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Hiller knew Martinez was dating Mayer’s longtime number two, Kelly Mullens. “Because Hiller met her when Andrés brought her to social functions. Andrés never made a secret of it,” Mayer told me. Hiller also knew about the girlfriend’s PR connections to Grazer (something the publisher is waffling about now almost to the point of lying). “In fact, when it was decided that they were going to do this with Brian, Andrés made a big point of reminding Hiller. I thought that was kind of silly,” said Mayer. I’m told Martinez again reminded the L.A. Times of his girlfriend’s PR connection with Grazer just before the public announcement was made of the new guest-editor program.
“Martinez, in what I took to be an excess of ethical zeal, told the paper’s spokesperson, Nancy Sullivan, that he was dating Kelly,” Mayer said. Yet not only did 42West help write the L.A. Times’ news release announcing Grazer’s guest-editor stint (which quoted Martinez extensively), but the release also listed Mayer’s and Mullens’ names and numbers as contacts.
“She was my backup,” Mayer maintained.
Hiller wasn’t supposedto drink the L.A. Times newsroom Kool-Aid. (His predecessor, Jeff Johnson, had gotten himself fired for backing Baquet’s refusal to make Tribune Co. budget and personnel cuts.) Yet Hiller did just that over Grazergate. After the paper’s media reporter was tipped to the potential scandal and started nosing around Martinez’s personal life, the editorial page editor took the unusual step of contacting the newsroom’s leader, managing editor Doug Frantz, and explaining every twist and turn. Frantz at first agreed with Martinez that there was no story for Rainey to pursue. But instead of quelling the internal controversy, that move created more newsroom consternation over whether the paper’s management was engaging in a cover-up. To make sure that didn’t happen, details about Grazergate were leaked onto the Internet via LAObserved.com (where L.A. Times newsroom staffers had also gone to complain about the Tribune Co. versus Baquet drama). Suddenly, Rainey’s story was going forward with Frantz on board.
Top newsroom editor Jim O’Shea, like Hiller a transplant from the Chicago Tribune, also became deeply involved. Not only did the defiant newsroom voice its ethical concerns to him — he took the arguments about a perception of conflict of interest to Hiller. (The “S” word was even raised: that 1999 Staples Center revenue-sharing scandal that brought down the L.A. Times’ management at the time and paved the way for the Chandler family’s sale of the paper to the Tribune Co.)
It was only this internal and external pressure that pushed Hiller to kill Grazer’s Sunday section rather than print it with a mortifying editor’s note detailing the Martinez-Mullen relationship. That’s when Martinez decided to take a hike. But he didn’t slink away quietly or surrender to accusations of ethical violations. Instead, in a fascinating instance of Old Media exploiting New Media, he went to the Internet to attack not only the decisions and actions of Hiller and O’Shea, but also those of individual newsroom editors and reporters who are still smarting from the ouster of their hero, Baquet. Martinez’s main charge is that the newsroom has been trying to dictate to the supposedly independent editorial pages.
“I think it’s fair to say that we got ourselves into a predicament and we should not have let it happen,” Hiller said about Grazergate. “The trust our readers place in us, built over 125 years, is of the highest importance, and we try never to do anything that would call that into question.”
Oh, puh-leeze. For the editorial page to even talk to Rumsfeld about the gig, much less offer it to him, is a far, far worse example of cronyism than Martinez’s connection to 42West.
Curiously, the righteous LATnewsroom didn’t make a peep about protesting Rumsfeld’s selection after so bitterly opposing Grazer’s. I think they were scared to take on the publisher himself. After all, the paper’s own media reporter had written the most superficial of profiles on Hiller when he was appointed L.A. Timespublisher in October 2006. It fell to me back then to describe Hiller’s extensive ties to terrible Reagan administration policies — including the disgusting idea of “concentration camps” for the waves of Cuban and Haitian refugees coming to the U.S. illegally at the time — as a Justice Department special assistant to then attorney general William French Smith. I also cited a 2001 Chicago Tribune story noting that, when Rumsfeld was a director at Tribune Co., he was a “friend” of Hiller, then president of Tribune Interactive. The paper quoted Hiller gushing about Rumsfeld’s squash game. Then, in November, Hiller used the news peg of Rumsfeld’s resignation to personally pen a worshipful op-ed piece.