This has been a difficult time for the editors and managers over at the LA Times.
What do you do when one of your Pulitzer Prize winning staff columnists commits a fraud of persona in order to bolster the positions he stakes out in the pursuit of establishing credibility in a New Media medium?
Here are two reactions to The LA Times action toward Michael Hiltzik's violation of the paper's code of ethics:
This from Captian's Quarters -
April 28, 2006
Hiltzik Loses Column Over Sock Puppetry
Last week, Patterico's Pontifications discovered that Los Angeles Times columnist and blogger Michael Hiltzik had created multiple personas for comments on Patterico's blog as well as Hiltzik's own. When Patterico posted the evidence of the phony personas, Hiltzik's newspaper suspended his blog while it investigated the behavior of its Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. Now the Times has announced that Hiltzik will lose his column for his violation of their ethics policy, although he will remain as a reporter with the paper:
(From the paper's website:)
The message the Times wants to send with this action doesn't appear very clear to me. Why go through all the hassle to kill his blog and his column, suspend him, and then have his work still appear in their newspaper? Cancelling his blog acknowledges that he has shot his credibility in this arena, and the suspension serves as a financial penalty for embarrassing his newspaper. But canceling his column demonstrates a lack of faith in Hiltzik's credibility as a columnist -- which must then also apply to his work as a reporter. The Times has kneecapped Hiltzik for any other assignment at the Times.
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 violatesa central tenet of The Times’ ethics guidelines: Staff members must notmisrepresent 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 portraythe Web as a new frontier for newspapers, saying that it raises fresh andcompelling ethical questions. Times editors don’t see it that way. The Web makesit 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.
The Times had the right principles in mind when they addressed this situation; they held Hiltzik accountable for his sad and pathetic attempts to invent people who would agree with him. Either they went overboard in their attack on his print work, or they should have fired him outright, and to do the latter would have been completely dishonest. The true punishment for Hiltzik's foolishness is the knowledge that he made himself into a joke. The Times couldn't leave it at that and turned him into a tragedy instead.
And excerpts from Hugh Hewitt -
The Los Angeles Times Suspends Hiltzik, Discontinues His Column and Blog
by Hugh Hewitt - April 28, 2006 04:42 PM PST
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.