As I told you yesterday, L.A. Times publisher David Hiller yesterday decided to kill the upcoming Brian Grazer-edited Sunday Current section. This decision prompted the resignation of editorial page editor Andres Martinez, whose romantic relationship with an executive at a public relations firm representing Grazer had raised (in my view relatively spurious) concerns about a conflict of interest. But while the decision to cancel the Grazer edition of Current was made by Hiller, an article in this morning’s New York Times suggests that Hiller’s decision was heavily influenced by the intervention of staffers claiming to be concerned about the appearance of impropriety:
The publisher, David Hiller, initially said he did not see a conflict, only the appearance of a conflict that could be handled with an editor’s note disclosing the relationship, said James O’Shea, the paper’s editor. But Mr. Hiller changed his mind yesterday after several staff members expressed their concern to Mr. O’Shea, and Mr. O’Shea spoke with Mr. Hiller. Yesterday, Mr. Hiller canceled the special edition.
The only staffer named in the story is leftist legal affairs reporter Henry Weinstein:
Henry Weinstein, a veteran reporter at the paper, said he and others had told Mr. O’Shea that they were concerned about even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“The newsroom’s credibility is the coin of the realm, and the paper shouldn’t do anything to erode its credibility or give the appearance that it has eroded its credibility,” Mr. Weinstein said.
I’m sorry — there are so many punchlines to choose from, I can’t select just one!
I will note, however, that in my view Henry Weinstein has done more to erode the credibility of the L.A. Times than ten “Grazergates” could ever do. Just to take one example, Weinstein has, on multiple occasions, described a notorious death penalty opponent as nothing more than an “an expert on methods of punishment.” Weinstein thus lent artificial credibility to the anti-death penalty findings of this “expert” — findings that would be viewed as having less force if Weinstein had done his job and told readers about the “expert’s” abolitionist proclivities.
I highlighted yesterday a very interesting and revealing passage from Martinez’s eye-popping online resignation:
. . . I will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom’s agenda . . .
At the time, I wondered whom Martinez was talking about. I think you can add the name Henry Weinstein to the list of suspects.
UPDATE: Weinstein’s name also pops up in this morning’s L.A. Times piece about the controversy:
“O’Shea stepped up to the plate when the paper’s credibility was in question,” veteran reporter Henry Weinstein said. “He did the right thing and he did it with alacrity, which was a good thing for this newspaper. And I’m glad Hiller made the right decision.”
Surprisingly, the piece actually quotes Martinez’s accusation that newsroom staffers had tried to meddle in the opinion side:
In his parting blog, Martinez protested against “some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom’s agenda.”
He said that editors from the newspaper’s California section had attempted to interest him in writing editorials about subjects that their reporters had covered. Martinez, who previously worked for the New York Times editorial pages, called that a shocking transgression that would not have happened at other major newspapers.
The news editors said they were simply trying to direct the editorial pages to subjects of interest to readers. They said they understood that the actual content of the pieces would have been left to the opinion writers.
Oh, of course! We would never suspect the L.A. Times newsroom of trying to influence people’s opinions!
UPDATE x2: After reading the Washington Post‘s article, I suggest adding Jim Newton to the list of suspects as well. Newton is described by the WaPo as a “reporter,” but the Editorial Staff Directory lists him as a City-County Bureau Chief.
UPDATE x3: Mickey Kaus’s headline is just too funny: Salivating lynch mob of LAT twits wins!
UPDATE x4: Martinez is naming names. Details here.