By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"The irony is, the behavior of these assorted people generates far worse publicity about Bruce Willis than he would have otherwise had, certainly from me," Gumbel said.
THE DOWNING FILESWhen the story broke last week that L.A. Times publisher Kathryn Downing had decided to split the profits from the TimesSunday magazine’s special issue on Staples Arena with the selfsame Staples Arena, journalists and ethicists reacted with astonishment. Those who argued that Downing’s decision betrayed an ignorance of the very rudiments of journalism and an absence of ethical sense, though, failed to grasp Downing’s real mission at the Timesand, indeed, at her previous jobs as well.
Longtime Downing watchers confirm that Downing’s alacrity at getting the job done in the face of recalcitrant bureaucrats and hoary traditions has been the sine qua non of her career. OffBeat has learned that during her top-secret tenure at the CIA, where she was charged with a black-ops assignment to come up with funding for new flower beds at Langley, Downing obtained large quantities of marigolds, posies and hollyhocks from the Soviet Embassy, working a deal whereby she was able to pay the Soviets not with hard currency but rather with old (and a few current) government documents that, she was reported to have said, "were just laying around gathering dust." Weathering charges that she had failed to grasp the fundamental goals of the CIA, Downing moved on to the state agency responsible for restoring Mono Lake. Assigned to the task of finding private-sector funding for the project, Downing obtained a six-figure donation from a multinational poultry combine, which, with Downing’s full authorization, proceeded to discharge chicken entrails into the lake, causing quite a little dustup at the time.
All the while, Downing’s stock as an executive willing to challenge institutional shibboleths continued to soar. Sources tell OffBeat that Times Mirror CEO Mark Willes, after reading Downing’s résumé, chortled, "I like a gal who’ll shake things up!" OffBeat was not, however, able to confirm reports that Willes dressed Downing down for her deal with Staples, telling her, "50-50? Why not 60-40?"—Harold Meyerson
THE GREAT UTLA SMOKEOUTAfter years of preaching about the evils of tobacco to their students, L.A. teachers are finally putting their money where their mouths are. Last Wednesday, United Teachers of Los Angeles voted in favor of dumping more than $400 million in R.J. Reynolds (Winston and Camel) and Philip Morris (Marlboro) stock from the state teachers’ retirement-fund portfolio. The only surprise is that it took so long — and that the vote was anywhere near close (60 percent to 40 percent, union officials estimated). Assemblyman Wally Knox (D–Los Angeles) had been trying since 1996 to phase out the tobacco investments, with no help from teachers who assign children as young as 7 to join in antismoking-propaganda events such as the November 18 Great American Smokeout. Yet as late as last year, teachers rejected a similar divestiture resolution. "It is totally hypocritical," said Karen Ehrlich, chair of the Human Rights Committee of UTLA. "Teachers should not be investing in products harmful to children." —Christine Pelisek