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Hiltzik Saga, The Denouement: Los Angeles Times Management Gets It A Little Right, A Little Wrong

The Los Angeles Times has disciplined sock-puppeteer columnist Michael Hiltzik.

For traditional media, his crime was pseudonymous posting. That was the gist of most of the published stories about the controversy, including the initial reports in his own paper. And that got wrapped up in LAT ethics policy (“We do not misrepresent ourselves and we do not conceal our affiliation with The Times,” as reported in LA Observed) that sounds like it’s in need of some updating.

Bloggers were fine with the pseudonyms, but thought Hiltzik’s greater sin was the sock-puppetry: using those pseudonyms to talk up Hiltzik’s Golden State Blog both on its pages and at other blogs. If Hiltzik was going to post comments on Golden State as Michael Hiltzik — which he did — then it was deceitful to also comment under any other name.

Views of the appropriate punishment also diverged. Late Friday the LAT announced that Hiltzik would lose his biweekly Business section column and the blog, would be suspended without pay, and would be reassigned. This is one step short of termination.

Even though bloggers were focused on what they perceived to be a greater sin, few were calling for Hiltzik’s head (1, 2, 3). The punishment had already been meted out, virtually instantaneously: post-Patterico, any knowledgeable person reading Hiltzik would henceforth do so with a few extra grains of salt.

This is the most fascinating part of this final chapter in l’affaire Hiltzik. The bloggers who did so much to bring Hiltzik’s deceit to light were far more forgiving than the institution for which he has toiled for over 20 years. The bloggers, it seems, associated Hiltzik’s transgression with Hiltzik himself, not with the LAT. And his punishment would be swift and fair — his devaluation in the marketplace of ideas.

The LAT, on the other hand, saw the incident damaging the entire paper (for what are ethics guidelines but tools to limit institutional embarrassment?). And that is probably wrong. Those who are even aware of the Hiltzik sock-puppet problem — those who read and write certain blogs — have figured out what to do with the information that Hiltzik fakes commenters, and moved on. Those who aren’t aware of the controversy — no doubt the vast majority of the LAT’s readers — have not been affected by the online transgressions of a twice-a-week columnist.

That’s not to say that if I were Editor of the LAT I would have let this pass by. Part of that job is protecting the brand. But rather than highlight Hiltzik’s violation of a dated policy — can no Times staffer ever post pseudonymously? — he should have been disciplined for lacking common sense. Times staffers should be allowed to blog, and even post or comment pseudonymously. They just shouldn’t be stupid about it.

Killing Hiltzik’s print column seems a stretch, unless the notion is to make him quit. His transgressions didn’t affect the print product. The column is not a good use of newsprint — it’s often not about business and it’s excruciatingly biased — but in the increasingly skimpy Times business section, what else do they have? They can’t bring back James Flanigan — can they?

No, the problem was with the blogging. Hiltzik blundered into the nexus of traditional newspapering and blogging, of institutional journalism and personal media. It’s not that they’re incompatible, but Hiltzik — a loose cannon — was the wrong guy to have a foot in each camp. Killing his blog as a LAT property was the right move.*

Hiltzik’s Golden State blog was never to my taste. Hiltzik’s voice is an unpleasant mix of lefty spite, arrogance, and pomposity. He apparently moderated his comments to exclude unpleasant contradictions of his work. I won’t miss it at all.

But … I’d like to see him set up his own blog, separate from the LAT. Let him flog stories to like-minded sites. Let him be a non-profit entrepreneur whose only compensation is the spike in page views from a hit story. Let him post his SiteMeter for all the world to see.

That’s a new media world I look forward to.


* Yes, this is a bit different from what I wrote 10 days ago … but as I put myself in Times Editor Dean Baquet’s position, my thinking … evolved.

Hiltzik is one of only two people to be an official Independent Sources Nemesis ®. Barbara Boxer is the other.

We look forward to Hiltzik’s next assignment so we can find out what department at the Times is lower on the totem pole than the Business section. Update: Patterico reports that Nikki Finke says it’s “Sports Investigations” — maybe this position that LA Observed reported on about six weeks ago.

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10 Responses to “Hiltzik Saga, The Denouement: Los Angeles Times Management Gets It A Little Right, A Little Wrong”

  1. 1
    Patterico’s Pontifications » Glenn Reynolds on Hiltzik’s Sock Puppets: He Agrees With Me! Says:

    [...] ough for Hiltzik. It’s nice to know someone as level-headed as Glenn agrees. P.S. This post [...]

  2. 2
    Blue Crab Boulevard » Blog Archive » Post Mortem Says:

    [...] In Iraq Post Mortem On the Michael Hiltzik affair from Independent [...]

  3. 3
    Insider Says:

    Personally I would love to see Hiltzik investigate sports the same way that he did the music industry awhile back. Would be good for the Times as well.

  4. 4
    LA Observed: The Hiltzik Affair Says:

    [...] d by the Los Angeles Times ? beyond, perhaps, a temporary suspension of his blog.” ♦ Independent [...]

  5. 5
    Excellent Fodder Says:

    can be found at L.A. Observed this morning, if you aren’t too busy watching TV for news bulletins about the protests today. An excellent point was raised at a blog I recently discovered called Blue Crab Boulevard: On the Michael Hiltzik affair fromIndependent Sources. He points out that the LA Times management didn’t quite understand what the real issue was, something many others have noted (including Blue Crab Boulevard). However, he fails to note the contribution we made to the Hiltzik case with our cutting-edge,

  6. 6
    Mario G. Nitrini 111 Says:

    Check it Out:

    Patterico’s Pontifications » It’sa “New Low” for New York Times …
    Mr. Patterico. My name is Mario G. Nitrini 111. I was Personally involved in The
    OJ Simpson case. I read Your Post of Febuary 24th, 2004 about The OJ …
    http://patterico.com/2005/05/21/3041/its-a…-times-editors/ – Cached

    AND TONIGHT 4/30/2006

    About Michael Hiltzik:

    Patterico’s Pontifications
    They might then notice that blogger Patrick Frey’s charge was _not_ that Hiltzik
    … I know that Patterico’s Hiltzik posts have been all the rage lately, …
    http://patterico.com/ – Cached

    Something else!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And Michael Hiltzik and Chuck Philips?????? Hmmmmmmmmmmm???????

    Later

    Mr Patterico (AKA) Assistant Los Angeles County District Attorney Patrick Frey “BANNED” me from his Website, Because of The TRUTH I said about The Pulitzer Prize???? winning Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Chuck Philips.

    Patterico?s Pontifications
    They might then notice that blogger Patrick Frey?s charge was _not_ that Hiltzik
    … I know that Patterico?s Hiltzik posts have been all the rage lately, …
    http://patterico.com/ – Cached

    Is Patrick Frey and The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and The LAPD CRIMINALLY and ILLEGALLY Covering up something for Chuck Philips and The Los Angeles Times in The OJ Simpson Case, and/or The Anthony Pellicano Federal Indictment, and/or The Wallace’s Families (Notorious B.I.G.) Federal Civil Lawsuit against the City of Los Angles and MORE?????? Los Angeles Times Staff Writer Chuck Philips????? Hmmmmmmmm?????

    Why would Patrick Frey “BAN” me from his Website for telling THE TRUTH????UNLESS…….??????

    And Why did Mr Frey NOT answer My Questions that I Directed to Him?????

    And,

    Here’s another Blog Patrick Frey made about OJ Simpson. You’ll see a Poster is hoping someone put’s a “HIT” on OJ Simpson:

    Patterico?s Pontifications ? OJ SIMPSON IGNORES COURT ORDER
    OJ SIMPSON IGNORES COURT ORDER. Filed under: Crime ? Patterico @ 6:18 am. You may
    recall that one OJ Simpson owes two families named Goldman and Brown about …
    http://patterico.com/2004/02/24/1273/oj-si…es-court-order/ – Cached

    Patterico didn’t delete this. WHY????? Serious or not, Kevin Murphy wants someone to KILL OJ Simpson.

    Mario G. Nitrini 111
    __________________________

    The OJ Simpson Case

  7. 7
    A Senior Administration Official Says:

    Today’s topic: ban the above comment as a waste of bandwidth and server storage space?

  8. 8
    Pajamas Media Says:

    column. Hiltzik, who was also temporarily suspended, got caught by blogger Patterico publishing self-serving commentaries on blog sites under “sock puppet” pseudonyms. Hiltzik used his fake name to tout his own brilliance and attack his critics —a no-no in the blogosphere. Read the whole thing… Send to a friend Print Related PJ Entries: LA Times’ Hiltzik caught using fake names Cathy Seipp on LA Times’ Hiltzik’s creepy past On the couch

  9. 9
    -keith in silicon valley Says:

    Ban or delete? Do what you want, when I get off-topic crap like that I freely delete it since it adds nothing but it’s own sense of self-importance.

  10. 10
    Mario G. Nitrini 111 Says:

    Insider,

    I want to thank you for not Deleting me or Banning me from your Website.

    Mr Patterico (Patrick Frey) has Answered me (Kind of) on Cathy Seipp’s Website:

    http://cathyseipp.journalspace.com/

    Under this Blog:

    True believers
    posted 05/05/06
    Comments (48) Permalink

    Mario G. Nitrini 111
    _________

    The OJ Simpson Case