MORE ON GRAZERGATE….Since I’ve been dissing Michael Kinsley lately, let me say that I think he gets something exactly right today. The subject is the absurd pseudo-scandal at the LA Times that led to the resignation of its editorial page editor yesterday (full story here). Here’s what Kinsley says:

Naturally, the LA Times publisher says that the problem isn’t a conflict of interest. It is the appearance of a conflict of interest. This formula has irritated me for years, especially when used by the media. It is the job of journalism to bring appearances in line with reality, not to bring reality in line with appearances.

A thousand times yes. Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is obviously a wise goal, but it’s impropriety itself that we should be concerned about. The job of the media should be to figure out whether or not something actually happened, not to cluck mindlessly over appearances. We should leave that to Maureen Dowd.

In the case at hand, my guess is that no one — literally no one — believes Andres Martinez actually did anything wrong. On the contrary: I think everyone accepts his explanation about how he chose Brian Glazer to guest-edit this Sunday’s op-ed section — an explanation that was simple, clear, quickly offered up, and consistent with the evidence. But for some reason the ethics brigade still feels like they have to go through the “appearance of impropriety” kabuki dance because otherwise Romanesko and the blogs will come after them. Feh.

And what does the LA Times get out of all this? A reputation for panicking at the tiniest sign of trouble. A reputation for not backing up its own people when unfair accusations are leveled against them. A reputation as a pseudo-moralistic prig. And will anyone ever agree to guest-edit an op-ed section for them again? I doubt it. You’d be crazy to waste your time, knowing that the Times will hang you out to dry at the first sign of trouble.

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