I thought Michael Hiltzik lost his column due to dishonesty. So explain this to me, if you can.
First, some background. Regular readers are familiar with the story of how I caught L.A. Times staff writer Michael Hiltzik using a false name on several blogs, sometimes praising himself. Because it was Hiltzik’s second infraction — his first was reading co-workers’ e-mail without their permission years earlier — I spoke to quite a few L.A. Times employees who were surprised Hiltzik wasn’t fired.
Shortly after Hiltzik’s column was taken away in May 2006, Kevin Roderick interviewed then-editor Dean Baquet, who explained that he had taken Hiltzik’s column away because of Hiltzik’s dishonesty:
Baquet called Hiltzik’s undoing a professional tragedy, but said he knew immediately that—regardless of what the blogosphere thought—Hiltzik’s use of pseudonyms to post favorable comments about himself and disparage his critics violated Times ethics. Baquet said he wasn’t certain sure how to punish Hiltzik until he read about Ken Lay’s trial last week and thought how the Enron saga would make great fodder for a business columnist. He realized then, Baquet said, that his business columnist—Hiltzik—could no longer write credibly about duplicity in the business world. There’s no place, he said, for dishonesty under the Times banner.
The firmness of Baquet’s message was undermined by the fact that the paper kept Hiltzik on as a sports reporter. Still, Baquet’s decision to take Hiltzik’s column away sent the message that dishonesty would be met with some sort of repercussions.
I wonder what sort of message is being sent with today’s news that Hiltzik is getting his column back:
Michael Hiltzik, one of the paper’s most prolific writers and distinctive voices, will return to being a columnist for the Business section.
A 27-year Times veteran, Michael has distinguished himself since returning to Business a year ago (after a brief stint in Sports) with smart, analytical stories, many of which have been followed by our competitors.
Michael has an uncanny knack for synthesizing complicated information and making it easy for readers to understand. This year, he has produced 25 A1 stories on a broad range of subjects, from hedge funds’ track records in Hollywood to the nation’s broken health care insurance system. Most recently, he helped anchor our coverage of the Bush Administration’s financial bailout plan.
A former foreign correspondent, who has served the paper in both Moscow and Nairobi, Michael won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 with colleague Chuck Philips for reporting on corruption in the entertainment industry.
“Mikekoshi” has been overheard praising the decision.
By the way, I said at the time that Hiltzik’s sock puppetry wasn’t a firing offense, and I still believe that. I just think that Baquet’s 2006 quote is ironic, now that they’re giving him his column back.