Media criticism

Occidental College adds its own take on the Jason Felch incident

The quad at Occidental College. Photo: Oxy

The latest moves in the aftermath of the LA Times' dismissal of reporter Jason Felch are a lengthy statement critical of Felch posted on the web by Occidental College, and an overview of the episode by Washington Post media critic blogger Erik Wemple.

First Oxy. The college takes issue with the statement made by Felch on Friday after the Times announced it has fired him for a conflict of interest — an "inappropriate relationship" with a source on stories about unreported sexual assaults at the Eagle Rock college.

In explaining the reasons for his March 14 firing, former Los Angeles Times reporter Jason Felch issued a statement to the Associated Press that contained inaccurate and misleading information about his coverage of Occidental College. We want to set the record straight with the facts about Felch's pattern of unethical and erroneous reporting.

In a Sept. 19 Times story, Felch falsely reported that a settlement between Occidental and 10 survivors of alleged sexual assaults prevented them from participating in government investigations and proceedings on campus. The Times did not publish a correction. Rather, Felch buried a clarification in a Sept. 21 story, blaming the error on “some faculty” members....

In the days following the Dec. 7 story, Occidental spokesman Tranquada protested to Felch that the article was unfair and asked for specific documentation supporting The Times’ finding of the supposed 27 unreported cases. Felch refused to explain and then told Tranquada: “I think you’re lying and I’m going to prove it.”

On Dec. 9, Felch repeated his allegation on a KPCC radio program. Felch said: "We're still trying to get to the bottom of it in part because Occidental isn't telling us everything about what happened … What our report shows is that even after disclosing some mistakes, there are still serious problems going on.”

On Dec. 13, The Times published a correction to the Dec. 7 story. Felch erroneously reported that Occidental’s President had met with an alleged assailant. The President is not involved in the adjudication of Title IX cases. The meeting never took place.

Occidental also dealt with the question I raised on Friday — about the role if any of Ralph Frammolino, a former reporting partner of Felch (and his co-author on a book about the Getty) and now a crisis PR exec whose firm was retained by Occidental. Oxy explains thusly:

On Jan. 20, Occidental retained the strategic communications firm G.F.BUNTING+CO as consultants. The president of the firm, Glenn F. Bunting, was an editor and reporter at The Times for 23 years. One of the firm’s executives, Ralph Frammolino, was a Times reporter for 25 years, and had written stories and a book with Felch. (Because of his pre-existing business relationship with Felch, Frammolino never talked to him about the issue of the 27 cases and did not participate in any meetings with The Times.)

Meanwhile, Erik Wemple wrote Tuesday that the Times' editor's note revealing Felch's firing was "hardly a run-of-the-mill correction."

Occidental’s statement paints a more complicated picture of the reportorial transactions. Its version goes back to October, when Occidental finished an internal review by disclosing mistakes in its Clery Act reporting for 2010 and 2011. Felch had earlier written about sexual assaults at Occidental, and he kept poking around on the story. Tranquada e-mailed Felch on Oct. 18: “If you have information on specific reports that you believe haven’t been included in Occidental’s Clery reports, please let us know so we can check and see if that’s the case,” according to the statement from Occidental.

More than a month later, on Nov. 21, Occidental says it received an e-mail from Felch requesting an interview with three college administrators. On Felch’s agenda, according to the e-mail, were “detailed, specific allegations about each of them. … For fairness’ sake, I would like their points of view/response included. My deadline is tomorrow at noon,” he wrote. Again, that e-mail comes from Occidental’s statement. Occidental declined to comply with Felch’s hurry-up request.

When Felch’s story ran Dec. 7, it pretty much blindsided the college, according to its statement: “Prior to publication, Felch never asked Occidental directly about the premise of his story or told the College about his findings regarding the 27 alleged cases. This failure constituted a breach of basic journalistic ethics, which require reporters to provide subjects of their stories the opportunity to respond to specific allegations.”
Felch, meanwhile, insists that he did just that.

Felch sent Wemple email disputing other parts of the Oxy statement. Here's the link.

Also: Los Angeles blogger Patterico has a history with Felch.

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