally published before it was given a final check.

This is just the latest in a series of issues for the Los Angeles Times, a longtime stalwart in journalism that has gone from winning recent Pulitzer Prizes for photojournalism in 2022 and 2023 to cutting 74 and more than 115 positions, including photographers, in June 2023 and January 2024, respectively.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.