L.A. Times editorial page editor Jim Newton writes to respond to my post last night about Anita Busch and Anthony Pellicano. You should read that post before reading this one.
Newton confirms that he received a paperweight from Anthony Pellicano, but decries my post about the paper’s allegedly cozy relationship with Pellicano as a “nonsense tissue of innuendo”:
Dear Mr. Frey,
I’m not sure what I’m being accused of here. Did I, like dozens of people, receive a $5 clay paperweight from Pellicano some years ago? Yes. It was amusing and almost entirely without value. I lost it when I moved desks and haven’t seen it since.
I never had anything to do with the coverage of Anita’s case — did not attend a single meeting about it, did not work on any stories relating to it. Nothing. By then I was covering City Hall, and there was no reason for me to be involved in it.
My use of Pellicano as a source dates back to the Michael Jackson years when I was responsible for our coverage of the LAPD, and yes, I interviewed him, along with other sources — reputable and otherwise — many times throughout those years (well before I was married to Karlene, incidentally). Neither I nor anyone else ever suggested hiring him or “bringing him on board.” I interviewed him, checked the information he gave me, used it when it checked out, discarded it when it didn’t. I once interviewed him at his office — the only time I ever met him in person — but I never “toured” it other than to look around before and after talking with him. I treated him very warily, in part because I was warned against trusting him by other sources, notably Johnnie Cochran and the lawyers in his firm.
I have never “protected” my wife from anything at the paper or otherwise. She doesn’t need it.
If Anita or you or anyone has a challenge to anything I’ve written or done at the paper, I’m happy to address it. But this is a nonsense tissue of innuendo based on a paperweight.
I didn’t accuse Mr. Newton of anything in my post, of course. I simply reported Ms. Busch’s observations of a curious fact: Mr. Newton’s wife suggested investigating the threat against Ms. Busch in part by consulting Pellicano, the very person who was later indicted for the threat. And the very person who gave Mr. Newton the paperweight that he displayed on his desk for a period of time.
It could be nothing more than a horrible coincidence that Newton’s wife had, in effect, suggested consulting the fox to see who had raided the chicken coop. But if you had a rose and a dead fish placed on your windshield, you’d probably start noticing coincidences.
Here’s the thing that the paper should not be brushing off: the attempt to contact Pellicano was made through Chuck Philips, who: attended Pellicano’s wedding without taking notes and saluted Pellicano; attended Pellicano’s verdict with no pen, no notebook, and no official reportial role; and who had an unmonitored conversation with Pellicano while Pellicano was incarcerated at the federal detention center downtown –something that could have happened only with the cooperation of Pellicano’s attorney. At the same time, Philips was touting Pellicano’s defense theories that the FBI had lied to courts to obtain permission to search Pellicano’s office.
This same Chuck Philips has built a career in large part on articles that cite off the record sources, concerning people with whom he has had cozy relationships. And he recently got slammed for one of those stories, when it emerged that he had been hoodwinked by a con man — on a story that he had repeatedly boasted he had locked down as tight as a drum.
Some of us out here are wondering how that happened. It certainly hasn’t been explained in any way that makes sense.
And we’re wondering whether the paper is looking into his past stories. And whether the paper is looking at how his apparently conflicts of interest — with Suge Knight, Anthony Pellicano, and others — may have affected his reporting.
For now, the paper seems protective of Philips and his longstanding reporting on people with whom he seems to have cozy relationships — often without disclosing how those relationships could be affecting his reporting. Yes, the paper retracted his story on the shooting of Tupac at Quad Studios. But it was treated as an anomaly. And there is no hint that the paper is looking at the bigger picture: if this story based on anonymous sources was bogus, what about the other ones?
Given this seemingly protective attitude, we look at coincidences. We look at relationships.
If the paper were to give some sign of really looking into Philips’s past reporting, maybe these coincidences and relationships wouldn’t be worth discussing. But when it seems like the wagons are being circled, I think they are.
In any event, I thank Mr. Newton for his response. I think we can safely say I won’t be placing anything on the L.A. Times opinion pages any time soon . . .
UPDATE: More on why this matters in another post — including details on when Newton was displaying the paperweight (after Pellicano’s alleged connection to the threats was revealed) and what the paperweight said (you may be surprised). Click here for details.