The geographical elements of the Sasha Frere-Jones Los Angeles Times scandal – a Las Vegas strip club, Joshua Tree, the 2016 Coachella Music and Arts Festival – are gonzo-worthy. Add in a phantom rapper, a fellow writer’s emphatic pleas for personal-expense reimbursement and some apparent resentment among SFJ’s Spring Street confreres of the privileges that came with his reporting directly to managing editor S. Mitra Kalita and, well, you wind up with our headline pun.
Let’s start with the Dom Perignon-sponsored April junket, which Frere-Jones was initially supposed to cover but then backed out of. Although he may have been guilty of bending a few L.A. Times rules by accepting the invitation, the event is quite honestly nothing out of the ordinary.
In addition to the 1998 P2 tasting in the Joshua Tree desert (for which Frere-Jones would have been helicoptered in), the three-day event included deluxe accommodation at a hotel in Rancho Mirage, a swanky dinner at the John Lautner-designed Elrod House in Palm Springs and more. Among those who did the Dom Perignon dirty was Blouin Info lifestyle editor Michelle Tay – check out her report and slide show here.
The Vegas details are a little harder to evaluate. On Twitter, Frere-Jones recently followed Kendrick Lamar, so perhaps the alleged $5,000 strip club expense reimbursement request – a round-dollar amount which typically, at places like Sapphire and Spearmint Rhino, is racked up by VIP groups of 10 – was pinned to the “The Blacker the Berry” artist.
Certainly, from our point of view, the gonzo high point of all this has to be that phone call or email exchange. As relayed by TheWrap’s Itay Hood:
Asked to explain [the $5,000], Frere-Jones said he was writing an article about a rapper. But according to the insider, the rapper’s representatives told the paper that no interview had taken place.
Think about that for a moment. An editor or accounting person at the Times contacted a major rapper’s representatives and asked along the lines of, ‘Hey, we just wanted to double check something…’ It’s likely that Frere-Jones’ cred with this artist instantly went through the roof.
Finally, if SFJ was willing to try and expense 5K in Vegas entertainment, one wonders why he didn’t also go for the Coachella Uber copter, rather than reportedly barter for free transportation with a potential article subject. All in all, this series of events is the craziest thing to happen to the L.A. Times music department since Devon Maloney explained her reasons for leaving last fall.
P.S. The tweet above is one of about a half-dozen SFJ darts lofted this week by Ortberg, a writer for The Toast, about imaginary monies owed. Which of course just makes it all the more gonzo-perfect.