Is a Paperweight Really Just a Paperweight? More on the L.A. Times’s Treatment of Anita Busch After She Was Threatened
Kevin Roderick says that Anita Busch and I are making too much of Jim Newton’s having a paperweight on his desk from Anthony Pellicano in June 2003:
Busch and Frey also try to make something of then-reporter Jim Newton having a paperweight from Pellicano on his desk and being married to Goller, but it seems to me like overreaching. Are we really judged by whose unsolicited junk we keep for awhile and whose we throw away?
I don’t want to make a big deal out of a paperweight, but in light of Roderick’s comment, I feel obligated to explain why I mentioned the gift in the post. The gift from Pellicano was on Newton’s desk months after it was reported that authorities suspected Pellicano to be behind the threat against Busch. The paperweight’s inscription is interesting in light of Pellicano’s history of thuggery generally, and his alleged threats to Busch specifically. And this all has to do with how various people inside the paper, including Newton’s wife, treated the threats against Busch.
A small paperweight as a Christmas gift is, of course, not a huge thing. But it is an indication that Newton had some sort of connection to Pellicano that was close enough to prompt Pellicano to give Newton a small Christmas gift. Why is that interesting? Because Busch says Newton’s wife Karlene Goller initially suggested “bringing aboard” Pellicano to help investigate the threat against Busch. Busch’s claim seems well supported by the reporting of the New York Times, which spoke to other people who heard the suggestion, and reported that Chuck Philips “tried to reach [Pellicano] at Ms. Goller’s urging and did not get through.” (This may be the first time Chuck Philips ever failed to get through to anyone, by the way.)
Even if Newton’s relationship with Pellicano was purely professional — and let’s assume that it was — it provides some hint as to why his wife would have wanted Pellicano’s input on the threat.
Roderick and Newton both dismiss the paperweight as a piece of unsolicited junk that Newton happened to keep. But according to the story Busch told me, this gift from Pellicano was on Newton’s desk after it had been reported that the FBI believed Pellicano had threatened the life of Busch, who was then Newton’s colleague. On November 23, 2002, Scott Glover and Matt Lait reported that Pellicano was suspected in the threat against Busch:
Though the warrant is sealed, Agent [Stanley E. Ornellas] stated in his affidavit that the application submitted to the judge who issued it “details evidence establishing probable cause to believe that Pellicano hired and paid Alexander Proctor to burn the car of a Los Angeles Times reporter who was writing a negative newspaper article about one of Pellicano’s celebrity clients.”
In a secretly recorded conversation described in a request for another warrant, Proctor allegedly told an FBI informant that he was paid by Pellicano to carry out the threat on behalf of [Steven Seagal], who wanted to dissuade [Anita Busch] from her reporting on Seagal’s relationship with a reputed Mafia associate.
Busch, who was taking contemporaneous notes about her experiences, tells me that she was told about the baseball on June 3, 2003. A staff writer told her that the ball was on Newton’s desk at that time. (Newton took a leave of absence to write a book in 2003; his leave was reported by Kevin Roderick on June 30, 2003.) If that’s right, then Newton had this gift on his desk months after it was publicly known that the FBI had evidence connecting Pellicano to threats against Newton’s colleague Busch.
If a colleague of mine had her life threatened, and I had a Christmas gift from the man suspected of having threatened her, you know what I’d do?
I’d take that gift off my desk.
Especially in light of what the paperweight said.
See, I forgot to tell you about the inscription on the paperweight — which Newton described in his e-mail to me as “amusing.” According to the New Yorker article cited in my earlier post:
One Christmas, Pellicano sent out baseball paperweights with the inscription “Sometimes … you just have to play hardball.”
Amusing? Coming from a guy suspected of threatening your colleague’s life, maybe not so much.
Perhaps Newton simply forgot about the item on his desk. But if he was treating the threats against Busch as a joke, he would not have been alone at his newspaper. According to Busch, a number of people at the L.A. Times — including Chuck Philips and Newton’s wife Karlene Goller — were openly skeptical of Busch’s claims of having been threatened. The New York Times article linked above states:
According to a 2002 article in The Washington Post, people at The Los Angeles Times called [Busch] the “Tawana Brawley of the newsroom.”
“I was telling the truth, and no one was believing me,” she said. “People started questioning whether I had somehow lost my mind. It’s hard to take, when you’re telling the truth and people are looking at you sideways and laughing in your face.”
Given subsequent developments, it seems clear that Busch’s claims of being in danger were well-founded. But that didn’t keep her from being treated like a paranoiac inside the newspaper.
Busch told me that she once ran into Chuck Philips in a hallway at the L.A. Times. She had not met Philips before, but recognized him. She said: “You’re Chuck Philips.” And Philips responded: “Oh, you’re the woman who got threatened?” When she said she was, Philips rolled his eyes and walked away without another word.
Why was Philips so openly dismissive of Busch? Did it have anything to do with his relationship with Pellicano, whose wedding and verdicts he later attended, both in an apparent personal capacity?
In addition to the fish and the rose, there was another incident where two men tried to run over Busch. As the New York Times article cited above explains:
On Aug. 13, unknown to Ms. Busch, an F.B.I. informant recorded a suspect saying that the threat on her had not done any good — she was “back at it.” On Aug. 16, she said, two men in a Mercedes tried to run her down outside her apartment.
Busch tells me that, after she was almost run over, Newton’s wife Karlene Goller “looked me in the eye and basically told me that she didn’t believe me.” According to Busch, Goller told her: “Maybe those guys in the car [who tried to run her down] were just looking for a parking spot.”
Busch says that Goller’s lack of support went further. When the paper drafted a letter of support for Busch, it was sent to Goller for her review. Goller removed the line: “We stand firmly by Anita and value her contributions to The Times.”
“Why would they do that? Who was telling them not to believe me? Who was whispering in their ear?” Busch asked me. Did it have anything to do with the relationships some staffers appeared to have with Pellicano?
We’ve already discussed Chuck Philips’s relationship with Pellicano. Did other reporters have regular contact with him? I don’t know. I do know that in a front-page article about Pellicano from February 1, 2004, Scott Glover and Matt Lait reported:
Even the FBI envied his lab, he told clients. Pellicano gave reporters tours of the facility. On one occasion in the early 1990s, he demonstrated to a Times reporter how an innocent conversation could be altered to appear incriminating or embarrassing.
In Newton’s e-mail to me, he said that he had not toured Pellicano’s offices. So Lait and Glover must have been referring to someone else. I won’t speculate about who it was, and Matt Lait wouldn’t tell me, saying: “It would not be proper for me to disclose unpublished information.”
Lait and Glover’s story was critical of prosecutors for using Pellicano despite his shady background:
Even cursory research would have turned up media accounts in which he boasted about or was accused of thuggish or illegal behavior.
For instance, in a January 1992 profile in GQ magazine titled “The Big Sleazy,” Pellicano bragged that he had used a baseball bat to beat up one of his client’s adversaries and had blackmailed others.
“I’m an expert with a knife,” he was quoted as saying. “I can shred your face with a knife.”
One assumes that reporters are at least as competent as prosecutors at doing cursory research. If it was wrong for prosecutors to be cozy with Pellicano — and Lait and Glover made a good case that it was — one wonders the same about reporters. One wonders why Chuck Philips “saluted and smiled to” Pellicano, this man who “can shred your face with a knife,” at Pellicano’s wedding — a wedding at which he was reportedly the only reporter not taking notes.
One wonders whether it was really a good idea for Jim Newton to display a gift from someone like that, bearing an inscription that is itself suggestive of thuggery. Newton might dispute the extent to which it was displayed, I suppose — but if Busch is telling the truth, it was prominent enough to get the attention of the staff writer who told her about it.
Ultimately, I have no idea whether Newton’s “Sometimes … you just have to play hardball” paperweight was a forgotten and meaningless trinket, or represented something more. All I know is that a top editor received this purportedly “amusing” gift from Pellicano — and his wife was the in-house lawyer who allegedly wanted Pellicano “aboard” to help investigate the threat against Busch. What does all of this mean? I leave it for the reader to decide.
To me, the interesting issue is not the paperweight itself, but the way in which many people at this newspaper treated Busch and her claims. Busch was keeping notes at the time about the way the paper reacted when the news broke about Pellicano’s possible connection to the threats — and when she was called to testify in front of the grand jury. And she has agreed to share the story with me.
So stay tuned for future posts.
UPDATE: Anita Busch has more in a new statement.