Although Chandler had previously been insistent that his criticisms of the business strategies pursued by Times management remain private, this undermining of the paper's editorial integrity stirred him to action. He wrote a statement, dictated it to Bill Boyarsky, then city editor, and asked that it be read aloud to the newsroom staff.
Word that Chandler was breaking his silence ricocheted through the newsroom. The statement was a stinging and unprecedented rebuke of Willes and Downing.
"One cannot successfully run a great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times with executives in the top two positions, both of whom have no newspaper experience at any level," Chandler said.
He accused Willes and Downing of misusing and abusing the newsroom staff, of "unbelievably stupid and unprofessional handling of the Staples special section" and of perpetrating a "scandal" and a "fiasco" that posed "the most serious single threat to the future survival and growth of this great newspaper during my more than 50 years of being associated with The Times."
This was, he said, "probably the single most devastating period in the history of this great newspaper. If a newspaper, even a great newspaper like the Los Angeles Times, loses credibility with its community, with its readers, with its advertisers, with its shareholders, that is probably the most serious circumstance that I can possibly envision. Respect and credibility for a newspaper is irreplaceable."
Chandler's words hit like a bombshell, both in the Times newsroom and in the newspaper business nationwide.
Overnight, copies of an old photo of Chandler were pinned and taped by the dozens to pillars and walls and bulletin boards throughout the newsroom, where some remain. His remarks were reported in publications from coast to coast. The New York Times even published an editorial under the headline "The Truth According to Otis Chandler."
Some at the Los Angeles Times felt that Chandler's sharp public criticism of management -- and the widespread attention it received -- played a role in several subsequent management decisions. Those included an increase in the amount of news the paper printed, the adoption of a new statement of principles and ethical guidelines, and the publication of an investigation into how and why the Staples deal had occurred.
Others argued that the negative attention that was focused on the paper, Willes and the rest of the Chandler family in the aftermath of Otis' statement helped accelerate and crystallize the family's desire to sell The Times.
Ultimately, there was little that Chandler could -- or would -- do to influence the fate of The Times beyond this brief but dramatic entry into the fray.
Away from the paper, off the board, with most of his Times Mirror stock in trust, he no longer had the power -- or the inclination -- to do anything concrete, not even as a third-generation newspapering Chandler.
"Otis has gone surfing, and he's not coming back," Noel Greenwood, then senior editor of The Times, said in 1991, almost four years before Willes took over and eight years before Staples erupted.
As it turned out, however, several members of the Chandler family had begun to share Otis' disenchantment with Willes, especially the company's "lack of diversification, interest in new media and long-term strategic plan," as Chandler's sister, Camilla Chandler Frost, put it the morning the sale to Tribune was announced.
Having been rebuffed by Willes in a spring 1999 inquiry about buying Times Mirror, Tribune executives went around him several months later and dealt directly with Chandler family members and their representatives. The negotiations were so secret that Willes said he didn't know about them until less than two weeks before the deal was done, and Chandler said he didn't learn of them until he began hearing rumors two days before the agreement was made.
Though Chandler said he was "naturally saddened that Times Mirror will cease to exist and saddened by the end of local ownership," he had wondered aloud for at least five years whether Times Mirror could continue to thrive on its own in the turn-of-the-century mega-media merger environment.
"It may sound strange for a Chandler to say this," he said in one such conversation, "but I don't think my family and the other people running the company are looking ahead enough to the Internet and other new media. And sooner or later I'm afraid we'll have to align ourselves with one of those companies to ensure the long-term survival of The Times."
When Tribune turned out to be that company, Chandler said, "Of all the people, of all the media companies that Times Mirror could join, this is the most logical and probably the best company."
Chandler welcomed Tribune in part because he admired its management and strategy and in part because he thought its diverse holdings -- four newspapers, 22 television stations and an aggressive Internet presence -- would help stabilize The Times' financial position in the new century.
But it was clear that he had felt a growing personal animosity toward Willes, and he saw the takeover as a repudiation of Willes and a vindication of his own criticism.
Chandler had long felt that Willes hadn't shown enough respect for him and what he had accomplished. He was particularly resentful of Willes' frequent promise to "reinvent" the newspaper and Willes and Downing's unwillingness to consult him. And he took special pleasure in telling friends and colleagues about the telephone call he received from John Madigan, then-chairman and chief executive of Tribune, at 7 a.m. the day the takeover was announced.