Norm Pearlstine was not pleased. For half a century, his integrity had rarely, if ever, been questioned. He believed the charge that had been leveled against him was without merit. For the past 20 months, he had spent his days trying to rebuild one of America’s great newspapers, and here he was facing questions that had the potential to throw his hard-earned reputation into doubt. So he snapped.
“My asshole," he shouted, "is clean!”
Pearlstine, executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, was meeting with two veteran investigative journalists from his own newsroom. The two arranged the conference to raise concerns, which had been circulating among a handful of people in the newsroom, about his coverage of the Chinese telecommunications corporation Huawei.
The meeting was tense. On one side were a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and editor, who had followed Times ethical guidelines that require staffers to report even a perceived or potential conflict of interest. On the other was Pearlstine, the 77-year-old media veteran, who was angrily accusing the reporter of “looking up my ass.” At one point, the editor in the meeting asked Pearlstine if he could “lower the temperature.” Pearlstine vehemently refused, and went on to denigrate the work of the reporter, cast aspersions on his motivations for asking questions about Huawei, and deny that he had done anything improper, according to sources briefed on the meeting contemporaneously and a summary of the meeting that was sent to HR.
Pearlstine and the Times would later tell VICE News that an investigation had cleared him of wrongdoing, though the paper would not share the results of that investigation. Our own reporting suggests no impropriety. It also shows, though, that the basic dynamic of that meeting has been recapitulated again and again. Pearlstine has, in his short tenure atop the Times, responded unpredictably to crises great and small, alternately dismissing and overreacting to them while at times showing a curious lack of attention to detail. In all, this has confused and frustrated a staff that on the whole values the work he's done to support and gallantly rebuild a newsroom that was, when he came on, in a state of utter chaos.
In the course of reporting this story, during which we spoke to more than 40 current and former Times staffers, VICE News found that Pearlstine allowed a top editor whom staffers had accused of inappropriate conduct and toxic management practices to retire in relative glory; didn’t act on the recommendations of respected newsroom staffers seeking to bring in more diverse staff; did little to repair well-established systemic inequities that disadvantaged people of color; brushed off complaints about ethical concerns; and reacted erratically when he realized some in his newsroom had grown frustrated and disillusioned with his leadership.
The mistakes do not tell the full story of Pearlstine's tenure. Even his critics describe him as operating in good faith. “I don't think that Norm is malicious,” said one newsroom source who was otherwise critical of his decisions. Pearlstine was handed the messiest of situations to fix, which forced him and the rest of leadership to sometimes ruthlessly prioritize problems. On that front, his two years at the Times have been marked by success as well as failure; and his failures are not his alone, but those of an institution that has struggled to overcome a broken culture rooted in both mismanagement and the biases that pervade all aspects of American life. The failures are real, though, and the most damning among them may prove to have been the squandering of the opportunity offered by the very man who chose Pearlstine to build the paper into something that was not just better than what came before it, but truly different too.
In a statement, Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong said that allegations VICE News raised to Pearlstine in a lengthy interview "had been reviewed previously and had been found to be without merit or otherwise addressed appropriately."
“The Times continues to benefit from Norm’s leadership, integrity and passion for great journalism," the statement continued. "We can assure our staff that we have an ongoing commitment to diversity and inspiring our community which started when we took over the reins just two years ago.”
The statement came four months after an anonymous letter, which said it was on behalf of newsroom leaders, was delivered to Soon-Shiong’s office regarding Pearlstine’s leadership. The letter, which was obtained by VICE News, requested that Soon-Shiong start a nationwide search for Pearlstine’s replacement.
When Soon-Shiong agreed to purchase the Times (and the San Diego Union-Tribune) for $500 million in February 2018, he inherited a newspaper in crisis. The Tronc era that preceded Soon-Shiong had been defined by scandals, resignations, cuts, and departures. To save the paper and themselves, the staff had unionized at the beginning of the year and waged a successful campaign against ownership that even the higher-ups came to appreciate. “It's a very, very courageous group of journalists,” said Sewell Chan, the editorial page editor. “They fought to keep the institution alive.” Their prize was Soon-Shiong, a deep-pocketed local owner willing to invest in quality journalism. Here was reason for an unfamiliar feeling at the Times: optimism.
From the outset, Soon-Shiong showed an ambitious desire to restore the Times to its former glory. In his search to find a lead editor and chart a course forward, Soon-Shiong quickly brought on Norm Pearlstine in an advisory role. From their first dinner, Soon-Shiong displayed a commitment to diversifying the paper, asking which female journalists or journalists of color could lead the way, Pearlstine has said. “We were extremely impressed by Norm’s inherent commitment to this goal to improve hiring practices and, as importantly, to overcome implicit bias,” Soon-Shiong told VICE News.
But finding the paper’s next leader proved difficult. Soon-Shiong personally attempted to recruit top stars like the Washington Post’s Marty Baron and the New York Times’ Dean Baquet to run the paper, but they were uninterested. Pearlstine himself has said that he found other potential candidates were wary of the job too. “A few asked whether, after so many years of turmoil, it was too late for a turnaround,” he told staff this June in an all-hands meeting held on Zoom. Pearlstine ultimately suggested that Soon-Shiong not rush into committing to anyone before they familiarized themselves with the staff, according to the Times.
The day Soon-Shiong completed his purchase of the paper that June, he announced the first major editorial decision of his reign: He was hiring Pearlstine as executive editor. Pearlstine, then 75, felt like an upgrade to many in the newsroom. He had 50 years of experience in newsrooms, and had held top jobs at Time Inc., Bloomberg L.P., and the Wall Street Journal. “He's a journalist,” explained one current Times staffer. “We've been in positions before where we've had people running the place that didn't have that kind of experience.”
But the elevation of Pearlstine rankled more than a few staffers, who questioned how thorough his search had been to fill a job that became his. (A few quipped that he'd pulled a Dick Cheney.) In May, a number of respected reporters in the newsroom had generated a list of 10 prospective candidates, only one of whom was a white man, and presented it to Pearlstine. At least four people on the list—including Kevin Merida, editor-in-chief of ESPN’s The Undefeated; Lydia Polgreen, then editor-in-chief of HuffPost; and Susan Chira, former New York Times deputy executive editor and current editor-in chief of the Marshall Project—were not contacted about the job, they told VICE News. Several of the proposed candidates told VICE News they would have been interested in the position. “I got a lot of lists,” Pearlstine said in response. “You happen to have found one of many, and I spoke to a lot of people.” (One of the reporters for this story worked at HuffPost under Polgreen.)
Norm Pearlstine at a June 24, 2020 virtual town hall. Photo by Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Entrusted with the newspaper, Pearlstine understood his main job to be building up a new and more diverse masthead—“a succession team,” as he put it. He quickly elevated insiders, like Scott Kraft and Kimi Yoshino, and poached the likes of BuzzFeed’s Shani Hilton, Slate’s Julia Turner, Chan, who came from the New York Times, and Lucky Peach co-founder Peter Meehan, who announced his departure as this story was being published, following the publication of a Twitter thread earlier this week that surfaced allegations against him. The leadership team is now more than 40 percent female and 40 percent people of color, according to an internal report. “I thought I made very good progress on issues of inclusiveness and diversity in terms of my direct reports,” Pearlstine told VICE News.
The newly formed team inherited a dilapidated version of a once-revered paper—and a staff that had dropped to one-third of its size in the 1990s. “The level of damage that was done to this place in the Tronc era is hard to overstate,” said one holdover. Pearlstine said he was the 11th editor in two decades and the fifth in less than a year, if you count both of Jim Kirk’s stints, and he wanted to help stabilize the paper. He could not do so immediately. “It was chaos,” Chan said. The staff was thin and overworked, and the paper far behind on multiple digital fronts. Pearlstine told VICE News that Tronc’s exit proved logistically complicated as well, leaving the paper with no teams dedicated to business development, marketing, national ad sales, legal, or corporate communications.
“I told Pat there were no problems I hadn't seen before coming to the Times. It's just that I had never seen them all at once,” Pearlstine told staff at the June all-hands meeting. “It became clear that reviving the Times, while perhaps easier than curing cancer, was going to be immensely complicated.”
The paper had to be rebuilt, and Pearlstine and his team worked hard to do so. The Times moved its offices to El Segundo, redesigned its website, and heavily reinvested in journalism, hiring more than 20 people on Metro and 14 apiece on Sports and Entertainment & Arts starting in July, according to internal figures. Following Tronc, it was a breath of fresh air, according to a number of people who spoke with VICE News. “Tronc was just a complete nightmare,” one of them said. “It's so much better than it was before. It's just night and day.”
The problems at the newspaper, though, ran even deeper than Pearlstine could have ever expected when he first arrived. Over decades, the Times had developed an internal culture some described as toxic. One complicating issue was deputy managing editor Colin Crawford.
In June 2018, the Times received an anonymous complaint from “Times staffers” about Crawford, who ran the photo and video department. The complaint, obtained by VICE News, urged the paper to investigate Crawford for “his relationships with and treatment of women on his staff, his bullying and intimidating behavior, and his overall conduct of putting his personal interests ahead of those of the Photo Department and The Times.” It also said, “Colin rules Photo mostly by fear and threats. That’s why this complaint is anonymous.” It went on to detail specific complaints about Crawford and his behavior and, at the end, list the names of current and former staffers that were suggested as sources. (Several people on the list told VICE News they did not know they were listed nor did they want to be.)
Two months later, in August 2018, a Times employee specifically asked Pearlstine and the rest of leadership to address issues surrounding Crawford and another manager, Tracy Boucher, according to three people who were aware of the request at the time and text messages reviewed by VICE News. Then, in September, a BuzzFeed reporter began looking into a story about Crawford. After Pearlstine became aware of this, he contacted then-BuzzFeed EIC Ben Smith about the story, according to a person at BuzzFeed who knew about the reporting. Pearlstine, when asked by VICE News about the nature of that conversation, said, “none of your business.” The BuzzFeed reporter declined to comment for this story; the BuzzFeed source told VICE News that the story died for reasons unrelated to Pearlstine’s call.
Ultimately, it wasn’t until December 2018, after the issue of Crawford’s management and history with women was raised yet again, that Pearlstine and the Times began to investigate the claims against Crawford.
VICE News spoke to three women who were interviewed in December 2018 by Pearlstine and a lawyer. VICE News also spoke to three other photographers who have worked for the Times and who confirmed aspects of Crawford’s behavior. All of these sources, who collectively spanned Crawford’s career at the Times, alleged that Crawford had inappropriate relationships with women during his time with the paper, which created an uncomfortable and, for some, toxic, work environment.
Two women who worked with Crawford in the 1980s and 1990s described him touching them inappropriately, and—after each had talked to HR about his behavior—retaliating against them by giving them less desirable assignments and undermining their work.
One woman said Crawford touched her in highly inappropriate ways on numerous occasions. She said she didn't feel comfortable speaking to HR about instances of this happening where there were no witnesses, but did so after Crawford “put his hand down her shirt” in front of other colleagues at a staff gathering. (A person present recalled seeing the incident and confirmed that Crawford grabbed the woman and that she left the bar soon after.) However, she said that not only was Crawford not punished, but it “became apparent that I was being punished for reporting the incident by receiving lower level assignments.”
Another woman who worked with Crawford in the 1980s and 1990s described similar inappropriate touching and retaliation.
The woman, who said she preferred to handle her own business and didn't want any favors, reluctantly spoke to HR after they contacted her about Crawford’s behavior. As a result, she said, Crawford was sent to management training—which was joked about in the department as “charm school”—and told that he could no longer meet with women one on one. Subsequently, she said, Crawford ramped up his intimidation of her, coming into the darkroom, locking the door behind him, and yelling at her. She said he tried to undermine her, denigrating her work and lying about her missing deadlines or not doing her job until, eventually, she left the paper.
“I was actually quite a good photographer. I was winning a lot of awards and had a lot of section fronts,” she said. “[But] I realized there was just no way I could continue. Because he was just making my life miserable.”
"I realized there was just no way I could continue."
Both women were hesitant to go into detail because it was a long time ago, and they didn’t want to be the subject of renewed focus themselves. (A freelance photographer who worked for the Times during this period confirmed to VICE News that they had heard about Crawford’s inappropriate behavior.) But Crawford’s troubling management continued for decades, according to former staffers who worked with him more recently.
One former staff photographer who worked with Crawford over many years until the late 2000s said they didn’t know him to use intimidation but that his “inappropriate relationships” with women were well known.
“It was kind of common knowledge,” they said.
The third woman interviewed by the Times as part of the investigation said Crawford was authoritarian, with an awkward, bullying sense of humor, and that he degraded certain employees and managed through retaliation.
“He berated me, yelled at me, told me he was going to fire me. He tried to constantly keep me down. I was always passed over [for assignments] for other people, even though I was perfectly capable of doing assignments,” she told VICE News. “One time after he yelled at me for an hour, I left his office and I was so upset that I went to the bathroom and was in there crying."
One man, who worked at the Times under Crawford within the past 10 years, confirmed to VICE News that intimidation was one of Crawford’s preferred tactics.
“He used fear,” he said, noting that before the paper unionized in 2018, everyone was constantly terrified of being laid off. “There was favoritism in the department for sure. He had his favorites that would kind of get the pick of all the best assignments. It was just unseemly, how it worked.”
In January 2019, about a month after the Times investigation concluded, Crawford announced he was retiring to “tend to family,” as he wrote in a January 16 email obtained by VICE News.
This struck numerous newsroom sources as awkward. Concerns about Crawford were well known, and his sudden retirement created the perception among some Times employees that he had been forced out. One person told VICE News it seemed like “he basically got out of actually getting in trouble ... and was afforded this opportunity to just step aside.”
A manager put a slightly finer point on it.
“Crawford’s retirement, as it were, was unlike any normal retirement,” they said. “Norm announced it at a masthead meeting. Then Colin retired, full stop ... I would say that a normal retirement of someone so senior would have been accompanied by a retirement lunch, maybe some newsroom toasts, maybe some nice comments. There was none of that here.” Several sources characterized Crawford’s retirement as a slap in the face to everyone who had raised concerns about him.
In an email to VICE News, Crawford denied the allegations from the 1980s and 1990s.
These are false, allegations from almost 30 years ago, that I vehemently deny. They were investigated thoroughly by the Times Mirror Human Resources Department, and found to be lacking in substance. I was employed by the Times for 35 years and subsequently was promoted and served with distinction under eight different editors – none of whom received complaints from female members of my staff.
Crawford did not comment on whether he was sent to management training and told he could no longer be in one-on-one meetings with women; nor did he address the remarks from staffers who worked with him more recently and characterized his management style as authoritarian and demeaning; nor did he have anything to say about what the Times manager said about his “retirement, as it were,” and how unlike the usual retirement of someone of his stature and tenure it was. Crawford implied that the allegations were being weaponized against him—by whom he didn’t say—because of his role in union negotiations, and insisted his January retirement had nothing to do with the fact that the Times investigated claims of misconduct against him the previous month.
It’s not a coincidence that these allegations surfaced more recently. I was asked by the Times’ new management to help negotiate a union contract with the newsroom. It was a difficult role that often put me at odds with some of my long-time colleagues that, frankly, was a very disheartening experience. That along with the revolving door of ownership and leadership, and endless downsizing were the reasons I decided to call it a career.
Pearlstine repeatedly declined to comment on Crawford in an interview with VICE News, saying he couldn't discuss personnel issues. A company spokesperson did issue a statement: “The Los Angeles Times promptly investigated allegations made against Colin Crawford, which he has denied. Additionally, the Times HR department investigated certain of these allegations when they were first made in the early 1990s, which he also denied. Over a period of more than 25 years following those allegations, Crawford had a series of promotions, and we are unaware of any additional allegations of sexual harassment. He retired in early 2019.”
The Times declined to comment when asked about the findings of its investigation into Crawford.
In one of the December 2018 interviews during the Times’ investigation into Crawford’s behavior, one woman, after sharing at length her experience working under Crawford, asked Pearlstine to confirm that the Times would fire him. She said his response was this: “If we don’t, we should be ashamed of ourselves.”
Through a spokesperson, Pearlstine said he didn’t recall the exchange.
The woman recalled it with clarity. She told VICE News that Pearlstine’s response struck her, specifically the first word.
“I remember thinking, ‘If’?” she said. “If he’s not fired?”
For her, and for several others who spoke to VICE News for this story, the sense of betrayal stings the most.
“It’s because I love the Los Angeles Times,” she said, “that I find the hypocrisy so heartbreaking.”
The Crawford issue wasn't all Pearlstine inherited. When he arrived at the Times, it was rife with racial inequities, and the problems went back decades. As Pearlstine himself later wrote, the Times had “fomented the hysteria that led to Japanese American incarceration, the Zoot Suit Riots, redlining and racial covenants, and it turned a blind eye to generations of police abuses against minority communities. At its worst, our coverage didn't simply ignore people of color — it actively dehumanized them.”
Internally, there was growing evidence that it mistreated them, too. Just months before Pearlstine took over, the newly formed Guild had released a survey of salaries among the bargaining unit that confirmed what many had long known to be true: The Times had developed into an institution with enormous pay gaps—$14,000 at the median between men and women, $19,000 between white and non-white employees, and $31,000 between white men and non-white women. There were cultural issues too, including a sense of uneven opportunities and expectations, that fueled resentment.
“There’s a culture that has continued to fester there for a very long time.”
“There’s a culture that has continued to fester there for a very long time,” said one former Black staffer.
In his first address to staff, Soon-Shiong made a commitment to developing a more diverse workplace, and Times staffers made sure Pearlstine was aware of the longstanding problems on multiple occasions, including during his initial introduction as executive editor, according to two newsroom sources. In August, the union released a report on one area people believed was in particular need of overhaul: Metpro, previously known as the Minority Editorial Training Program. The training program had been established in 1984 as “a way to build a pipeline and provide opportunities for journalists of color, many with diverse backgrounds,” the Guild stated. Young journalists had the opportunity to work with various editors and desks and potentially get hired. But the program had transformed as the company started to struggle into what graduates felt was an “exploitative” pipeline of low-wage workers, who “contend[ed] with depressed wages” and felt “like second-class journalists.”
When Michael Livingston joined the Times as a Metpro in November 2017, he could hardly believe his luck. He’d long been eyeing the program as a crime reporter at the Danville Register & Bee in Virginia. An energetic young reporter, he had nevertheless struggled to find a mentor willing to take him under his wing on the East Coast. “I looked at Metpro as being a way to get the tutelage that I'd been wanting,” Livingston said. He still remembers his own awe as he first walked into the downtown newsroom.
Early on, Livingston tried to help with daily coverage where he could, driving 45 minutes to an hour to feed reporting back to the office. In January 2018, heavy rains in Montecito led to a deadly mudslide, and he got to the office Monday morning at 7am and told an editor he wanted to help however he could, he said.
“It was going well for a while,” said Livingston.
Then his car started breaking down. A taillight here. A headlight there. The engine struggled. But he didn’t have the money to fix it. (The typical Metpro wage was $44,200 per year in 2018, according to the Guild’s report.) Without a reliable car, he felt lost in the newsroom, not sure what to do or where to turn. The mentorship he had hoped for wasn’t there. “It was all a ruse in retrospect,” he said. (Times spokesperson Hillary Manning admitted to VICE News that Metpro had been “under-resourced for quite some time.”)
The woman tasked with running Metpro was Tracy Boucher. Among other jobs at the Times, Boucher had been overseeing Metpros since 2011, during which time people in the program—many of them young journalists of color—had repeatedly found her behavior to be demeaning, according to 12 former Metpros. Livingston was among them. “When she was around, she was just berating us with harmful language,” said Livingston. “She wanted competition.” Boucher sometimes referred to Metpro as a program like Survivor or The Hunger Games and suggested that Metpros sell jewelry if they needed extra money, according to multiple sources. (Boucher told VICE News in an email that she was proud of her work with the program and said she suggested Metpros try and “distinguish themselves” but “consistently emphasized to the fellows that they are not in competition.”)
Livingston found it difficult as a Black man to navigate the predominantly white newsroom. He was often mistaken for another Black male in Metpro, who was taller than him and had a different skin tone, Livingston said. (“Him and I do not look alike.”) Slowly, Livingston started to feel isolated. The desire to breed competition amongst the Metpros ran counter to everything he thought he knew about journalism. He was eventually told in an evaluation that he seemed to lack interest. “It got me thinking: It's gotta be something wrong with me. Because this is the Los Angeles Times,” Livingston said. “I just start[ed] losing confidence in myself. And it's like, If this doesn't work out, what happens to me? I was one of those people who—my self-esteem and my self-identity revolved around being a journalist. So if I'm not doing well, then that really sets a big blow to who I am.” Livingston said a sense of imposter syndrome kicked in, and he started to struggle with depression.
“It got me thinking: It's gotta be something wrong with me. Because this is the Los Angeles Times."
On Friday, August 17, 2018, former Metpros met with Pearlstine and quietly told him about Boucher’s management style. The meeting was confirmed by four people in attendance. It wasn’t the only time staffers had told management of Boucher’s issues, according to four sources. Pearlstine said in a statement that he did meet with then-current and former Metpro in summer 2018. "[S]ome participants in the program expressed concerns about how it was managed," he wrote. "Others said that they’d benefited from it, and from Tracy Boucher’s support and guidance." All agreed, he said, that the program needed salary increases and more newsroom support. That same August, Times editor Steve Padilla came aboard to take charge of the program, but Boucher continued to manage Metpros for nearly two years. The Times admitted it wasn’t enough.
“Newsroom management thought that Padilla’s oversight of the program would help resolve the need for additional mentoring, but he remained extremely busy with his editing responsibilities,” Manning said.
Three months afterward, Livingston’s time with Metpro ended. The Times had left him “angry, disappointed, let down and lost,” he said. Before he left, a top editor referenced a metaphor to Livingston that stuck with him. It was about seeds and soil. “If the seed is not growing in the soil, then what is the problem? Is there something wrong with the soil? Or is there something wrong with the seed? He implied that there's something wrong with the seed, and the seed was me, because there's no way that the Los Angeles Times could be at fault,” Livingston said.
“Apparently,” he added, “I'm just a bad seed.”
Livingston, who turns 31 this week, no longer works in journalism.
As Livingston exited, Pearlstine and the rest of the leadership team went on a hiring spree to resurrect the Times. In a decaying industry, Soon-Shiong had given the newsroom a rare gift: The ability to grow and create a newsroom that truly reflected Los Angeles County, where three-quarters of the population are people of color. Writer Esmeralda Bermudez sent three memos to management that included the names of dozens of potential Latino hires of all experience levels, according to messages she has since posted on internal Slack channels and her comments at a recent company meeting. Pearlstine told VICE News that "a few people" did go through every name on Bermudez’s list. But Bermudez said on Slack and in the meeting that only one was brought in for an interview, and management hired none of them. (Bermudez declined to comment for this story.)
Others sent in ideas too, only to see little come of them. Instead, they became used to seeing throngs of prospective white employees enter the newsroom, a number of whom were returning after a massive 2015 round of buyouts. Pearlstine later told the Times in a meeting that the paper’s reputation had made it difficult to hire, and that he believed Times alumni were in many cases the best people he could find. “When there was a willingness of some people to come back and help out, it was like ‘Great, they can plug in and start working,’” one senior manager said. “Did we act a little bit too hastily? Probably.”
Some people saw the problem as a good one to have—at least the paper was adding payroll—but the hiring spree was difficult for some women and employees of color who had spent years feeling underpaid. “Young white kids coming out of college to the LA Times were making more than me, and I had proven myself,” said one reporter of color. Early on in Pearlstine’s tenure, Hector Becerra, the Times’ city editor, asked the executive editor to consider giving a raise to Angel Jennings, the only Black reporter on the Metro desk, and someone he believed to be making “a shameful salary for anyone with her experience,'' as NPR previously reported. When Jennings brought it up to Pearlstine herself, he “acknowledged her abominably low pay,” according to a civil complaint, but did not raise her salary, citing ongoing union contract negotiations. (Becerra confirmed the exchange with Pearlstine to VICE News but declined to comment further. Jennings declined to comment.)
Jennings confronted Pearlstine, saying she knew of several people who had been given raises when they secured job offers elsewhere, according to a source close to the situation. Pearlstine confirmed to VICE News that he did provide some raises to people who had outside offers. But while management bargained with the union, “it was the advice of our Labor Counsel to do as few individual negotiations over salary as possible” Pearlstine said. He added that he provided the same reasoning to other people. “That's one thing that has come back to haunt him and us,” one senior manager said. “But folks need to understand the context: We were getting poached by competitors but we didn’t yet have a union contract so we couldn’t give raises to everyone.”
Jennings became a plaintiff in a proposed class-action lawsuit over pay inequities at the company.
The Los Angeles Times building and newsroom along Imperial Highway on Friday, April 17, 2020 in El Segundo, CA. Photo by Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
While a few areas of the newsroom, including the Sports department, made inroads at diversifying their sections, others were less successful. One such section was Entertainment & Arts, which had come under the control of Turner, the former editor-in-chief of Slate. (One of the reporters on this story worked under Julia Turner at Slate and had early-stage discussions with Turner and Pearlstine about a job at the Times that did not result in a formal application or offer.) “One of the things that had most impressed me about her tenure as editor-in-chief of Slate was the number of people of color she had hired. She had worked very hard on making it a more inclusive workplace,” Pearlstine said. But of the 14 hires on the section since July 2018, nine were white, one was Latino, and zero were Black, according to a preliminary company diversity report.
The section also lost young journalists and former Metpros like entertainment reporter Tre’vell Anderson, who left shortly before Turner arrived, and pop music writer Gerrick Kennedy, who left in December 2019. Kennedy later wrote that there was “a brick wall that too many of us encounter”—at the Times—“where we know we will not be promoted or even considered for promotion … Black reporters are subjected to being cast as ‘difficult to work with’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘problematic’ when the reality is we are in a system that’s rigged against us.”
Kennedy declined to comment for this story, but Anderson agreed.
“It wasn't clear that as a Black reporter, as a queer reporter, as a gender-nonconforming reporter, that there would be an opportunity for me to become more than just a reporter,” Anderson told VICE News. “I am interested in leadership and there was not—and to my knowledge still is not—any sort of leadership pipeline efforts, particularly if you're of color or come from some sort of disadvantaged background.”
“It wasn't clear that as a Black reporter, as a queer reporter, as a gender-nonconforming reporter, that there would be an opportunity for me to become more than just a reporter.”
Staffers in the section later complained of “disconcerting practices that have disproportionately affected our Black and POC colleagues” in a memo to management. “I’m grateful to the Entertainment staff for raising their concerns and look forward to working with them to make our workplace and our coverage more diverse and inclusive, with a particular focus on diversifying our leadership ranks,” Turner said in a statement to VICE News.
Pearlstine told VICE News that he was not aware of the issues laid out in the memo until this June. But sources said Pearlstine should have been more aware of the broader issues at hand. White male reporters more often received opportunities to work on larger projects, while people of color felt their social media was more closely policed, staffers said. “And when reporters and writers have brought this up—particularly if they’re Black—to management, they're deemed problematic,” one Times staffer said. (“There's been probably uneven reactions to tweeting by different managers,” Pearlstine told VICE News. “It's one of the things the Standards and Practices Committee is looking at now.”)
Pearlstine’s own blindspots occasionally reared their heads. In April 2020, he celebrated a Sunday issue of the paper in an email to staff and three white writers in particular—Bill Plaschke, Chris Goffard, and Daniel Miller. The email bothered some staffers. That day, the front page had been plastered with the bylines of three women of color, including Jennings, the Metro reporter whose raise request Pearlstine had recently declined.
“I've been slow to understand the pain that accompanies feeling ignored, whether intentional or inadvertent,” Pearlstine said of the email at the June all-hands meeting. “You would think that by now I would have known better, but it's obvious that I didn’t.”
There were other issues that Pearlstine either didn’t see as problems or simply didn’t want to deal with: ethical breaches, conflicts of interest, and perceived conflicts of interest that prompted variously disinterested and defensive responses from the executive editor.
In January 2018, the Santa Anita racetrack, best known for its dozens of mysterious horse deaths, hosted a party for the Times sports department. An email from then-sports editor Angel Rodriguez inviting staff and significant others to the party read: “Please join us on Sunday, Jan 14th at Santa Anita for a day at the races with your coworkers. We will have reserved a suite and look forward to enjoying a great day at the track.”
People present at the party said there were dozens of attendees, who were served food and alcohol by wait staff. It was an all-day affair, and by all accounts good times were had by all. It wasn’t until after the party that questions about who paid for it, and how much they paid, emerged. Staffers became concerned that they had attended a party that the Times had gotten at a discount or for free from an institution the paper covers.
In an interview, Rodriguez, now Assistant Managing Editor, News Desk, told VICE News that he had reached out to the PR director at Santa Anita asking if it would be possible for them to throw a party there. He said he was clear that they would need to pay for it, but that on the day of the party, he was sick and unable to attend. He said this created confusion about who was supposed to pay for the party.
“What I do know is that a couple people, I think Mike Hiserman and the administrative assistant, Maggie Barnett [...] had paid a certain amount of money,” he said. “I think Hiserman paid $200. And I think Maggie paid $100 or maybe $200. I don't really know exactly how much that was that might have been for tip or whatever.” Hiserman confirmed to VICE News the confusion over payment and that he paid around $200 in tip. Barnett died last summer.
“I knew that we needed to pay, [...] but it was one of those things that, after the fact, it was just like I didn't really follow up with the payment. I never got a bill,” Rodriguez said. (Santa Anita did not respond to messages asking about the cost, but track notes published on Santa Anita’s website a few months after the Times shindig value a suite for 20 people, without booze, at $3,500.) Rodriguez said, “That's probably my mistake as well for not being a little bit more vigilant there.” He acknowledged that payment was something he “should have handled right then and there” but rejected the notion that he accepted a comped party, and insisted it was an honest mistake.
Santa Anita Park racetrack, 2013. Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
Pearlstine agreed. He said that though the party had happened before he was hired, when the issue was brought to his attention, he looked into it and “felt that our sports editor had acted appropriately and there was no need to do anything more than just to remind all of our editors that not only under guidelines but under general practices we don't get comps and we don't let PR people, if you will, give us something like this.” (He said that he didn't know what it would normally have cost to access the room the party was held in; when told that it would be in the thousands of dollars, he said, "Well, I did not do that research.")
When asked to confirm if anything had been paid to Santa Anita beyond the few hundred dollars on the date of the party, Pearlstine said, “Subsequently, there was a contribution made to a charity that deals with employees at Santa Anita.” When asked how this payment related to the party, he said, “I'm not going to go any further than that. It's a level of day to day business that I'm not going to be discussing.” Rodriguez said that a payment of what he thought was $1,000 was made to a Santa Anita charity for former jockeys.
Pearlstine was similarly unconcerned about issues raised about sports columnist Arash Markazi, who had made a name for himself writing about the NBA and college sports for Sports Illustrated and ESPN, but also by building a personal brand as man about town in Las Vegas, reporting about Vegas, enjoying Vegas, and sometimes blurring the line between the two. Most notably, he’s tweeted glowingly on many occasions about one hotel on the strip, the Cosmopolitan, praising its food and views. Markazi told VICE News he has no arrangement with the hotel, saying he’s never gotten a free room there. (When I asked Rodriguez about Markazi’s promotion of the Cosmopolitan, he said it wasn’t something he would do—“that's not how I use my social media”—but said he didn’t see it as an ethical problem.) Markazi has also plugged, in now-deleted tweets, a Las Vegas helicopter service and a meal prep company. Markazi said that those were strictly personal—both businesses were owned by friends—but that he understood that there’s no difference between personal and professional when it comes to social media.
Personal or not, Times staffers, made aware in early 2019 that Markazi was being considered for the columnist job, saw his cozy rapport with businesses and his promotion of various brands as at least meriting discussion. In January 2019, Pearlstine heard from a staffer about concerns over Markazi’s hire. According to a summary of the meeting that was sent to a union rep and obtained by VICE News, as well as sources told of the meeting, the discussion grew heated, and Pearlstine was dismissive of any concerns.
Arash Markazi attends the Microsoft Fantasy Football Draft Party at the Microsoft Experience on September 3, 2013 in Venice, California. Photo by Ben Horton/Getty Images for Microsoft
Pearlstine told VICE News he was comfortable with the hire because he “did some due diligence with sources of mine at ESPN” to ask if there had been any issues with Markazi that ESPN perceived as serious. He said the answer was no, though ESPN did, in 2010, scrub one of Markazi’s stories about LeBron James in Vegas because, the network said, he hadn’t properly identified himself as a journalist. “I did ask," Pearlstine said, "that our sports editor have a conversation with Arash to familiarize himself with the guidelines regarding ethics with the Los Angeles Times.”
The concerns about Markazi didn’t go away after he was hired, though. In one instance, he wrote a soft column about USC athletics director Lynn Swann, at the time facing criticism over USC's role in the college admissions bribery scandal, without disclosing that he himself was a professor at USC. Markazi, who said he stopped teaching at USC after finishing the semester, told VICE News that he consulted with the Times's USC beat reporter ahead of the Swann interview to make sure he was asking the right questions, but acknowledged the problem with the “optics” of him writing the story. The article itself was undeniably sympathetic.
In other instances, Markazi’s columns were similar to—or the same as—press releases. In April, Markazi re-wrote, practically verbatim, a press release about brands selling merchandise for charity for a short column that included no original reporting. Entire paragraphs in his column mirrored the press release. Markazi acknowledged that he “did not do a good job of changing it.”
“I tweaked it, but certainly not enough,” he told VICE News. “That was unfortunate because that was for charity, and I was just kind of being like, Oh, this is a good thing for a good cause.’ I talked to the sports editor [Chris Stone] after that and we decided that I wouldn't be writing off of press releases moving forward.”
When asked if he had been aware of any issues concerning Markazi’s coverage since joining the Times, Pearlstine said he had only been made aware of Markazi writing about his USC colleague Swann without disclosing that they were colleagues. “We agreed," he said, "that that was something that should have been disclosed.”
Pearlstine himself has faced ethical questions, and handled them less than gracefully.
In 2019, Pearlstine wrote three stories about Huawei, the Chinese technology giant. The first carried the bylines of six journalists; a second, those of three; a third, Pearlstine's alone. They raised eyebrows in the newsroom for what some saw as a soft-focus look at a company that was at the time under investigation and has since been charged with racketeering by the U.S. Department of Justice. (Pearlstine rejected this notion, noting that one of the stories “prompted Huawei to complain that they thought it was unfair to them.” On the day we published this story, Pearlstine sent an email to us pointing out that the newspaper had won a “SABEW award for the coverage of Huawei that was of such interest to you,” which it had.)
What raised further concerns were connections between Steve Mann, the famous "father of wearable computing," and Pearlstine and Max Lu, a Times technologist who took a byline on the first Huawei story and a reporting credit on the second. Mann is the chair of MannLab, which he described to VICE News as "a research company focusing on Humanistic Intelligence." He's also the chief scientist at Visionertech, a company he co-founded with MannLab chief development officer Arkin Ai. (The two companies are, he said, distinct.) Visionertech, according to its website, has done business with Huawei. Mann is also a professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Toronto, which has a strategic partnership with Huawei. Lu, whom Pearlstine recruited to the Times, was for his part a cofounder of MannLab, while Pearlstine told Politico in 2017 that he was consulting for a company run by Mann, and was listed as an advisor to MannLab on their website as recently as last summer.
Lu, who left MannLab in 2018, told VICE News that he was unaware of any financial dealings between MannLab and Huawei, and that his contribution to the stories involved obtaining publicly available information from Chinese-language internet sources. When asked about the nature of Huawei’s relationship to Mann Labs and Visionertech, a Huawei spokesperson initially said he would get back to VICE News, then ultimately declined to comment. Mann said he was unaware of any partnership or collaboration with Huawei, referring questions to Ai—who did not respond to requests for comment—and that he has not entered into partnerships with Huawei and that they have not funded his research.
This network of affiliations of course doesn't show that Pearlstine or Lu were compromised in their ability to cover Huawei. Any Times journalist who believed it presented so much as the appearance of a possible conflict of interest, though—and Pearlstine's and Lu's connections to a founder of a company with a website that said it did business with Huawei could be seen to do that—would be required to report it under the Times' ethics guidelines. One reporter did just that, which is how on February 13, 2020—the same day the Department of Justice filed racketeering charges against Huawei—he and his editor found themselves in a meeting with Pearlstine in which the executive editor was yelling about how his asshole was clean.
While the meeting calmed down eventually, and Pearlstine did answer the reporter's questions while vigorously denying any wrongdoing, the general effect was such that a complaint was filed to HR asking for an investigation into his threatening behavior. Additionally, Pearlstine himself requested an investigation into his coverage of Huawei.
When VICE News began reporting this story, Pearlstine reached out to demand a chance to talk about Huawei before we had even determined if there was anything to ask him about. Before long, he followed up with another email demanding a meeting on which our editor's boss's boss's boss was copied. In it, he touted the exculpatory findings of the Times' investigation into him and Lu—"The independent investigator determined that that there was no conflict of interest and no appearance of a conflict of interest," he wrote. He later admitted, when our editor asked for a copy of the investigation, that he hadn't read it, but was going by results which had been related to him. (Lu declined to comment on the investigation.)
In an eventual conversation with VICE News, Pearlstine took an alternately conciliatory and bewildered tone. He acknowledged the “outburst” in the February meeting with the two staffers and said he apologized for it. "It was not meant to be intimidating," he said. "It was not meant to be retaliatory. It was meant to convey shock and pain that these kinds of allegations were coming at me when I knew them to be absolutely frivolous and bizarre."
He had never had any relationship with Huawei, he said, and had never so much as had a conversation with Steve Mann about Huawei. (In fact, he said, "after the first Huawei story I got an email from Steve asking for an introduction to the executives of Huawei, which implied to me that he had no relationship with them.") He said that he hadn't been compensated for his consulting relationship with Mann, aside from being reimbursed for a round-trip flight to Shanghai, which Mann confirmed. He said that he didn't know MannLab and had no relationship to it. When it was pointed out that he had been listed as an advisor to MannLab on its website, he said that he didn't know he had been, and that if he had, it was incorrect. (Mann, who said that Pearlstine was a consultant to MannLab, agreed, saying that the consulting relationship ended in 2017, and that Pearlstine should have been taken off the website.) When it was pointed out that MannLab has close connections to Visionertech—a company whose offices, he said, he's visited, and whose founders he's had dinner with—and that Visionertech's website says it does business with Huawei, he scoffed.
"Well, do you believe everything on the internet?" he said. "Please."
"Well, do you believe everything on the internet?" he said. "Please."
Pearlstine, throughout our reporting, acted like a man with nothing to hide. He could not conceal how incredulous he was that concerns about his ethics had been raised, and that he was being asked about them again, and it was easy to see why: In his mind, a connection to a renowned scientist who may have had dealings with a company he'd covered was being used as a weapon against him and the reputation he'd spent a lifetime building, for no good reason that he could surmise. In our conversation, he mentioned the possibility of a "personal vendetta," only to dismiss it, only to return to it as the only explanation that made sense to him.
"I was astounded," he said, "when the allegations were raised. And I remain astounded as I'm listening to your questions today as to why this is still something of interest when there's no there there."
He fundamentally didn't seem to understand why these questions had been brought to him in the first place, or why they were being raised when he had issued broad assurances that there was nothing to them. He didn't seem to understand why his being listed as an advisor to a company on a website, or what people associated with that company did, would matter to anyone when he had said it didn't. He didn't seem to understand the difference between asking and accusing. Most of all, he didn't seem to understand that things might look different to other people than they do to him.
The Los Angeles Times is in a much better place than it had been under Tronc. Management agreed to the newsroom’s first collective bargaining agreement in 2019, which raised wages, and implemented an innovative workshare agreement to stave off layoffs at the suggestion of the union in 2020. The Times won two Pulitzer Prizes in May and was a finalist for three others. It also took home seven Sigma Delta Chi Awards. (“No other publication had more than two,” Pearlstine said.) Under Pearlstine’s leadership, the paper also better adapted to the digital world, doubling digital subscriptions, he said. Soon-Shiong and Pearlstine have mostly left their journalists to do journalism while they invested and stabilized, respectively.
“Although I don’t for a minute claim credit for the good work of others, I do believe we have created an environment where we are creating great journalism for the audiences we seek to serve and that it is increasingly recognized as such by our peers,” Pearlstine said in a statement.
A number of staffers told VICE News they didn’t believe Pearlstine had done anything explicitly wrong. Still others emphasized the culture started to deteriorate years before Pearlstine arrived.
“Yes, Norm has a lot to answer for, but so does everybody else,” one staffer said.
“But inaction in and of itself is doing something wrong,” argued another staffer. Many others agreed. And as in newsrooms all around the country, the killing of George Floyd on May 25 reignited anger and frustration about the lack of diversity on the Times’ staff and other racial inequities. While the newsroom had grown by more than 100 employees since July 2018, the percentage of Black staffers, at 5.2 percent, remained within a percentage point of where it had been previously, according to a diversity report released internally in June. The same went for Latino and Asian staffers. Overall, the percentage of Times staffers who identified as people of color rose to 38.6 from 33.4 percent, according to the report. That compared favorably to competitors like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, as Pearlstine noted to VICE News. But it also proved the paper's newsroom did not come close to representing Los Angeles County.
Internally, it felt to many people like the newsroom had fumbled a rare chance to fix a problem that had dogged the paper for decades. “We did hire a lot of really talented people of color, but it wasn't enough to move the needle significantly on the demographic makeup of the newsroom,” one Times reporter said. “That’s really upsetting, partly because we probably won't ever get an opportunity like that again.”
“We did hire a lot of really talented people of color, but it wasn't enough to move the needle significantly on the demographic makeup of the newsroom. That’s really upsetting, partly because we probably won't ever get an opportunity like that again.”
“Are people fair to say we didn't do a hard enough or diligent enough search for especially mid-career journalists of color during that hiring opportunity? That's a fair criticism,” said one senior manager.
Pearlstine acknowledged the lack of development was a “failure” and that responsibility ultimately rested with him, while also noting his own primary focus was on finding a succession team, to which he delegated “authority and responsibility.” “Most of the hiring was actually done at levels below [him],” Pearlstine said. There, he overemphasized making sure the newspaper interviewed diverse candidates, rather than making sure it hired them, but also conceded there was “a failure to interview as many people as we could have or should have.” Asked what happened, he said, in part, “You'd probably need to talk to the editors who were doing the hiring.”
On Tuesday, June 2, as national protests erupted around the county, Metpro’s Tracy Boucher sent an email to Times interns about their social media behavior that set staffers off. “If you’re unable or unwilling to follow the guidelines below, I respect that and we can arrange for your last day a bit sooner than originally planned,” Boucher wrote in part. People complained. And this time, the complaints registered. In a follow-up email, Boucher admitted she had gone too far.
“I’d like to apologize for making this sound so threatening,” Boucher wrote in a follow-up email. “I know this is such a trying time for everyone and especially our journalists of color.”
Soon afterward, Pearlstine announced that Boucher was moving off the program “at her request” and the Times planned to hire someone into a masthead-level position “with an eye toward creating a more inclusive newsroom,” which would include Metpro oversight. It had been almost two years since Metpros had brought issues about Boucher to Pearlstine’s attention. She still oversees the newsroom’s interns.
Pearlstine realized he needed to make changes. Three days after Boucher’s email, he sent an email to staff in which he openly admitted to the newspaper’s recent shortcoming on issues of race. The paper, he wrote, had focused “on a white subscriber base even as the city became majority non-white”; “not always followed through when journalists of color have applied for positions”; not done enough to “recruit, promote and retain a more diverse staff”; and not placed enough journalists of color in leadership positions. Additionally, Pearlstine admitted, journalists of color within the organization had had to overcome “management’s blind spots” to tell critical stories and been asked to perform additional labor by “helping their colleagues avoid mistakes.”
“I want to emphasize today that the responsibility to fight racism—both conscious and unconscious, in our institution and in our coverage—lies with all of us who are here now, and ultimately with me,” Pearlstine said.
The note didn't satisfy staffers, who felt it was at odds with a story the newspaper had published the same day. Originally headlined “Looters who hit L.A. stores explain what they did: 'Get my portion!,’” the piece quoted one expert, a Scottish professor specializing in crowd psychology, and included a photo of an identifiable Black man that was later replaced. “I was just like, ‘Oh my God. This is horrific,’” one staffer told VICE News. “‘This place hates people that look like me.’” The story set off a multi-day conversation in the company’s #diversity Slack channel around the company’s coverage of the protests, as staffers said the paper should publicly take a firm anti-racism editorial position and privately work to address its racial inequities. Some shared stories. In the process of pushing the Times to better reflect the city it covered, Bermudez wrote in Slack, she had been met with defensiveness and spoken to sternly—including by one screaming editor in a one-on-one meeting.
Jennings, who is reportedly in the process of settling with the company over the proposed class-action lawsuit over pay, said the Times needed to take actionable steps to address the “glaring Black problem in this newsroom.” “That note from Norm wasn’t even a good start,” Jennings wrote in the Slack channel. “I met with @Norman Pearlstine back in August 2018 after months of seeing a parade of white people going into his office vying for jobs. I laid bare the problems that were so glaringly clear from the pay study, staff complaints and a simple look around the newsroom.”
“Here we are 1.5 year later having the same conversation,” Jennings added. “We are tired of the excuses and the ‘I hear you.’ That’s not enough.’" Boucher expressed regret for her past behavior. “I too hope to be a part of the solution going forward and am struggling personally with where I've failed in the past. I tend to get defensive or want to explain why things are the way they are rather than try to change them,” she said. “I will do better.”
Meehan, the food editor, decided to leave the company after his staff spoke out against him, he announced on Twitter as this story was being published. “In my tunnel-vision commitment to making the best things we could, I lost sight of people and their feelings. That is a terrible failing on my part,” he wrote.
(After this story was published, the Times issued a statement: "Peter Meehan has resigned his position as L.A. Times Food editor. Earlier this week, there were a number of assertions made via social media about Meehan. Among them was the claim that the Human Resources department had received multiple complaints about him, and which was simply untrue. It was also alleged that he was paid a $300,000 annual salary. That is a wildly inflated number. Meehan decided to offer his resignation and we have accepted it. Any and all allegations received by the company are taken seriously. The matter will be thoroughly reviewed.")
Numerous Times staffers told them the relevelations of the last month were eye-opening, even “liberating,” as they had previously wondered how alone they were in struggling with the things they felt about their workplace. “It's really painful because in a certain way, you soldier forward while you're working and you think, ‘Okay, well maybe this is only happening in this corner,’” one staffer said. “And then you realize how company-wide this is and how this has just continually gone ignored—and it's hard.”
On Monday, June 22, the Entertainment & Arts section sent the memo to Turner, Pearlstine, and others in leadership detailing their growing issues with the section. “It was not always this way,” the staff stated. “Even during the turmoil of the Tronc years, there was a period when The Times considered diversity a priority in hiring and in its entertainment and culture coverage,” they wrote. The next day, a newly formed Black caucus sent a list of demands to address the “racist treatment, marginalization and neglect” many Black employees experienced at the newspapers over the last decades. Almost 300 members of the newsroom signed it.
"Their frustrations are legitimate,” said Chan, the editorial page editor. “But I hope they can also see what has happened in the last few years in context, and give the current leadership team a chance to fix it going forward.”
“I do think things are heading in the right direction,” Chan added. “I really, really do.”
On Wednesday, June 24, Pearlstine led a meeting with the editorial staff over Zoom in hopes of addressing the issues that had been raised in the month since Floyd’s death. Pearlstine opened the meeting with a remorseful speech in which he tried to explain the rationale behind some of his past decisions and apologized for others. “Yesterday's demands reflected accumulated frustrations and a determination not to repeat the past be it 1992, or many times since then, when promises were made and not kept,” Pearlstine said. “I must be more sensitive to sins of omission as well as commission,” he said at another point. He referenced Jennings by name, and admitted he had only truly “come to understand the difference between not being racist and being anti-racist” in recent weeks.
“I have replayed all our hiring and coverage decisions in my head and I've been looking in the mirror. I haven’t liked everything I’ve seen,” Pearlstine added. “With the benefit of hindsight, I realized that hiring people of color was always a priority. But it was never the priority.” Then, for hours, Pearlstine patiently took questions from frustrated and exhausted staffers. One staffer took issue with Pearlstine saying he had internalized the complaints of staffers but continued to believe in the management team he had formed.
“Many of those things happened under the same managers that you told us you relied on to bring stability to the Times,” the staffer said. “I wonder how we're supposed to trust that those same people are gonna make any kind of change when they allowed this situation to happen, when some of them have actually helped to create a climate that disparages and demeans Blacks and Latinos and other people of color in the newsroom.”
At the end of the day, Pearlstine sent an email to managing editor Kimi Yoshino, accidentally cc’ing a Times reporter, who briefly shared the email in a large private Slack channel. After two years of complaints, and an internal uprising, Pearlstine still had questions. In the email, which VICE News obtained from a separate Times staffer, Pearlstine said he wanted the paper to undertake “a well-executed poll of the entire newsroom, to see how much the Diversity Channel reflects a broader mood.” “BTW,” he added, “your notes [on] my first draft saved it from disaster.” Pearlstine told VICE News he simply wanted additional information about the range of issues that had been discussed, but his own staffers saw it as evidence Pearlstine still doubted the complaints’ validity.
It wouldn’t end up being Pearlstine’s final misstep of the week. During the course of VICE News’ reporting, Pearlstine had been made aware of the anonymous letter that had been delivered to Soon-Shiong in February. Then, on Thursday, in a Zoom call with a reporter about the previous day’s town hall, Pearlstine told the reporter she had been identified as the person who had made the delivery based off of security camera footage from Soon-Shiong’s office, according to sources who were briefed on the call. Sources say the reporter, who did not respond to requests for comment, was confused and alarmed.
That was understandable enough. In an attempt to identify the person he thought had tried to undermine him, Pearlstine had confronted the wrong person. He apologized.
This story was updated after publication to clarify Angel Rodriguez's title—he is an Assistant Managing Editor, News Desk, while an earlier version described him as an editor on the news desk—and to incorporate a statement the Times issued on Peter Meehan's resignation.