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.”

51 Comments

  1. Al Says:

    I wonder in what other cases he has provided similar instructions to his bloggers?

  2. Evil Pundit Says:

    I don’t buy his explanation.

    There have been further developments, including a corroborating report from FOX News and a legal suit filed by the Enquirer. Yet he claims that reporters hadn’t found any further information.

    It’s clearly a cover-up for the sake of political partisanship.

  3. jim l Says:

    I dunno. Every time I or anyone I know has been misquoted or their comments misconstrued in the LA Times, the reporter offered a response along the lines that the story was essentially correct and that the dispute was over semantics. I say the original story stands as written – and if people hold him in an unfavorable light, that’s not only his problem but it’s his fault – and his attempts to weasle out of the original story are, well, weasle-like.

  4. Bangalore Says:

    “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”

    No kidding, you mean that without bloggers the MSM would not follow up on stories that don’t reinforce their agenda’s. Controlling the content of news???

  5. TLB Says:

    The LAT has a history of covering up for various left/far-left people and groups, so pardon me if I only partly accept the explanation provided.

    As for their bloggers being “real reporters”, hopefully that was just mindless puffery and he doesn’t really mean it, since some of them are clearly just agenda-driven hacks (SwatiPandey, AminaKhan, and I’m sure I could name more by looking through the comments I’ve left there).

    And, while there are too many examples of the things the LAT keeps forgetting to mention, one of their non-blog “real reporters” keeps forgetting to mention that one of her frequent quote sources is linked to a foreign government (peekURL.com/z5va8av). And, they consistently covered up TonyVillar’s radical past; it took some guy following him around with a sign to get Tony to discuss his past leadership in MEChA. And, a couple of their reporters even portrayed ANSWER as just a benign group (peekURL.com/zyk1wfz).

  6. Jonathan E. Says:

    Tony is a holdover from LAT ex-editorial editor Matt Welch’s days (Matt’s now EIC at Reason). Matt and Tony were buddies from UCSB’s Daily Nexus college paper, and I suspect the old boy network produced a less than stellar and capable ed.

  7. Jenzo Says:

    Yeah, uh, whatever Tony.

    Sounds like you guys were forced kicking and screaming into covering this (the Metro desk is working on this, yeah right, only after you guys were busted for ignoring the story). As for your bloggers being “real reporters”, are you saying that the Enquirer reports are not? I seem to remember the Enquirer beating you guys on some pretty big stories. Not everything they publish is legit, but if they’re leading with this story, you can bet your @ss that they’ve sourced the hell out of it, spoken to legal, and can swear up and down that it’s true.

    Keep talking. You’re only digging yourself into a bigger hole.

  8. Jenzo Says:

    Oh, and BTW Tony, as for your “real reporters” not being able to find a legit source besides the Enquirer? Ummm, dude, it took like five minutes for Fox News to get the security guard to admit what happened. Maybe your “real reporters” are just lazy and incompetent.

  9. DBinSD Says:

    I would love to see the following from the L.A. Times:

    1. List of other topics Tony Price has instructed bloggers not blog about. [Guess? 0.]

    2. List of emails from editors – named Tony or otherwise – instructing bloggers not to blog about Larry Craig. [Guess? 0.]

    3. List of emails from editors – named Tony or otherwise – instructing bloggers not to blog about any other politician. [Guess? 0.]

    4. Stories from the Metro desk on the Edwards scandal. (Yes, L.A.T., it’s a scandal, like it or not.) [Guess? 0.]

    This happened, what, a week ago? And they’re still thinking that it makes sense to instruct bloggers not to blog about it?

    I want to give that an A for effort but….F.

  10. Mister Snitch Says:

    I can take Mr. Pierce at his word. Nevertheless, the incident points up an important fact: Newspaper bloggers work for newspapers. That’s a very, very different matter from blogging independently. Early, unaffiliated bloggers criticized ‘mainstream media’. Well, MSM has finally figured out how to strike back: Co-opt your critics, and drown out emerging, independent, critical voices before they can be heard.

  11. Simon Scowl Says:

    Nobody’s asking the really important question here: Has this controversy interfered with the staff’s ability to keep rockin’?

  12. william Says:

    what scum – how he or Meredith Artley has a job is beyond me.
    put them both on the street where they belong

  13. baldilocks Says:

    I don’t care about Edwards. Just wanted to give Tony a shout-out.

  14. David Crawford Says:

    Oh puh-leeze. If that would’ve been a conservative Republican senator, Pierce would’ve sent out a memo telling those 43 bloggers to go-for-leather on the story.

  15. Kevin Says:

    Why am I not surprised this guy looks like a snake.

  16. Californio Says:

    to quote another source:

    “Apparently the Los Angeles Times is actively investigating the John Edwards story and thus far can confirm that “Beverly Hills” appears to be some sort of “suburban enclave” somewhere in greater Los Angeles which allegedly has “hotels” – this story is still being developed and we await the further investigation by the Metro desk with its’ multiple levels of editors to prevent mistakes.

  17. Jenn M. Says:

    Yeah, stop digging, Tony. And take down that “White Stripes” cover in your office. Anybody who signs a suppressive email, “keep rockin’,” doesn’t deserve them.

  18. David Baker Says:

    Tony – Why not just call John Edwards and ask him?

  19. I Have a Bridge to Sell Says:

    Odd, I remember seeing the Larry Craig story in the LAT a couple days after the occurrence. Does it take two weeks for a “real reporter” to get an interview with the hotel security guards or unnamed witnesses who saw Edwards hiding in a bathroom?

    I’m sure that LAT expose will be coming along anytime now.

  20. MIke Says:

    Has the LA Times written the story their metro editors were workig on yet? NOT

  21. jblog Says:

    “Ever 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.”

    I got news for you, bub — it’s not merely an accusation. The mainstream media HAS been ignoring the story.

  22. Easycure Says:

    His idiocy is only surpassed by his corruption.

  23. RebeccaH Says:

    LAT, keep protecting those shrinking revenues from big-wig advertisers who support leftist causes. In the end, you’ll find you’ve sold your soul for nothing.

  24. D Says:

    The LA Times is a pathetic piece of trash newspaper. I’d rather read the National Enquirer any day.

  25. Mister Snitch Says:

    You’ve got the Inquirer and Gawker doing the real journalistic heavy-lifting here. From now on I’ll rely on them, and maybe Pink and the Weekly World News (“The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper”)as well. I don’t know if I can say they never lied to me, but I’m dead certain they’ve never held anything back.

  26. Jim,MtnViewCA,USA Says:

    wait.
    isn’t this the same LAT which published yards of thinly-sourced material on Ah-nold when it became apparent that he would win the Gov’nership?

  27. Rachel Says:

    I think Tony (and Meredith) are being set up. Why are the bloggers supposed to do what the reporters and editors should be doing? The LAT dragged its heels with Mayor Tony, as well, so why would Pierce’s editorial judgments go against policy?

    But why is the blog guy making these decisions? I thought the paper had some 4 layers of editors? Where’s Tim Rutten’s take?

  28. Serously? Says:

    You start with this, “Ever since the National Enquirer broke the story… ” and then you talk about “burying.”

  29. db Says:

    Subtlety has never been Tony’s strong point.

  30. plutosdad Says:

    I don’t consider the opinions page to have “previously covered it”. The opinions page doesn’t mean squat and Pierce and anyone who reads a newspaper knows it.

    And does he seriously think we believe by saying don’t write about it he meant “write it up”?

    I am reminded of the testimony during the Microsoft trial in the 90s : there was a Bill Gates memo that said “I’m behind NOT supporting Java” and the employee tried to say “by that he meant he wanted to support java” and the judge almost threw a fit after such an obvious lie.

    I wish all newspapers were this careful about what they report on all stories. but since the LA Times does not exactly have a great record about not reporting rumors, I have a hard time believing him.

  31. Van Helsing Says:

    I doubt Pierce would be so circumspect if it was McCain barricading himself in the men’s room after being caught visiting his mistress.

  32. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    Anyone who has ever attempted to read anything that Pierce himself has written is aware that we are observing the Peter Principle in full effect.

    Pierce has the writing style and editorial standards of a lobotomized Horace Greeley crossbred with a garden snake. As somone else in the thread accurately noted, the always-professional (except, perhaps, in this instance) Matt Welch greased the wheels to bring Pierce aboard a sinking ship. I guess everyone at the LAT was too busy bailing water to notice that the fop doesn’t have the talent to manage a high school newspaper, let alone the blogs of a once-powerful daily news operation.

  33. Ben Sullivan Says:

    I think Jonathan E’s comment about Tony Pierce/Matt Welch is dumb. Or maybe some sort of comment performance art.

    Full disclosure: Pierce and Welch are lifelong friends and former colleagues.

    I think Pierce’s point about blogging being a platform to publish is right on. Consider: You’re a news organization. Web site, print version, hell, maybe even a cable channel and radio station. You’re telling me there ought to be no coordination, simply because one branch uses Typepad to get their words out?

    And for the record, Pierce and Welch are first rate editors (and writers) who think a lot more about news ethics than most journalism professors out there.

  34. Atwater Village Newbie Says:

    Nice corporate-speak Tony. It’s a long way from your anything-goes days at LAist.

  35. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    “I was really just…”

    I am the father of four sons. Any sentence that begins with those words is an evasion.

  36. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    Welch, yes, Ben, but Pierce definitely not.

    I thought it was the job of a newspaper, to quote Pierce, “to create a bunch of noise”, not squelch it. Don’t speak of journalistic ethics in such a deplorable manner.

  37. AR Says:

    Rachel is right above. All the huffery about Pierce’s email overlooks the key point that the Blog Editor is not the person deciding what to cover or not in the LA Times. If there was a decision to quash reporting on the Edwards thing it resides FAR up the masthead from Pierce. He’s just taking a whipping for sending a poorly thought out email.

    My guess is that the graybeards in the newsroom don’t want to follow the Enquirer because they think it’s “below” them. I doubt it has anything to do with trying to protect Edwards. I don’t remember the LAT holding back when Gary Hart got caught with Donna Rice, or during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

    One final thing: I’m pretty sure that Tony Pierce joined the LAT AFTER Matt Welch left. So I find it hard to believe that Matt somehow “greased the skids.”

  38. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    No, AR, absolutely no merit to the nepotism assertions whatsover. Tony Pierce’s prime journalistic skills and superb blog management tools got him the job, not to mention his excellent way with an inter-office memo.

  39. Rol Says:

    The LAT’s explanations of their non-coverage and Pierce’s ending quote remind me of that cop in the Big Lebowski: “Leads? Yea, we got leads?!! Hahaa. We got two teams of detectives. They got ‘em working in shifts!! Hahah.”

  40. Matt Welch Says:

    My tenure at the L.A. Times and Tony’s did not overlap. The Opinion Section, which I worked for, and the Web Department, which he works for, are totally separate entities, reporting to different overseers.

    When Tony said he was interested in working there, I recommended him to Meredith Artley, and there my involvement ended. I thought that he would do wonders for the Times’ blog-traffic, quality, and innovation, and indeed he has.

    As for the Larry Craig example (to cite one), A) Tony wasn’t there at the time, and B) Didn’t Larry Craig, uh, plead guilty to a crime?

  41. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    Thank you for that clarification, Matt. And congrats to you and Emma on the baby. I only recently heard the news.

  42. Matt Welch Says:

    Thanks, Rodger. We only recently *made* the news!

  43. McClatchy Watch Says:

    The National Enquirer scooped the mainstream media on the Jesse Jackson love child story in 2001.

  44. Rodger Jacobs Says:

    I worked for the Enquirer for a brief period. Believe me, these days they vet a story like they’re clearing up the Pope’s bio. If there’s even a whisper that the story they’re considering running is a false allegation, they back off as if bitten by kryptonite spiders.

  45. abberant Says:

    Wait, I forget…

    Is John Edwards still running for president?

    Is he still a U.S. senator?

    Does he even matter?

  46. Bithead Says:

    We only recently *made* the news!

    It works that fast these days?
    [/snark]

    Congrats, Matt.

    Does he even matter?

    Well, an interesting story about that. Let’s remember that the National Enquirer is home to a large number of Hillary Clinton supporters, not least among them David Kendall. So conceptually, Hillary Clinton’s fingerprints are all over that one at the off. But the reason behind such a move may not be apparent to the casual observer… and frankly, it wasn’t until last night that this occurred to me; I’m somewhat annoyed at myself for not seeing this earlier.

    John Edwards had all the endorsements of the various unions wrapped up, before he dropped out. Most of these are unions, the rank and file of which have shown some reluctance to vote for the “Black” guy.

    (I put black in quotes because of course Obama is half-white… but I digress..)

    Obama chosing Edwards as a VP at that point would have been a no-brainer, and likley would have been enough to at least cause McCain some serious trouble in the general election. Edwards would ahve brought the union voter along with him. With the scandal though, Edwards is a less attractive candidate to say the very least, thus lowering the chances of Hillary Clinton gaining the White House. So, the National Enquirer offered up this story… true or not, it has the desired effect. And, for the record, I consider it true. So much for Union support for Obama.

    So where does this leave us? It leaves Obama with one less obvious choice for VP for one thing, it leaves him without union backing, barring anyone else in that position that the Unions will rally to, sice they’re clearly less than inclined to rally around Obama himself… and it leaves Hillry Clinton in a position once again to be taken seriously as a VP candidate. Else, it leaves Hillary Clinton in a position to be running against a Republican incumbancy.

  47. Jonathan E. Says:

    Well, Ben above is right: I am dumb. So much for dot-connecting: sorry to Matt and Tony. FWIW, I think Tony’s getting a bit of a bad rap here.

  48. Braden Says:

    I do not buy his “story” at all. The bottom line is he was caught, and now he’s basically saying he was “told” to send the email out.

    Yeah right. I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

  49. Mark Brant Says:

    You have got to be kidding. A person in the news business making a “semantics” slip. No, let me tell you what really happened. Mr. wandering dick called the Times and called in some favors. Maybe he introduced one of the writers there to another humping starlet who wanted a monthly check…and, they bought it. They let this sorry SOB, who has a sick wife and children…get away with what in any other situtation: if that person were a Christian or a Republican or a conservative: would have plastered it all over every front page that they could find. This is just an affirmation of the Times bias, and willingness to allow someone in their political camp behave as promiscuously as they want to with no honest reporting or notice. Shame on you Mr. Pierce.

  50. Stajack Says:

    Tony Pierce. Dem hack. Period.

  51. Timesobserver Says:

    This is a great article that takes a good look into the editorial decisions made at the L.A. Times.

    I’m not sure if there was any type of bias on the L.A. Times part, because I can see where they are coming from.

    However, because the only source to the Edwards’ affair at the time came from the N.E., that shouldn’t restrict a blogger from commenting on the incident.


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