Fixing the rot at the top of the Getty Museum by the asleep-at-the wheel Getty Board seems to be less important than the drafting of highly expensive talking points about how there are no problems at the Getty by a gun-for-hire PR firm:
Sitrick's Century City-based firm represents a range of companies, magnates and sports franchises, including the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But he has become a signature presence in Los Angeles and beyond for his work for celebrities (Halle Berry, R. Kelly, Rush Limbaugh) and organizations (the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles) in crisis. Forbes magazine once called him "The Flack for When You're Under Attack."
Records show that his firm has charged the Getty up to $650 an hour to design strategies to respond to questions posed by the Times and other media outlets, draft letters to Times editors on behalf of Munitz and Getty board Chairman John Biggs, and confer with Munitz's chief of staff, Jill Murphy.
Sitrick's firm also coached friends of Munitz likely to be interviewed by the newspaper, creating "talking points" for former Paramount studio chief Sherry Lansing, records show.
Getty officials would not comment on why Sitrick was retained or on whether the board of trustees had approved his hiring or set limits on his fees.
Some experts called the Getty's spending on outside spin control an improper use of tax-exempt money. By law, nonprofits such as the Getty must use their resources for the public good.
"It's a sad day when a museum wants to spend that much money on crisis management instead of saying, 'Wait a minute, what are we doing wrong?'" said Marie Malaro, a former professor at George Washington University's museum studies program and the author of "Museum Governance: Mission, Ethics, Policy."
"Why do they bring somebody in to gloss things over? A crisis-management organization comes in not with the purpose of remedy, but with selling the public on the idea you're really good guys."
The article adds that these fees were on top of the compensation of just resigned in-house PR head, Pamela Johnson:
Arriving at the Getty in summer 2003, Johnson received a $127,500 signing bonus, records show. She was among the trust's highest-paid officers. In the fiscal year that ended June 2004, her total compensation was $318,261.
And you wonder why the Getty can't afford to buy any art....