L.A. Editor Quits Over A Hollywood Connection
Friday, March 23, 2007
The editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times resigned yesterday after acknowledging a romantic relationship with a publicist for Brian Grazer, the Hollywood producer who had been tapped to serve as guest editor of the paper's opinion section on Sunday.
Publisher David Hiller killed the special section, which was to have been put together by Grazer, the producer of such hit movies as "A Beautiful Mind" and "Apollo 13."
Andres Martinez, who has run the editorial pages for 18 months, said in a posting on the paper's Web site: "I accept responsibility for creating this appearance problem, though I also maintain the newspaper is overreacting." He said he regretted "my failure to anticipate and adequately address the perception of a conflict in this matter," adding: "I am sorry I let you down." Hiller's decision, Martinez wrote, "amounts to a vote of no confidence in my continued leadership."
Martinez, 41, is dating public relations executive Kelly Mullens, whose firm was hired by Grazer's Imagine Entertainment and who helped distribute a news release announcing Grazer's collaboration with the Times. The newspaper, in reporting on the controversy yesterday, said Martinez is married and has a child but has been separated for months.
In a statement, Mullens said: "I believe my personal relationships are a private matter. . . . I have never let my personal relationships interfere with my work and any suggestion to the contrary is insulting and untrue."
Mullens's boss, Allan Mayer, said in an interview that the Times's decision to kill the section, which had already been completed, indicates "a lack of moral compass at that newspaper, that the fear of what people might say will lead them to abandon a worthwhile project like this. It's an indication of how rudderless and confused it is. The place is a dysfunctional mess."
The axing of this Sunday's Current section followed complaints in the Times newsroom that readers might object to giving an outsider even brief control over the opinion pages. The issue is especially sensitive at the Times because of the 1999 scandal in which advertising revenue from a Sunday magazine devoted to the Staples Center was shared with the sports arena, leading to the departure of the paper's then-publisher and editor.
"It created quite a stir," Times reporter Jim Newton said of the flap over Grazer and what he called the "gimmicky" idea of a guest editor. "I like Andres, I'm sorry to see him go. But it raised questions in the minds of people who don't know him about what the motivation was for settling on Grazer."
In his posting on the Times Web site, Martinez defended his selection of Grazer and said: "In trying to keep up with the blogosphere, and boasting about their ability to go after their own, navel-gazing newsrooms run the risk of becoming parodies of themselves. . . . I accept my share of the responsibility for placing the Times in this predicament, but I will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who lobby for editorials to be written on certain subjects, or who have suggested that our editorial page coordinate more closely with the newsroom's agenda."
Newton said it was "awkward and uncomfortable" for Martinez to "attack the L.A. Times newsroom" on the paper's own Web site, adding: "I don't know why he blames the newsroom for this."
Hiller said in a statement last night that he killed the Sunday section "in order to avoid even the appearance of conflict," even though he did not believe the relationship between Martinez and Mullens influenced the selection of Grazer.
Mayer, a partner in the firm 42 West, said in the interview that his friend Martinez had asked whether he could persuade director Steven Spielberg to take on the guest-editing role. When Spielberg was unavailable, Mayer said, he suggested Grazer, whom he had worked with on several movies but was not currently representing.
Grazer's firm soon became a client, "but it was not because I got him this gig," Mayer said.
He said Martinez's relationship with Mullens was no secret, and that they took her name off a draft press release announcing the editing venture after they and Martinez concluded "that might not be appropriate." He said Mullens played only a minor role in the project.
"The idea that a romance got Brian Grazer the job is ridiculous," Mayer said.
The seven writers recruited by Grazer included a Nobel Prize-winning biologist, a psychologist, an urban planner and Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley.
Grazer, who has made several films with director Ron Howard, said in a statement: "We came up with a collection of essays and art that I think readers would have found genuinely stimulating. . . . My hope now is that we can find another way to present the results of our efforts to the audience it deserves."