The story, written by contributing writer Ed Leibowitz, primarily blames LA Times editor-in-chief and publisher Davan Maharaj for the paper’s troubles, portraying him as inexperienced and disrespectful, as well as suggesting seasoned journalists have left for lesser publications to escape a hostile newsroom environment.
“Something is amiss inside the historic Los Angeles Times building at 1st and Spring streets," Leibowitz writes in his story. "And that something has as much to do with ego, insecurity, and warped priorities as it does with market forces and the changing media-consumption habits of Angelenos.”
Much of Leibowitz’s story describes the process behind a multipart investigation into Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, written by Scott Glover, Lisa Girion and Drex Heikes.
The story was delayed over 15 months. During a meeting to discuss the OxyContin story, Maharaj allegedly asked the three journalists "to take a few moments to admire the Ferragamo shoes he was wearing."
At another meeting, he "spent more than half an hour on his phone, trying to redeem airline miles for a trip he was planning to take."
Eventually, the story was published, but Glover, Girion and Heikes have all left the paper.
LA Times editors Larry Ingrassia and Marc Duvoisin responded to Los Angeles Magazine’s profile, calling the piece “misguided” and unfair. They said it was unethical of Leibowitz to run the story without interviewing Maharaj, or allowing the LAT to respond to the allegations in the story.
Ingrassia pointed out that most of the 40 or so present or past LAT staffers Leibowitz interviewed remain anonymous in the story. Their claims are “third- and fourth-hand rumors.”
Leibowitz defended the story in a response published Friday.
He claims he attempted to interview Maharaj for six months and was rejected each time. His sources remained anonymous, he adds, because of the non-disparagement clause in staffers’ contracts to ensure previous employees do not say anything negative about the newspaper.
While the LAT offered to waive the clause, Leibowitz says it wasn’t enough.
“I had given each confidential source my word that his or her name would not be revealed; the Times' last-minute proposal to throw out its own gag order didn't change that commitment," Leibowitz wrote. "Nor could I have assured my sources that their former employer's offer would protect them from legal action."
Maharaj gave a brief statement to Los Angeles Magazine, saying he has had to make “difficult decisions” in his five years at the helm, and that running a newspaper “isn’t a popularity contest."
"We are in very challenging times in the newspaper business. My job is to make sure we produce quality journalism for our readers,” he added.
Leibowitz made sure to state in his original piece that he wants to see the paper succeed. "I believe fiercely in the Times’ importance to the civic life of the city, the state, and the nation,” he wrote.