Opinion: Hiltzik Suspended


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The L.A. Times has suspended Pulitzer-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik without pay, and discontinued both his column and his weblog, in response to the news that Hiltzik used psuedonyms on his blog and elsewhere to comment on Times-related matters, including his own work. From the editor’s note:

Hiltzik did not commit any ethical violations in his newspaper column, and an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting in his postings in his blog or on the Web. But employing pseudonyms constitutes deception and violates a central tenet of The Times’ ethics guidelines: Staff members must not misrepresent themselves and must not conceal their affiliation with The Times. This rule applies equally to the newspaper and the Web world. Over the past few days, some analysts have used this episode to portray the Web as a new frontier for newspapers, saying that it raises fresh and compelling ethical questions. Times editors don’t see it that way. The Web makes it easier to conceal one’s identity, and the tone of exchanges is often harsh. But the Web doesn’t change the rules for Times journalists.


Whole thing here; related material at L.A. Observed. Hiltzik will be ‘reassigned’ after the suspension. The investigation was triggered by some tech sleuthing by serial Hiltzik/Times antagonist Patrick ‘Patterico’ Frey, who drew an initially dismissive response from Hiltzik.

Frey is conflicted about the result:

Obviously, the decision was the editors’ to make, and they have made it. I will have to reflect on this. I may post further thoughts over the weekend. Regardless of whether this was the right move, I take no joy in the result, and I encourage readers to show class and restraint in their comments.

L.A. Voice’s Mack Reed is not shedding any tears:

The memo from Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Doug Frantz puts it pretty well, but almost misses Hiltzik’s crime against authorial morality in pinpointing the one against editorial policy [...] [H]e stumbled by manufacturing two of his greatest fans, posing as them on his own blog and others, and trying to mislead the public as to his own popularity - both the height of vanity and the depth of stupidity for a blogger. It was only a matter of time before someone exposed him. If you proclaim yourself a truth-teller and analyst of fact, you can’t get away with lying for long in this venue.

Hugh Hewitt pours scorn on the whole enterprise:


Isn’t it at least a little ironic that the Times releases this information on a Friday afternoon, traditional burial ground of bad news-- in an obvious effort to have the story pass with as little attention as possible? So much for transparency. Michael Hiltzik is just one of hundreds of examples of ideologicially blinkered agenda journalists at the Times. He just got caught. [...] The Times concludes ‘an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting.’ [T]he culture at the Times that produced him quite obviously stays the same.

Lefty blogger and bankruptcy lawyer Steve Smith, on the other hand, thinks the suspension was a terrible mistake:

Perhaps demonstrating, once and for all, that the LA Times doesn’t get the internet or the blogosphere [....] Being a monopoly allows you to do stuff like that.