I heard today from Sue Horton, whom I had written about that undisclosed conflict of interest involving Merrick Bobb. As you may recall, Bobb used the pages of the L.A. Times to praise someone who has been his consultant for several years, without telling readers about that relationship. I told Ms. Horton that I thought readers deserved to know about the consultant relationship. Evidently she disagrees:
I have checked with Merrick Bobb, who tells me that while Melekian used to be paid as a PARC senior advisor, he now volunteers his time. He has not been paid since last fall. That said, if we had known he formerly received pay, we certainly would have asked Merrick to acknowledge that in his piece. He notes, however, that he recruited Melekian to advise PARC for the same reason he defended him in the op ed: because he believes him to be an excellent police chief. Also, the main thrust of the piece was not a defense of Melekian but rather a defense of transparency and full disclosure by police. While we wish the former financial arrangement had been noted in the piece, we don’t feel it rises to the level of running an after-the-fact correction, since he is no longer a paid consultant.
So Bobb doesn’t pay Melekian now? So what?
For all we know, maybe that’s because Melekian feels it’s payment enough to receive praise from a well-known police watchdog. And that praise is more valuable when it appears disinterested.
And Bobb benefits from Melekian’s consultant position regardless of whether Melekian is paid. Bobb’s organization lists Melekian as a senior advisor, and his reports regularly tout Melekian’s participation as evidence that the reports benefit from true law enforcement experience.
Whether Melekian is getting paid or not is beside the point.
The point is that L.A. Times readers should be told about the relationship, so that they can make up their own minds.
Too bad editors don’t agree.