The Times is discontinuing Michael Hiltzik’s Golden State column, which ran in the Business section, because the columnist violated the newspaper’s ethics guidelines. This follows the suspension last week of his blog on latimes.com, which also has been discontinued. Hiltzik has acknowledged using pseudonyms to post a single comment on his blog on latimes.com and multiple comments elsewhere on the Web that dealt with his column and other issues involving the newspaper.
Hiltzik did not commit any ethical violations in his newspaper column, and an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting in his postings in his blog or on the Web. But employing pseudonyms constitutes deception and violates a central tenet of The Times’ ethics guidelines: Staff members must not misrepresent themselves and must not conceal their affiliation with The Times. This rule applies equally to the newspaper and the Web world.
Over the past few days, some analysts have used this episode to portray the Web as a new frontier for newspapers, saying that it raises fresh and compelling ethical questions. Times editors don’t see it that way. The Web makes it easier to conceal one’s identity, and the tone of exchanges is often harsh. But the Web doesn’t change the rules for Times journalists.
After serving a suspension, Hiltzik will be reassigned.
Isn’t it at least a little ironic that the Times releases this information on a Friday afternoon, traditional burial ground of bad news– in an obvious effort to have the story pass with as little attention as possible? So much for transparency.
Michael Hiltzik is just one of hundreds of examples of ideologicially blinkered agenda journalists at the Times. He just got caught.
The Times concludes “an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting.”
Yeah. Right. Very believable. Hiltzik may become an invisible presence at the paper, the Pulitzer Prize winner at the copy desk, or he may quit, but he’ll no doubt haunt message boards.
But the culture at the Times that produced him quite obviously stays the same.
UPDATE: Credit where credit is due: The Times has given new arrival Matt Welch a blog, “Opinion LA,” and Matt –not surprisingly, given his new media sensibilities– is covering the Hiltzik disposition in detail. But even this stab at the appearance of transparency doesn’t do much to stop the laughing. Hiltzik’s paper is still Hiltzik’s paper: Only the column/blog is gone. The ideology remains.
Perhaps Matt could query his new bosses just how the Hiltzik “inquiry” was conducted? The “editor’s note” concluded that “an internal inquiry found no inaccurate reporting in his postings in his blog or on the Web.” How, exactly, was that inquiry conducted, and by whom?
Given that I have been a target of many of Hiltzik’s stories/jeremiads, it would seem logical that an inquest into the accuracy of Hiltzik’s reporting might have, well, asked me if I found any inaccuracies. No such inquiry was received. I suspect no such inquiry was received by Patterico, Seipp or Liebau or any other Hiltzik target. Which of course makes the Times’ assertion that an “inquiry” was conducted laughable.
If you really want to know if a disgraced reporter/writer has been accurate in his reporting, ask the subjects of that reporting. The Times didn’t, because the Times wasn’t. Not surprisingly, the paper doesn’t really want a whole lot of attention paid to what Hiltzik has been writing under its banner. Then the question wouldn’t be how he could be so dumb as to use pseudonyms. Then the question would be how could the paper’s leadership not have notice how far over the left edge the guy had gone. The answer to the secnd question is that the editors didn’t find anything particulary unusual about Hiltzik’s many slanders. They agreed with him. They still do.
My guess is that the “inquiry” was handled by some mid-level editor with two decades of experience in the Times’ news room, holding all of the same opinions that all of the reporters/editors/columnists have held, still hold, and will continue to hold. A report was written up for Dean Baquet —one that omitted any refernce to John Carroll’s famous diatribe about new media— which declared that the only impropriety Hiltzik had committed was the use of the pseudonyms. Hiltzik is summoned and exiled, his column ended, a “note” drawn up and published. End of “inquiry.” No “Staples Center”-like investigation to follow that would probe how the Times newsroom became so monochromatic in belief that no one noticed the fellow who thought he was Napoleon now thought he was many Napoleons.
The next time the Times investigates any institution for wrongdoing, that organization should reply that a “Hiltzik inquiry” is underway, and the paper should be confident that it will be complete, and that nothing untoward occured except that which is already known.
I assume the paper will be content and accept such a declaration.