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.
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.
"I realized there was just no way I could continue."
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
“There’s a culture that has continued to fester there for a very long time.”
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.
“It got me thinking: It's gotta be something wrong with me. Because this is the Los Angeles Times."
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.
“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.”
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.
"Well, do you believe everything on the internet?" he said. "Please."
“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.”
“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.”