Dog Lawyer · Bad City · #VanLife
Plus: longreads for your weekend
The Bad City backlash is upon us. We talked about LA Times’ journalist Paul Pringle’s book about alleged corruption at USC when it came out last month, but since then, it’s become one of the most gossiped-about books in journalism.
As you might recall, a significant portion of Pringle’s book details how big bosses at the LAT (all of whom worked under the paper’s previous owner, the unfortunately monikered Tronc1) tried to keep reporting on misconduct (and worse) claims against USC med school’s then-dean Carmen A. Puliafito out of the paper — the story eventually was published, and won the reporters Pulitzer recognition.
At the time of the book’s publication, the LAT appeared to acknowledge that alleged editorial suppression, which is pretty damning! But since then, two of the editors named as the folks most opposed to moving the story forward are pushing back, hard.
One of those editors, Matthew Doig (he’s now at USA Today as an investigations editor) took to Medium to defend himself. I know, I know, a Medium defense post is such an eye roll, but this is actually interesting! Doig is a sharp and snappy writer, and he says he kept all his receipts:
…it’s disappointing that several media outlets have thus far failed to bring even a modicum of skepticism to such an absurd tale. The truth is that Pringle is a fabulist who is grossly misrepresenting the facts to support his false narrative.
Fortunately, I don’t need anyone to take my word for it. I have every email and story draft I exchanged with reporters and editors concerning the Puliafito/USC story — from the moment I got involved in April 2017 until we published a bulletproof story in July 2017 that ended Dr. Carmen Puliafito’s career, thoroughly embarrassed USC and resulted in zero corrections, clarifications, or lawsuits against the LA Times. (I’ll link to several of the documents I cite here, but I am willing to hand over the entire file — dozens of records amounting to a definitive paper trail of how the story evolved — to a serious journalist with the time to go through them and draw their own conclusions).
It’s a looooong thing to read, and you really get in the weeds regarding newsroom process. There’s also some pretty fun gossip (Doig says that at their first meeting, Pringle inexplicably flew off the handle and gives a lot of details) and great insight into how a big investigation gets developed.
Another editor Pringle names, Marc Duvoisin (he’s now the editor-in-chief at the San Antonio Express-News), posted his response on Facebook:
Doig and I strove to make the story as clear, compelling, accurate and bulletproof as we could, and the final result (“An overdose, a young companion, drug-fueled parties: The secret life of a USC med school dean,” published July 17, 2017) suggests that we succeeded.
There were no hidden motives -- and no “corruption” whatsoever – only our deep conviction that there is a right way to do journalism, and that way is not reckless, vindictive or triumphal. This story was exceptionally risky. If not reported and edited with great care, it could have resulted in a huge libel judgment against the paper. It was our job to make sure this did not happen, no matter how indignant the reporters became. I’m glad I held my ground, and I would make all the same decisions again.
Los Angeles Magazine has since published Pringle’s rebuttal to his former editors’ rebuttals. Snip:
Maharaj, Duvoisin and Doig have tried to hide behind a boilerplate corporate statement that Tronc, then the owner of the Times, issued about their firings. They have claimed they were dismissed as a part of a “reorganization.” Well, that reorganization occurred on the Monday morning following the Friday evening conclusion of the internal investigation into their conduct. And as a reorganization, it was bizarrely asymmetrical in terms of who it targeted, particularly newcomer Doig.
The fired editors also point to Tronc statements that the investigation found no “conflict of interest” with USC and that they were not ousted “for cause.” First, the company did not need to find a conflict of interest to fire the editors for the many complaints lodged against them, including those about the interminable delays in publishing the story, which were a disservice to our readers. And the editors had no “just cause” protections against firings.
More to the point: Shortly after he was sacked, Duvoisin told a longtime friend, “Paul and Harriet got me fired.” Harriet Ryan is another reporter on the USC story. In an email to a Times writer, Doig, referring to the USC team, said of his firing, “the folks behind it got what they wanted.” Meanwhile, the Times’ human resources director Cindy Ballard, who oversaw the investigation, told me on the day of the firings, “We need more stories like the USC story.” She thanked me for instigating the inquiry into Doig, Duvoisin and Maharaj.
Just as there is reliably a song of the summer or a must-see blockbuster, the journalism industry now has a top candidate for the media controversy of the season. Over the last two weeks, reporters and editors from New York, Washington and Los Angeles have been trading notes and debating who was in the right, who was in the wrong.
Were editors at The Times being scrupulous or were they cowards intimidated by a major city institution that had also partnered with the newspaper, including on a books festival held on its campus? Had an investigative reporter doggedly overcome obstacles put in place by his own newspaper, or was he going too far in casting blame? The New York Times was even drawn into the controversy when the newspaper’s positive review of Mr. Pringle’s book drew criticism from Mr. Doig and others.
It’s a lot, so much that you might just want to read this Washington Post recap of the disputes so far, as opposed to falling down the linkhole I did to write up this little item. But I don’t think this saga will end with the summer, if grafs like this (from Paul Farhi’s Post piece) are borne out:
Pringle’s former editors have their own review: It’s a pack of lies.
“The entire premise is false,” said Marc Duvoisin, who oversaw Pringle’s original story in 2017 as the Times’s managing editor, in an interview.
The Times’s former editor and publisher, Davan Maharaj, told The Washington Post the book is “largely a work of fantasy. … Much of it takes place in his own imagination.”
Has anyone here read Bad City yet? If so, what did you think? — EB
Your paid subscription keeps us in linkholes. Watching screeners, listening to podcasts, reading books, and pulling together disparate sources all take a lot of time — but that’s how we create a publication that is worth your time. Please consider a paid subscription to Best Evidence today, to support the work we put into this newsletter, and to allow it to continue.
Speaking of disparate sources…Three different justice-related stories broke in recent days, and I thought it might be fun to run down them all. Keep reading, there’s a silly little game afoot.
Judge: Kevin Spacey must pay $30M to ‘House of Cards’ makers [Associated Press]
Spacey, who was booted from the Netflix series over allegations that he sexually harassed multiple crew members, must pay $30.9 million to the makers of HoC after they scrambled to salvage the series after his departure.
Alex Jones must pay at least $4.1 million to parents of a Sandy Hook school massacre victim in defamation case, jury rules [NBC News]
Remarkably, Jones said the ruling was a “big victory against the tyrants and the new world order,” as the plaintiffs had requested $150 million, but a jury is contemplating punitive damages today…so it’s not over yet.
Rick Singer’s bribery got rich kids into elite universities. Now the Varsity Blues scandal mastermind is pushing pickleball at America’s ‘dullest mobile home park’ [San Jose Mercury News]
Ahhh this story is so good that it’s worth taking advantage of a trial subscription to gulp it down. Singer is “spending his final months before sentencing” in what a neighbor describes as “a little crappy old motorhome” in the “dullest mobile home park in the whole country.” The owner of the trailer park, who said she approved Singer’s application, said that after the approval “we saw Netflix and whatnot and we were like, ‘Oh my God.’”
Three fascinating tales of men grappling with and/or facing justice, each in their own way. As we say in the journalism biz, “Three data points? Pitch it as a NYT trend piece!” But, if you were going to pitch an overview story on the latest news on these three embattled men, what headline would you propose?
Please do drop yours in the comments, as I have a true-crime headline contest idea in mind and want to do a test run. — EB
Jonathan Katz’s book, Gangsters of Capitalism, isn’t a classic example of true crime (yes, American capitalism is a criminal enterprise, I know, but I’m getting somewhere with this so hang on) but a recent issue he’s facing regarding its alleged reuse without attribution is one that reflects a great deal on a lot of true-crime content we all consume.
Writing on his Substack, The Racket, Katz lays out how a podcast called Chilluminati dropped an episode that repeated a lot of the research and information he gathered for his book, without attribution. Katz is convinced — and he creates a solid argument — that the podcast hosts repeated his work without crediting him. Snip:
The odds that [Chillumanati co-host Jesse] Cox just happened to have the same ideas in exactly the same order that I put them in my book is nil. There is more of a chance that Smedley Butler dug himself out of his grave, booked a ticket to wherever these podcasters live, and whispered those sentences to Cox in person, than that he would have randomly and independently put together that chain himself. (The “article” he is referring to was likely the pre-publication excerpt of Gangsters published in Rolling Stone, which I believe contains all the material he stole.)
What’s more, talking about what other people in other countries remember about America’s empire in general and Smedley Butler, in particular, was the core original innovation of my book. It’s what I spent five years and emptied my bank account doing. This is an open and shut, prima facie case of plagiarism, as any history professor or journalist can tell you. (And many did.)
Katz called out Cox, Cox denied the claims, and fans of the podcast (it has 11.8K followers on Twitter, so presumably a sizable listenership) went after Katz. It makes you wonder why Katz even bothered, until you get to this bit:
“Chilluminati” alone will bring its creators over $146,000 this year, according to the monthly figures posted on its Patreon page. They also sell ads — the sponsors of the plagiarized Butler episode included Talkspace and HelloFresh. Jesse Cox hosts half a dozen other podcasts as well, mostly about gaming: His personal Patreon lists only the number of subscribers, but given his listed tiers he personally pulls down an additional $84,500 to $422,700 a year, minus Patreon’s cut.
Katz notes that his experience isn’t new, something we’re all thinking too, of course. If the phrase “Crime Junkie” didn’t pass through your head as you read these last couple paragraphs then what are you doing here — and Crime Junkie, believe me, takes in way more than Chilluminati does.
As I’ve written before, this is an issue that’s not going to end: Back in the day, mainstream papers basically did rewrite on news reports from online sources without credit; broadcast TV still basically reads the paper into a camera without attribution; and more and more podcasts are springing up with, as Katz puts it, hosts who “crack open someone else’s book, sit down around a mic with a couple friends, and gush about this cool new thing you just learned.”
This seems most true when it comes to true crime, where for every original podcast investigation there are 10 that are just pals drinking wine and recapping Wikipedia. Is there a solution, other than for creators of original content to make their peace with being plagiarized? I really don’t know. — EB
My dog bit my nephew this week. We knew this was likely to happen — we ended up with David because he was bad with his guardians’ baby, and we had seen how anxious he gets around kids. We’d been really careful, but on our last night visiting family, we let our guard slip as everyone was standing up and hugging to say goodbye. You know all those little girls from Evil? My sister’s four daughters are just like them, plus there are also two boys — so it was a pretty chaotic scene! One that prompted Dave to snap. My five-year-old nephew is OK, and seems pretty unfazed, but I still feel horrible about it all.2
That might be one of the reasons the NYT’s The Dog Lawyer Doesn’t Care That You Hate Him was one of my favorite longreads of the week, but I also think it’s because reporter Hope Corrigan does such a deft job of explaining the sad and fascinating complexity attorney Richard Rosenthal faces as a defense attorney for dogs accused of far worse cases than a nip at a kid.3
Here’s a snip to whet your interest:
“I’m a hired gun,” Mr. Rosenthal said, acknowledging his reputation as the go-to lawyer to get dogs off death row. “If I take a case, it’s about winning. I take it because I believe in it.”
Lexus the greyhound’s case was a turning point for Mr. Rosenthal. After that, he and his wife, Robin Mittasch, founded the Lexus Project in 2009, a nonprofit that provides legal representation for dogs ordered to be euthanized. It turned out there was a market for his services. He soon received a phone call about Luna, a husky ordered to be put down for killing chickens. He was called to Connecticut to defend a golden retriever named Buddy.
That case played out dramatically in the local papers. Buddy had knocked down an older woman, and the woman’s son wanted Buddy put down. The Lexus Project issued an over-the-top response on Facebook, posting images of the gates of Auschwitz superimposed over the town seal of Milford, Conn. (“I can’t say enough bad things about Connecticut,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “They’ve never met a dog they didn’t want to kill.”) A judge granted Buddy a reprieve, provided the Lexus Project removed the dog from Connecticut immediately.
In terms of triggering content, you all know that I can’t handle much in the way of animal harm, but I found this article manageable and un-upsetting, but it’s still not a candy-coating of the oft-brutal world of bringing animals descended from wolves (as impossible as it seems that David Cheddar has an iota of wolf in him) into our homes. — EB
“which owned the Television Without Pity IP for a hot second, FYI” — SDB
I’m not just sitting around feeling bad, FYI — we’re getting Dave in some classes and working on some at-home tactics so this never happens again.
A third reason might be that much of Rosenthal’s work is focused on saving greyhounds — as you likely know, my other dog is an Italian Greyhound and all sighthounds occupy a special place in my heart.
Monday on Best Evidence: A look at Clark Howard’s San Francisco treat, Zebra.