Former colleagues noted that Felch (who was not at the paper when I worked there) could be prickly and aggressive in defending his reporting, and that the paper’s editors didn’t always manage him well. Still, around the newsroom and even among those he not always flatteringly covered, Felch was considered intelligent and talented. I heard, from Tranquada and others, that the college did not ask for Felch to be fired.
“He was one of the best, most diligent, and brave reporters I knew,” said Felch’s former editor, Julie Marquis. (Marquis, who had overseen Felch’s work, left the Times in November, before his December story ran.)
And though the Times’ editor’s letter says otherwise, Felch has said he stopped relying on his source for information when the affair started.
So his conduct seems less about agenda-pushing than about journalistic hubris.
Felch would not speak to me on the record. So it remains a mystery why he didn’t come clean to his editors as soon as the affair began. Doing so might have saved his job.
Sleeping with a source is not explicitly banned in the Los Angeles Times’ ethics guidelines, though they do call for staff members to inform a supervisor about potential conflicts of interest. Had Felch’s editors known about the relationship when it happened, they could have taken action, perhaps pulling Felch off of the Oxy coverage or removing his source from future stories. “That’s the way you deal with stuff like that,” said David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The New York Times and the president of Investigative Reporters & Editors, as well as a former LA Times reporter (and CJR contributor).
So am I on Team Oxy, or Team Reporter? At this point, I am on neither.
Because what has been lost in all of this is the story of those seven alleged sexual assaults, the ones that were reported and do fall under the Clery Act. The college says it has not been contacted by the police or district attorney’s office regarding any ongoing investigation or prosecution of those incidents. This does not, however, mean the assaults didn’t take place.
Now, the media-scandal story has overshadowed the fact that sexual assaults are an ongoing problem at my alma mater and on other campuses.
Last month, I learned, Maharaj visited Occidental College, reportedly with publisher and CEO Eddy Hartenstein, to personally apologize to the college’s president, Jonathan Veitch. And while the Times has assigned another veteran reporter, Teresa Watanabe, to cover the college, some activists wonder if the paper will now soft-pedal its reporting.
“We have students being raped and sexually assaulted,” said Caroline Heldman, who chairs Occidental’s politics department and co-founded the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition. “My biggest concern is that we’re losing sight of the fact.”