What’s Really Going on With the Grazergate Deal?
Speaking at Cathy Seipp’s funeral today, Allan Mayer said that Cathy would have enjoyed the current L.A. Times scandal. I think that’s right. After all, Cathy did open one of her columns with this great line: “Every once in a while, I wake up to a media buffoonery story so delicious it feels like it’s Christmas in July and Santa’s just left me a big plate of bonbons for breakfast.”
And there is no doubt: it’s great entertainment to see a top Times editor resign, excoriate the newsroom for its “agenda,” and say things about the paper like: “The wheels of this bus have come off.” This is a plate of bonbons so plentiful, there’s enough there for lunch and dinner.
But it would behoove the skeptical Times reader to look past the surface, and probe what’s really going on here.
By treating it as a major scandal, the paper is setting up an impossible standard for its staffers. For example, as this blog post shows, Times managing editor Jim O’Shea “was married to a manager of media relations for Chicago’s Field Museum” during his tenure as managing editor of the Chicago Tribune. And the paper covered the museum quite extensively:
The museum turned up in the Tribune‘s pages more than 1,200 times during O’Shea’s tenure, sometimes raising eyebrows in the newsroom. . . . In April 2004, for instance, the paper ran two back-to-back Page One stories lauding the museum’s efforts to establish a nature preserve in rural Peru. The feel-good nature of the stories, their lack of news hook, their unusual length for a newspaper (more than 8,000 words total), and their prominent placement all had staffers wondering if they were an anniversary present to O’Shea’s wife. As one Tribune staffer puts it today, “Why put this meaningless Field Museum story on Page One?” (Adding to the intrigue over the Peru series was the fact that Jack Fuller, then the president of Tribune Publishing, was dating a Field Museum scientist featured prominently—and favorably—in the stories.)
My point here is not to pick on O’Shea. I’d bet that, if you looked hard enough, you could find similar examples throughout the L.A. Times building, of people whose romantic relationships could cause ethical concerns every bit as meaty as Martinez’s . . . or O’Shea’s. And that is my point, which is put rather succinctly by a commenter to Martinez’s online resignation:
First, count up the people in the Times newsroom have had or are having sex with someone who has tried, is trying or might someday try to influence news coverage or opinion. Fire them. Then try to put out the next day’s newspaper.
And good luck.
My point is simple: while there might have been a minor issue of an appearance of impropriety in the eyes of some, this was really a big nothing of a “scandal.” Kevin Drum puts it this way:
I gotta be honest: even in the worst case — namely that Mullens suggested one of her firm’s clients to Martinez and he followed up on it — this seems remarkably….piddling. People know people. Ideas come from all over the place. Friends recommend things.
That’s about how I feel.
Which should lead you to ask: what’s really going on here?
Well, there are two data points to look at.
First, we have Martinez’s public statements. If you believe what Martinez has said publicly since he resigned, newsroom staffers were pressuring him to serve the newsroom’s “agenda” on the editorial page. Some “ostensibly objective news reporters and editors” lobbied for “editorials to be written on certain subjects” or “suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom’s agenda.” In an especially telling comment, Martinez said in an e-mail to Kevin Roderick: “Some of the resentment of the opinion page’s newfound independence is ideological . . .” (My emphasis.)
Second, we have the New York Times article that says publisher David Hiller changed his mind after the paper’s editor was approached by several staffers claiming to be concerned about a conflict of interest:
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.
From news reports, we know that this group included leftist Henry Weinstein, who uses the news pages to push his personal agenda, something I have documented many times (links collected here). In his e-mail to Roderick, Martinez implied that the group also included leftist Tim Rutten:
I think the desire to blend opinion with news is the far bigger breach, but I’m guessing the Henry Weinsteins and Tim Ruttens of the world will continue to conjure up the magical words “Staples Center” to wail against any innovation at the paper . . .
If you want examples of Rutten’s leftist tendencies, see here, as well the links collected here.
A cabal of staffers in the newsroom tries to influence the direction of the opinion page, some for “ideological” reasons. Martinez resists this attempt at interference.
Then, a cabal of staffers, including at least two well-known left-leaning ideologues, lean on the editor to take an extreme action on a non-scandal — knowing that such drastic action would be an effective way to humiliate Martinez.
Do you think there is any overlap or coordination between the first cabal of staffers and the second? I do.
Do you think this was a legitimate scandal that merited the extreme actions taken by the paper? I don’t.
I think there’s something else going on here. Tim Cavanaugh describes me as sniffing out a “left-wing coup,” and that’s about what I think has happened here.
This was an interesting sentence. That editors had to “alert the editorial pages to the important work of the staff in case it might make a good editorial.”Edward (56d3fd) — 3/23/2007 @ 8:09 pm
The LA Times sounds like a newspaper version of Mean Girls.DRJ (6984d0) — 3/23/2007 @ 8:11 pm
They’re after his head because he refused to do what Carroll did–let news dictate opinion–if I read between the lines correctly in Martinez’ statements.Patricia (824fa1) — 3/23/2007 @ 8:52 pm
Any word on what is happening with Tribune stock?Another Drew (8018ee) — 3/23/2007 @ 10:04 pm
Edward, good point. It appears as though the Times editorial writers didn’t even read their own paper?Hoystory (b9390a) — 3/23/2007 @ 10:26 pm
Hoystory,Edward (56d3fd) — 3/23/2007 @ 10:54 pm
That was my first reaction, but sometimes as a series of news stories go in the paper, op-ed pages will time an opinion piece for the next major installment. But Editor Jim O’Shea’s response to Martinez’s broadside doesn’t really specify when or what they would be lobbying for or why. To alert editors to important stories is vague, and should that be a job for the news editor or reporters?
Well … shouldn’t news control opinion? Or to say it another way, shouldn’t opinions be based on fact and not predisposition? Or to say it one more way, what don’t I understand about how newspapers are supposed to work?nk (3977b1) — 3/24/2007 @ 12:05 am
This was all about getting control of the editorial page. Watch who gets it.
All I can think when I see something like this is “What would Odin do?”Kevin Murphy (0b2493) — 3/24/2007 @ 1:50 am
The Times is like a drunken prostitute lying on the sidewalk, trying to convince you that she has class – by fussing with her mascara.Ken (245846) — 3/24/2007 @ 2:18 am
I gave up on the Times years ago although I read the web version of the Sports page during football season. Once I even decided to help support the web version by subscribing again after I got one of those nine dollar a month offers. The business office screwed that up by sending me overdue notices before I got the first bill. I gave up and cancelled again. They are hopeless. I’d be willing to pay for an online-only subscription, sort of like shareware, but they can’t even get their billing correct. The Royal Society of Medicine Journal has just that, an electronic-only subscription.Mike K (86bddb) — 3/24/2007 @ 4:57 am
nk,Edward (56d3fd) — 3/24/2007 @ 5:25 am
Opinions are opinions are opinions. You and I could take the same set of facts and come to a complete different opinion on what those facts mean. I’m not creating some ideal here. News does drive opinion, but reporters and news editors aren’t allowed to drive.
“A cabal of staffers in the newsroom tries to influence the direction of the opinion page, some for “ideological” reasons. Martinez resists this attempt at interference.”
OK, OK, we get it. The latimes is a rag that has been destroyed by the Chicago Mob. Let’s move on.semanticleo (75845c) — 3/24/2007 @ 7:02 am
I find it amazing how so many people will accuse “the government” or “Rove” of controlling what they see and read in the news, and how few care that in many cities, two or three people do exactly, literally that, and nobody in the general public even knows their names, credentials or backgrounds.
I got into an argument with my carpool-mates the other day about the US Attorneys flap. Every one of them thought it was just another symptom of Republican corruption. I asked how come none of them were as concerned about Clinton’s firing of 93 USA’s in his first week in office. Right away everyone started explaning how “that’s different”.
But I asked “How many of you had heard that before I just mentioned it?” Nobody had, not one.
My response was to ask:
a. How can you compare the two situations when you didn’t know one of them existed 2 minutes ago?
b. Why aren’t you wondering how come you have never heard or read about such an obviously-related issue? Even if the two things ARE different, who made that decision and decided one of them didn’t need to be made known to the public?
And tell me again how ill-informed I am compared to you folks, please.Sherlock (8084d0) — 3/24/2007 @ 7:33 am
if you eat bonbons for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’ll get fat.assistant devil's advocate (8aebd0) — 3/24/2007 @ 7:55 am
All this over two lousy pages in the paper where you already know what was written by looking at either the writer’s name or their bio. And on top of it, no brassiere ads.cts22 (63e44e) — 3/24/2007 @ 10:35 am
That seems more plausible than the given explanation, the entire “scandal” confused me, I figured there was just more to it than I understood. No, I understood the ins and outs, it’s just not as bad as they are reacting to. And given many of the outrageously biased things that the LA Times has put out in the last years, it’s not only plausible but likely.Christopher Taylor (a65349) — 3/24/2007 @ 6:39 pm
I think that the Grazer deal absolutely broke it with the newsroom folks. Here Martinez rebuffed every effort by the activist newsroom staff to
infectinject their views into the Opinion pages, then he goes out and lets some movie producer have the whole Sunday section!
Kinda like those girls in college who’d sleep with everyone except them.Kevin Murphy (0b2493) — 3/24/2007 @ 11:23 pm