Showdown at LAT Corral (* updates)

I was locked in a meeting when the morning's dramas went down, but here's the bottom line. Los Angeles Times Publisher David Hiller, under heavy pressure from the news staff, scrapped the Current section that was to be published Sunday under the guidance of Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Unhappy with that decision, Editor of the Editorial Pages Andres Martinez resigned in protest and posted his side of the story on the LAT's own opinion blog:

David Hiller's decision to kill the Brian Grazer section this Sunday makes my continued tenure as Los Angeles Times editorial page editor untenable. The person in this job needs to have an unimpeachable integrity, and Hiller's decision amounts to a vote of no confidence in my continued leadership.

I regret that my failure to anticipate and adequately address the perception of a conflict in this matter has placed Hiller -- whom I like and respect a great deal, incidentally -- and my colleagues on the editorial board in such an awkward position, not to mention Brian Grazer and Kelly Mullens, who did nothing wrong here but have been caught up in all this. Nick Goldberg and Michael Newman are two of the smartest, most talented people I have worked with, and any lapses in judgment here were mine, not theirs.

I accept responsibility for creating this appearance problem, though I also maintain that the newspaper is overreacting today.

In the news story on LATimes.com, reporter James Rainey writes:

Hiller said the paper would scramble to put together an alternative opinion and editorial section for the Sunday paper. He said he had reached his decision after consulting with Martinez, Times Editor James E. O'Shea and "many other people whose counsel I appreciate."

"The problem with conflicts is, how do you know" what someone's motivation was, Hiller told the gathering of the newspaper's managers. "It might appear that something might not be quite right."

"I think it's fair to say that we got ourselves into a predicament and we should not have let it happen," Hiller said.

Controversy emerged inside the paper this week when it was learned that Mullens had been dating Martinez.

My email is running between Stengelese exclamations that "can't anybody here play this game?" to deep sadness that the Times has visited another embarrassment on itself — whether you think the gaffe was Martinez's, Hiller's or just the idea of embracing a Hollywood figure like Grazer as a "feature" of the paper's ideas section.

Update #1: USC professor Martin Kaplan, taking the tongue-in-cheek approach, "announces" at the Huffington Post that Ryan
Seacrest will take over
for Martinez:

Said LA Times publisher David Hiller, "We are thrilled to be tapping into Ryan Seacrest's creative vision. His interests are notoriously wide-ranging, and often unconventional, and his career has been powered by an endless curiosity."

Seacrest, who was voted one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful," as well as one of their 2005 "Most Eligible Bachelors," said in a statement, "I'm looking forward to the challenge of bringing to the people of Los Angeles a rich new mix of ideas and voices. Readers may not always agree, but I dare them not to pay attention."

Update #2: Rainey's 3 pm revise of his story on LATimes.com hints at rancor between Martinez's opinion staff on the second floor and the newsroom staff upstairs on three:

A controversy that had burst into public view only a day earlier escalated today as Martinez delivered an extraordinary online resignation, some of his colleagues rose up to protest that he had been targeted by enemies in The Times' news operation, and his second-in-command scrambled to produce a replacement section.

Update #3: Patt Morrison had Hiller (her boss at the Times) on KPCC this afternoon. Listen to the audio. Also, I will be on Which Way, L.A.? with Warren Olney this evening at 7 pm. Audio of the show.



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