Hang ‘Em All, Says Mickey Kaus…and Other Thoughts About the LA Times

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.)  

2 thoughts on “Hang ‘Em All, Says Mickey Kaus…and Other Thoughts About the LA Times

  1. You are right. The ethical mistake was not made by Martinez it was made by Mayer and Mullens of 42West.

    As I understand it these are the facts. Martinez wanted Spielberg to guest-edit. So he asked Mayer – whom Martinez knew because Mayer had visited the editorial board sometime in 2006 – to provide an intro. When Spielberg siad no, Mayer suggested Grazer. Martinez and Hiller loved the idea. And in January, Martinez, Newman and Goldberg asked Grazer to do it. He agreed. Grazer’s firm then contracted Mayer to do PR to publicize Grazer’s Currents guest editor gig. Mayer is the boss of Mullens who Martinez has taken out on the town a number of times (is she his girlfriend – who knows?).

    Given that Mayer had set up the deal – irrespective of the relationship status of Martinez and Mullen – it was at this point that Mayer should have said no to Grazer’s firm, but not only did he say yes, he asked Mullens to get involved in calling AP etc. to promote Grazer’s involvement. And, it was at this point that Mullens should have said no, but instead she allowed her name to be put on the press release and she made the requested calls to news agencies. It was Mayer and Mullens who had the conflict of interest which they foisted on Martinez and in the process shafted Martinez big time and trashed his reputation.

    The letter from Martinez to the Times yesterday hints at how furious he must be at both of them. He writes: “I can assure readers that I had no knowledge that any friend of mine did publicity work for Hollywood producer Brian Grazer when he was asked to guest-edit Current, a decision taken by three editors in our department and approved by the publisher. And I never dreamed that any friend of mine or any firm employing a friend would be asked by Grazer to help publicize his involvement with Current. When that turned out to be the case, I flagged the apparent conflict to the publisher and our in-house publicist.”

    There is a curious quote from Mullens that keeps showing up: “I have never let my personal relationships interfere with my work …”. She sure doesn’t – in fact she’s willing to sacrifice the reputation of her alleged “boyfriend” to do whatever it takes to serve a new client.

    Why is everyone so willing to crucify Martinez and let Mullens and Mayer off scott free?

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