I received a whole bunch of thoughtful email last week on the Grazergate episode. Submissions are over at We Get Email from, among others, a former editorial writer at the Herald Examiner, the editor of Tu Ciudad, an ex-colleague of Andres Martinez's on the LAT editorial pages and Doug Dowie, who ties this all to the Fleishman-Hillard story. There were also some I couldn't publish from Times staffers who didn't want to use their names, but they were of this ilk:
- If I profiled a person repped by the company of someone I'd dated, I'd be out on the street and my career would be ruined, and rightfully so....
- Even as Andres is making the case for a clear separation between opinion and news -- to which I subscribe, by the way -- he was firing off a message to Doug Frantz asking to have a news story diverted or blocked. (This was in the NYT's piece.) How does that square with Andres' commitment to sections that are clearly independent of one another? Does taint only work in one direction -- news reporters can't suggest subjects for editorials, but Editorial Page editors can try to influence news coverage?
- As if Grazergate wasn’t sickening enough, our latest publisher makes it worse by exposing his ignorance of basic journalistic ethics....It’s tragic that such a senior Tribune official doesn’t understand that the very "appearance" of such a conflict is why reporters and editors at great newspapers don’t accept trips, free travel, gifts or anything else that the public might conclude had compromised our objectivity or been given as a quid pro quo for good reviews.
Meanwhile, I missed Michael Kinsley's take posted Friday on Time Online. Kinsley hired Martinez at the LAT, calls him a good friend and martyr in this episode, and says the Times should have felt lucky to get Grazer in its pages.
At the Los Angeles Times, the self-destruction continues....The suspicion is that the producer, Brian Grazer, might have enjoyed some unfair advantage in securing this plum assignment. There is no evidence of that, and it makes no sense....
Naturally, the LA Times publisher says that the problem isn’t a conflict of interest. It is the appearance of a conflict of interest. This formula has irritated me for years, especially when used by the media. It is the job of journalism to bring appearances in line with reality, not to bring reality in line with appearances. The appearance of a conflict of interest is a self-fulfilling accusation. If the Los Angeles Times says there is an appearance of a conflict of interest—and you can always find some journalism professor or ethic bore somewhere to say that there is—why then, there is one. Usually, though, the “appearances” dodge is used to destroy the reputation of someone else. The genius of the LA Times is to turn this weapon on itself. The paper has spent seven years recovering from the notorious Staples Center controversy, in which an earlier publisher arranged to share revenue from a special supplement puffing the new sports arena. Analytically, there is no similarity between that and this, but of course they both involve a supplement and that creates an appearance…. [ellipsis his]
The martyred editorial page editor, meanwhile, has struck back, accusing the newsroom of attempting to influence editorials. Apparently a news editor once asked him to consider running an editorial in connection with some news-side series. Or maybe more than once. Heavens. It does sound like the Salem Witch Trials, or the later stages of the Cultural Revolution, there at the LA Times. Who next will be rousted from bed in the middle of the night, denounced for an “appearance” of some sort, and taken out and shot?
Kinsley also takes a shot at Bill Boyarsky's call here last week for an investigation into whether editorials and op-eds under Martinez were influenced by the Mullens-Mayer team or any other Hollywood spinners.