LA Times blog editor Tony Pierce responds to criticism about National Enquirer story

tony pierce la timesEver since the National Enquirer broke the story that former Senator John Edwards had visited a Beverly Hills hotel to meet with his alleged lover and love child, there has been no shortage of accusations that mainstream media outlets were ignoring the story. These criticisms were magnified after an email sent by Los Angeles Times blog editor Tony Pierce to his blogging staff leaked to the outside world.

“There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair,” Pierce wrote on July 24. “Because the only source has been the National Enquirer we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations. So I am asking you all not to blog about this topic until further notified.”

Many took this to mean that the LA Times was actively trying to suppress the story from gaining any ground. They claimed that the email was indicative of the newspaper’s attempt to protect the former Democratic senator.

I spoke to Pierce for a few minutes on the phone today. He said the decision to send the email came after several senior editors at the Times met that day.

“The Opinion LA blog had already written about the rumors from the National Enquirer,” he explained. “We knew some of the other blogs wanted to write about it or were thinking about writing about it. And at that point we were like, ‘you know, we already have our metro desk working on a story and before we just kind of write a whole bunch of stuff about the National Enquirer article, why don’t we give our metro desk a chance to see what they can find.’ That’s when they said, ‘OK Tony, why don’t you write this letter to your bloggers.”

When I brought up the argument made by many that they were trying to bury the story, Pierce pointed out that one of the blogs had already written about it. The editors simply wanted to give the metro reporters a chance to dig into it and see if they could find any new information, he said, rather than just having the Times website create a bunch of noise.

I asked the blog editor about his relationship with his bloggers and whether they normally had to run stories by him before publication. He responded that with 43 blogs under his helm, that would be impossible.

“Most of the time they’re on their own,” he said. “Most of the time they write about what they normally write about. Sometimes what I’ll do is give them some story ideas — I’ll say something like, ‘you know, I noticed you haven’t written about this yet. Have you noticed this?’ Or if they’re not sure about a story, like some of them were with this Edwards story, they’ll come to me and say, ‘what do you think?’ With this specific story there were some blogs that don’t normally handle politics that wanted to write about it. So that’s why they pitched it to me. Instead of writing to a couple of the bloggers, I just wrote to all of them and said why don’t we just hold off, because all we have is this one source.”

I asked Pierce if the metro desk had the chance to follow up on the story, and if so, would he send out another post allowing his bloggers to write about it. He said that to his knowledge the LA Times reporters hadn’t found any additional information and expressed some skepticism of the National Enquirer story’s authenticity.

“I was really just reminding the bloggers that they write for the LA Times and they happen to be using blogging as a publishing platform,” Pierce said. “This isn’t something you would normally see in a newspaper more than once. We already wrote the one post quoting the National Enquirer and I don’t think you’d see more than that if there were no blogs and this was just a newspaper. That’s what I was just saying to them, that until we have a better source, let’s hold off on being part of the speculation.”

But near the end of our interview he interjected and said that he probably could have worded the email better.

“What I should have said is that if you find information — because these are real reporters — if you find any more information, or if there’s something that’s out there that you come across put out by a more reputable source, write it up and let’s talk about it. That’s probably one thing that I wish I could have said.”