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ETHICS ALERT: L.A. Times Owner Patrick Soon-Shiong Using Newspaper to Generate Revenue for His Private Drug Company

BY BRIAN HEWS

The spirit of Mark H. Willes and Katherine Downing is apparently alive and well at the Los Angeles Times.

Back in 1999, Times Publisher Kathryn M. Downing had to apologize for entering into a profit-sharing agreement between the Times Magazine and Staples Center, publishing an issue where the Staple’s Center was the magazine’s sole subject.

At the time, Downing said the lapse in judgment–and her failure to disclose it to readers and the paper’s journalists–stemmed from her own “fundamental misunderstanding” of editorial principles in the newspaper industry.

Willes, who was the Vice-Chairman of General Mills and joined the LA Times without any print newspaper experience, was the CEO of Times Mirror, and Downing’s boss; at the time Willes was pushing for “more revenue streams” and cooperation between sales and editorial.

Now, it seems that the “fundamental misunderstanding” of editorial principles has once again crept into the Times via its new owner, another non-print newspaper executive, billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.

And the deceit is occurring right under the nose of some of the best investigative reporters in the country.

Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News has exclusively discovered that in 2018, the Times and Soon-Shiong published several full-color, full and half-page advertisements in the Times almost daily, soliciting clients for his privately-held Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Medicine in El Segundo, also known as CSSIFM and found on the internet at CSSIFM.com.

The advertisements published for fifteen days in August 2018, sometimes two or three in each issue, and always in color.

Soon-Shiong was also allowed by advertising executives at the newspaper to take the coveted back page of the Main News (front page section) in the Sunday edition of the Times, an extremely pricey and sought after advertising position given that the Sunday circulation of the Times is nearly 700,000 – over 1.4 million readers.

And the ads recently started again, for the past two weeks, daily half page advertisements in full color have been publishing in nearly every section of the newspaper.

 

 

 

HALF PAGE Advertisement running in L.A. Times for the past two weeks.

 

Soliciting Patients

The advertisements are seeking patients for “clinical trials” in a wide variety of cancer related illnesses including head, neck, bladder, and liver; the trial to be conducted at the Soon – Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Medicine in El Segundo.

CSSIFM, which opened in 2017, “is a cancer center that offers state-of-the-art diagnosis and immuno-oncology treatment, with a dedicated team of experienced medical professionals who are committed to providing personalized care.”

Furthering the ruse, the 2018 advertisements showed a deliberate attempt to mislead Times’ readers, and his own newsroom staff, using a headline in the advertisement of CSSIFM in place of the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Medicine.

The deception continued when the advertisement urged potential clients to visit the website, “NKTrial.com,” to register for the clinical trials at the bottom of the ad.

Potential clients who type in NKTrial.com are quickly redirected to CSSIFM.com and the Chan Soon Shiong Institute for Medicine website.

Even more questionable, an internet search shows that NKTrial.com was created May 2018, during final negotiations to buy the L.A. Times, meaning the Soon-Shiong had plans to promote his clinic in the paper prior to the purchase.

 

 

 

 

WHOIS lookup for NKTRIAL.COM shows the URL was created May 5, 2018.

 

 

HMG-LCCN contacted personnel at CSSIFM asking about the services offered to potential clients.

In the response letter, the representative clearly indicated that CSSIFM generates revenue from both the patients and their health insurance company stating they would “verify insurance to determine any potential out-of-pocket costs.”

“If you feel that this trial would be appropriate for them, please let us know and we can start the intake process for clinical trial evaluation. The intake process includes: submission of intake forms, obtaining and reviewing medical records, and insurance verification to determine any potential out-of-pocket costs.”

 

 

EMAIL from employee at Soon-Shiong’s Institute after HMG-LCCN inquiry.

 

 

 

HMG-LCCN contacted a former Times employee who worked at the same time with Downing and Willes who stated, “no, no, no, you don’t do that, it is very unethical, you are blurring the line between editorial and advertising. He is using his newspaper to make money, that is very unethical.”

The executive continued: “what happens if one of the L.A. Times reporters gets a tip that the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute is a bogus clinic, do you think the editors would kill the story?”

This is not the first time Soon-Shiong’s ethics have been called into question, just not as a newspaper owner.

A wide-ranging 2017 POLITICO investigation found money flowing  between his many non-profit and for-profit companies “raised alarms among some tax specialists, who questioned Soon-Shiong’s use of tax-free dollars to boost the bottom lines of his for-profit businesses.”

HMG-LCCN attempted to contact several executives at the LA Times for a statement without success.

 

Additional advertisements published this weekend (6/29 and 6/30/19), the ads are in color which costs the company additional dollars when printing the paper, called “adding a plate of color.”  Each plate has four pages (images) on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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