Tony Pierce muzzles Times bloggers over John Edwards.

Tony Pierce issued a memo yesterday morning to LA Times bloggers requesting they not to discuss John Edwards alleged affair.

From: “Pierce, Tony”

Date: July 24, 2008 10:54:41 AM PDT

To: [XXX]

Subject: john edwards

Hey bloggers,

There has been a little buzz surrounding John Edwards and his alleged affair. 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.

If you have any questions or are ever in need of story ideas that would best fit your blog, please don’t hesitate to ask

Keep rockin,

Tony

After this leaked to the MSM, Executive Editor Meredith Artley sent a follow up email doing damage control:

Various colleagues on the 3rd floor have been working on reporting the story. I made the decision that while we are working on verifying if this has any truth to it, we should stay away from joining the fray. We still don’t know that, and national and metro are still pursuing.

If the Times was working on an exclusive of some sort, and they’d asked their bloggers to not write about new details found in house, that would be one thing. But Tony’s email told them not to even opine on the existing controversy.

I’m speechless.

22 Replies to “Tony Pierce muzzles Times bloggers over John Edwards.”

  1. Now we’re censoring ourselves on blogs?

    While I can respect the intent of the Los Angeles Times to get the facts straight before reporting on a story, blogs are blogs. Aren’t we constantly being reminded that blogs are not the press? What is wrong with a blogger voicing an opinion? Are they concerned that one of their bloggers will have a different opinion from the paper’s management?

    “we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations” Who is this “we?” Do blogs at the L.A. Times speak for the entire paper?

    I’m so confused. This is proof that Zell & friends DO NOT GET IT.

  2. Interesting, probably don’t want to get sued for publishing something that is not the truth. I totally disagree with the not blogging it.

    Jason Burns: HOWEVER – Blogs are absolutely the media and often break “news” before the traditional “press” like the Times. Actually, I take great glee and handing my metblogs card to the traditional media on my way out of something and refer them here. Do not underestimate the power of a “blog”.

    I have to admit am sensitive to the topic given the attempt by govt entities to silence us and deride us as if “bloggers” is something that should be scraped off a shoe. I may not be the best writer but I have something to say and have every right to have it published somewhere and heard. With that right comes accuracy which I try to do.

  3. Is his potential affair even a story? The guy’s not in politics anymore (at least not at the moment). It’s kind of… unseemly… to be having an affair while your wife is dying, but I don’t know that that qualifies as news. It’s probably just as well that the LATimes stay away from it.

  4. I’m probably going to be on the wrong side of things here but what’s the big deal? People get told what to (not) write about all the time at papers.

  5. “I may not be the best writer but I have something to say and have every right to have it published somewhere and heard.”

    Well, Fraz, I do like your writing, but if I may split hairs: You DO have the right to say whatever you want, but you are NOT guaranteed the “right” to have it published. You DO have the right to ATTEMPT to get it published, but newspapers & media, here in the US, are privately held and for-profit (in general), and it’s up to these private entities to decide what gets published & what doesn’t.

    Which is why Pierce’s ability to tell his writers what to do is protected.

    How ethical it is or isn’t, is a separate question.

    But I don’t see journalists anywhere taking some sorta journalist’s vow to always uphold the truth and never refrain from writing on a given topic. We have that *expectation* of journalists, but again, there are no gauarantees.

  6. Journalistic icon Tony Pierce, speaking for the L.A. Times, says “the only source (for the John Edwards story) has been the National Enquirer (so) we have decided not to cover the rumors or salacious speculations.”

    What utter rubbish! I hate to say it but The National Enquirer is one of the most responsible journalism outfits I ever worked for. They learned many valuable lessons from past lawsuits and cover their asses quite nicely these days, thank you very much.

    A few years ago I engineered the sale of a story to the Enquirer for Scott Thorson (he being the one-time boy toy who filed a multi-million dollar palimony suit against Liberace). Scott was down on his luck, having recently emerged from the Witness Protection Program — an incident seperate from the Liberace scandal — was desperate for money, and had dirt to sell. I felt bad for the guy and made a few phone calls. The Enquirer expressed great interest and thoroughly vetted his story. They flew an independent polygraph expert to his home on the east coast at great expense and compelled Scott to undergo not one but two rigorous polygraph exams. He passed both tests with flying colors. They then gave the celebrity in question ample opportunity to respond to the accusations. After said celebrity’s camp passed on the opportunity for comment, only then did they run with the story. That’s a more thorough vetting process than we’ll ever get from the likes of Tony Pierce and friends. Utterly ridiculous … a marginally literate blogger looking down on the National Enquirer.

  7. “But I don’t see journalists anywhere taking some sorta journalist’s vow to always uphold the truth…”

    Actually, plenty do, such as members of the Society of Professional Journalists:

    http://www.spj.org/ethics_code.asp

    (and other journalism groups)

    But this is all irrelevent, really, because we’re talking about blogs, and LA Times blogs specifically.

    Of course, the Times can dictate what its bloggers write and don’t write. The issue is that the Times has handpicked a particular issue and/or source to blackball, and it gives very strong credence to charges of liberal media bias.

    But its particularly shocking that Tony Pierce of all people is the one who told his bloggers the subject was taboo. He of all people should know better.

  8. If this was a story about Mitt Romney, no doubt their lips would’ve flapped off by now.

  9. @ Rodger: If you are going to preach about journalistic ethics, you shouldn’t cite a story that included paying off a source. Reporters can be scrupulously truthful without having to hand over cash in exchange for information.

    But that isn’t even the case in the Edwards story – that story is a blind item, with not a single name. Apparently, no one would risk his or her reputation by going on the record to confirm the truth of this for the National Enquirer. (And if the person who gave them this “information” was paid for it, that may have given him or her an incentive to lie.)

    The story may be true; indeed, high-profile politicians, like others, cheat on their spouses. As far as anyone knows, though, the Edwards allegations are about something that just may be true, not something that is established as a fact. It doesn’t even rise to the level of that McCain allegation in the poorly sourced NYT article a few months ago, and that’s really saying something.

    If the Times is trying to get someone on the record to confirm this before they write anything about it, rather than just citing a tabloid blind item that relies on a source of unknown reliability, more power to them.

  10. Allow me to eat my words on that – forgot about the follow up about the Love Child, which does do the service of quoting a statement that flatly denies the allegation.

  11. Lucinda, all good points. The right to get published is one I guess I should have been clearer on. The key for me is the ample sources to do it without fear of being censored. A writer working for an employer obviously has to work within their constraints, if they don’t like it of course they can start up their own blog and have at it.

  12. Gloria:
    By yesterday morning, the Enquirer had printed the names of its reporters, so it was no longer a blind item. And, as of this morning, Fox News has corroborated the story. Even if not, the story was making waves all over the web. I’d agree that without vetting the story, the newspaper itself shouldn’t print it, but to tell its bloggers not to touch the story is over reaching.
    I agree the Enquirer has shady standards. And actually, a former LA Metblogs author won a major settlement against the Times after the printed an article claiming he’d had an affair with an A list actress (who co-sued, and won, for libel, I believe).
    And Fox News has a shoddy track record of reporting as well. But so does the LA Times (who killed Tupac?).
    And as far as I know, Edwards denied having an affair, not meeting with this woman and her child secretly in the middle of the night.
    Also, as reported by Patterico, the Times almost seems to have a policy against covering this alleged affair. Weird.
    http://patterico.com/2008/07/25/la-times-censors-bloggers-on-edwards/

    Finally, if the argument is that the Times shouldn’t blog about something until its been verified, you need a big whopping lesson in the difference between blogs and straight reporting.

  13. The Times, as a corporate entity, has every legal right to censor its blogs. Further, as blogs progressively become what breaks news, the line blurs between blog and article in a legal sense for the paper, and the last thing the Times wants is another Tupac episode. As far as the Times is concerned, blogging is the new journalism–all of their former staff writers were forced to become “bloggers” in a sense. Does it meet reader expectations? No. It’s lame and violates the “freedom of speech” on the Net. I want Obama to cross party lines and choose Mitt Romney as a VP–Romney would balance the economy and health care, and social change and international diplomacy could be Obama’s.

  14. Okay, to repeat: THE TIMES HAS EVERY RIGHT TO TELL ITS REPORTERS TO DO WHATEVER IT WANTS. They can edit articles and blogs all it wants. It can be as biased as it wants. Of course it CAN.
    Thats not the issue. Its never been an issue.
    The question is whether it SHOULD do these thing. And if blogs hold the same weight as articles.
    Based on Meredith Artley’s clarification, even they recognize the debate.

  15. Yes they should; blogging and unconfirmed rumors dilute the effectiveness of factual reporting. When rumors and opinions speak louder than facts, the news business suffers, and so does the quality of information that we are exposed to as readers. When our news outlets are dumbed down and comprise mostly opinion and rumor, our participatory democracy suffers. As protectors of a participatory democracy, the Times has a responsibility to get the story right and present it as intelligently as they can, and then invite participation for commenting and rumor sharing. They are the news generators and if they don’t realize this and stop diluting their authority by imitating everything they see on the Web, then we all suffer.

  16. Markland, I guess the question is then this–was this on Pierce’s judgment, or was it a mandate to him from higher up? Is it possible that he “knew better” but really didn’t have a choice? I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt here. He seems like the kinda guy who’d otherwise be quite a bulldog about pursuing an interesting story.

  17. There’s little doubt it was a mandate, and a legitimate one if they really are working up a real story about this. The problem came because of Tony’s ham-fisted way of doing things. Quelle surprise!

    Simply, he laid down an edict which wasn’t really what the company had in mind. I don’t think they wanted to shut anyone down, but just wanted to make sure no posts would create any problems with their more extensive reporting which (I’m assuming) they have in the works.

    Tony still needs a little work on his people skills.

    John Edwards is one of my favorite politicians, but I’m afraid this incident is something worth paying attention to, especially given previous statements by him and Ms. Hunter. I don’t care about rumor and salacious details. But the facts of the incident are worth noting. Who knows, maybe Elizabeth set this up.

  18. I think this brings up an endless list of very interesting topics and questions, a few of which are:

    – Are the LAT Blogs actually blogs, or are they just another piece of the Times machine using the term “blogs” to try and market to an audience looking different.

    – If they are blogs, what makes them that if entire topics are off limits either because the Times is working on a story or because the Times doesn’t want to be associated with the source of the topic?

    – Have there been other topics that the LAT Bloggers have been told they can’t even mention?

    – As Markland notes, with Edwards being a potential running mate, any scandal, real or rumored is going to be news and is going to have some impact. It’s a big story and you would think that so long as the source of the info was made clear, this would be a very good topic to look at from many angles. Blogs should have the freedom to do that, no?

    – Definitely not a question of what the Times is allowed to mandate, but more what should be mandated and how they are presenting this to the public.

  19. With the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, David Hiller, fired on July 14th, oops, I mean he resigned to spend more time with his family, the newspaper is being lead by Gerry Spector and Randy Michaels.

    Certainly makes one wonder how many other news worthy stories have been pushed to the side?

    This is exactly why cross ownership of media in the same city should not be tolerated, censorship.

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