Monday, January 21, 2008

No One Should Become Editor Until Hiller Goes

Just as during the Saturday Night Massacre in the Watergate scandal, it should be recognized that no respectable replacement can possibly take the latest fired editor, James O'Shea's, place until David Hiller, the publisher of the L.A.Times, who did the firing, is relieved.

Hiller has now burned his bridges. He is so unsavory a figure that neither the city of Los Angeles, nor the long-suffering Times staff should put up with him any longer. The new owner of Tribune Co., Sam Zell, to save his own reputation, must get rid of him. Maybe, Zell doesn't know this yet, but, before he becomes senile, many people ought to tell him.

It is important too that neither John Arthur, nor anyone else, agree at this point to become editor until Zell makes a change of publishers. Why would Arthur, or anyone else, want to cast himself as Robert "Gestapo" Bork, the patsy to Nixon in the Watergate case? Hiller is another Nixon, just as unreliable.

Arthur already has disgraced himself by his observation, as quoted this morning, that the $4 million in new cost cuts the great chopper Hiller was insisting upon, and which O'Shea was resisting, would not greatly impair the paper.

This is bullshit, and perhaps Arthur had been smoking something when he said it. The cuts Hiller wants would mean cutting back on both presidential campaign and Olympic coverage in a year in which, due to the heavy news flow, the budget should be increased, not reduced.

Arthur should stop making idiotic statements and take the same stand O'Shea, Dean Baquet and John Carroll did. Any other position, and he will go down ultimately in disgrace, just as Bork did.

It simply cannot be business as usual at the Los Angeles Times until Zell is smoked out on what kind of newspapers he wants. Was he lying when he said he believed in investing in the future and not cutting costs incessantly, or wasn't he? Did Hiller act to get rid of O'Shea on his own, perhaps in the misguided belief he was saving his own skin, or didn't he?

If Zell was in on the latest beheading in the news room, then there is no chance he can possibly be successful at Tribune, because he would be following in the footsteps of the failed CEO before him, Dennis FitzSimons, whom he properly canned as soon as he took over.

Zell, was apparently out to confirm that, despite all his experience as a businessman, he is a damn fool when it comes to running newspapers, by issuing a statement today backing up Hiller, although he did not quite take direct responsibility for terminating O'Shea.

Zell said notably: "I've said loud and clear that I am returning control of my businesses to the people who run them. That means David Hiller has my full support. He carries direct responsibility for the staffing and financial success of the Los Angeles Times."

I'm still betting Zell will eventually reverse this position and take charge. But in the meantime, much further damage will be done. Zell is now deep in the corporate mud created by FitzSimons, Hiller and other Tribune executives in a company which hasn't done anything right in years. In placing his backing behind Hiller, he is placing it behind an inept businessman who doesn't understand, nor even support, California.

I will reserve my sympathies by the way for O'Shea. He never really took charge in the newsroom. He let the paper's investigative tradition, which brought five Pulitzer Prizes in one year under Carroll and Baquet, languish. He was absent for long visits back to Chicago, maybe to partake of the lousy food he was so used to. And when Hiller came at him with a hatchet, he did not openly enlist the backing of the staff and raise the flag of rebellion, as Baquet did. Goodbye to him, and good luck.

However, just having read O'Shea's farewell statement to the staff, I should freely acknowledge that nothing so became his 14-month tenure as editor as the grace and sound principle upon which he left the post.

Let me quote just one passage: "One thing that I want to put on the record, though, is that I disagree completely with the way that this company allocates resources to its newsroom, not just here but at Tribune newspapers all around the country. That system is at the core of any disagreement with David (Hiller). I think the current system relies too heavily on voodoo economics, and not enough on the creativity and resourcefulness of journalists...A dollar worth of smart investment is worth far more than a barrel of budget cuts."

Amen! From this farewell statement, we should also note that Hiller lied through his teeth yesterday when he insisted O'Shea had not been fired, but had simply been moved aside in the corporate transition.

I won't even wish Hiller good luck. As I quoted a good friend with long experience at the newspaper yesterday, he has always been a "fatuous" figure and a "pain in the ass." He introduced Page 1 ads at the Times. He was obsessed with celebrities and introduced glitzy sections at the expense of news gathering. He abandoned TV guide and combined the Opinion section with Book Review, to the detriment of both. He gave speeches to various communities in the city, only to sell out his own words the next day. Based on his squalid record, he does not deserve good luck. He is not a Californian. He is a greasy outsider.

Now, just as during the period between the Saturday Night Massacre and the Nixon resignation, we can only watch Hiller do further squirming. Since his days are numbered, his own incompetence ultimately dooms him, and he should be ousted now.

And let's move the corporate headquarters of Tribune to Los Angeles. The air may be better here than it is in Chicago. Certainly, Zell needs to be breathing fresher air.


Just watching tonight's Democratic debate, I was again impressed that Hillary Clinton is a shrieking harridan, a harpy unfit to be President of the United States. What the Clinton campaign is about is power for the Clintons, nothing more. Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have higher goals, the good of the country. Let's hope one of them becomes president of the U.S.



Anonymous Matt Weinstock said...

Editors should not be making budgetary decisions any more than teachers should be school district managers. Their skills lie in other areas.

1/21/2008 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must wonder about alternative agendas other than budget, especially when I read:

"[Hiller] introduced Page 1 ads at the Times. He was obsessed with celebrities and introduced glitzy sections at the expense of news gathering. He abandoned TV guide and combined the Opinion section with Book Review, to the detriment of both."

Businessmen don't typically destabilize their product without sound market data to support these moves. When I witness product 'adjustments' of this type, especially ones that result in detrimental results, I can only wonder about motive.

1/21/2008 7:44 PM  

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