Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong interfered in reporting at the newspaper about a billionaire doctor friend who was involved in a lawsuit over his dog biting a woman in a local park, TheWrap has learned.
The meddling in an unpublished story was a last straw in the deteriorating relationship between Soon-Shiong and his executive editor Kevin Merida, who resigned on Jan. 9.
TheWrap reported on this incident in an investigative piece last week, but the details of the interference only emerged on Friday in The New York Times.
Gary Michelson, a billionaire surgeon who has invented multiple patented treatments for spinal disorders, sued Sandra Schnaufer for extortion and emotional distress in May 2023, according to court documents. The lawsuit claimed that Schnaufer was attempting to extort Michelson for injuries she claims she sustained when his dog, Blue, attacked her and her dog at Veterans Park on Barrington Avenue in August 2022.
Schnaufer countersued Michelson for damages in June 2023 in a complaint that read: “Defendants’ dog charged at Plaintiff and her dog, and attacked and bit Plaintiff while she was protecting her dog. As a result, Plaintiff suffered severe injuries.” The complaint cited multiple other attacks by the dog.
A Times reporter, Laurence Darmiento, learned of the lawsuit and began looking into the story.
Soon-Shiong learned about a potential Times story in early December and attempted to head off the reporting, telling Merida that he did not think it was worth pursuing. Merida was concerned about the interference, but relayed the information to then-investigations editor Scott Kraft and business editor Jeff Bercovici.
However, Soon-Shiong’s concerns were not allayed, although the story was still being reported and was not written. At one point he threatened to fire Merida if the story was published without him being able to see it first, according to an individual with knowledge of the incident.
“Patrick thought that Laurence had the story ready to go and insisted on reading the draft, which didn’t exist,” said the individual with knowledge.
Bercovici was laid off this week, along with a deputy business editor Lindsay Blakely. Kraft was left as one of two managing editors still at the paper after Merida and two other managing editors, Shani Hilton and Sara Yasin, resigned.
“Patrick’s position was that it’s bad journalism,” said the individual. “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 inquired about the reporting. “Dr. Soon-Shiong had urged that the facts be gleaned from both sides,” Manning said. “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.”
Darmiento told the Times that he was still working on the story this week, even as the Times laid off nearly 120 newsroom staffers.
Manning did not respond immediately to an email from TheWrap.