The staff at the Los Angeles Times is demanding answers and accountability from leadership on a number of issues, sending multiple letters in recent weeks to human resources and management about the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations and an “environment of hostility, intimidation and harassment” at the newspaper, respectively.
More than 50 women at the Times signed an HR complaint sent last Friday calling for a formal investigation into how the company dealt with allegations of sexual harassment against former deputy managing editor Colin Crawford. VICE News previously reported that Crawford had been allowed to retire in January 2019, shortly after he was investigated for inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, and toxic management over multiple decades.
Times leadership, including executive editor Norman Pearlstine, was made aware of complaints about Crawford’s behavior numerous times and as early as June 2018, but the investigation did not start until late 2018. Sources described Crawford’s retirement to VICE News as abrupt and unlike a normal retirement for someone who had been with the company for so long. (Pearlstine repeatedly declined to comment about Crawford, saying he would not discuss personnel issues. In a statement, Crawford denied the allegations.)
The complaint, which cited and corroborated VICE News’ reporting, said the treatment of Crawford suggested the newspaper may not be upholding owner Patrick Soon-Shiong’s company “Code of Business Conduct,” which promises “an environment free of harassment.”
“In such an environment, how can women feel safe? How can we have any confidence that the company would adequately respond to future harassment reports?” the women asked in the HR complaint, which was also signed by more than 20 male staffers. At another point, the complaint read: “The company’s reported handling of sexual harassment allegations sends a powerful message to women and all staffers at every level that complaints of wrongdoing will be swept under the rug and those who do come forward will be retaliated against.”
“Furthermore, the company’s reported actions hurt our credibility as journalists and damage our ability to do our jobs,” the complaint continued. “The Los Angeles Times regularly publishes investigations of other institutions who have mishandled similar allegations. Indeed, the paper received a Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for investigating USC’s mishandling of abuse allegations against Dr. George Tyndall and the secret deal that allowed him to quietly retire with a cash payout; it is not lost on readers—and potential sources—that the newspaper’s reported handling of the Crawford allegations sounds remarkably similar.”
Over email, Times spokesperson Hillary Manning said, “We understand that a letter has been sent to Human Resources. It is a confidential matter. It is currently being handled.”
The complaint was sent four days after the newspaper’s Guild sent a separate letter to management stating that the Times had developed an internal environment in which staffers were “reluctant to report potential misconduct, mistreatment or ethical breaches.” That letter, first reported by The Wrap and also obtained by VICE News, said the Guild would not “stand for any effort to intimidate, harass or retaliate against our members who bravely come forward to report suspected ethical violations or other potential misconduct.”
The letter, embedded below, listed specific instances of management being dismissive of ethical concerns and alleged retaliation, and called for more robust investigations into reported ethical issues, including Crawford’s departure, a questionable party at Santa Anita racetrack, and the newspaper’s “cursory and incomplete” investigation of Pearlstine’s own coverage of the Chinese company Huawei. Manning said that management was “reviewing the letter” but that a “number of items have either already been addressed or were found to be erroneous. The remaining items will be discussed between management and the Guild.” When asked about what had already been addressed or was erroneous, she said the company was “deferring any additional comment on the letter at this time.”
The internal complaints come as the company continues to investigate allegations of plagiarism and other ethical lapses against sports columnist Arash Markazi, first reported by VICE News. Markazi was placed on paid leave after members of the sports department sent a letter of their own to leadership this month that said they were “angry and embarrassed about the repeated ethical breaches.” (Manning said in a statement at the time that "all allegations received by newsroom management are taken seriously.”)
External pressure has simultaneously been exerted on Times leadership as well. The Oregonian published a story Thursday about the newspaper’s past partnership with the Pac-12 Conference, one of the biggest conferences in collegiate athletics. The newspaper reported that in 2018, “desperate” for positive coverage amid a series of scandals, the Pac-12 had signed a contract with the Times that “aimed to steer $100,000 in advertising to the newspaper in exchange for an expansion in conference coverage.”
From the report:
After the agreement was signed, Andrew Walker, a Pac-12 vice president in charge of communications, offered to pave the way for the newly hired reporter, a former Times intern named Blake Richardson. In October 2018, Walker promised Richardson via an email obtained from the conference, “I can make sure you have all the access and info to become the best Pac-12 reporter out there.”
Then, he laid out the blueprint.
He suggested scheduled twice-monthly telephone calls with the reporter. He offered that Richardson could even be embedded with Cal’s basketball team on a trip to China a few weeks later. Walker also invited Richardson to the conference’s downtown San Francisco headquarters to meet with conference Commissioner Larry Scott and Mark Shuken, head of the Pac-12 Networks.
“I will connect you via email with each of our 12 university (sports information directors) so that you can develop a working relationship with each of them, and get their story ideas,” Walker wrote.
When VICE News interviewed Pearlstine at length about a number of issues as a part of the investigation published in early July, Pearlstine said there had “never been a [Pac-12] partnership in place. So I don't know where you've got that information from." He also claimed, "That deal never was executed, never happened, and does not exist."
When asked Thursday for comment on the _Oregonian_’s reporting and Pearlstine’s previous comments to VICE News, Manning sent the following statement:
The Los Angeles Times generated no revenue, nor was any payment made to The Times by the Pac-12 or anyone else related to the conversations. In 2018, The Times did have conversations with representatives from the Pac-12 about a sponsorship deal, where revenue was intended to come from brands who were sponsors of the Pac-12. That ultimately did not materialize. Following those discussions, The Times sales staff did make a proposal directly to the Pac-12 that would have included advertising to run adjacent to coverage of the Pac-12. However, that proposal was not approved by Times management, given the potential for a perceived conflict of interest. It was also made clear to all parties, throughout all discussions, that only [the] Los Angeles Times newsroom would have control over what the editorial content would be.
The Oregonian reported that the Times didn’t shut down the partnership until February 2019, “four months into a six-month arrangement.”