‘LA Magazine’ removes hit article about Santa Barbara

This piece first appeared in Journalists with JR on February 25, 2022.

the “Friday News Dump” is an age-old method in the world of politics and the media for entities to publish and underestimate negative news about themselves, on the theory that journalists are already out at this time of the week and few people pay attention to the news during the weekend.

Late Friday, February 25, the editors of The magazine made such a discharge, informing local media that they were removing from their website a 4,000-word investigative article about Santa Barbara that was published nearly a year ago, sending shockwaves through the Hall with an alleged expose on how the city’s recreational marijuana retail licenses were awarded.

Antoine Wagner | Courtesy SBPD

Titled “In Sleepy Santa Barbara, a City Hall Insider Raises Eyebrows” and written by writer and television novelist Mitchell Kriegman, the piece was directly aimed at Anthony Wagner, portraying the former Santa Barbara Police Department public information officer in an extremely harsh light. , using innuendo and several factual errors to suggest he was corrupt, even at one point calling him “a character from one of The Godfather movies”.

On Friday, the magazine sent us an e-mail to say, oh never mind:

This letter is to inform you of the removal of three articles from the Los Angeles Magazine website, www.lamag.com, which you referenced and/or linked in your report. We ask that you remove all links to the three LA Magazine articles referenced below.

The letter then quoted the original article and two follow-ups – one reporting that Wagner had been placed on administrative leave as a result of the article, and another that an independent investigation had cleared him of any conflict of interest. interests.

The email went on to say:

Links to articles published by your organization will no longer direct the user to the articles because the articles have been removed from the Los Angeles Magazine website.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Um okay.

Mitchell Kriegman | Courtesy of Jerry Roberts

Nobody says anything. Beyond the email, real facts about exactly what triggered The magazineThe extraordinary decision to retire from the internet and from history, such an ambitious, aggressive and assertive article, was hard to come by.

Wagner was unavailable for comment, the magazine did not respond to an email request for elaboration, and our efforts to reach Kriegman were unsuccessful.

However, it is not difficult to construct a plausible scenario for what happened.

A bit of context:

Kriegman’s story went awry hours after it was published on the magazine’s website, beginning with a critical look at the article by Newsmakers (our report included an in-depth video interview with the writer), who d first pointed out some holes and glaring factual errors in the article, in addition to noting that some of them merely rehash Josh Molina’s original reporting at Noozhawk. You can read our original take here.

A few days later, Nick Welsh applied the coup de grace in the Independentrevealing that one of the fundamental claims in the article, allegedly showing that Wagner arranged for one of the lucrative licenses to be awarded to a former business associate, was simply false,

After the The magazine piece was released, Wagner immediately denounced it as a “salacious hit” and quickly hired a lawyer who sent a heavy demand for retraction to the publisher.

Wagner had come to Santa Barbara several years earlier, following former Santa Barbara Police Department Chief Lori Luhnow from San Diego when she was hired here. Among his other duties, he was responsible for guiding the pot retail licensing process.

When The magazine published Kriegman’s investigation, Luhnow (who was also trashed in the play) had recently retired, and Wagner was then reporting to acting chief Barney Melekian.

Melekian put Wagner on administrative leave and hired a private law firm to review Kriegman’s suggested conflict of interest complaint; this investigation cleared Wagner of wrongdoing, but he nonetheless soon left the department and returned to San Diego.

It seems likely that the removal of the offending articles is part of a larger legal agreement between the magazine and Wagner, the terms of which are apparently confidential, given that no one is talking about what is behind the sudden and surprise move.

Journalists will comply with the request to remove links to the offending articles from our own stories, but otherwise our extensive coverage of the controversy will remain in our archive, which you can view via these links:

At the end of the line : We don’t know what else can be included in a legal settlement, including The magazineThe complete recantation of seems to be one of them, but this development alone represents a huge victory for Wagner, after he was enormously emaciated and, along with his family, suffered the public humiliation of being falsely accused of being a sordid.

Congratulations and mega-congratulations on getting your reputation back, Anthony.

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