To keep faith with its readers, the Los Angeles Times needs to put all its resources into an investigation of what’s been going on in the Current section and the editorial pages, now tainted by the conduct of editor Andres Martinez.
A beefed up team of top reporters should join media reporter Jim Rainey in examining past Current sections and editorials to see whether they have been influenced by publicist Allen Mayer and his associate, Kelly Mullens, who has been dating Martinez.
Mayer was the go between who steered producer Brian Grazer into a guest editorship of Current. Mayer actually worked with the Times publicity department in announcing the weird arrangement and his and Mullens’ names were listed as contacts on the press release.
How deep and how wide was the corruption? Did Martinez share the contents of editorials or article with either Mayer or Mullins before publication? Did Mayer or Mullens suggest editorials or Current articles?
The staff findings should be published in the paper, prominently displayed.
In addition, the paper’s media columnist, Tim Rutten, should comment on the mess caused by Martinez. The story cries out for comment but not from anyone supervised by Martinez.
The staff members working on this should be permitted to operate free from interference from editors who have any involvement in this. Only independent journalism has a chance of saving the Times reputation in a scandal that is the Times’ worst ethical failure since the Staples affair of 1999.
Such reporting helped the Times get through Staples, which involved the arena management selling advertising for an edition of the Times magazine devoted to the opening of the facility. The paper’s respected media writer, the late David Shaw, did a thorough investigation of what happened, which was published in the Times after it was edited by the retired managing editor, George Cotliar. Only Shaw, Cotliar an executive news editor, a copy chief and a copy editor read the story. The latter three editors were selected by Cotliar and Shaw.
And most important, as an editor’s note said at the time, “None of the principals in the story—not even the editor of the paper, the publisher or the CEO of the paper’s parent company—read it or had any say in the content, scope and presentation.”
At the height of the Staples scandal, the former publisher, the late Otis Chandler, phoned me — I was the city editor — and asked me to read a message to the staff. It was a scathing criticism of the then owners, Times Mirror. The present management should heed Chandler’s words:,
“If a newspaper, even a great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, loses credibility with its community, with its readers, with its advertisers, with its shareholders, that is probably the most serious circumstance that I can possibly think of. Respect and credibility of a newspaper is irreplaceable. Sometimes it can never be restored no matter what steps might be taken in terms of apology by the publisher, apology by the head of Times Mirror or whatever post event strategies might be developed in the hopes of putting the pieces back together.
“When I think back through the history…of this great newspaper…I realize how fragile and irreplaceable a public trust a newspaper is. This public trust and faith in a newspaper by its employees, its readers, the community, is dearer to me than life itself.”