UPDATED: There is no bigger ‘hot button’ issue than the U.S. immigration policy, especially in California. But the Los Angeles Times appears to be covering up new publisher David Hiller’s past role in helping formulate that policy during the Reagan administration. Today’s LA Times profile of Hiller mentions only his “two years at the Reagan Justice Department (where his colleagues included current Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani)” without providing any background. But I have some DOJ document copies and old news articles revealing details about Hiller’s work back then, especially regarding immigration since at the time the Reagan administration was in the thick of detention issues stemming from a sudden crisis of Haitian and Southeast Asian refugees as well as the fallout from Cuba’s Mariel boatlift. Let’s start with this: a June 12, 1981 Washington Post story detailing the “drastic action” which a Reagan presidential task force on immigration and refugee policy suggested to deal with the influx into the United States. Written by Charles R. Babcock, the article reports that “a presidential task force has decided to recommend that the Reagan administration take drastic action to prevent any new flood of Cuban and Haitian refugees into Florida by stopping boats on the high seas and detaining the newcomers in what they recognize could be called ‘concentration camps.’” The article goes on, “the task force option paper [was] prepared by David Hiller, a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith.” I’m told that Hiller was in charge of the task force on immigration for the Justice Department and was instrumental in dealing with all sorts of policy initiatives including plans for mass deportations back to Mexico of Mexicans in the U.S., illegal alien internment camp proposals, calls for indefinite imprisonment for Cuban boatlift refugees, national ID cards. Not all the proposals met with conservative favor, however: one major play of the Reagan immigration tenets included what many termed an amnesty, which was an anathema to that administration’s traditional base. But all this tested the waters for the Reagan administration and eventually laid the legal framework for not only the Bush administration’s present-day immigration policy but also its Guantánamo policy. (One specific forerunner was the legal brief Hiller helped write to keep a Cuban in the Mariel boatlift imprisoned in a U.S. federal penitentiary in perpetuity.) “The political sensitivity of the Cuban-Haitian refugee problem is candidly described in the task force option paper prepared by David Hiller, a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith,” the Washington Post article said. “It notes, for instance, that a policy of stopping boats leaving Haiti ‘could set an international precedent for turning away ‘boat people’ seeking asylum in Southeast Asia.’ The State Department has tried to talk foreign governments such as Thailand and Malaysia into accepting thousands fleeing Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos. Indefinite detention of newly arrived aliens would create a political problem in the communities near camps, and the ‘appearance of ‘concentration camps’ which, at the present time, would be filled largely by blacks, may be publicly unacceptable,’ the report said.” In other areas, too, Hiller, along with now Supreme Court Judge John Roberts and Clinton/Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, helped serve as funnels for the right-wing think tanks to shape Reagan Administration social agenda. Some of that, like national ID cards, would be considered progressive by today’s conservatives, whom the paper has been trying to win back. It was under Hiller’s LA Times predecessor Jeff Johnson that the newspaper’s opinion and editorial sections were moved out of the editor’s domain and into the publisher’s purview. I have written extensively on the right-versus-left political maelstrom that’s sucking subscribers out of the newspaper, and the continuing push-pull of conservative vs progressive ideas espoused and embraced in those sections of the paper. (See my The Michael Kinsley Experiment Ends and The Andres Martinez Mystery.) Day in and day out, ever since the 2003 California gubernatorial-recall campaign, when the paper published its election-eve Schwarzenegger groping allegations, right-wing media and bloggers have ganged up to savage the paper’s politics, all the while persuading conservatives to flee the LAT subscriber base in anecdotal droves. The flight did not go unnoticed at Tribune Co., and it has continued to obsess management even now. Now Hiller, the Tribune toadie, comes to the LAT in the midst of its editorial crisis. So, I ask, why was the LAT reporting on him so shallow? From what I can see, Hiller wasn’t just a legal behind-the-scenes policymaker re the Reagan administration’s U.S. immigration policy but also a spokesman. For instance, in 1982 when leaders of Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations joined with civil rights, human rights and Haitian groups in a national coalition demanded the immediate release of Haitian refugees under the Reagan administration’s new detention policy, Hiller, as associate deputy U.S. attorney general, presented the Reagan administration’s position to the media. Also, by 1985, Hiller was recommended for the Reagan-appointed post of U.S. Attorney for northern Illinois by those with close ties to then Attorney General-designate Edwin J. Meese, the Reagan crony. Just as interesting is that Hiller has ties to Donald Rumsfed, currently the Bush administration’s embattled Defense Secretary. A 2001 Chicago Tribune story about Rumsfeld notes that he was a director at Tribune Co. and “friend” of Hiller, then president of Tribune Interactive. Talking about Rumsfeld’s career, the paper penned, “Along the way, Rumsfeld acquired a reputation as a tough customer, if a charming one. His squash game is a testament to that. ‘I played with him a lot,’ recalls his friend, David Hiller, president of Tribune Interactive. ‘He is one of the most competitive son-of-a-guns I have ever stepped on the court with: quick, great court strategy and riflelike aim. And he did take pleasure in beating me, his junior by 23 years.’” Again, this wasn’t included in today’s LA Times profile of Hiller even though Rumsfeld’s Pentagon policies, especially the Iraq War, is a mainstay of any newspaper’s editorial and opinion pages which Hiller, as publisher, now controls at the LAT. It would be foolish for anyone to assume that Hiller’s own political positions have not morphed after 25 years, and it’s unlikely he’ll publicly reveal them. Then again, Los Angeles has a liberal majority. Finally, the LA Times’ own coverage of its publisher swap-out also covered up the circumstances surrounding Jeff Johnson’s ouster which wound up being reported by other media e.g. the Washington Post. Because the news needed to be delivered to him in person by Tribune Co. brass, there was a 24-hour delay since Johnson was taking off Wednesday after learning that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer, and he wanted to be with her and their three sons. No mention of this unclass act by Tribune Co. in the LAT. (See my LA TIMES CHAOS)

UPDATE: Check out CrooksandLiars.com which just put up: New LA TIMES publisher is a Right Wing Hatchet man with ties to Judge Roberts and Ken Starr