Thursday, March 22, 2007

L.A. Times Should Explain, But Not Cancel Current

Given all that has happened in recent years, it is certainly understandable that many L.A. Times writers and editors think publisher David Hiller ought to order this Sunday's Current section, edited by outsider Brian Grazer, cancelled, following the revelation that a Grazer public relations executive attached romantically to Times Editorial Pages Editor Andres Martinez may have been involved in Grazer's selection.

Hiller may actually do this. But I do not think it is necessary. I tend to respect Hiller's statement, which is quoted in today's excellent Business section story by James Rainey: "I believe, based on everything that I have seen, that we have only the appearance of a conflict here. I believe that the selection of Grazer was not based on this relationship. We have an appearance and not a case of actual undue influence."

(Later in the day, Hiller did cancel publication of this Sunday's Current section, and Martinez resigned. I'll have more to say about this tomorrow. Otherwise, I see no reason to alter today's blog, and will not do so. It continues below).

It may be that it was a mistake to hire outside editors for the Current section at all. This goes beyond even what the goofy Michael Kinsley had in mind for the editorial sections, when he was their head, and many seasoned news men and women think it causes confusion among the readership as to just what the papers' views are, which is the main reason for having editorial pages. It is, at least, another sign of instability in the Times editorials, which very possibly should be under new direction, but from inside the paper, not out.

But, in any case, once you've made the decision to occasionally bring in an outsider, as an interesting experiment, there is no good reason in my view, based on what we know now, to order Sunday's section cancelled. There, however, should be a disclosure in whatever is printed of the relationship between Martinez and the public relations woman, Kelly Mullens.

There may too be a need for further exploration, in print, as to what were the facts here. But I do not agree with Bill Boyarsky's suggestion either that there be a complete massive inquiry, such as David Shaw's piece on the Staples scandal, or his view that this is the worst scandal since Staples.

The worst scandal at the Times since Staples is that the paper continues to be owned by absentees in Chicago at the Tribune Co. who have failed to invest in the paper as needed to maintain circulation, and have undertaken cost cutbacks and layoffs that have cost the paper two editors and two publishers. If they care for the paper's quality, it is not apparent.

Just yesterday, by coincidence, the retired Times employee association, the Old Farts, meeting for lunch, heard Times book review editor David Ulin say in a talk that he feels the Times reels from one public relations crisis to another, and it is hardly good for the newspaper.

With all due regard for Andres Martinez and what he is trying to do, many of his editorials do not make sense, and, once again based on his appearance last night on the NBC Nightly News, I do not think Ron Brownstein, the latest addition to the Op Ed page, is a worthy contributor.

The editorial, for instance, this week, arguing against rules to identify Internet writers who make attacks against presidential candidates, such as Sen. Hillary Clinton recently, is nonsensical. We cannot reasonably go through a presidential campaign with one anonymous attack after another against the candidates, and, as I understand it, that was implicit in Dan Morain's excellent story about the latest Internet attack. The attacker, by the way, has now been identified and, as you might expect, he had a relationship to the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama.

As for Brownstein, he went on NBC to suggest that inquiries in Congress about the firing of eight U.S. attorney, may be too "partisan" in nature.

This is absolute bunk. Not only have several Republicans also been critical of the firings, but it must be borne in mind that democracy is most often accompanied by some partisanship. It is part and parcel of democracy, and no one would soundly suggest that the opposition party should not engage in criticizing the policies of the party or administration in power.

For Brownstein to do so provides a strong indication he is not a clear thinker, or doesn't have rational convictions, and, then, what is he doing on the Op Ed page?

Brownstein, incidentally, has a wife who works in Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. That is why the ousted editor Dean Baquet removed him in the first place from straight political reporting of the presidential campaign.

Reports of political interference by the Bush Administration in the Justice Department must certainly be extensively investigated by Congress, and top officials, such as Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, White House political advisor Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers should definitely be required to testify under oath. Both the appropriate committees in the House and Senate have now voted to subpoena them.

The Washington Post, this morning, by the way has a lengthy article by Carol Leonnig quoting the retired chief attorney for the Justice Department in the case against tobacco manufacturers, Sharon Eubanks, as giving numerous examples of higher-up influence that compromised that case, and reduced the damages award the government was asking from $130 billion to $10 billion. That too ought to be part of the developing investigation.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous James Fulton said...

Mostly I agree with the points you make, but it's too bad the timing was wrong for you follow up on Martinez' resignation. His statement was interesting -- that he wanted to hear no lectures on ethics from reporters and editors who crossed the line from the newsroom to try to influence editorial policy. Is this a common practice in newsrooms. both at the Times and other major newspapers?
One way or the other, I wish Martinez would name names.

3/22/2007 4:20 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

I agree that Martinez should name names. And as much as I have disagreed with many of the Times' editorial stances — their unyielding support of seemingly every so-called free trade measure foremost among them — I will miss his strong voice on the editorial page. But one must wonder: if Martinez heard News section editors requesting editorials on certain subjects, isn't that more a fault with the Times' organizational structure than the editors/reporters themselves?

But this sunday's Current section should run. First of all, it's by far the best of the Times' sunday sections, and secondly, if Grazer brings a fresh voice to it, does it really matter what his publicists' romantic connections are?

3/23/2007 12:35 AM  

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