Martinez's parting shots

MartinezLost in the earlier flurry of posts about the resignation of Andrés Martinez were his verbal attack on the Times newsroom and veiled bitterness at Publisher David Hiller's plans to merge the Current section and Book Review and gut them both. I have to wonder now if Martinez was a short-timer anyway, given his resentment of the looming cuts and the recent abrupt exit of his friend and number two, Michael Newman. Martinez tries here to claim some ethical high ground on his colleagues at the Times, but that's a non-starter for those who knew of his affair with Kelly Mullens or who thought him too susceptible to Hollywood charm. Still, the accusatory rhetoric is surprising for a top editor posting on the paper's own website. Martinez earlier today:

How we come about this decision [to kill Sunday's Current] when 24 hours ago the managing editor of this newspaper was assuring me he didn't see a story after I walked him through the facts, and while Hiller maintains we did nothing wrong, is a bit perplexing. In trying to keep up with the blogosphere, and boasting about their ability to go after their own, navel-gazing newsrooms run the risk of becoming parodies of themselves.

Among the biggest possible conflicts of interest a newspaper can enter into is to have the same people involved in news coverage running opinion pages. I am proud of the fact that Jeff Johnson, Dean Baquet and I fully separated the opinion pages from the newsroom at the Times. I accept my share of the responsibility for placing the Times in this predicament, but I will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom's agenda, and I strongly urge the present and future leadership of the paper to resist the cries to revisit the separation between news and opinion that we have achieved.

We're a long ways removed from the fall of 2004 when Michael Kinsley and John Carroll lured me out to the West Coast, with promises of investing more resources on the LAT opinion pages and web site. Some of the retrenchment is understandable given the business fundamentals, but I have been alarmed recently by the company's failure to acknowledge that our opinion journalism, central to the paper's role as a virtual town square for community debate and dialogue, should not be crudely scaled back as part of across-the-board cuts. Decisions being made now to cut the one part of the paper that is predominantly about ideas and community voices go too far in my view, and are shortsighted.

"This is a load of self serving pap," says the first reader comment. I don't know about that, but the John Carroll who Martinez praises did run both the newsroom and the opinion pages — a common arrangement at U.S. newspapers. [Closest example: the Daily News.] Martinez had his detractors and his loyalists, the latter group including many (but not all) of those who worked closest with him on the second floor. Blogger Patterico, a frequent spotter of Times news bias, picks up on Martinez's allegations of newsroom opinion-making: "Mr. Martinez, if you would like to elaborate on this statement, I’m here for ya, babe....The newsroom’s 'agenda' creates a much greater appearance of impropriety than Martinez’s giving a guest editor spot to a client of his girlfriend’s P.R. firm."

Tomorrow's New York Times adds some backstory to Martinez's unhappiness, lets him take a swipe at Hiller and reveals that Martinez apparently tried to sway Times news coverage of his affair:

The current issue was brought to a head when James Rainey, the newspaper’s media reporter, began preparing an article earlier this week about Mr. Martinez and his relationship with Ms. Mullens. Mr. Martinez said in an interview yesterday that when he learned of the pending article, he wrote a long e-mail message to Douglas Frantz, one of the paper’s managing editors, and that Mr. Frantz, who was on vacation, had written back saying he did not see a problem. Mr. Martinez also said that Mr. Frantz had told him he did not want Mr. Rainey to pursue the article and that everyone could discuss what to do next week.

Mr. Frantz said in an interview yesterday that he was “trying to buy some time and digest the thing.” But he said he later spoke with Mr. Rainey and realized that there was a problem, especially in light of the Staples Center episode. “Clearly, Andrés made a mistake,” Mr. Frantz said. “Whether it required his resignation is an open question.”

Mr. Martinez said that he accepted responsibility but that “on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 1.5” and that canceling the section was an overreaction.

“The newsroom has been through so much, and people are so disgruntled at the ownership that they’re out to get scalps,” he said in an interview. “There’s a general post-Jayson Blair, post-Staples Center obsession with covering yourself to a fault. I would argue this is taking it too far. The wheels of this bus have come off. There’s not strong leadership in the newsroom, and there’s a perception that Hiller is trying to suck up to Hollywood and advertisers.”

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