LA Times admits errors in Occidental College stories, fires reporter*

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LA Observed file photo: LA Times building downtown.

[Fix noted: I deleted the word "some" from the first paragraph. Here's why]

An unusual editor's note appeared this afternoon on the Los Angeles Times website, announcing that officials of Occidental College had convinced editors that the Times was wrong to report in December that Oxy had "failed to disclose 27 alleged sexual assaults that occurred in 2012." The note says the alleged assaults did not fit the definition of campus crimes that must be reported under the federal Clery Act.

But the editor's note buried the lede. Near the bottom of the item, the Times said that editor Davan Maharaj today fired reporter Jason Felch for not disclosing an inappropriate relationship with a source on the Occidental stories. No details of the relationship or the source were given.

Separately, as they began looking into the complaint, Times editors learned from the author of the articles, staff writer Jason Felch, that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with someone who was a source for the Dec. 7 story and others Felch had written about Occidental's handling of sexual assault allegations. Felch acknowledged that after the relationship ended, he continued to use the person as a source for future articles.

Times Editor Davan Maharaj dismissed Felch on Friday. Maharaj said the inappropriate relationship with a source and the failure to disclose it earlier constituted "a professional lapse of the kind that no news organization can tolerate."

He added: "Our credibility depends on our being a neutral, unbiased source of information — in appearance as well as in fact."

jason-felch-book-site.jpgLast month Occidental College retained the crisis PR firm of G.F. Bunting & Co. to assist on media relations around the sexual assault issue. What's interesting about that is Bunting's lead executive in Los Angeles is former Times reporter Ralph Frammolino. What's interesting about that is that Frammolino is the co-author of a book on the Getty Museum with —— Jason Felch. "Chasing Aphrodite" followed their work together on stories at the Times. "In 2006, Felch and Frammolino were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting for exposing the role of the J. Paul Getty Museum and other American museums in the black market for looted antiquities," says the "Chasing Aphrodite website.

* 10 p.m. update: Felch provided a statement to Associated Press, which posted a story. He then updated the dates. The revised statement:

In late December, I began an inappropriate relationship with a confidential source that lasted several weeks. When the relationship began, I stopped relying upon the person as a source. None of the subsequent articles published in the LA Times relied upon the source.

Weeks ago, I voluntarily disclosed the relationship to my editors and cooperated with their investigation. On Friday, I was fired for creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. I accept full responsibility for what I did and regret the damage it has done to my family and my colleagues at one of the nation's great newspapers.

On December 7th, weeks before the start of that relationship, I wrote an article that stated, among other things, that Occidental college had failed to disclose 27 sexual assaults in 2012. The claim was based upon a confidential Clery Act complaint now being investigated by federal authorities. The allegation was supported by other documents and interviews that indicated Occidental’s dean of students had told faculty in the Fall of 2012 that there had been 34 sexual assaults that year. Occidental disclosed seven.

Before publication, Occidental declined to comment on the allegation, and refused to make the dean or other college officials available for interviews. For three months after the story appeared, Occidental raised no objection to the account. The college had previously acknowledged failing to disclose two dozen other sexual assaults, in violation of federal law.

Last week, Occidental provided my editors with new information suggesting that, under federal reporting guidelines, the college was not required to report the 27 complaints made in 2012. If their account is true, I deeply regret the error. My other coverage of Occidental and other colleges’ failure to disclose sexual assaults has not been challenged.

In my ten years as an investigative reporter at the Los Angeles Times, I have always held accuracy and fairness as my highest duty to our readers. Despite my errors, I hope to be able to uphold that standard again.


Photo of Felch:

Fixed typo on Maharaj's first name

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