Patterico's Pontifications

8/14/2008

L.A. Times Reporter Responds to Allegations by Dowie Attorney

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:46 pm

L.A. Times Staff Writer Ted Rohrlich has responded to my request for a comment about the letter I published last night from Doug Dowie’s attorney Michael Faber:

Dear Mr. Frey,

Thank you for the opportunity to respond.

I am not willing to comment on matters involving confidential sources, real or imagined. If I were, who would agree to speak with me in confidence?

I would, however, respectfully point out that I did not convict Mr. Dowie. Mr. Dowie was convicted by a federal court jury aware that Monique Moret testified under a grant of immunity.

Sincerely,

Ted Rohrlich
Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

Indeed, and as I said this morning, jury verdicts are generally entitled to respect, even though they can be mistaken. But the jury — and more importantly for my purposes, the public — didn’t know that Ms. Moret’s father was being investigated by the feds, and that he was never charged despite evidence that he was involved in a criminal conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Tim McGarry provides a link to an L.A. Times story containing the following passage:

Fred Muir, a former Times reporter and editor, testified that he quit his job at the corporation’s Los Angeles office in protest over the alleged fraud, for which the company has refunded the city of Los Angeles more than $6 million. He said he was directed to file false documents by his boss, John Stodder Jr.

“At the direction of John Stodder, there were occasions when I believe I may have written up some of those bills. It was largely in ignorance of what I was doing,” Muir testified in federal court Wednesday.

Stodder and Douglas Dowie, a political power broker and former head of Fleishman-Hillard’s Los Angeles office, are on trial for the alleged scheme to overbill the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Port of Los Angeles, the city’s airport agency and several private businesses.

The scandal was at the heart of allegations of influence-peddling at City Hall, which played a central role in the defeat of former mayor and Dowie confidant James K. Hahn by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Unlike other prosecution witnesses, Muir testified without having been granted immunity from prosecution. And unlike others, he said he quit in protest over what he called improper billing.

“I came to my own determination that it was fraudulent, and that it was wrong, and that I didn’t want to be a part of it,” Muir said.

Under cross-examination, Muir testified that he wanted more than the $170,000 a year he received at his hiring, that he felt he had lost a bonus because of an unfair performance review by Stodder, and that he had developed a strong distaste for Dowie.

This undercuts to some extent this passage from Mr. Faber’s letter:

A key prosecution witness in the trial of Mr. Dowie was a former Times editor named Fred Muir. Muir had left the Times and gone on to Fleishman-Hillard, but he maintained close relationships with his former Times colleagues. Muir testified under oath that after clashing with Mr. Dowie at Fleishman, he assisted his former colleagues in the preparation of the original story. He also admitted under cross examination that he had personally over billed clients while at Fleishman. The Times, which covered every day of the trial, never reported on those portions of Muir’s testimony. Giving Muir anonymity to help him settle a score, and then not reporting key elements of his testimony was an egregious conflict of interest on the part of the newspaper.

I’ll let the interested reader compare Faber’s allegations to the story, and determine for himself the extent to which the story undercuts Faber’s claims. The story clearly does report a conflict between Muir and Dowie, and Muir’s participation in overbilling.

However, the story does not ever say that Muir was one of the original anonymous sources for Rohrlich’s original story — even though, according to Faber, Muir admitted this under oath, which would presumably render any confidentiality agreement moot.

Thanks to Tim for the link.

11 Responses to “L.A. Times Reporter Responds to Allegations by Dowie Attorney”

  1. The impression I get from reading these stories and Rohrlich’s response is that the LA Times sees no need for further disclosure of links between it and Dowie’s criminal proceedings. I don’t think it should be the focus of every article but as long as there is a connection, I think it should be disclosed in every article.

    In addition, I don’t think the Times would be as reticent about disclosing links if the connection involved former Fox News’ editors.

    DRJ (a5243f)

  2. Three reactions to Rohrlich’s response:

    – Muir is no longer a confidential source. He testified under oath he was source. So there is no reason Rohrlich can’t explain why it was appropriate to use a former colleague with an axe to grind as an anonymous source.

    – The Spano story does indeed state Muir testified he inflated bills at the direction of John Stodder. Nobody’s arguing that point. What wasn’t reported was Muir’s additional testimony that he also inflated bills on his own, which damaged his credibility, and, indeed, exposed the fact the Times granted anonymity to a guy who was also guilty.

    – Rohrlich reminds everyone that Dowie and Stodder were convicted. The Ninth Circuit granted a motion last June allowing them to remain free pending appeal, citing the likelihood the case be overturned, or returned for a new trial or sentencing. No matter what ultimately happens in the case, the shoddiness of the Times methods are inexcusable.

    Politico (d98f0e)

  3. Wait a minute Rohrlich, when you reported that Lou Moret had been under investigation by the FBI, quoting the prosecutor as saying he was probably guilty, did you just forget Monique Moret was dancing with the feds down the hall? Or didn’t you think it was interesting?

    Anonymous (d98f0e)

  4. Jesus, try to imagine of being accused of crimes by a newspaper reporter who won’t even identify your accuser. And then to have this flawed institution destroy your reputation. And when asked for a simple explanation, the answer comes pretty close to, “Kiss my ass. I’m answerable to no one.” And you want a federal sheild law?

    Frightened (d98f0e)

  5. Mr. Rohrlich’s response to the posting regarding the Times’ coverage of the DWP/Dowie/Moret stories misses the point. He completely fails to address the questions of journalistic ethics, much less professionalism, which were sorely lacking in his and his paper’s coverage. While it is true that a jury convicted Mr. Dowie, a conviction which is on appeal, the outcome of any trial is irrelevant to the question of how journalists cover the story. A journalist’s ethical lapses are no more excusable because of a subsequent conviction than they would be by an acquittal.

    Michael J. Faber (19298f)

  6. Bunch of Sock Puppets dancing on the head of a pin in here….

    Alpa Chino (fe46e6)

  7. Am I confused or is Michael J. Faber? Judging from Patterico’s link, the trial was covered not by Ted Rohrlich, but by John Spano. Rohrlich declines to discuss confidential sources, but Spano’s stories seem to be the ones Faber finds ethically deficient. And how all this advances his client’s fortunes remains something of a mystery.

    A Different Michael (52f779)

  8. Alpa Chino,

    You are correct. Politico, Anonymous, and Frightened all post from the same IP address. It is not, however, the same one that Michael Faber posted from.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  9. Re the link, Patrick, you’re welcome.

    The foundation for accusing the Times of ethical lapses here continues to elude me. Rohrlich’s resistance to being drawn into any sort of discussion of confidential sources strikes me as precisely the right position for a responsible journalist to take. I also fail to see how, given the absence of evidence, he can be faulted for declining to speculate in print about a connection between the separate federal prosecutions of the Robles and Dowie cases. Finally, despite Mr. Faber’s assertions to the contrary, the Times did tell readers about Fred Muir’s view of Dowie and his role in overbilling.

    I know that I rarely post here, but I’ve been a public relations professional for a long time, and, like nearly everyone else in the profession, I took an interest in this matter. It had an impact on me and everyone in our business. The notion that padding invoices is somehow acceptable to PR people is potentially ruinous to our profession.

    I have no brief against Doug Dowie or John Stodder. I had some dealings with Dowie over the years and he was always kind to me and generous with his time. Stodder and I were on opposite sides of a land-use dispute in which his talent and resourcefulness as a professional became quickly apparent. I still sometimes read his blog, “From the Desert to the Sea,” which shows him to be a very thoughtful person and fine writer.

    All the same, this was a case in which things went very, very wrong. And they went wrong in the offices of a leading PR agency, not in the newsroom of the Los Angeles Times.

    Tim McGarry (9fe080)

  10. I don’t know if this has been mentioned here, but Dowie also worked for the competing LA Daily News for many years until he resigned prior to taking any other job.

    Dowie was not, er, personally popular at the Daily News.

    Without a vat of additional information, I view the jury’s verdict as dispositive of the issue. The thing’s we’re talking about here are not the sort of things that give me pause as to the verdict.

    –JRM

    JRM (6ac76d)

  11. a land-use dispute

    I didn’t know Mr. Stodder worked on that. (The protected frogs? Either that or a related environmental threat.) He does have an excellent blog. My politics are opposite-end but his is always a good read.

    FWIW, that project should’ve gone through. WaMu was going to provide funds for transit concerns and other overload problems. It’s easy to wonder where those 3,000 families ended up …

    Vermont Neighbor (a066ed)


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