Los Angeles Times’ Jason Felch Firing: TheWrap Uncovers 8 Awkward Questions

Los Angeles Times' Jason Felch Firing: TheWrap Uncovers 8 Awkward Questions

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The investigative reporter's firing reveals a tangled web of relationships around the controversy

It's disturbing when a Pulitzer-nominated investigative reporter is summarily fired by a newspaper, but especially so when the reasons for the firing fail to add up.

In a swift move that has shaken the L.A. Times newsroom, reporter Jason Felch was fired a week ago after Occidental College officials chose to challenge a front-page story he had written three months previously about sexual assaults that the college allegedly failed to report.

Also read: Los Angeles Times Fires Reporter After Errors, ‘Inappropriate Relationship’ With Source

On Friday, L.A. Times editor Davan Maharaj briefed investigative reporters about the Felch mess in order to figure out lessons learned and “to assuage concerns,” TheWrap has learned.

An initial look into the circumstances of the firing reveals a tangled web of  relationships around the controversy, some of which raise questions about the internal politics of the L.A. Times.

Felch was fired, we were told, because he had an affair with one of the sources on his story. Felch does not deny the affair, but insists that it began after the publication of his Dec. 7 disputed story. He confessed the affair voluntarily, not expecting it to lead to his dismissal.

Also read: Los Angeles Times Rejected Dylan Farrow's Op-Ed Prior to Publication On Kristof's NYT Blog (Exclusive)

Meanwhile TheWrap has learned:

  1. Felch's story should have been edited by projects editor Julie Marquis but she suddenly quit in mid-November without explanation.
  2. Instead, Felch's story was edited by education editor Beth Shuster. The story was not submitted to Times lawyers. Felch's stories were as a matter of course meant to be read by a masthead editor, but TheWrap has learned no masthead editor read this story before it was published.
  3. TheWrap has learned that managing editor Marc Duvoisin recused himself from the story because his own son was a senior at Occidental College, and indeed was present at a scene described in the article. DuVoisin's son was among the athletes recruited to push back against the campus activists advocating for greater accountability over sexual assault. Duvoisin himself is an active member of Occidental's community. That normally would have left Davan Maharaj himself to read the final draft, it is unclear why Maharaj did not do so.
  4. Felch's erroneous report was based on statements in a confidential federal complaint, which the paper has but has not shared with Occidental. When Occidental challenged the article in March, Felch claimed he was never given the opportunity to hear those challenges, and says he still has not been made privy to the specifics of his error(s).
  5. The newspaper contends that Felch knew Occidental's specific objections. According to an individual with knowledge of the matter, Felch conflated the calendar year with the academic year. “He knew what they were contesting in the story. And he was given the opportunity to defend it,” the individual said.
  6. Occidental College hired crisis PR expert and ex-LA Times investigative reporter Glenn Bunting to handle the matter. Bunting, based in San Francisco, gave it to his Los Angeles chief Ralph Frammolino. Frammolino, oddly,  is Jason Felch's former reporting partner, having worked jointly for years on the Getty Museum's unprovenanced antiquities, for which they were nominated for the Pulitzer, and wrote “Chasing Aphrodite” together. The two fell out over the book and are no longer friends. Occidental said Frammolino was not involved in handling the PR crisis. Felch says this is a lie and that he refused to deal with Frammolino.
  7. After Bunting used a slideshow presentation to demonstrate that the 27 unreported sexual assaults did not fall under the law's disclosure requirements, Felch was questioned by Davan Maharaj and an L.A. Times lawyer about the source for the federal complaint, which had been sent to the Department of Education, and how he arrived at the number 27. Felch had disclosed his affair to Shuster previously, and wrote a memo about his process.
  8. LA Times masthead editors realized after hours of discussion that the story was completely wrong and should not have been written. They took the extraordinary measure of retracting it, according to the individual with inside knowledge of the matter.

He was fired shortly thereafter.

The L.A. Times declined to comment and directed TheWrap to their editor's note. Felch provided this reporter with his previous statement, but declined to comment further.

What does this all amount to? Overly close journalist-source-PR relationships over a story that actually matters – the question of unreported sexual assault on a leading California campus. Should Felch have paid the price of his job? Why isn't an editor being held accountable for it? What about Maharaj and his review of the article? There's more here than meets the eye and not enough to satisfy this journalist's curiosity about a curious unfolding of events between two powerful institutions.

For the record: A previous version of this story misstated when Felch disclosed his affair. It was before Bunting met with editor Davan Maharaj. TheWrap regrets the error.

  • Real

    Still unclear about the most important issue – whether sexual assaults are being covered up by Occidental, and in a real way not in a ‘technically they weren't’ pr-crisis-shill bs kind of way

    • http://www.thewrap.com TheWrap

      very good question and i'd like to know the answer myself. sw.

  • tyrannosaur

    From personal experience, the editors never get fired. Usual story – management buckles and termination is the expedient option. They probably wanted to get rid of Jason anyway. The conflict of interest involving the former reporter/friend/writing partner is beyond sleazy. No way was that guy not involved in Jason's departure. The Times should have stuck by their man. They kept Chuck Philips on staff.

    • squidly

      “The conflict of interest involving the former reporter/friend/writing partner is beyond sleazy.”
      ______

      Agreed.

  • Newzheimer

    The guy's name is Felch? Yes, I'm 12. He should have been fired for that alone.

  • shoddy

    Let's face it. Felch has done some really shoddy work here and didn't vet his own story before running it. Clearly his head was too focused on the extramarital that he was having. Yes, he did not continue to use the source for the subsequent articles but it clearly clouded his judgement. Felch's M.O. is to create semi-hysteria via public shaming (Boy scouts, VAM in eductation, Oxy)

    You want to blame the editors at the LA times, which is financially strapped, while many editors were quitting or shuffling around. No. A Pulitzer Award – (Nominated) author should write better *stuff* than this. Try to tie Frammolino to all this, but honestly that guy has 2 REAL Pulitzers and as co-author with Jason he likely is the reason Jason was nominated in the first place.

    I appreciate in these economic times that other young reporters rally around Felch, but not sure it is warranted or deserved. Sure, he was put in his place, and it seems vindictive on the part of Occidental, but his own lapse of judgement — and frankly poor journalism — put him in this position.

    • neutral

      shoddy comment full of poor reasoning and palpable agenda, i don't know any of the players but your comment makes felch sympathetic

      • shoddy

        neutral – what is your agenda for commenting, to expose truth and injustice? sounds like journalism to me. don't know the players, or possibly a few steps removed.

        i am neither trying to make felch sympathetic or unsympathetic, and it seems this story will tell itself as more information leaks…

    • Mayor_Vaughan2012

      totally agree.

  • MEA CULPA

    FUNNY I DONT want my editor around generally when I am REporting. BUT HELPs when you NEED a fall guy

  • Journo

    “Curiosity about a curious unfolding”? You need an editor my dear. This is very sloppy.

  • Jerry Broadnax

    I think The LA Times fired Mr. Felch fearing a lawsuit because Mr. Felch couldn't support his work…( at That time. )

    I also believe Occidental College is covering up irresponsible ‘policy’ that if known would maybe harm enrollment and admission income.

    The ‘Truth’ will come out sooner or later.

  • elizabennett

    echoes here of the instance of investigative reporter chuck phillips, who reported something in good faith derived from court documents (FBI docs which were part of a court-case file) which turned out to contain untrue statements by a confidential informant who lied in the docs. phillips did his job and corroborated the statements with multiple other sources. in the case of phillips, his story was vetted by an editor or editors who never questioned either the court docs or the corroborating statements, who was/were never named, and never suffered one iota of disgrace or discredit.

    [They kept Chuck Philips on staff.] true only technically. he was through. months later, LAT used their latest round of buyouts/layoffs as an excuse to give him the heave-ho. it ruined his career, possibly his life.

  • Mayor_Vaughan2012

    felch deserved what he got. sloppy reporting…an affair with one of his sources. what,..so, he says it started after publication, as if he has any credibility after the many screwups on the story. His first mistake was not keeping his zipper zipped. In a city of 10 million people, he couldn't find someone else, besides a source on a fronttpage story of such import? Horrible judgement. What is most amazing is how, once you are in the Times clicky, little inside club, you can do anything, and people will defend you. How sad, that more people don't call Felch out for his recklessness and are looking for someone else to blame than the guy who deserves it, Felch. Just as sleazy, is the way, he did the old CYA on his way out the door with his, non-apology apology. I'd love to be a fly on the wall during his next interview, though, I've no doubt that as a member of the Times insiders club, with sycophants all over LA willing to feel bad for him, he'll be fine when he should be drummed out of the business…..

  • Claire O'Brien

    And here I thought metro reporters were by definition the industry's most experienced, sophisticated, connected, knowledgeable and competent. Are these editors their babysitters? At all seven of the smallish-to-midsize dailies I wrote for, reporters were expected to get the facts and had learned the right way to do that in J-school. If somebody slept with a source, they weren't confused about ramifications re. the story's credibility. The politics of an obscure Midwestern community college or a smaller school district can get as dense as any university in fact, as centers of community life

  • Claire O'Brien

    Continued from below. This web site eats comments’
    In fact, as centers of community life, the stakes can get higher and the bad behavior more entrenched than any brouhaha at a major, well-known university.Law suits are ubiquitious and lawyers whose professional lives depend wholly upon a single institutional client play down and dirty. Legal documents are not any simpler than those described re. Occidental.
    The idea of even a rookie getting an entire story wrong is not one we hear about down here. Our editors are crabby, usually have to build half the pages, and have small budgets.. They'd look at us as if we were out of our minds if we handed them copy with facts to check. And if we were to be so inept as to not understand legally defined distinctions (it's not rocket science) and got the paper sued, we'd be fired fast.
    If the L.A.Times needs reporters, just let us know. We'll make ourselves available as a public service to mentor your editorial staff.
    Hey, can we meet some movie stars too? We don't get out much.

  • Jeff Workman

    He totally blew this story and investigation because he couldn't keep his pants on.

    How sad!
    :-(