In the Jan. 4 editions of the Los Angeles Times, staff writer Michael Hiltzik addressed the issue of Manville Corp.'s survival under its plan of organization ("Manville Plan Leaves Open Question of Firm's Survival").
We appreciate The Times' interest in the plan and in Manville, but we take exception to the negative tone and inaccuracies in the article. It incorrectly quotes me, and it makes opinionated statements and inferences about Manville's past and future that are not based on fact or research.
For example, in discussing the anticipated relationship between Manville management and the trustees of the Manville-funded asbestos health (AH) trust fund, I said: "If there is any animosity, it would be a failure on management's part."
The story placed this quote in the wrong context. As a result, the story made it appear as if I was referring to the asbestos health claimants' lawyers . This is grossly misleading. The AH trust, the claimants and their lawyers are not a common entity.
There is no reason to believe that there will be any animosity between the company and the AH trustees. We share the goal of seeing that Manville is healthy and able to earn the money needed by the trust to compensate injured people. Also, we will work to minimize any differences we have with claimants' attorneys.
The story also opines that AH claimants will own Manville. Again, not true. Six trustees will control a majority of the stock in the company for purposes of settling health claims filed with the AH trust. The trustees , not the claimants, will control the stock and will, after four years, be able to vote the stock.
Another problem with the article is that it minimizes two important items: (1) The reorganization plan's constituents are confident that the plan will work and that there is ample opportunity for Manville to meet the performance objectives outlined in the plan; (2) the bankruptcy court made a judicial determination that the plan is feasible. Instead, the story places great emphasis on the negative opinions of a few poorly informed naysayers.
Journalists who write about complex issues, such as the Manville plan, ought to objectively research the subject and interview those persons who are knowledgeable on the subject, not merely reactionary to it. Hiltzik's article panders to those who have a parochial interest in the plan's failure.
Complicated problems and complicated solutions bear more than a simplistic assessment of their probability of success. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland said in a court opinion that it's not difficult to criticize the plan. What is difficult, he said, is to come up with a better solution to the problem.
We believe we have a viable solution to a complex societal and business problem arising from asbestos illness, and we believe that Manville is going to be successful in the future.
While we appreciate the journalistic license extended to bylined articles, we fail to understand how such bias could be tolerated by a publication of the stature of The Times. We feel that Hiltzik's bias compels the reader to an erroneous impression. We hope your future reporting on us will be more objective and balanced.
W. T. STEPHENS