The LA Times’ implosion over the “how dare you think my PR person girlfriend influenced my decision to give her client some great PR” scandal (I can’t think of a shorter shorthand for it) has led Mickey Kaus to call for… well, I’ll let him say it:
Conclusion that’s now clearer than ever: Blogger John Gabree notes that you need a strong local paper to have a strong local political culture. Los Angeles has neither. The Times was making progress under Dean Baquet. But the best thing it could do for the city now is to simply disappear, instantaneously if possible, and open up space for decent alternatives to operate without the legacy cost of 900 tantrum-prone staffers of variable abilities. …
Well, there’s such a thing as “brand equity” at stake if the paper simply disappeared. Sam Zell isn’t buying a printing press and a bunch of delivery trucks. He’s buying the newspaper’s reputation for….
Okay, now I see what Kaus means.
(But can the blogosphere stand having 900 new blogs about the good old days of Los Angeles journalism all at once? Better let the folks at WordPress know about this.)
Curiously, I haven’t seen much on the mainstream PR blogs about this episode.
It is evident to pretty much every blogger who writes about the news media that Martinez created a massive conflict of interest by engaging Brian Grazer to edit his section of the Times when he knew his girlfriend was a PR rep to Grazer and his company. He apparently wants to go down in flames saying there was no actual conflict, that his girlfriend actually had no influence on his decision, it was sheerly a coincidence that the first person he thought of to name as “guest editor” was his girlfriend’s client. Mr. Martinez: That’s why they call it “conflict of interest.” The words mean exactly what they say. You don’t need proof of a quid pro quo to establish a conflict of interest. You only need to demonstrate that, in this case, Martinez had two conflicting roles in the affair: Editing the LA Times opinion pages, and being the boyfriend of Glazer’s PR rep.
If there is any doubt that Martinez’ position is absurd, substitute “money” for sex in this equation. If Andres Martinez was receiving regular payments from Kelly Mullens or her firm, even for a legitimate purpose, he wouldn’t have had the luxury of quitting. He’d have been fired, instantly.
But what about Ms. Mullens and her company? Are the ethical standards in the PR business now so low that her company’s role isn’t worth noting in all this? Again, substitute money for sex. If a PR agency was paying an editor, and the editor bestowed a favor upon a client, that would clearly be wrongful behavior by the PR agency, wouldn’t it?
Taking a step back, I’m willing to concede we don’t know what Martinez and Mullens discussed in their private time together. For all anyone knows, the first time Martinez mentioned the Grazer’s name to Mullens as guest-editor, she might have said, “Glory be! Did you know he’s been a client of mine? In fact, we’re trying to sign him up again. Land sakes!”
But in the next breath, Mullens should have realized that her company’s role with Glazer was fatally compromised. She should have called her boss and said, “We can’t represent Glazer in anything he does with the LA Times.” A law firm or an accounting firm would have reacted that way. It’s unethical to be on either side of what could be construed as a corrupt bargain. But I have yet to see any PR industry spokesperson or any of the high-profile PR-boosting bloggers say that, or even mention the episode.
If I’m wrong, please leave a comment with the URL and I’ll be sure to give it prominent play.
P.S. I know about this. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s very worthwhile reading, and his facts about the LA Times and an extremely serious, still-yet-to-be-disclosed conflict are on the money. Strumpette’s comments section is always interesting, but I’ll be paying special attention this time. (More news media folks should be reading Strumpette.)