O'Shea memo on the Armenian issue

Editor Jim O'Shea has emailed the L.A. Times staff a response to all the hubbub about Mark Arax and whether or not a story was killed because of concerns that he was biased in favored of Armenian views. O'Shea's position is that the story was not killed, merely sent back for more reporting. He also vows that a reporter's ethnicity would not be reason for being taken off a story. After O'Shea's memo below is a response from assistant managing editor Simon Li detailing how managing editor Doug Frantz came to be moderating a panel in Turkey next month.

From: OShea, James
Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2007 5:09 PM

To the Staff:

In recent days, many members of the Armenian community have registered their concern that Managing Editor Doug Frantz killed a news story about the Armenian genocide resolution because the writer, Mark Arax, is of Armenian descent. I recognize the gravity of this issue and I have taken these complaints seriously. Many staffers and readers have written me on this issue and I felt a need to respond.

An independent internal investigation by a Los Angeles Times lawyer from the paper's Human Resources Department and Leo Wolinsky, a managing editor who reports directly to me, is being completed. This is standard practice on complaints of this nature. All of the parties involved are being interviewed and consulted. As with any such action involving employees, this is a confidential investigation being conducted in complete compliance with employment laws.

However, I need to set the record straight because much of the publicity surrounding this issue is inaccurate.

First of all, the allegation that the story was killed is not true. Doug Frantz did place a hold on the story about a pending congressional resolution in which the Congress would recognize as genocide the massive deaths of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks. The editorial policy of this paper is to recognize the Armenian genocide as a historical fact, although the Turkish government does not.

The story in question was sent back to the department from which it emanated for additional reporting and because of concerns by Doug that the story, as written, might be in violation of the ethics policy of the Los Angeles Times. This was not because of the ethnicity of the reporter but because the policy prohibits reporters from covering stories if they have taken a position or some action that could appear to compromise their objectivity. There is no implication here that Armenians can't cover the Armenian community or that other ethnic groups can't do likewise. In this case, the question arose over a particular letter signed by Mark and others about the paper's policy on writing about the genocide.

Doug made me aware of his concerns, which is the appropriate thing for a managing editor to do.

I agreed that we needed to resolve the conflict issue and that the story needed further reporting on the legislative prospects for the resolution's success or failure, which I considered to be highly relevant. The supervising editors then assigned a reporter who covers Capitol Hill to report on that aspect.

In subsequent days, the Capitol Hill reporter uncovered additional material involving the position on the resolution of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reporting that elevated the story for California readers. The story, with the new developments and the legislative prospects for the resolution, ran on page one of the Los Angeles Times about a week after the original was placed on hold. The original story focused heavily on the problems that the resolution was causing for the supporters of Israel, which was included in the revised story.

Editors showed Mark the new story with the additional reporting and he was given the opportunity to add material or suggest changes. He did suggest changes that were made, but he nonetheless insisted that his by-line be removed unless the story ran as written. In the interest of transparency, a credit line was attached noting that he contributed.

I made my decision with the best interests of the readers in mind. The story that appeared in the newspaper was the best one.

Over the past two years, the Los Angeles Times has run 67 stories on Armenia or Armenians, including 26 on the Armenian genocide resolution and 13 that dealt specifically with the political fate of the resolution. This does not include editorials, op-ed pieces and letters to the editor. No one is trying to censor anyone. The issue has been fully aired in the pages of this newspaper, including in last week's front page story reported in part by Mark.

There were problems with the ways and means by which the decisions on this story were communicated. And while I am not going to make public the results of any internal investigation, I can say that no one has concluded anyone was biased in their personnel decisions.

Also, while I appreciate the strong feeling this episode has engendered, an email campaign against any reporter or editor at this paper will not move me to make any decisions that are unfair or unjust. I am working diligently to resolve the issues raised by this incident and to make sure they are clear to everyone. I will do what I think is right.

As the editor of the newspaper, I accept responsibility for our decisions, fully and completely.

Let me make one thing clear. I would never tolerate anyone on the staff making decisions on a story out of a bias or because of the ethnicity of the writer. In this case, that did not happen.

James O'Shea
The Los Angeles Times

Simon Li's response, sent to LA Weekly writer Daniel Hernandez:


May I please set the record straight on one portion of your article about The Times, the repetition of a nasty innuendo from Harut Sassounian's piece urging that Managing Editor Doug Frantz be fired over Mark Arax's accusations.

I refer to this passage: "As Sassounian noted, Frantz is scheduled to be back in Istanbul next month to moderate a panel for the International Press Institute's World Congress that is titled, "Turkey: Sharing the Democratic Experience." Among the panelists is Andrew Mango, who Sassounian describes as a "notorious genocide denialist."

In repeating that part of Sassounian's unfounded implication, you gave it credence; the more it is repeated, the more it will seem like factual evidence of Doug's alleged prejudice to biased, unthinking, credulous readers.

The facts are these: As one of three vice chairmen of the International Press Institute, I put Doug's name forward last spring as a journalist who might help us by taking part in the program of the organization's annual world congress, precisely because of his knowledge of Turkey. I specifically suggested that we invite novelist Orhan Pamuk, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and ask Doug to interview him one-on-one.

The IPI host committee in Turkey, at the strong urging of the IPI Secretariat in Vienna, accepted the basic idea, adding another Turkish writer Elif Shafak for the congress' opening session. Doug duly received an invitation to act as interviewer of these two writers. Both of them, it's relevant to note, have been subject to legal action and personal threats precisely because they have written or spoken urging their countrymen to change the majority view about the Armenian genocide. Doug graciously agreed.

But then that panel failed to materialize, for what reasons I don't know. Doug agreed to moderate the opening session with a different panel, consisting of Shafak, a Lebanese broadcaster and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian lawyer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003. Then that idea fell apart, too. I was later told that after the murder of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January, both Pamuk and Shafak had safety concerns about returning to Turkey from their temporary domiciles abroad.

IPI then asked Doug, somewhat apologetically, whether he was still game to moderate a panel. I believe they offered him the title of the session in question and a description of it, without specifying the participants. The description, incidentally, does not mention the Armenian question.

Thus, Doug came to be moderator of this panel through a series of accidents of the sort that any convention program planner would be familiar with. He did not choose the topic, nor the speakers. His role will be to facilitate the discussion. Discussion is what IPI, as an international organization that defends and promotes journalistic freedom, implicitly seeks to promote.

I don't know whether Sassounian's description of Mango is fair or widely accepted, any more than I know anything about the three others on the panel--the director of the Topkapi museum, a Turkish newspaper editor and a Syrian political scientist working at a German university. What I do know is that any innuendo that Doug is scheduled to moderate this panel because he shares the views of any of its participants--or the particular views of one that Sassounian condemns-is at best reckless and at worse maliciously prejudicial.


Simon K.C. Li
Assistant Managing Editor
Los Angeles Times

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