By: Joe Strupp
The so-called Grazer-gate at the Los Angeles Times, in which editorial page editor Andres Martinez resigned in the wake of a dispute over his choice of Hollywood producer Brian Grazer as a guest editor, has inspired news outlets nationwide to weigh in with assessments of the paper’s future and criticism of both Martinez and Publisher David Hiller.
Here is a roundup.
Former Times Editorial Page Editor Michael Kinsley used the latest scandal to sound off. “At the Los Angeles Times, the self-destruction continues,” Kinsley wrote for Time. “Naturally, the L.A. Times publisher says that the problem isn’t a conflict of interest. It is the appearance of a conflict of interest. This formula has irritated me for years, especially when used by the media. It is the job of journalism to bring appearances in line with reality, not to bring reality in line with appearances.
“The appearance of a conflict of interest is a self-fulfilling accusation. If the Los Angeles Times says there is an appearance of a conflict of interest-and you can always find some journalism professor or ethic bore somewhere to say that there is-why then, there is one. Usually, though, the ‘appearances’ dodge is used to destroy the reputation of someone else. The genius of the L.A. Times is to turn this weapon on itself. The paper has spent seven years recovering from the notorious Staples Center controversy, in which an earlier publisher arranged to share revenue from a special supplement puffing the new sports arena. Analytically, there is no similarity between that and this, but of course they both involve a supplement and that creates an appearance….”
At Marketwatch.com, media columnist Jon Friedman had former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a one-time potential buyer of the Times, taking shots. At The New York Times, columnist David Carr assesses the damage to his cross-country competitor: “Reporting on the contretemps at The Los Angeles Times last week brings to mind a scene in which you come upon a sinking vessel and see people scrambling everywhere. And then you realize they are not looking for buckets, but guns.
“At The Times last week, editors took aim at other editors, writers sprayed shots at their own newspaper, and the publisher drew a bead on his own foot. The shootout went off on the Web in real time, with blogs annotating every ricochet. Fittingly, the whole thing ended when the editorial page editor, after resigning, explained himself on a blog, using the digital platform to throw a grenade on the way out.”
He later added, “Even in this fraught atmosphere, reporters at The Los Angeles Times continue to do good work. But the persistent chaos raises a question: Just who is in charge there? The answer seems to be no one.”
One area of notice is Martinez’s contention in an e-mail to local blog LAObserved.com that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in line to be a guest editor of the weekend Currents section, which Grazer had edited last week. Hiller killed the section after it was revealed that Martinez was dating Grazer’s publicist.
“This mention, and another in James Rainey’s Times story on Friday, sent up red flags for a couple of reasons,” LAObserved’s Kevin Roderick wrote. “First, Rumsfeld would represent an even more gaping conflict of interest for the Times than Brian Grazer. The Grazer conflict – that Martinez’s girlfriend helps on crisis PR for Grazer and his movies – is plenty big enough to render his selection a stupid move by the stumbling Times. (Even absent the conflict, many thought the Times stupid for defaulting to an overexposed Hollywood figure, rather than making a creative pick of someone the paper’s readership would be surprised by and look up to.)
“But Rumsfeld’s choice reeks in so many ways….The main reason not to touch Rumsfeld is his connection to Publisher David Hiller, the guy who killed this weekend’s Current. They were racquetball buddies in Chicago and colleagues in the Tribune fold, close enough that when Rumsfeld left the Pentagon, Hiller wrote a piece in Current about his friend. They are partisan fellow travelers: as recently as 2003, Hiller was donating cash to Republican campaigns. During the Reagan Administration Hiller was an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith.”
Nikki Finke of LA Weekly also commented on the Rumsfeld issue in her blog.
“Grazer’s selection and its circumstances prompted concern about the integrity of the paper’s Hollywood coverage. But Rumsfeld’s Pentagon policies, especially the Iraq War, is a mainstay of the paper’s reporting and opinion sections. On Saturday, LA Times’ media columnist Tim Rutten wrote about Grazergate that ‘Hiller had no trouble at all recognizing an ethical train wreck when he saw it coming. Yet Hiller and others seem blind to Rumsfeldgate’s latest and worst crash of the newspaper’s integrity.”
Finally, in the Los Angeles Times itself, media reporter Tim Rutten shot back at Martinez’s allegations that the newsroom was improperly seeking to influence his work and the editorial page’s choice of editorial topics:
“Martinez’s real villains are cabals of newsroom reporters who he alleges, in a series of rambling Internet posts, are attempting to take control of the editorial pages. Strangely enough, two of the scheming journalists Martinez singles out in a post-resignation e-mail to the LA Observed website are Times legal affairs writer Henry Weinstein … and me.
“It’s always a compliment, of course, to be linked with my old friend Henry Weinstein. That said, to the extent a point can be discerned in this latest of Martinez’s exiting tantrums, it’s that he believes the separation between The Times’ newsroom and the editorial pages is insufficient. That’s a debatable point, but I’m mystified as to what it has to do with the rather rudimentary conflict of interest that led to Martinez’s resignation.
“Further – and also for the record – I’ve never exchanged a word with Andres Martinez nor even met him. Similarly, I don’t think I know a single editorial writer, nor could I name one. That seems fairly ‘separate’ to me.”