Times publisher David Hiller says in the morning paper that he might kill this Sunday's Current section rather than run an editor's note about how Hollywood producer Brian Grazer was tapped to guest-edit the section. LA Observed broke the story yesterday afternoon that Times brass was in a tizzy after learning that Andrés Martinez, the editor in charge of Current and the editorial pages, dates publicist Kelly Mullens, whose firm represents Grazer's Imagine Entertainment and has done work on several Grazer films. Martinez denies any conflict, saying that several editors agreed to invite Grazer without any input from Mullens. In today's news story in the LAT Business pages, however, media reporter James Rainey says that "Mullens has worked as a consultant and recently was listed on news releases promoting Grazer's collaboration with the paper." Hiller, who oversees Martinez and the opinion pages, says he believes that Mullens had no influence, but nonetheless is contemplating scrapping Sunday's Current.
"We have an appearance and not a case of actual undue influence. We want to do the right thing for our readers and for the paper," Hiller added.
Many reporters and editors in The Times' newsroom said they were unhappy about how readers might perceive the decision to let an outsider — with the appearance of a special inside connection — hold sway over the Sunday opinion and editorial pages.
Several journalists recalled how the newspaper's reputation for impartiality suffered in 1999 when it was revealed that The Times had shared profit from a special magazine edition with the management of Staples Center.
On Wednesday, reporters registered their dismay to Times Editor James E. O'Shea, who is the top editor for news and features in The Times but has no responsibility for its opinion pages.
"We're concerned that even the appearance of a conflict is enough to discredit the hard work of reporters and editors in the newsroom," said Charles Ornstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. "This newspaper has worked very hard, even during these trying times, to consistently improve our coverage and remain upbeat about our future. To face a potential scandal is really discouraging."
Martinez is married and has a child, but he has been separated for months.
In a statement issued through her firm, 42 West, Mullens said her romantic relationship with The Times' editorial page editor had nothing to do with Grazer's assignment at the paper.
"I believe my personal relationships are a private matter," Mullens said. "That said, I have a great respect and a keen understanding of journalism and journalistic ethics. I have never let my personal relationships interfere with my work and any suggestion to the contrary is insulting and untrue."
Mullens' superior at 42 West, Allan Mayer, says in the story: "If this thing was killed over this, I think it would be an indication of the moral bankruptcy of the Los Angeles Times. If the newspaper is so fearful of what uninformed people think that it would allow itself to be stampeded in that way … I think it would be a very sad day."