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Times Drops Ad Firm on Alleged Falsehood

Publishing: Sales agent apparently represented himself as a Times reporter to Brazil officials.


The Los Angeles Times has severed a deal with an advertising sales firm after one of the firm's agents, apparently representing himself as a Times reporter, asked Brazil's Senate president to help persuade local firms to purchase ad space.

Disclosure of the newspaper's agreement with Global Press comes amid growing concerns by Times' journalists about decisions made by the company's business executives. Last week, Times Publisher Kathryn M. Downing apologized to the newsroom staff for agreeing to split profit from an issue of the Sunday Magazine with Staples Center, the issue's subject.

Since becoming publisher in June, Downing has carried out a policy started by her predecessor, Times Mirror Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark H. Willes, that called for eliminating the traditional "wall" between the newspaper's news staff and its business executives--a measure designed to preserve journalistic objectivity and credibility.

Times business executives made a deal with New York-based Global Press despite two earlier incidents in 1994 and 1995 in which other firms producing advertising supplements about foreign countries used the newspaper's name to obtain access to high-ranking government officials and corporate executives.

"We'd hoped we'd never see this kind of advertising deal again," said Foreign Editor Simon K.C. Li. "It smears the L.A. Times abroad and . . . it actually squanders an opportunity for access. And here it is coming back again."

In the most recent instance, Li said he received a complaint nearly two months ago about a Global Press agent's contact with the Brazilian Senate president. Li said he called the newspaper's top advertising executive, John McKeon, on Sept. 8 to inquire about the firm.

Li said McKeon told him he didn't know whether the newspaper had a deal with Global Press, but he was studying an earlier complaint about the firm. The next day, Li said, McKeon told him the newspaper did not have a contract with Global Press.

But McKeon himself on Sept. 2 sent an e-mail to Downing and Editor Michael Parks saying the advertising staff "has been in discussion with these folks about an insert" to be distributed in the newspaper.

Li said he remained unhappy about the exchange.

McKeon, The Times' senior vice president of advertising, said he did not recall sending the e-mail.

After Li raised concerns, McKeon sent Global Press a letter Sept. 17 alleging it had committed a "material breach of our understanding." Global's corporate affiliate, Apisa International, has rejected that allegation and said its agents always identified themselves properly.

"It was an honest mistake," McKeon said of the deal. "Once we found out, we acted."

Newspapers commonly contract with outside companies to distribute inserts that contain advertising and "advertorial" matter written for promotional purposes.

In one earlier deal, the newspaper had agreed to distribute a supplement about Argentina produced by Universal News Inc. But in early 1995, an editor in Los Angeles received a complaint from the deputy consul general for Argentina, who said a Universal employee had represented himself as a Times reporter and "requested a fee in exchange for publication" of an article, according to one memo.

McKeon said, "Based on our experience here, it would be difficult to see" entering such deals in the future. "Going forward, we'd be very cautious."

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