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Will Magazine Editor Be Part of Disney Family?

August 04, 1995|DENNIS ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You're writing a book about Disney. Rumor is that it's pretty critical of old Walt's company. You're also editor of Los Angeles magazine. You've written two pieces critical of Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, one of which has appeared in your magazine. Disney and Capital Cities/ABC Inc.--the owner of your magazine--announce a merger. If all goes according to plan, Disney owns your magazine. And Eisner is your boss.

Do you get to keep your job?

That's the question mark floating over the head of Robert Sam Anson, the hard-boiled journalist who took over the monthly magazine to much fanfare only two issues ago. Finally, people were saying, L.A. would have a hard-hitting city glossy.

Anson wasted no time. His first issue in July featured his piece on Eisner in which fellow entertainment mogul David Geffen calls the chief a liar. What's more, Geffen later said he thought his comments would be used only for Anson's book--to be called "The Rules of the Magic" and to be published this fall--and not for any magazine article. Anson reportedly apologized.

It remains to be seen whether Anson's irreverent approach to Hollywood--especially the Magic Kingdom--will affect his job. Or whether the fact that he's writing a book about the company he may now work for will force an ethical issue (can he truly be fair about a company that issues his paycheck?). There's lots of speculation, to be sure.

Anson: "All I can say is that we're going to put out the best magazine possible. That was true before the merger and it's continuing now."

A representative of Capital Cities/ABC, which has owned the magazine since 1977: "All of these questions about how the merger will affect our properties are premature."

Erroll McDonald, Anson's book editor at Pantheon: "He's under contract to do that book with us and that's it. If he stays on as editor of L.A. magazine, that's his business."

Media ethics expert Bob Steele says there may indeed be a conflict of interest. "It's certainly possible," says Steele, of the Poynter Institute in Florida, "that the conflict of writing about Disney may preclude him from staying on as editor of the magazine."

But L.A. Weekly media critic Charles Rappleye says hogwash, since it's pretty clear that Anson is both a solid journalist and one who has been critical of Disney. "I would be surprised to see him compromise his book," Rappleye says.

Adds New Yorker magazine media columnist Ken Auletta: "I don't think you can tax Anson ethically, since he had no idea Eisner was going to take over when he began his book. And this is not a book that's going to be perceived as favorable to Eisner."

Whatever Anson's fate, he has already made waves at L.A. magazine (circulation: 156,000). Some of the magazine's journalists say his barking, bare-knuckle style has alienated the staffers, not to mention those editors he fired when he took over. (He's earned the nickname "Ebola Bob"--after the killer virus.) And some of those fired editors say management is not happy with the product Anson has turned out.

But who knows--more and more journalists may be facing Anson's dilemma.

"His experience," Rappleye says, "just shows how small a world it's getting to be. Pretty soon we're all going to be working for Disney."

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