Los Angeles Times' Managing Editor's Misconduct Infuriates the Community
by Harut Sassounian
Last week's column on the actions of Douglas Frantz, the Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times, who has been accused of discriminatory practices against reporter Mark Arax, sent shock waves throughout the community. Frantz had blocked the publication of an article written by veteran reporter Arax on the Armenian Genocide resolution in the U.S. Congress.
My previous column was posted on scores of websites and quoted or commented upon by the L.A. Weekly, Hurriyet, one of the largest newspapers in Turkey, several wire services, and many other newspapers around the world in various languages. This writer was also interviewed by Larry Mantle on KPCC radio in Southern California and appeared on the Larry Zarian TV show which covers Glendale, Burbank, La Crescenta, Montrose and La Canada.
Within days of the release of that column, as hundreds of critical e-mails poured into the newsroom, several top executives of the Los Angeles Times began issuing public statements in response to the complaints.
The e-mail sent by David Hiller, the Publisher of The Times, was both fair and sensible. He assured the readers that he takes accusations of discrimination at the newspaper "most seriously." Hiller said that he "will never tolerate anybody being discriminated against based on ethnicity, race, religion, or any other ground. This includes how reporters are assigned stories and how stories are handled in the editing process. I am proud of the reporting that The Times does on the Armenian genocide, and also the positions we have taken on our editorial pages. I am also proud and grateful for the welcome and support my new friends in the Southern California Armenian communities have shown me since my arrival here six months ago. I look forward to continuing that fine relationship and the strong and open communications on which it is based."
The second reaction came from Jim O'Shea, the top editor of the L.A. Times. In a memo to the staff, he said he was responding to complaints from many staffers and readers who had written to him in recent days. He stated that he recognized "the gravity of this issue" and took "these complaints seriously." Although O'Shea announced that an internal investigation was being completed, he nevertheless jumped the gun and proceeded dutifully to defend his colleague Frantz without waiting for the completion of that process. While saying that he wanted to "set the record straight because much of the publicity surrounding this issue is inaccurate," he proceeded to make several faulty and misleading statements himself.
In his memo, O'Shea reiterated Frantz's earlier unfounded accusation of bias on the part of Mark Arax, impugning yet again the integrity of this professional reporter. O'Shea hid the fact that a subsequent investigation proved that the so-called "petition" that Arax and five other reporters were accused of signing was not a petition, but a letter that simply informed the editors and the staff of their deviation from the newspaper's established policy of referring to the Armenian Genocide as genocide. O'Shea's repetition of such accusations against Arax serves only to compound the newspaper's potential legal problems and exposes The Times to possibly more damaging lawsuits.
Moreover, O'Shea's memo contained several inaccurate statements:
- He claimed that The Times simply placed a "hold " on Arax's story for one week. In fact, the story was put on hold for two weeks before it was killed and eventually replaced by a much weaker story on the Armenian Genocide resolution written by Richard Simon;
- O'Shea claimed that Simon, the new reporter assigned to the story, "uncovered additional material involving the position on the resolution of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi," was false. In fact, there was nothing new or important in that story. Pelosi did not even talk to Simon;
- O'Shea bragged that The Times had done a thorough job covering the Armenian community and cited 67 stories over the past two years that mentioned Armenia or Armenians. But he failed to state that many of these articles had mischaracterized the Armenian Genocide and only after repeated complaints, a correction was grudgingly published. Could it be that the editor was including some of these corrections in his count of 67 stories? Furthermore, even in the midst of the current controversy, while covering an Armenian Genocide protest rally in Hollywood, The Times published in its April 25 issue a photo and caption that read: "the annual genocide protest marking the day in 1915 that Armenians say Turkey began mass deportations, arrests and executions."
Fortunately, O'Shea ended his missive on a positive note by stating that he would "never tolerate anyone on the staff making decisions on a story out of a bias or because of the ethnicity of the writer." Yet he undermined his own credibility when he added: "In this case, that did not happen," thereby pre-judging the outcome of the newspaper's internal investigation.
The crudest public statement of all was made by Simon K.C. Li, the newspaper's Assistant Managing Editor, who rushed blindly to defend his boss, Douglas Frantz. In a letter to the L.A. Weekly, Li chided writer Daniel Hernandez for repeating "a nasty innuendo from Harut Sassounian's piece" and provided a lengthy and convoluted explanation as to how Frantz ended up being the moderator of a panel in a conference to be held in Istanbul in May in which genocide denialist Andrew Mango is to participate.
Li explained that Frantz was initially supposed to interview Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak at that conference. When that fell through - Li says he does not know why - Frantz was assigned to a second panel that also did not materialize and he ended up on a third panel with denialist Mango "through a series of accidents." Li could not explain why Frantz did not resign from the panel, after discovering the names of its participants.
Li unabashedly said he did not know "whether Sassounian's description of Mango is fair or widely accepted." It is amazing that the Assistant Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Times could not type the name Mango into his google search and find out his identity and position on the Armenian Genocide. Nevertheless, Li went on to insult L.A. Weekly's readers by calling them "biased, unthinking, [and] credulous." One would hope that when Frantz goes, he would take Li with him.
Finally, the Readers' Representative Office at The Times, acting more like the representative of the management, sent a reply to those who complained to the newspaper, telling them that they do not have "the full context of the issue," and releasing yet another offensive statement from Frantz. The problem with this statement is that it repeats Frantz's unfounded accusation against Arax, thus compounding his discriminatory misconduct against the Armenian American reporter and getting himself in more legal hot water.
Arax, in an open letter he sent to his colleagues at The Times on April 30, exposed the details of Frantz's actions and demanded a public apology from him - which is not asking very much in view of the gravity of Frantz' misconduct.
It behooves the top management of the L.A. Times to resolve their Douglas Frantz problem as soon possible, before the reputation of this venerable newspaper is further tarnished.