Rumsfeld might still be next

In Andrés Martinez's email to LA Observed after he quit Thursday as Times editorial page honcho, he implied that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was on the list of guest editors who would be given a Current section to play with.

I realize this may all sound like an attempt on my part to change the subject du jour by trying to raise a competing ethics issue, but these are not unrelated subjects. One real ethics issue -­ the determined effort by some in the newsroom to undermine the autonomy of editorial page -­ helps explain the gross exaggeration of the other -­ an invitation from time to time by said autonomous opinion pages to have notable personalities like Brian Grazer and Donald Rumsfeld edit 5 articles, regardless of who their damned publicists are.

This mention, and another in James Rainey's Times story on Friday, sent up red flags for a couple of reasons. First, Rumsfeld would represent an even more gaping conflict of interest for the Times than Brian Grazer. The Grazer conflict — that Martinez's girlfriend helps on crisis PR for Grazer and his movies — is plenty big enough to render his selection a stupid move by the stumbling Times. (Even absent the conflict, many thought the Times stupid for defaulting to an overexposed Hollywood figure, rather than making a creative pick of someone the paper's readership would be surprised by and look up to.) But Rumsfeld's choice reeks in so many ways. It's not just that Rummy doesn't lack for forums to express his views, has already had his ideas repudiated by half of America and would mark the Current section with a partisan stamp while undermining its efforts to foster an image as a forum for cutting-edge and provocative pieces. The main reason not to touch Rumsfeld is his connection to Publisher David Hiller, the guy who killed this weekend's Current. They were racquetball buddies in Chicago and colleagues in the Tribune fold, close enough that when Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, Hiller wrote a piece in Current about his friend. They are partisan fellow travelers: as recently as 2003, Hiller was donating cash to Republican campaigns. During the Reagan Administration Hiller was an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith.

But also, Rumsfeld's selection indicates that Hiller and Martinez (assuming he agreed to the Rumsfeld invite) really didn't have a clue about this whole guest-editor thing. Can't these guys find anybody "innovative" to assign a few idea pieces without resorting to tired choices and nepotism, professional or otherwise? Nikki Finke blogs today that Rumsfeld was suggested by Hiller.

Meanwhile: What does appear in today's Current? Local pieces by the L.A. Weekly's Daniel Hernandez, LAPD homicide detective/author Will Beall, land-use advocates Cary Lowe and Daniel Cipes (urging that L.A. have a plan before it buys into the downtown density being pushed by Mayor Villaraigosa and friends) and USC's Richard G. Little. Regular Current columnist Gregory Rodriguez and Times Op-Ed columnists Ron Brownstein, Niall Ferguson and Jonathan Chait are there too, as is filmmaker and community college trustee Kelly Candaele, friend of Opinion's Reason magazine alumni Brian Doherty and a piece on the GOP by Daniel Gilgoff. Not too shabby a lineup for 24 hours notice, though I assume the backlog cupboard is now bare. BTW, a house ad for the killed Grazer section runs in Calendar because the page went to print early.

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