After publishing Anita Busch’s eye-opening statement at Anthony Pellicano’s sentencing yesterday, I wrote L.A. Times editor Russ Stanton last night to ask for a reaction — and why the paper had not mentioned Busch’s references to the L.A. Times. Stanton is out of the office, but I received a reply this evening from L.A. Times California Editor David Lauter:
Good afternoon Mr. Frey,
Russ is out of the office, but since I usually try to respond when people have questions about Metro stories, I thought I’d get back to you on this one.
As the Times has stated before, we take very seriously any threat made to our employees in the course of doing their jobs, and that certainly included the threats to Ms. Busch. The Times cooperated with law enforcement investigations in her case and provided monetary and personal support — and protection — to Ms. Busch.
The paper has also made clear previously that neither the paper nor its lawyers have ever hired Anthony Pellicano. Ms. Busch’s repeated suggestions that our lawyer said Pellicano had done work for The Times is untrue. It’s a matter of public record that Pellicano has been an occasional source for journalists at the paper over the years, both on the record and off. Journalists have many kinds of sources when reporting their stories.
Ms. Busch went through a terrible experience as a result of Pellicano’s illegal activities, and her former Times colleagues sympathize deeply with what she’s suffered. We didn’t include her statements about The Times in this morning’s story because they were neither true nor new.
All of us at The Times hope that the conclusion of the trial will bring Ms. Busch peace of mind.
Los Angeles Times
Mr. Lauter’s statement deserves a response.
Above: Anthony Pellicano
“Maybe Anthony Pellicano would know something about this . . .”
After she received a fish, a rose, and a note saying “Stop” on her windshield, Busch got a call from a man warning her that a private detective had hired someone to blow up her car. She told this to her employer, the L.A. Times. According to the New York Times, the paper’s lawyer, Karlene Goller, suggested getting in touch with a private detective . . . Anthony Pellicano:
Maybe Anthony Pellicano would know something about this, Ms. Goller said, according to two Times employees. . . . A reporter who had long experience with Mr. Pellicano as a news source, Chuck Philips, said he had tried to reach him at Ms. Goller’s urging and did not get through.
So it is a matter of public record that the Times‘s lawyer actively sought information about the threat to Busch from the very man now accused of ordering the threat: Anthony Pellicano. Goller sought Pellicano’s input even though she knew that a private detective was allegedly behind the threat. Busch discussed this in detail in her sentencing statement, and Mr. Lauter does not deny the allegation; instead, he responds only by quibbling over the word “hired.” But the embarrassment for The Times does not turn on whether they intended to pay Pellicano for his counsel.
Treated as the “Tawana Brawley of the newsroom.”
Mr. Lauter portrays The Times as a sympathetic employer that stood by Busch in her time of crisis. But as I have previously reported (see here and here), The Times was anything but. The New York Times article quoted above said:
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.”
I reported in May that Chuck Philips had even rolled his eyes at Busch:
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.
Above: Chuck Philips
Goller, the lawyer who had sought Pellicano’s involvement in investigating the threat, was particularly unsupportive, according to Busch — even after two men tried to run Busch down on the street. According to the New York Times, “an F.B.I. informant recorded a suspect saying that the threat on [Busch] had not done any good — she was ‘back at it.'” Three days later, “two men in a Mercedes tried to run her down outside her apartment.” Busch told me that Goller later dismissed the incident:
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.”
The Times Distances Busch
The people at the paper who derided Busch did not know that law enforcement was surreptitiously recording conversations that corroborated what she was telling everyone. But common decency should have caused The Times to stand by Busch in her time of crisis. Busch told me in May that the opposite had occurred:
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.”
The Times continues to distance itself from Busch to this day. Strikingly, in their latest story, The Times refers to Busch — but doesn’t even say that she was working as an L.A. Times reporter when the threats to her life occurred.
I asked Busch tonight for her reaction to the statement from Times editor Lauter. She did not want to get into a tit for tat regarding each one of his points. However, she told me that she stands by what she told me in May, and added this:
I’ve told the truth, and my accounts of these events have been borne out by the arrest and conviction of these individuals. Pellicano, in addition to compromising the legal system and judicial system, had relationships with people inside the Los Angeles Times, including a journalist whose work has been discredited. It’s time for the Times to submit to an independent investigation of their relationship to Anthony Pellicano and coverage of the case.
Nobody’s holding their breath waiting for that to happen.
In addition to an investigation, there’s one other thing that I’d like to see. The Los Angeles Times should say “I’m sorry” to Anita Busch. The paper treated Busch shabbily, and ought to apologize.
But apparently the paper is once again taking its cue from Anthony Pellicano, who today declared that he will not apologize to his victims for what he put them through.
It appears that The Times shares Pellicano’s unapologetic attitude.
UPDATE: Kevin Roderick links and defends Goller’s decision to contact Pellicano. However, Roderick doesn’t address the most salient point: Goller was seeking the assistance of a private investigator, after an informant had warned Busch that the plan to blow up her car had been ordered by a private investigator — a fact that Goller had been told. I think her decision to call on Pellicano was “questionable,” not in any corrupt sense, but rather in the sense that it showed poor judgment — and became a source of embarrassment for Goller and the newspaper after it turned out that Pellicano was believed to be behind the threats.
Perhaps that’s why John Carroll vetoed the idea; Busch has told me (and has also previously told Diane Dimond) that Goller continued to pursue the idea even after Carroll had explicitly said not to. Carroll had said that the investigation of this crime should be left up to LAPD and the FBI, an approach that seems wise and sound.
UPDATE x2: In addition, Matt Lait and Scott Glover have written that, even before Pellicano was charged with crimes, “[e]ven cursory research would have turned up media accounts in which he boasted about or was accused of thuggish or illegal behavior.”