Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rutten Column In LAT Pins Martinez To The Wall

L.A. Times media columnist Tim Rutten says all that needs to be said in his Calendar column this morning about the sordid case of former Times editorial pages editor Andres Martinez, the man who put getting a little nookie above the ethical requirements of sound journalism.

Rutten quotes the late New York Times executive editor, A.M. Rosenthal, as saying that he didn't care whether his colleagues slept with elephants, as long as they weren't covering the circus.

Now that he has quit, after being told by Times publisher David Hiller that he couldn't publish a Current section Sunday put together by a Hollywood producer who had hired a firm in which Martinez's girl friend performed key functions, Martinez has outrageously tried to put himself on the level of ousted Times editor Dean Baquet and publisher Jeffrey Johnson as some kind of man of principle who lost his job as a result.

Baquet and Johnson left the newspaper after trying to fight Tribune Co. cutbacks that threatened the quality of the newspaper. Martinez has left after being caught in sexual peccadillos. There is quite a difference.

Kevin Roderick's L.A. Observed has been doing a top rate job of printing documents and commentary relating to the Martinez matter, and this morning it publishes Times editor James O'Shea's statement to the staff on Martinez and his charges that the Times newsroom has been interfering in editorial page operations.

O'Shea said he was not going to sit like a "silent lamb" while Martinez "distorts my record and attacks this newspaper and my newsroom" with what he terms "unprofessional and sloppy" criticisms.

"No one in this newsroom is on a campaign 'to storm the editorial page and bring it back into lockstep with the newsroom,'" O'Shea stated. "It's true that we have journalists in the newsroom who don't agree with Andres' view on the ethical problems that led to his resignation. I count myself among them."

I'm actually beginning to like O'Shea. He may have been sent here by Chicago to replace Baquet, but he is trying to conscientiously serve the interests of the Times. He's no Baquet, but he's improving. In the Martinez matter, he apparently went to Hiller and backed the newsroom in its protests against Martinez's ethical violations.

Even as the Martinez saga unfolds, the latest instance in which the Times editorial staff courageously rose up to defend ethics at the paper. there are new reports in the LAT Business section today, confirming an earlier New York Times story this week, that the bid of Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell to buy the Tribune Co. is a serious one and might be pushing toward fruition. Apparently, he has improved his offer, and small stock price increases for Tribune reflect mounting speculation that the failing Tribune Co. might actually be sold.

At the same time, the LAT story, by James Rainey, Michael Hiltzik and Thomas Mulligan. says that Los Angeles billionaire businessmen Ron Burkle and Eli Broad plan to sweeten their own offer to buy Tribune. Burkle recently hired the ousted Times publisher, Johnson, to run his media operations. If Broad and Burkle were to obtain Tribune, the implication is that Johnson would return as Times publisher.

We don't know, frankly, what Zell, or Burkle and Broad, might do with the Times, or given their lack of much journalistic experience, whether they might pose further ethical problems for the paper. But a friend of mine who was long an editor at the Times tells me this morning that Zell did not try to interfere with news operations in his past ownership of some radio stations.

It must always be remembered that the Tribune has reached an end point, where a failed management under CEO Dennis FitzSimons must be replaced for the good of the entire enterprise. Just this morning, it's reported that Tribune revenues are sliding and that the decline is a particularly severe 5.1% for the Tribune newspapers.

It's possible, I suppose, that an eventual deal to buy the Tribune, might, as in the McClatchy purchase of newspapers last year, lead to a resale of certain of the assets. In other words, Zell might buy the company and then turn around and sell the L.A. Times portion of it to Burkle and Broad.

Stay tuned. The fun has only begun, but it's certainly made a good start with the demise of Andres Martinez as editorial pages editor.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

always amusing when a pious member of the media brethen, current or retired, shows indignation over their peers trying to "get a little nookie" while in the service of their oh so noble craft.Please, people in glass houses who would do it with the crack of dawn only reveal their own hypocrisy and that of the less than virtuous rag trade.

3/24/2007 12:58 PM  
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