Patterico's Pontifications

12/19/2008

Revived: A Place for Dishonesty Under the L.A. Times Banner

Filed under: Blogging Matters,Crime,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 5:52 pm

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.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit and L.A. Observed for the links.

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.

72 Responses to “Revived: A Place for Dishonesty Under the L.A. Times Banner”

  1. Michael won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 with colleague Chuck Philips

    That pretty much says it all.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  2. I suppose the first assignment will be a comprehesive study of the Madoff affair.

    Another Drew (efe318)

  3. I suppose the first assignment will be a comprehesive study of the Madoff affair.

    Yeah. “How could Madoff have gone around praising his own honesty like that, when he knew he was engaged in underhanded behavior?” Etc.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  4. I thught you would appreciate the irony.

    Another Drew (efe318)

  5. “thought”
    Got to set the thermostat up, fingers very sluggish.

    Another Drew (efe318)

  6. Michael has an uncanny knack for synthesizing complicated information and making it easy for readers to understand.

    Michael’s opinion good, other opinions bad.

    Perfect Sense (9d1b08)

  7. Is sock-puppetry really a federal offense? No money or other thing of value is taken, no one is really damaged or defrauded. It’s an act on the outer limit of the term ‘dishonest” because the stakes are so small. It diminishes an already insignificant conversation.

    It get worse if the puppeteer gets pretentious and brazenly lies about it afterward, in the manner of Glenn Greenwald. But Greenwald’s offense is being a pompous jerk generally. In the case of Hiltzak, methinks Patterico’s freak-out is disproportionate.

    Brian (74a9ae)

  8. methinks Patterico’s freak-out is disproportionate

    I’m FREAKIN’ OUT, MAN! FREAK-IN’ OUT!

    Actually, I didn’t think the post was too much of a freakout. Just noting the irony in the contrast between the May 2006 Baquet position (no column for Hiltzik because he’s dishonest) and the current position (he can have a column; why? Was there a problem with him?).

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  9. In fact, Brian, I argued at the time that sock puppetry was a venial sin and that firing would be disproportionate.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  10. This story is swinging after the bell.

    Angelinos have decided. Hell, the Gods of Commerce has decided.

    The LA Times is bankrupt.
    Its warranty on the truth void.
    It is a dead newspaper.

    DCSCA (d8da01)

  11. Yes, you did so argue.

    So my term “freak-out,” used to accuse you of a disproportionate response, was itself disproportionate. (It’s a cool term, however, just misapplied by me.)

    What I do think is silly is Baquet’s initial dead-serious tone over some comment-page foolishness, when he and some of his co-workers at the LA Times tolerate and indulge in serious forms of dishonesty. But I guess that was all an act anyway.

    Brian (74a9ae)

  12. “Michael has an uncanny knack for synthesizing complicated information and making it easy for readers to understand.” That’s good, because the one big problem with most newspaper stories is that they are so darn complicated and hard to understand. We readers need a break.

    gp (4db77f)

  13. Patterico – Michael Hiltzik is a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper columnist who undeservedly had his column yanked away from him by management who caved in to pressure from right wing fanatics. For you to rehash this unfortunate incident in the history of American journalism speaks volumes about the venom and dishonesty you have always propagated on this blog.

    Good day sir.

    /sarc/

    Rick Ellensburg Wilson Grenwald Ellison Ellers Daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  14. Mike Barnicle has pretty good instincts. I wonder what he’d make of this story.

    fat tony (2d866c)

  15. Obviously, reinstating this tool helps Michelle’s children.

    Ed (f063fd)

  16. I think it’s great! Michael Hiltzik is an awesome columnist and deserves another shot!

    Mikael Hitlikz (f33274)

  17. Michael’s a good boy!

    Michael's Mom (497622)

  18. He’s probably working for free.

    Patricia (ee5c9d)

  19. Is sock-puppetry really a federal offense? No money or other thing of value is taken, no one is really damaged or defrauded. It’s an act on the outer limit of the term ‘dishonest” because the stakes are so small. It diminishes an already insignificant conversation.

    All true, but the issue isn’t diminishing the conversation; it’s diminishing your own reputation (and by extension, the paper’s). If you are trying to hoodwink people — that is, being intentionally inaccurate in a situation where accuracy is expected — your reputation will suffer. Nobody expects total accuracy in a novel. Nobody expects it if you’re signing off as Hugh G. Rection. This is a case (IIRC) where he used generic-sounding names to praise himself and attack his enemies, so it counts as a lie.

    Even there, though, the boundaries aren’t always clear. There was some sock-puppeteer a few years ago (Lee Siegel, maybe?) who praised himself in such fulsome and over-the-top terms that at first I thought it must be a joke. But as the case went on and the puppeteer defended himself, it became clear that he wasn’t doing it out of fun, but in a real effort to convince readers that a bunch of strangers thought he was way better than Jesus. Glenn Greenwald should have signed himself “Green Glennwald,” so he could tell people he was just joshing.

    It is a dead newspaper.

    Would that that were true. Unfortunately, the same principle of unmerited longevity that has allowed Castro to outlast ten U.S. presidents will, I suspect, apply to the L.A. Times. The paper will be boring people into stupefaction long after I’m dead.

    Tim Cavanaugh (78d0f1)

  20. Tim,

    Lee Siegel is my favorite sock puppet ever. Under a phony name, he said things like: “Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep.”

    I love it.

    I wrote a post about the guy here. If I had to pick my own favorite blog posts. this one would rank up there.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  21. Tim – I don’t know how old you are, but I hope you’re still around when it augers in.

    You’re spot on about diminishing his reputation, but it’s not just because the action is untruthful. Rather, it shows a distinct lack of faith in the output or work product that an imaginary cheering section must be created.

    Maybe he should try this.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  22. Don’t Tread On Me!

    Michael's Left Sock (c50867)

  23. Mike Penner returns after a brief foray as Christine Daniels and now Hiltzik gets his column back. The LA Times is an odd paper.

    Simple Voice (9ccc57)

  24. [...] An LA Times columnist was caught about 18 months ago stirring up trouble on blogs critical of his column under multiple assumed names, all of which agreed with each other (surprise). He got his column yanked for that, but now they’re giving it back. [...]

    Why Tribune Co is in trouble (b01e73)

  25. Well, Zell did say there were going to be changes made. Who knew it was going to be to the ethics policy?

    Insider (5b76cb)

  26. LAT, huh? Well, I think the answer is obvious. Obama will need distractions. The LAT needs a guy to report on Republican political perfidy and his past integrity credentials don’t have to be too stellar because his material will be more fiction than fact. How honest would the guy have to be to write a weekly column about what a terrible person Sarah Palin is and how Alaskan moose are traumatized by all those armed people walking around?
    If the core activity is on shaky ethical ground isn’t the perfect candidate for every job a person of questionable personal ethics?

    Marty (4c9fec)

  27. I look forward to his posts on the telecommunications industry!

    nofanofcablecos (46e213)

  28. “Is sock-puppetry a Federal offense?”

    My fear is that we will soon be subject to shock and awe at the number of things which will become Federal Offenses.

    Lifeofthemind (35d585)

  29. “he can have a column; why? Was there a problem with him?”

    The only problem with him was a “brief stint in Sports.”

    The reason for the brief stint in sports they’ve conveniently forgotten. Well, they remember, of course, but they’re not about to let their readers know the significance of it. “Unethical Columnist Returns to Column Writing” isn’t a headline any newspaper would be proud of.

    kcom (b339a8)

  30. Savvy journalist that he is, Mr Hiltzik probably has pictures. :)

    I mean, he has to have something on someone, right? The Los Angeles Times is owned by a company now in Chapter 11, one which is cutting unnecessary items and laying off people where it can, yet they not only retained a journalist who lost his column for dishonesty, but restored him to his previous position, at the same time that they’ve let go good people who don’t have unfortunate episodes like Mr Hiltzik’s on their résumés, and probably even made less money.

    The not really amazed Dana (556f76)

  31. By the way, you forgot to file this under Hiltzik, which you have as a separate category.

    The nitpicky Dana (556f76)

  32. [...] from Patterico we hear that Los Angeles Times staff writer Michael Hiltzik, who lost his column because Patterico caught [...]

    Common Sense Political Thought » Blog Archive » He must have pictures (73d96f)

  33. The LAT’s parent is bankrupt.

    I’d be curious as to Hiltzik’s new salary.

    dk70 (a074bf)

  34. [...] under the Times banner All is forgiven.  The LA Times in 2006: [Business columnist Michael Hiltzik] could no longer write credibly about [...]

    Dishonesty under the Times banner « Internet Scofflaw (378bf4)

  35. Tim
    I’m giving a non expert opinion,based on Larry Niven’s classic,”A World Out of Time”.A character explains a ‘water empire’ can last forever ,in the absence of an external threat because it controls water(life).See Cuba.It hasn’t been worth our while to overturn Fidel.Rather ,he’s been neutralized.There are external threats to Tribune Corp.To use an example from Newtonian physics,you’re confusing momentum with acceleration.

    corwin (053dd6)

  36. Considering the ongoing economic (if not also symbolic) decline of the print media — the LA Times/Tribune in particular — and the political preferences pervasive in that industry (of “liberalism is virtually sacred and means never having to say you’re sorry”) — and in light of major rip-off artist Bernard Madoff, big supporter of the Democrat Party who’s also caused many in his socio-political clique (and others) to lose billions — Hiltzik becoming a business columnist at the LA Times all over again makes perfect sense.

    Mark (411533)

  37. Just watch, they’ll hand a byline to Jason Leopold next. He’ll work for a little blow and turn out stories as accurate as any of the other writers there.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  38. Newspapers have lost the trust of their readers. Why not hire a man like Hiltzik? They certainly can’t lose something they have already lost.
    Newspapers should have, as they do in England, pictures of naked women. These pictures would serve to remind columnists of their importance. In one column they could discuss Obama’s Econmic Plan and in the facing column discuss if todays model should have shaved her pubic hairs.

    T. Johnson (d8da01)

  39. The late Cathy Seipp would have had fun with this!

    Bradley J. Fikes (0ea407)

  40. The true sin was the blow to the Times’ credibilty. That’s a newspaper’s most crucial selling point. Otherwise we might as well read the National Enquirer.

    ron logsdon (d8da01)

  41. that is, “credibility”

    ron logsdon (d8da01)

  42. Hmm. So the L.A. Times columnist was “dishonest” and should be blacklisted forever. Okay, that sounds fair. Now, what about, say, a drug-addicted radio commentator? Or does the right wing approve of drug addiction?

    Horrible Leftist (d9762f)

  43. HL you’re no more of a creative witty troll here than you are at Gateway.

    Jack Klompus (b0e238)

  44. Now, what about, say, a drug-addicted radio commentator?

    That’s not a very nice thing to say about Randi Rhodes.

    I thought that with the Times financial mess the last thing they would want to do is have a high-priced columnist on staff. Perhaps Hiltzik is being paid a whole lot less now than he was before. I would be interested in knowing.

    JVW (bff0a4)

  45. “… Hiltzik is being paid a whole lot less…”
    Wouldn’t that be public information in a BK filing?

    Another Drew (4dc1ef)

  46. The real problem is that the Los Angeles Times has erred in re-assigning a columnist it judged to be dishonest to his original beat, at the expense of some ethical reporter at the Times who might want to have a column, or a columnist at another newspaper.

    Official Internet Data Office (8aa339)

  47. That’s not a very nice thing to say about Randi Rhodes.

    That, sir, is a blatant lie – she’s not a druggie, in fact she’s a falling – down drunk, habitually running into imaginary fists outside of her barfly locales.

    Dmac (e30284)

  48. [Moronic and defamatory comment removed. -- P]

    [Idiot name deleted] (0391f9)

  49. Cleanup on Aisle 47! Someone is posting while drinking again.

    Eric Blair (e906af)

  50. I’m sorry: the LA Times is still publishing? Who knew?

    Denny, Alaska (b95b96)

  51. Sully, is that you, sweetheart?

    Dmac (e30284)

  52. Oh, Dmac, you and I both know the identity of this particular troll. Right?

    Eric Blair (e906af)

  53. The hint would be the other target of that poorly worded bile. Posted on a blog with many lawyers.

    Eric Blair (e906af)

  54. So, Hiltzik gets his column back because he’s only a little dishonest?

    Peter (ce69ff)

  55. HL you’re no more of a creative witty troll here than you are at Gateway.

    I want to see how long it takes for this wingnut site to ban me.

    That’s not a very nice thing to say about Randi Rhodes.

    My understanding is that Ms. Rhodes is a drunkard. I was thinking about Rush Limbaugh, the oxy-contin addict. By the way, I wonder if has been buying any pills ftom Bristol Palin’s mother in law. What do you think, nutcases? Yea or nay?

    Horrible Leftist (d9762f)

  56. Dear Lord, give me the strength to turn away.

    Another Drew (4dc1ef)

  57. Surely people can redeem themselves, Patrick. Hiltzik is smart and talented and has done a lot of good work since returning from his exile to the Sports page. Readers may benefit from his column’s revival. And who knows — with the benefit of experience, he may be less prone to doing things that undermine his own rep.

    Tim McGarry (2774d5)

  58. Tim, you don’t understand the wingnuts. Only their own can “redeem themselves.”

    Horrible Leftist (d9762f)

  59. The late Cathy Seipp would have had fun with this!

    Oh Bradley, you are so right! Blistering wit in a comic relief entree, all served up by one Ms. Seipp. A veritable sock-puppet banquet!

    Dana (79a78b)

  60. “Horrible Leftist” says:

    So the L.A. Times columnist was “dishonest” and should be blacklisted forever.

    And Tim McGarry says:

    Surely people can redeem themselves, Patrick. Hiltzik is smart and talented and has done a lot of good work since returning from his exile to the Sports page. Readers may benefit from his column’s revival. And who knows — with the benefit of experience, he may be less prone to doing things that undermine his own rep.

    I am of course not arguing that Hiltzik should be “blacklisted forever” or that he cannot redeem himself. And who knows? Maybe Russ Stanton’s feelings about Hiltzik’s transgression more closely match mine than Dean Baquet’s.

    But here’s the thing: I found Hiltzik’s silliness (and, yes, dishonesty) venial in large part because I have little respect for this newspaper anyway. If I truly thought it was an organization full of people who never try to distort the truth, then his dishonesty would have stood out a little more.

    In other words, maybe (like Baquet) I would have found Hiltzik’s dishonesty to be more distressing if I thought it was unique or highly rare.

    But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept Baquet’s premise and assume that Hiltzik’s dishonesty was truly a stain on the paper.

    In that case, how, exactly, has he redeemed himself? Sure, he’s written a lot of articles that many people have found well-written and insightful. But that was never the problem. I think he’s always been considered smart, literate, and a skillful writer.

    What he hasn’t done is show any hint that he understands why people thought his sock-puppetry was so laughable. Look at his post on the Golden State blog responding to my calling him out on his sock-puppetry. It’s as defensive and smarmy and lacking in self-awareness as could be. And it’s dishonest, as a swarm of commenters pointed out.

    You can redeem yourself from a mistake like that — but first, you have to show that you understand what you did wrong. I see zero evidence of that from Hiltzik.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  61. Translation: Patterico will find whatever reason he can to want to blacklist the guy forever, but because Patterico is a wingnut he is perfectly okay with his favorite drug addict, Rushbo.

    Patterico, you can fool yourself, and you can fool the idiots who surround you on your echo chamber wingnutotorium, but anyone with half a brain and a shred of independence stands here and laughs at your antics.

    Horrible Leftist (d9762f)

  62. It’s obviously overwrought to claim that he has been “blacklisted.” With 25 Page A1 stories over the past year, he has been anything but.

    half a brain and a shred of independence

    You said that, not me. But the description fits you well.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  63. Oh my, please control my sides from splitting at this display of original, cutting edge humor! “Wingnuts!” Oh where do these people come up with such originality? Wow the left is just filled with such deep, clever wit! Wait wait, let me try….”YOU LISTEN TO RUSH LIMBAUGH!” Hahahaha. Oh please, hold you applause! Stick around and I’ll let you hear my, “You watch Fox News, wingers!” routine. Seriously, I wrote it myself!

    Jack Klompus (b0e238)

  64. The horrible leftist (clearly a redundancy) wrote:

    My understanding is that Ms. Rhodes is a drunkard. I was thinking about Rush Limbaugh, the oxy-contin addict. By the way, I wonder if has been buying any pills ftom Bristol Palin’s mother in law. What do you think, nutcases? Yea or nay?

    But that’s just it: even if you assume that Mr Limbaugh is still popping oxycontin, he is in no way pretending to be an unbiased journalist. Because both the Times and talk radio are part of the media does not mean they are, pretend to be, or should be similar, or held to the same standards.

    It would be nice if your comparison were as close as apples and oranges!

    The conservative Dana (556f76)

  65. Megadittos, fellow members of VRWC. Isn’t it actually Faux news? And isn’t pitiful that blogging nobodies like powerline and chas. johnson were given any credence at all over journalistic icons Dan Rather and Mary Mapes. Thank god that at least the senate will most likely be swearing in real class and intellect with Stuart Smiley and Princess Caroline.
    And yes, buffoon junkies like El Rushbo should reveal the truth of where he got those sexual aid pills when he was searched at the airport. Also enquiring minds need to know whom he was playing with at that time. I’m sure there must be some scandal there. But no, the Nat. Enquirer has to harrass a good man like the Breck Girl. Hopefully there will be big changes in talk radio and rabble rousers such as Hannity, Rush and O’Reilly will silenced. Now if Obama will only go after evil blogs like Patterico. If you seek the actual truth, one surely must admit Daily Kos, Huffington Post and DU set very high standards for honesty and integrity. Pity the right is unable to emulate those giants.

    madmax333 (0c6cfc)

  66. max, your hate speech is not sustainable. I HOPE that you bail out, CHANGE your ways, and work for truth and justice.

    Jack Klompus (b0e238)

  67. Comment by Jack Klompus — 12/21/2008 @ 7:17 am
    max is taking a job in a bookstore?
    Who knew?

    Another Drew (0403d0)

  68. forgot the link…
    bookstore

    Another Drew (0403d0)

  69. AD – great link. I’m sure he also did a stint as the Ambassador to Burkina Faso and rode a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon as well.

    Jack Klompus (b0e238)

  70. [...] reporter.  By the end of the year, he was publishing pieces on the front page.  Today, he has his column [...]

    » Had Enough of the Arrogance? Welcome to Big Journalism - Big Journalism (4556c3)


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