A couple of weeks ago the Los Angeles Times announced that they were going to invite guests to edit their opinion section, Current. My initial response was that it was a terrible idea that trivialized the tradition of commentary in journalism. That impression was affirmed when they revealed that film producer Brian Grazer would be the inaugural guest editor. I have nothing against Grazer, but this is a newspaper (ostensibly) and its opinion pages should take that mission more seriously. If they had Bill Moyers or Peter Ueberroth launch the program, and held Grazer for a later edition, it would have given it more gravitas.
Well now the scheme has produced some Hollywood melodrama of its own. Apparently the Times’ Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez, who selected Grazer, was romantically involved with a publicist who works with Grazer. That appearance of a conflict of interest led publisher David Hiller to scrap this week’s Current (albeit belatedly, and after denying any conflict existed). That, in turn, led Martinez to resign.
I really couldn’t care less about the management crowd at the Times who I believe to be journalistically challenged and beholden to their Chicago bosses and shareholders instead of their readers. But in a statement about his resignation, Martinez wrote the following:
“I will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom’s agenda.”
Martinez’ observation about the Times’ reporters, and his revelation regarding the incestuous relationship between the news division and the opinion pages, is a more scandalous affair than the one between Martinez and Mullins. But the real problem with the Times was eloquently stated by Jeff McMahon in a posted response to Martinez:
“It’s truly amazing that David Hiller has suddenly discovered the conflict of interest provisions of journalism’s codes of ethics. After all, the Tribune Company’s strategy has been to exploit situations in which interests are inherently conflicted – such as owning newspapers, television stations, radio stations, and in one truly unfortunate city, even a baseball team, in the same city, and then creating advertorial synergies between them. It’s a bit hard to believe anyone spawned by the Tribune Company headquarters is so concerned about ethics. So what’s really going on here?”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Update: This scandal may have more endurance than anyone currently anticipates. Bill Boyarsky, former city editor at the Times, thinks a full investigation should be conducted to ascertain whether any other conflicts may have occurred.