Community Expects Swift Action, Times’ Executives Told at Meeting

A select group of Armenian-Americans held an hour-long meeting with Publisher David Hiller and Editor Jim O’Shea, at the headquarters of the Los Angeles Times last Thursday. ANCA Western Region Board member Zanku Armenian, USC Political Science Professor and Director of Institute of Armenian Studies Hrair Dekmejian, Armenia Fund of Western U.S. Chairwoman Maria Mehranian, California Courier Publisher Harut Sassounian, and former Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian told the top two executives of The Times that they must act swiftly to resolve the hostile environment created within the newsroom by Managing Editor Douglas Frantz. Last month, Frantz blocked an article on the Armenian Genocide written by Armenian American reporter Mark Arax. Frantz accused Arax of a personal bias because of signing a "petition" in 2005 with five other reporters, and not having followed "normal" internal channels in submitting his article for publication. During last week’s meeting, The Times executives admitted that both charges against Arax were unfounded. They attributed the controversy to a miscommunication. An internal investigation established that Arax and his five colleagues had not signed a "petition," but a letter with the intent of bringing to the attention of the editors the newspaper’s repeated violations of its own policy of referring to the Armenian Genocide as genocide. The Armenian community group that met with the newspaper’s executives reminded them that The Times own Code of Ethics requires that "a staff member who receives a complaint about the accuracy of a story should inform an editor." The Code further state: "Readers and staff members who bring mistakes to our attention deserve our gratitude." Even though Arax was fully exonerated, the editors went ahead and assigned his completed article to another reporter who ended up writing a much weaker piece, using mostly Turkish sources. An attempt by the editors to pressure Arax into allowing his name to appear jointly on the byline of the rewritten article was rejected by Arax because it had little resemblance to the article that he had originally prepared. The Armenian group told Hiller and O’Shea that since both of Frantz’s accusations against Arax were proven baseless, the only conclusion that one can draw from this episode is that Frantz was looking for a pretext to block Arax’s article on the Armenian Genocide. Hiller and O’Shea responded by saying that they had not found any bias on the part of Frantz on this issue. They acknowledged, however, that their investigation had failed to uncover some basic facts about Frantz’s past articles. For instance, when he was the Istanbul Bureau Chief for the New York Times, he had written an article that described the Armenian Genocide simply as "the killings of tens of thousands of Armenia’s." The N.Y. Times had to publish a correction on January 18, 2001 to rectify this erroneous reference. In an article published one month later, on February 15, 2001, Frantz referred to the Armenian Genocide as "Armenia’s say 1.5 million people were killed by Turkey in 1915." Hiller and O’Shea said they were not aware of these facts and promised to look into Frantz’s earlier misrepresentations on the Armenian Genocide. While the Armenian group said it appreciated Hiller’s personal attempts in recent months to reach out to the local Armenian community, it expressed its clear concern over the newspaper’s inaction in the Frantz controversy. The group emphasized that the community expects The Times to do the right thing by taking swift and decisive action in this matter. The Armenian group objected strongly to Frantz’s plans to moderate a panel at a conference in Istanbul on May 13, presenting Turkey’s "democratic experience" as a role model for other countries! One of the panel members is Andrew Mango, a notorious denialist of the Armenian Genocide. To make matters worse, The Times is paying Frantz’s travel expenses to Istanbul which makes the newspaper an accomplice to his chairing a panel with a revisionist participant! Last week, the ANCA issued a strongly-worded Action Alert demanding the resignation of Douglas Frantz. As a result, more than 4,000 e-mails were sent to Hiller, O’Shea and Managing Editor Leo Wolinsky. During the meeting, the Publisher and the Editor said they were not happy that they were receiving thousands of e-mail messages, mostly through the ANCA Action Alert. They also expressed their displeasure at the two columns written by this writer. The Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America sent an urgent e-mail to its entire membership, which included a copy of this writer’s column as well as a link to the above Action Alert. Appo Jabarian, the Executive Publisher of USA Armenian Life Magazine forwarded his own as well as this writer’s column along with the link to the ANCA Action Alert to thousands of e-mail addresses, asking everyone to send e-mail messages to Publisher Hiller and Editor O’Shea. The Jewish Journal, the Fresno Bee and the L.A. Weekly published lengthy articles on the L.A. Times controversy. Articles and editorials on this subject were published by several Armenian newspapers in this country and overseas. The press in Turkey and Azerbaijan also covered this issue. Furthermore, dozens of non-Armenian websites reported this controversy or posted this writer’s columns on this topic. Please continue sending e-mails to Publisher David Hiller: David.Hiller@latimes.com; and Editor Jim O’Shea: James.Oshea@latimes.com. Hopefully, the executives at the Los Angeles Times will realize the seriousness of the problem created by Managing Editor Douglas Frantz and act to eliminate as soon as possible the hostility that he created in the newsroom. It would be a shame if The Times would end up paying a heavy price for the indiscretion of one of its executives, as a result of widespread community outrage and possible legal action.

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