Daniel Okrent wrote his final column as the Times’ first ombudsman a year ago, and now he’s published an anthology of his eighteen months as “the bastard love-child of Howell Raines and Jayson Blair” titled Public Editor #1. He spoke with Carl Swanson.
Didn’t you say that you weren’t going to write a book about the Times when you took that job?
I still don’t think that I’ve done a book about my tenure. A couple of people who taught journalism said to me, “I need this, because there’s nothing like this to teach my students about aspects of journalism that we never teach them about,” you know, about the seamy side of journalism.
Did the Times okay this deal?
Half of the very little money is going to the Times. This is my contribution to the Times’ difficulties with Morgan Stanley right now.
Yeah, you might be the least of their worries.
This is a huge and horrible story. Morgan Stanley’s saying bust up the Sulzberger control or this isn’t a good investment anymore. It’s almost to the point of sabotage. I suppose that they could say it’s not their responsibility that America have a distinguished newspaper.
You made it to the executive floor of Time Inc. Is the Times tougher?
It’s a ferociously competitive, high-powered place. I had never experienced anything quite like it before. And I guess it was probably a mistake that I made, but my way of dealing with the combativeness of others was to get more combative myself.
The only person you really single out in the intro is business reporter David Cay Johnston, who started a campaign against you for being on a corporate board.
Yeah, he was very single-out-able. I didn’t mention this in the book, but when I had my troubles with Johnston, one of the senior editors said to me, “There are three things you must understand about Johnston: He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, he’s a unique talent, and he’s an asshole.” I’m convinced that at least two of those are correct.