"Arash appears to have a history of adhering to ethical standards that are different than the ones we abide by," Fenno wrote in an email to Rodriguez days after Markazi was hired. He referenced behavior that would run afoul of The Times' ethics guidelines, including "not identifying himself as a journalist ... (and) promoting companies he patronizes."
In July 2010, after Markazi managed to get inside a LeBron James party in Las Vegas, a story he wrote about the experience appeared briefly on ESPN's internet server before ESPN took it down. The problem, according to ESPN, was that Markazi hadn't identified himself as a reporter when talking with James or his manager. Markazi was not disciplined.
Managing Editor Kimi Yoshino began looking into the concerns raised by staff. She and Pearlstine called executives at Walt Disney Co., which owns the sports giant, who they said had vouched for Markazi.
"ESPN thought Arash's flamboyance was a plus - he appealed to the younger fans that ESPN and other sports information outlets must attract if they are to remain viable," Pearlstine wrote in a Jan. 25, 2019, reply to Fenno.
Trouble arose six weeks into the job, when, with the blessing of his editors, Markazi interviewed Lynn Swann, then USC athletic director. But Markazi was an adjunct professor at USC, and The Times' ethics guidelines forbid journalists from covering subjects with which they have ties, especially financial.
Staffers were furious. They also objected to what they called Markazi's promotional social media posts, including shout-outs for a hot hotel on the Las Vegas Strip - the Cosmopolitan. Editors initially shrugged off concerns, several sports writers said.
"They looked at us like we were a bunch of whiny, old dinosaurs who didn't like this hip, young guy," columnist Bill Plaschke said. "There was this feeling of, 'Well, it's just Sports.' But it's not just Sports. Sports are the fabric of the community, and readers deserve our care, our trust and our integrity."
While editing a Markazi piece in January, Sports Editor Mike Hiserman said he found a plug for Rocket Mortgage in a column about former NFL player Barry Sanders. He said he deleted it. Hiserman then received an email from a public relations executive, who scolded Hiserman, complaining Markazi had agreed to insert a Rocket Mortgage mention in exchange for the Sanders interview, according to a copy of the email.
Hiserman shot back that if a reporter made "a promise he can't keep, I'm thinking your beef might be with him." Hiserman said he told Markazi that he couldn't cut deals like that. Markazi said he didn't make any such pact.
Markazi's effusive Twitter posts - including a May 21 tweet saying the Cosmopolitan was offering discounted rooms, "starting at $128" a night - led to problems. In June, he was sent to Las Vegas to cover the reopening of casinos and posted a video, which went viral, showing throngs of people with no masks in the Cosmopolitan. He described the scene in a June 11 travel story about the city's reopening.