Commentary for WorldTribune, January 12, 2022 247 Real News
Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik is a clickbait hack of the worst degree. Even writing about him here feels dirty, as it gives him more of the attention he so desperately craves.
But since Hiltzik’s latest streaking performance in print is generating notice, it behooves us to point out that his ethics-plagued past is not.
We’ll share The Wrap’s coverage of the pathetic Jan. 10 piece rather than grant the L.A. Times a link to its unpublishable “content”:
The Los Angeles Times is receiving blowback for a column published Monday that was headlined, “Mocking anti-vaxxers’ COVID deaths is ghoulish, yes — but may be necessary.”
In the piece, which is topped with a photo of an elected official who died of COVID-19 after “disparaging anti-pandemic measures,” Michael Hiltzik argues, “[P]leas for ‘civility’ are a fraud. Their goal is to blunt and enfeeble criticism and distract from its truthfulness. Typically, they’re the work of hypocrites.”
Hiltzik’s repulsive “look at me” false edginess is far less interesting than the fact that The Los Angeles Times is fully on board with it. How much so?
Online reaction was harsh. Some users pointed out that the [original] URL of the piece questioned why people “shouldn’t dance on the graves of anti-vaxxers.”
Yes, apparently that was going to be the way the largest daily newspaper in the second-biggest city in America had planned to frame the piece. Sickening. And we’ll leave it at that.
What is not being reported is that the L.A. Times has long stood by Hiltzik and his creepy ethically-challenged past.
Hiltzik’s warped performance at the paper goes back as far as 1993. It was the early days of the Internet, and email security was far more lax than it is today. And Hiltzik decided to take advantage of this situation by reading the personal emails of his colleagues. A Dec. 6, 1993 New York Times account elaborates:
In a stunning example of growing concern over technology and privacy in the workplace, The Los Angeles Times has recalled a foreign correspondent from its Moscow bureau for snooping into the electronic mail of his colleagues.
The correspondent, Michael Hiltzik, a well-regarded journalist who joined The Times’s Moscow bureau in August, is being reassigned to an undetermined position in Los Angeles as a disciplinary action, editors and reporters at the newspaper said.
The article reveals Hiltzik was so sleazy and devious that his own employer set a trap to nail him in the act:
A Los Angeles Times senior editor with knowledge of the incident but who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the decision to recall Mr. Hiltzik came after he was caught reading the electronic mail of another Moscow correspondent in a sting operation set up by the paper….
Correspondents in The Times Moscow bureau became suspicious when they discovered that their passwords had been entered into the computer system at times when they had not been using the computer, journalists close to the bureau said. The newspaper’s computer system keeps a record of each time an employee uses his password to log onto the system.
Despite the recall, Hiltzik kept his job. And went on to thrive at the paper. He even won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for exposing corruption in the music industry, which sounds good until you remember the Pulitzers have become every bit as big a joke as the Nobel Peace Prize in recent years. In 2018, reporters from The New York Times and The Washington Post copped a Pulitzer for their ludicrous parroting of the fictitious Russia collusion hoax aimed against President Donald Trump. In 2020, historically illiterate New York Times race-baiting “journalist” Nikole Hannah-Jones won the not-so-prestigious-anymore award for her equally ridiculous 1619 Project retelling of American history.
Seven years after earning his Pulitzer, Hiltzik managed to thoroughly disgrace himself yet again. The Columbia Journalism Review wryly noted on April 24, 2006:
In a screw-up more embarrassing than criminal, it was revealed that Hiltzik had posted comments on his “Golden State” blog on the Times Web site and on other blogs with which he had long-standing feuds, using phony names he assigned himself to hide his identity.
CJR correctly notes:
Hiltzik once again underestimated the ability of computer technology to leave footprints that can be traced back to him.
The CJR report continued:
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times suspended Hiltzik’s Golden State blog and told its readers: “Hiltzik admitted Thursday that he posted items on the paper’s Web site, and on other Web sites, under names other than his own. That is a violation of the Times ethics guidelines, which requires editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public.”
Hiltzik’s latest infraction isn’t as bad, we would venture to say, as invading a colleague’s privacy by breaking into their email, but we’re a little surprised that some media watchers seem to think that posting inflammatory comments under fake names, whether at your own or at others’ blogs, isn’t as dumb as it so obviously seems to be.
Yet Hiltzik survived. Again. The man obviously has some kind of magic bullet with the L.A. Times that allows him to twice gravely humiliate himself in terms of fundamental human, never mind journalism, ethics and keep merrily plugging away at his narcissistic column-writing.
Is anyone really surprised that a man who would read his co-workers’ personal emails and sock-puppet reader comments on blogs “with which had had long-standing feuds” would have the malice inside him capable of publicly encouraging the mockery of people who die?
Hiltzik is a sad and pathetic figure who is ultimately of no account.
But what he says about The Los Angeles Times is of some importance. It makes for one more malignant symptom confirming the already widely held diagnosis that “mainstream” big-box media is dying on the vine.