Rutten's turn

Times media columnist Tim Rutten was fingered by Andrés Martinez (in Thursday's email to LA Observed) as one of the LAT staffers supposedly blocking innovation at the paper and purposely confusing readers about Grazergate. Rutten responds sharply in today's column, which also lays out the history of the Times editorial pages and the tradition of having news-side input in the paper's editorial positions. (Rutten has been an editorial writer and was editor of the old Opinion section.) "If you've been following the rather turgid little soap opera that Martinez has created around himself, this little bit of history won't strike you as a digression," Rutten writes. Excerpt:

It's been nearly half a century since even a whiff of scandal or implication of misconduct attached itself to The Times' editorial pages. That's what makes the resignation of the section's editor, Andrés Martinez, and its aftermath a melancholy rather than merely curious affair....

To summarize: Martinez resigned in pique after The Times publisher, David D. Hiller, told him he couldn't go forward with a Current section that was being guest-edited by Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Hiller intervened when it was learned that Martinez has been dating a Hollywood publicist whose firm represents the producer....

Hiller may have been slow to see a preposterous idea masquerading as an innovation — there's a lot of that going around these days — but he had no trouble at all recognizing an ethical train wreck when he saw it coming.

The irony is that, since his abrupt resignation Thursday, Martinez has been posting a kind of serial apologia for his giddy behavior. He told the New York Times, for example, that he had been victimized by — among many other things — "a perception that Hiller is trying to suck up to Hollywood and advertisers."

Funny, but it isn't the publisher who was dating a Hollywood publicist.

Martinez's real villains are cabals of newsroom reporters who he alleges, in a series of rambling Internet posts, are attempting to take control of the editorial pages. Strangely enough, two of the scheming journalists Martinez singles out in a post-resignation e-mail to the LA Observed website are Times legal affairs writer Henry Weinstein … and me.

Rutten continues after the jump, then Martinez's web editor Tim Cavanaugh praises his ex-boss on the Times' website:

It's always a compliment, of course, to be linked with my old friend Henry Weinstein. That said, to the extent a point can be discerned in this latest of Martinez's exiting tantrums, it's that he believes the separation between The Times' newsroom and the editorial pages is insufficient. That's a debatable point, but I'm mystified as to what it has to do with the rather rudimentary conflict of interest that led to Martinez's resignation.

Further — and also for the record — I've never exchanged a word with Andrés Martinez nor even met him. Similarly, I don't think I know a single editorial writer, nor could I name one. That seems fairly "separate" to me.

In fact, like his resignation, Martinez's difficulties were entirely volitional and had nothing whatsoever to do with The Times' structural problems — real or imagined. What isn't imagined is the recklessness he displayed toward basic ethic strictures and the anger he's now displaying at The Times as an institution and toward its senior business and news executives, simply because he was caught out.

Like most of my colleagues at The Times, I'm fundamentally uninterested in other people's personal lives, but I've always subscribed to the late Abe Rosenthal's standard for journalists: I don't care whether my colleagues sleep with elephants, so long as they don't cover the circus.

Rutten, incidentally, states as fact that 42 West, the PR agency that employs Kelly Mullens, did not obtain Brian Grazer's business until after "Martinez's girlfriend's boss facilitated the arrangement between the producer and The Times." Hard to know if that's technically true, but it's not accurate in spirit, according to numerous former colleagues of hers and Hollywood journalists who contacted LA Observed. Mullens is professionally attached to Allan Mayer, a partner in 42 West, and she was previously when both worked at Sitrick and Company. Mayer has represented Grazer and his ventures repeatedly through the years; Grazer was even mentioned in the trades coverage of Mayer and Mullens leaving Sitrick for 42 West.

Also: Tim Cavanaugh's turn

At the Times Opinion blog, the roundup of blog opinion by web editor Tim Cavanaugh (recently hired by Martinez) tilts toward the Grazergate is no big deal school of thought. A separate post then criticizes Times culture and heaps praise on Martinez (though with a nicely placed Looney Tunes reference.)

Our former editor's Daffy Duck routine has brought with it one benefit: We've been getting some better-than-usual traffic on this blog....

At moments of institutional embarrassment like this one, it's customary to lament that this unfortunate business distracts from the good news of all the terrific work we're doing, etc. I'd like to say just the opposite. This week's mess distracts from the bad news (though it's hardly news to people who follow the issue) that the Los Angeles Times work environment is one where doing anything more than the bare minimum is passively, and often actively, discouraged. On that note, I'd like to thank Andrés Martinez for his steadfast and enthusiastic support in guiding our new features and innovations through the corporate minefield. If not for Andrés, you would be looking at a much smaller catalogue of new features. I wish him the best, and hope that we can continue his ambition of making maximum use of new media to produce a better and more exciting Los Angeles Times.

Previously on "Days of our Times"
Andrés Martinez emails
O'Shea responds

More by Kevin Roderick:
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
The Media
LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions
LA Observed Notes: Harvey Weinstein stripped bare
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