Times scraps guest editor program, announces probe
The Los Angeles Times has decided to discontinue a program in which prominent guest editors would have overseen the Sunday opinion and editorial section after a controversy over the selection of the first editor.
Publisher David D. Hiller said he would end the plan to have prominent outsiders pick writers and plan the section. He also appointed The Times’ reader’s representative, Jamie Gold, to determine whether personal or professional connections improperly influenced previous content in the editorial pages.
The actions stem from the revelation last week that the Hollywood producer designated as the first guest editor, Brian Grazer, had a business relationship that might have suggested he had received favored treatment in landing the assignment. Grazer was represented by publicist Kelly Mullens, who dated Times Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez.
Hiller had said his preliminary review led him to believe that Grazer, producer of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Apollo 13,” got the guest editing assignment on his merits. But the publisher decided to scrap the section, which would have run last Sunday, to avoid the appearance that Grazer benefited from his publicist’s inside connection. Hiller replaced the Grazer-edited section with one done by the opinion pages staff.
Hiller, who oversees the editorial pages, said the guest editor plan had become a distraction.
“We don’t need all these questions when we have so many features of value to deliver our readers,” he said.
Martinez quit last week, saying his credibility had been undermined. He and Mullens have denied that she had any improper influence in the newspaper’s editorial pages.
On Monday, Hiller canceled a plan to invite other celebrities in, once a quarter, to edit future Sunday editorial sections. Martinez had already offered guest editing slots to former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, former Lakers star Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Reader’s representative Gold said she would begin her review of past opinion-editorial decisions immediately. She said she was not sure how long her investigation would take.
Hiller said Gold would try to discern whether any undue influence had taken place.
“She will report to me and ultimately, if appropriate, to the readers, who are first and foremost our concern,” he said.
Martinez said in an e-mail response to a question that there was ample evidence the editorial pages leveled tough scrutiny at Hollywood and played no favorites.
“The suggestion that I was currying favor with friends on the editorial pages is silly to anyone who knows me,” Martinez wrote, “but I can understand the need to find some justification retroactively for a terrible overreaction that has undermined the autonomy of the paper’s opinion pages and stained the newspaper’s reputation.”
In a previously planned change unrelated to the controversy, The Times announced Monday that it would restore the “Opinion” title to the Sunday section, which will be combined with the Book Review into a single section beginning April 15.
The change was one in a series of alterations designed to cut costs. The Times also will discontinue publication of the weekly television listings magazine TV Times. After the magazine’s final edition April 8, the newspaper will instead publish the listings in Sunday’s Calendar section and at latimes.com.