TheWrap has obtained information revealing that Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, interfered in the reporting process concerning a billionaire doctor friend embroiled in a lawsuit over his dog’s alleged biting incident in a local park.
This interference, involving an unpublished story, marked the culmination of a deteriorating relationship between Soon-Shiong and his executive editor, Kevin Merida, who resigned on January 9.
While TheWrap initially reported on this incident in an investigative piece last week, the details of the interference surfaced only on Friday in The New York Times.
Gary Michelson, a billionaire surgeon renowned for inventing patented treatments for spinal disorders, filed a lawsuit in May 2023 against Sandra Schnaufer. The legal action accused Schnaufer of extortion and emotional distress related to injuries she claimed resulted from Michelson’s dog, Blue, attacking her and her dog at Veterans Park on Barrington Avenue in August 2022.
In response, Schnaufer countersued Michelson in June 2023, alleging damages and describing an incident where Michelson’s dog charged at her and her dog, causing severe injuries. The complaint cited multiple other alleged attacks by the dog.
The saga unfolded when Laurence Darmiento, a reporter for The Times, discovered the lawsuit and commenced investigating the story.
Soon-Shiong became aware of the potential story in early December and sought to discourage its pursuit, expressing to Merida that he did not believe it was worth investigating. Despite Merida’s concerns about interference, he relayed the information to investigations editor Scott Kraft and business editor Jeff Bercovici.
Soon-Shiong remained unsatisfied, even as the story was still in the reporting phase and had not been written. At one point, he reportedly threatened to terminate Merida if the story was published without his prior review, according to an individual familiar with the incident.
The individual shared, “Patrick thought that Laurence had the story ready to go and insisted on reading the draft, which didn’t exist.”
This week, Bercovici was laid off, along with deputy business editor Lindsay Blakely. Kraft is now one of two managing editors remaining at the paper after Merida, Shani Hilton, and Sara Yasin resigned.
The individual further stated, “Patrick’s position was that it’s bad journalism. He doesn’t understand that the owner of a newspaper doesn’t second guess journalists’ decisions about newsworthiness.”
Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for the paper, confirmed to The New York Times that Soon-Shiong had inquired about the reporting, emphasizing that he urged for a thorough investigation before publishing any story. Manning stated, “Dr. Soon-Shiong had urged that the facts be gleaned from both sides.
This request for truthful, factual reporting was made by Dr. Soon-Shiong, irrespective of who was involved in this ‘dog bite’ story. He simply urged the editors to ensure that an investigation was done before any story was published.”