Last September, the Los Angeles Times published a blockbuster report detailing Disney’s questionable business ties with the city of Anaheim. In response, Disney barred Times writers from advance screenings of its movies and, according to a former Times employee, froze them out of interview availabilities. When Disney finally ended its blockade on Nov. 7, the company said in a statement that it “had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at the Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we’ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics.”
From those facts alone, it might have seemed as if the Times had won. The Mouse had blinked first, and honest journalism had carried the day.
In a recording of a meeting obtained by The New York Times, however, the then-newly installed and now former editor-in-chief Lewis D’Vorkin can be heard shooting down suggestions that the paper re-promote its original investigative report. Staffers were even warned “against retweeting any praise” of LA Times stories, according to The New York Times. Some employees, The New York Times said, “questioned whether the social media edict was part of a deal Mr. D’Vorkin had struck with Disney.”
D’Vorkin, now chief content officer for Tronc, corporate parent of the LA Times, denied any such arrangement to The New York Times.
But it turns out the Mouse and the LA Times really did have an undisclosed connection after all.
According to real estate documents filed with Los Angeles County, then-LA Times president Miyuki “Mickie” Rosen had been sharing an address in Brentwood with Sean Shoptaw, a Disney vice president for business development, since at least 2014. That year Rosen filed to give Shoptaw ownership of a third of the property where she had previously lived with her husband.
Public filings show that Rosen and Shoptaw still shared ownership of the address as recently as this past October.
Rosen had been announced in her new role as LA Times president a month prior to Disney’s decision to end the blockade against the paper. The fact that she apparently owned a home with a Disney vice president was never disclosed publicly nor was it revealed to the staff. Multiple current and former LA Times employees with varying degrees of seniority told HuffPost that they had never heard anything about Rosen’s connection to the Disney vice president.
This raises the question of how much of a role Rosen played in what Disney referred to as “productive discussions with the newly installed leadership.” Based on his LinkedIn profile, Shoptaw appears to work with consumer products, meaning that he likely wouldn’t have had an active role in any negotiations with the paper.
Rosen was brought on at the same time as D’Vorkin, two months after Ross Levinsohn came aboard as publisher and chief executive officer. Levinsohn is now on leave following accusations of sexual harassment.
In announcing her and D’Vorkin’s hirings, Variety wrote that she would “lead day-to-day operations and have oversight of product development, design, engineering, digital marketing, and data analytics across Tronc.” As president, Rosen would have been a business-side executive. Traditionally, newspapers maintain a firewall between business and editorial employees, to keep the interests of advertisers separate from the journalism. But Tronc’s history in this regard hasn’t exactly been stellar.
Nearly all the employees HuffPost spoke to were unsure of what exactly Rosen’s role was supposed to be. “They replaced one editor and publisher with three people ― D’Vorkin, Ross and Rosen,” said one current employee. “Ross was CEO and publisher; she was president. How those duties differ we don’t know, but D’Vorkin, of course, answered to them.”
“Ross was the face and Rosen was the brains,” another employee said, citing an office refrain.
Levinsohn and Rosen have worked together at several previous stops. According to their LinkedIn pages, they overlapped at Whisper Advisors, The Boston Consulting Group, Yahoo, Fuse Capital and Fox Interactive Media. Rosen also worked as Disney’s director of corporate alliances from 1998 to 2000.
Although Rosen has since left her role as Times president, she received an ostensible promotion within Tronc, the details of which are, once again, vague. Nieman Lab noted on Sunday that she will “move into a wider leadership role with Tronc, with explanation of that new position expected later this week.”
A spokesperson for Tronc declined to comment.
Last Friday, an employee filed an anonymous internal ethics complaint with Tronc, citing both Rosen’s lack of disclosure regarding her Disney connection and the fact that the details of the Times-Disney détente had never been made clear.
Update 1/31: Tronc’s vice president for communications and public relations, Marisa Kollias, provided the following statement:
Mickie Rosen has never had any involvement in the newsroom or on editorial decisions. Offensive that her private life had to be aired out. She has never had anything to do with the Disney matter. There is no obligation or reason to disclose.
You can see the real estate filings below:
This post has been updated to note the internal Tronc ethics complaint filed last week.