Reporter Jason Felch's affair with a faculty source at Occidental College may have gotten out because somebody broke into the prof's office and perused her personal journal, the LA Weekly says in its first investigative run at the episode that led to Felch's firing from the Times and "virtually unprecedented retraction." ("Virtually unprecedented" -- what does that mean? In any case, the LAT has had far worse front-page retractions in its history.) According to Caroline Heldman, an associate professor of politics at Occidental who also heads up the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, it was the "fifth break-in for people who sourced Jason's story."
The Weekly story, which like BuzzFeed's yesterday appears to rely on leaks from players with axes to grind in the intra-college strife over handling of sexual abuse cases at Oxy, also discloses what else Felch was reportedly working on when he was terminated by the Times for an "inappropriate relationship" with a source. Occidental says it had nothing to do with any break-ins or with informing the Times about Felch's affair. Felch has said consistently that he voluntarily disclosed the relationship to Times editors and did not use the woman as a source after the affair began.
Felch's affair, which the reporter confessed to his editors weeks before he was fired, may have initially been discovered through an illegal break-in on the Occidental campus. Moreover, not long before Felch was fired, he had uncovered two potentially explosive stories about sexual assault that presented a serious threat to Occidental's reputation. Those articles were never published....
The break-in wasn't the only issue of concern on Oxy's campus. The Weekly has also learned that, in the months leading up to his firing, Felch was working on two highly controversial stories about Occidental. One involved John Sweet, a former longtime Oxy athletic trainer accused of sexually assaulting and harassing both male and female students - an issue aired in the campus newspaper Occidental Weekly that never gained major public attention. Coverage in the Times, surely, would have changed that.
The other article involved what some critics call extraordinarily lenient sanctions handed out by Oxy officials to young men found by the college to be responsible for rape - some of whom were allowed back on campus.
Before the Weekly's story, editor Sharon Waxman of The Wrap — a former reporter at both the New York Times and Washington Post — raised questions about the Times' handling of the Felch story that caused all the controversy. Acording to Waxman, after Metro projects editor Julie Marquis resigned from the paper last fall, the story was edited by an education editor and — perhaps crucially — was not lawyered or read by the top editors of the paper.
The story was not submitted to Times lawyers. Felch's stories were as a matter of course meant to be read by a masthead editor, but TheWrap has learned no masthead editor read this story before it was published.
TheWrap has learned that managing editor Marc Duvoisin recused himself from the story because his own son was a senior at Occidental College, and indeed was present at a scene described in the article. DuVoisin's son was among the athletes recruited to push back against the campus activists advocating for greater accountability over sexual assault.
Duvoisin himself is an active member of Occidental's community. That normally would have left Davan Maharaj himself to read the final draft, it is unclear why Maharaj did not do so.\
Felch's erroneous report was based on statements in a confidential federal complaint, which the paper has but has not shared with Occidental. When Occidental challenged the article in March, Felch claimed he was never given the opportunity to hear those challenges, and says he still has not been made privy to the specifics of his error(s).
LA Observed was the first to report the involvement of Ralph Frammolino, Felch's former reporting partner and his co-author of a book on the Getty Museum looting controversy, now a crisis PR exec for the company retained by Occidental College. But it should be noted, I guess, that Waxman also wrote a book on the Getty looting issue.