Los Angeles Times' parent company, Tronc, said Thursday that it had opened an investigation into past conduct of Times publisher Ross Levinsohn following a detailed report by National Public Radio.
NPR's media writer David Folkenflik reported that Levinsohn has been a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits and that the executive engaged in "frat-boy" behavior in work settings before joining The Times in August.
"This week, the company learned of allegations of inappropriate behavior by Ross Levinsohn," Tronc Chief Executive Justin Dearborn said in a note to employees. "Tronc is committed to creating a culture of diversity and inclusion, and we will take appropriate action to address any behavior that is inconsistent with this culture. We are conducting an independent review into these matters. Once that review is complete, we will take swift and appropriate action to address any behavior that falls short of our expectations."
Levinsohn didn't respond to a request for comment.
NPR said its story was based on a review of court documents, financial filings and interviews with 26 former colleagues of Levinsohn and his associates. The report said Levinsohn was sued when he was an executive at two separate companies, including the search engine AltaVista. In sworn testimony, Levinsohn reportedly acknowledged that he had rated the bodies and relative "hotness" of women who worked at AltaVista.
Separately, Levinsohn was a defendant in a lawsuit filed by video producer Amber Tribble in 2008 against Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. when Levinsohn was general manager of a digital arm of Fox Sports. In her lawsuit, reviewed by The Times, Tribble said that she was sexually harassed and was subject to gender discrimination.
While an executive overseeing the Hollywood Reporter trade magazine, Levinsohn allegedly told a colleague as he was leaving a lunch event the magazine sponsored with fashion stylists, "Why would I hang out with a bunch of ladies and fags?" NPR reported. That unnamed executive notified the magazine's human resources department of the incident.
The article comes as The Times' newsroom has been aggressively reporting on politicians in Sacramento and media and entertainment figures who have been embroiled in sexual harassment scandals, including Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, Russell Simmons, James Toback and James Franco.
The NPR article comes during a significant week for The Times, which has endured much turmoil in recent years. On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board is set to announce the results of an election held to determine whether newsroom staffers want the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America to represent them in collective bargaining.
The Los Angeles Times newsroom has never been represented by a union, but the organizing effort, which geared up last year, comes after years of steep declines in print advertising, staff cutbacks and management turnover.
The Times newsroom quickly responded to news of the allegations. The guild organizing committee demanded that Levinsohn be fired, saying he was "not fit to lead our newspaper." The group also said Tronc and its board should be held accountable for not properly vetting Levinsohn.
In a letter to Tronc's board, 12 senior editors of The Times also expressed concern that Levinsohn's alleged behavior "jeopardizes The Times' 136-year legacy of integrity. The organization should not be led by anyone who has engaged in this behavior, if it is true, particularly given the [Times'] role in investigating multiple industries and governments on the topic of sexual harassment."
Levinsohn, a former Fox and Yahoo executive, joined The Times in late August after Tronc ousted the paper's former editor/publisher Davan Maharaj and several other top editors. Since then, Levinsohn has moved swiftly to establish his own team, hiring Mickie Rosen as president and former Forbes Editor Lewis D'Vorkin as editor-in-chief.
Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.
7:20 p.m.: This article was updated to include information about concerns expressed by top Times editors.
5:02 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Tronc Chief Executive Justin Dearborn.