Opinion: Grazergate, the epilogue
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David Hiller’s decision to kill the Brian Grazer section this Sunday makes my continued tenure as Los Angeles Times editorial page editor untenable. The person in this job needs to have an unimpeachable integrity, and Hiller’s decision amounts to a vote of no confidence in my continued leadership.
I regret that my failure to anticipate and adequately address the perception of a conflict in this matter has placed Hiller -- whom I like and respect a great deal, incidentally -- and my colleagues on the editorial board in such an awkward position, not to mention Brian Grazer and Kelly Mullens, who did nothing wrong here but have been caught up in all this. Nick Goldberg and Michael Newman are two of the smartest, most talented people I have worked with, and any lapses in judgment here were mine, not theirs.
I accept responsibility for creating this appearance problem, though I also maintain that the newspaper is overreacting today. We are depriving readers of an interesting, serious section that is beyond reproach, and unfairly insulting the individuals we approached to participate in this guest editor program by telling them it is a corrupt concept. How we come about this decision when 24 hours ago the managing editor of this newspaper was assuring me he didn’t see a story after I walked him through the facts, and while Hiller maintains we did nothing wrong, is a bit perplexing. In trying to keep up with the blogosphere, and boasting about their ability to go after their own, navel-gazing newsrooms run the risk of becoming parodies of themselves.
Among the biggest possible conflicts of interest a newspaper can enter into is to have the same people involved in news coverage running opinion pages. I am proud of the fact that Jeff Johnson, Dean Baquet and I fully separated the opinion pages from the newsroom at the Times. I accept my share of the responsibility for placing the Times in this predicament, but 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, and I strongly urge the present and future leadership of the paper to resist the cries to revisit the separation between news and opinion that we have achieved.
We’re a long ways removed from the fall of 2004 when Michael Kinsley and John Carroll lured me out to the West Coast, with promises of investing more resources on the LAT opinion pages and web site. Some of the retrenchment is understandable given the business fundamentals, but I have been alarmed recently by the company’s failure to acknowledge that our opinion journalism, central to the paper’s role as a virtual town square for community debate and dialogue, should not be crudely scaled back as part of across-the-board cuts. Decisions being made now to cut the one part of the paper that is predominantly about ideas and community voices go too far in my view, and are shortsighted.
Still, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished in the last two years. The Times has a provocative editorial page of intellectual integrity that adheres to principles over time, rather than the tactical, shrill partisanship that has become too much the norm of our public discourse and plenty of other editorial pages. The op-ed page continues to provide a lively mix of opinion from all quarters, and we have put in place a strong roster of weekly op-ed columnists and contributing editors. Sunday’s Current is firing on all cylinders and we have recently launched a series of online-only feautres, including more columns, weekly online chats, weeklong debates and other features.
It has been a tremendous privilege working here on Spring Street and being associated with the talented team of opinionators on the second floor, and the vast majority of other journalists at the Times building and around the world who are hugely talented and committed.
I am sorry I let you down,