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How Race Is Lived in America

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At home on Lexington Avenue, Boyd grieved. In one swoop he’d lost his job, his social set, the very rhythm of his day. He had to reinvent himself and had no idea where to begin. “The Times was like family to him,” said Bernie Weinraub, one of Boyd’s dearest friends. “And when the family betrayed him, he was so shattered and depressed. He couldn’t get over it.”

For a time, Boyd lunched with friends from the paper, but then he stopped returning calls. He walled himself off. At a strained dinner with Soma Behr, as she reviewed the mistakes she thought he’d made, Boyd finally gave way and blurted, “What do you expect from a poor black kid from St. Louis? Who do you expect me to trust?” There was naked hurt in his combustion, and also a rage that he’d checked for a long, long time. According to Tom Morgan, Boyd’s old college classmate, he was “angry at how he was let go at the Times—very angry, and that anger persisted to the end.” But in public, Boyd would remain the loyal Timesman. That summer, when the National Association of Black Journalists received him like a wounded gladiator (“Boyd! Boyd!”), he spoke of how he owed “a lot to the Times ... including the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.”

Boyd had known the life of work since he was a 7-year-old paperboy, and he found things to do: a short-lived syndicated column; a case-study project for Columbia; a lucrative consulting deal with a Canadian media chain, CanWest. He tackled his memoir and read his six papers each morning and took his son to the zoo. Still, Boyd ached for what he’d lost. As Michael Oreskes, Boyd’s old metro deputy, said, “a newsroom gave him life, and he gave it life.” But over the 32 months between his leaving the Times and the diagnosis of his illness, Boyd received not one offer from a major newspaper. He came close several times, according to Michael Williams, who hired him at CanWest. “He said, ‘I get all the way up to the last interview, and somebody calls my friends back east and suddenly the offer’s not on the table anymore.’ ”

In the spring of 2004, the Atlantic Monthly published Howell Raines’s “My Times,” a 21,000-word you-a culpa, much of it a revisionist history that hung Boyd out to dry. Raines claimed that his No. 2 was privy to critical forewarnings about Blair, and that Boyd had dropped the ball. Had Raines “been in the bureaucratic loop on the memo,” he wrote, “the Jayson Blair story would have ended there.”

Translation: Gerald was my black guy and he didn’t save me from this black kid and it must have been his fault.

I asked Robin Stone if Raines and her husband had been friends. She paused a moment, and then: “I felt they thought they had a friendship.”

Life atop the New York Times, Howell Raines was explaining, “is a multidimensional chess game. There are alliances, but no enduring loyalties.”

At 64, Raines is a compact, craggy, pink-tinted man, a tad fleshy but fit. He lives on three acres in eastern Pennsylvania, where he writes fiction for two hours each morning and runs his pair of short-haired pointers. He seems content with rural life; he is The Man Who Has Moved On.

“I respect whatever anger Gerald had,” Raines said during a recent visit to New York. “When a group of people working together are interrupted by a sociopathic act, relationships are damaged.” Raines played phone tag with Boyd early in 2004, just before the Atlantic piece came out, “and I never heard from Gerald again, and I felt no desire to make him feel uncomfortable.” He has no compunctions about anything he wrote. “I got in this business to tell the truth,” he says.

Although Raines shuns regret as a matter of principle, he admits to one where Boyd is concerned: “I’m sad that Gerald is dead, in the sense that it was a noble, interesting American life. But I’m also sorry that we didn’t get the chance to talk it out … The last time I saw him was the day we left the newsroom.”

For many months after leaving the Times, Boyd wrestled with insomnia and second guesses. Jayson Blair was the kind of operator he could smell a mile away. Yes, he’d wanted the young man to succeed—he’d wanted all the young writers to succeed, and the Times was malnourished for black ones. But he wasn’t blind to Blair’s weaknesses—the sloppiness, the glib arrogance, the two stints in rehab. So why hadn’t he caught him in time?


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