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Doug Frantz, The New York Times' investigations editor, has jumped to the Los Angeles Times. How quickly things change! Last September, when NYTexecutive editor Howell Raines lured Frantz from his post as Istanbul correspondent to head up the first ever independent investigations desk on 43rd Street, big promises were made, and observers took it as a sign that Raines was committed to long-term enterprise reporting. Six months later, Frantz has defected to work for a major competitor. What went wrong?
On March 13, Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd were surprised when Frantz told them he had accepted a job as the LAT's investigative reporter in Istanbul, and they offered him the same job working for the NYT. When Frantz politely said no, they asked him to clear out his desk and leave immediately, lest he learn information that might benefit his new employer. By the next day, Frantz's voice-mail message at the Times asked callers to contact him via his Hotmail address. That night, Boyd sent out a memo confirming rumors of Frantz's resignation and concluding, "We wish him well."
In an interview, Frantz deflected questions about broken promises, saying, "I believe Howell Raines and The New York Times are committed to serious investigative reporting." As evidence, he cited a recent series by David Barstow and Lowell Bergman on worker injuries at a pipe foundry in Texas, and the expansion of the investigations team, which, before he resigned, included four editors and 11 reporters. About his new gig, he said, "It'll be great fun. I'm looking forward to getting back to my family and to reporting again" for the LAT.
A few outside factors are at work: Frantz's wife and children, who stayed in Istanbul, and LAT managing editor Dean Baquet, who befriended Frantz at the Chicago Tribune in the 1980s. Frantz worked for the LAT before moving to the NYT in 1994. Asked how he brought Frantz back in the fold, Baquet replied, "All I'm going to say is we're glad to have him back." Frantz will report to foreign editor Marjorie Miller.
Another source says Frantz was deeply unhappy as investigations editor and felt dictated to by Raines's team. (Published reports suggest that Raines has rubbed many top editors the wrong way since he took over in September 2001.) The previous investigations editor, Stephen Engelberg, quit in the spring of 2002. By the time Raines hired Frantz, some reporters had become demoralized by the executive editor's apparent lack of interest in long-term projects, and to this day, Raines is still inclined to put investigative reporters on breaking news stories.
Ironically, one of the few long-term stories Raines gambled on is now a Pulitzer finalist: Clifford Levy's series on the treatment of the adult mentally ill. (Sources say the NYT has three finalists this year; the LAT has six.) Levy's year-long investigation was underway when Raines took over, and Metro editors defended it zealously. Many colleagues believe Levy's series deserves a Pulitzer. But the jury is still out on whether enterprise reporting will be counted as a genuine element of Raines's legacy.
A Times spokesman said, "We have the greatest respect and admiration for Doug Frantz and wish him well with his future endeavors." He declined to comment on criticism of Raines or the state of investigations at the newspaper.
After reading that Governor George Pataki, Senator Charles Schumer, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed up at Raines's wedding party on March 9, some Timesemployees were furious at not being invited, asking each other, "What am I, chopped liver?" Meanwhile, others wondered if the executive editor has gotten too cozy with the politicians the Times covers every day.
Unauthorized party shots appeared last week in the The New York Observer, which crashed Raines's party and noted admiringly that he and his beautiful bride had attracted "an impressive roster of the city's power elite."
Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg might have preferred to remain undercover. In one shot, Bloomberg and another man glare at the photographer as if they are planning to confiscate his film. After all, as the Times reported in a flattering piece on March 14, Bloomberg does his best work behind the scenes.
Was this business or pleasure for the mayor? The mayor's spokesman did not return calls for comment.
No one doubts that it is Raines's right and duty to hobnob. But after the guest list surfaced, at least one Times minion felt "stunned by the guy's balls," while others wanted to know how Raines can reconcile the presence of politicians at his wedding with the newspaper's ethical rules. The guidelines encourage schmoozing with sources, but Rule 22 reminds staffers to be sensitive to the fact that "personal relationships with [sources] can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance." The rules also caution against taking gifts from news sources.
So, does Raines consider Pataki, Schumer, and Bloomberg his friends? Did he accept gifts from them? Was this fabulous event consistent with the Times' ethical guidelines? A Times spokesman did not respond to a detailed request for comment.
Finally, this question was nagging Times gossips last week: Why did assistant managing editor Carolyn Lee take early retirement at the age of 57? As AME in charge of the national edition, Lee was known as a champion of women and minorities. Her departure leaves one other woman in the AME ranks, Soma Golden Behr, and five men. Though Raines and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. support diversity, staffers are wondering who will replace Lee and who will carry the torch.