Journalist Yashar Ali files defamation suit against Los Angeles Magazine

·4 min read
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - MAY 14: Maer Roshan and Merle Ginsberg attend Nikki Haskell's 80th Birthday on May 14, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
Maer Roshan, editor in chief of Los Angeles Magazine, shown in May 2021, is not named as a defendant in the defamation lawsuit filed by freelance journalist Yashar Ali, but he is referenced throughout the complaint. (David Crotty / Getty Images)

Journalist Yashar Ali has filed a defamation lawsuit against Los Angeles Magazine one year after the publication ran a nearly 6,000-word feature that he says labeled him as someone who "backstabbed his friends to get ahead" and mischaracterized his journalistic standards.

In a sprawling June 9, 2021, feature that called Ali a "Twitter Power Broker," Los Angeles Magazine delved into his career and personal life. The feature painted a negative profile of Ali's work ethics and detailed his various relationships with celebrities and politicians, including comedian Kathy Griffin.

In 2020, Ali said Mayor Eric Garcetti's top advisor, Rick Jacobs, forcibly kissed him on the lips and hugged him over the course of a decade. Ali worked in Democratic politics before becoming a freelance journalist and worked as Gavin Newsom’s deputy chief of staff when Newsom was mayor of San Francisco.

Journalist Peter Kiefer sat down for multiple interviews with Ali for Los Angeles Magazine, but the end result is a story that Ali claims characterizes him as a "shoot-from-the-hip" reporter. In his lawsuit, Ali says the magazine did not assign a fact-checker, which is a regular practice for a story of that length and did not verify any of Kiefer's allegations or give Ali the chance to disprove any of the claims made in the story.

He also argues that all his answers related to Griffin were meant to be off-the-record, but Kiefer included that information in the feature, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Ali asked Los Angeles Magazine to retract the story, but said they refused.

He accuses Los Angeles Magazine and its parent company Hour Media Group of "repeated sloppiness" that shirk journalistic ethics and do not consider the harm caused to the people profiled in their stories. Ali is suing Los Angeles Magazine for defamation and promissory fraud.

A representative for the magazine said via email to The Times on Friday that it was unaware of the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, writer Parker Molloy published a follow-up article on her Substack newsletter about the Los Angeles Magazine profile. In the story, Ali detailed his interviews with Kiefer and his attempts to reach out to the publication's editor in chief, Maer Roshan.

“The profile contains many factual errors that don’t even require private records, they can be found via Google search," Ali told Molloy. "The profile was the biggest media and politics story for two days, trending on Twitter for both days. It was shared by a wide variety of powerful and influential people."

Roshan told Molloy that Los Angeles Magazine stood by its story.

"Of course our article was rigorously fact-checked and legally vetted, and by prior agreement with Yashar, every quote of his that appeared in the story was approved by him," Roshan said.

Los Angeles Magazine and Roshan did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the allegations made in Ali's lawsuit.

Ali said the feature paints him as an unethical journalist who recorded his interviews with Kiefer without his permission. But Ali claims Kiefer agreed to let him record all their conversations before they began talking for the story.

The Los Angeles Magazine story detailed Ali's living arrangement over the years, including a period when he stayed with Griffin. The story says Ali overstayed his welcome by several months and Griffin's staff were concerned when Ali started receiving official government mail at her home. But Ali said none of this is true. He said his mail was delivered to his business manager and he only once received a replacement medical insurance card at Griffin's home because of an urgent matter.

The feature claims Ali became suicidal during the fact-checking process. Ali said that was an unrelated issue, noting that his uncle in Iran had died from COVID-19 during that time, according to his lawsuit, but the feature tried to connect his sharing on Twitter that he was suicidal with the soon-to-be-published story and the negative stories about Ali's relationship with Griffin.

"In making that statement, the article falsely implies that [Ali] acknowledged the truth of the supposed revelations in the article and was distraught that the public was going to learn the supposed truth about him," according to the suit.

Ali said he was unaware of all the negative allegations in the article when he disclosed that he was having suicidal ideations. He took a prolonged hiatus from social media after the Los Angeles Magazine article was published, but has since returned to posting regularly.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.