The sniping over Sorkin is partly petty inside baseball, a matter of professional competition and jealousy of the kind that come with the morning coffee at the New York Times. But it’s happening at a particularly dire moment, one that gives it added resonance. The Times just announced that it was cutting another 100 newsroom jobs, and no one is completely certain which employees—or indeed, which journalistic values—will survive the ongoing migration to the web. Sorkin has already created a profitable business with DealBook on the web. And he’s a star, certainly—the brightest one the Times has produced in a while. Is he the journalist of the future? Some of his colleagues hope not.
To write about the game, you have to know the game. Sorkin has a deep and highly particularized knowledge of the deal-making landscape, a pressurized beat populated by PR advisers, bankers, lawyers, where information translates into dollars and everyone has a financial stake in an outcome. Sorkin communicates with his sources as an equal. “Oftentimes when you talk to reporters you have the sense they don’t understand what the deal is about. You don’t have that problem with Andrew,” says Jonathan Knee, a senior managing director at Evercore Partners, a boutique investment firm. There’s also serious shoe leather at work. He’s often up at 6 a.m., working the phones, sometimes fielding 200 calls in a day. “I get such a high off the day-to-day, moment-to-moment,” Sorkin says. “I love being at that sort of nexus of knowing where the deal is and what’s coming next and how it’s going to work and the structure of the deal.”
He’s open about the fact that he’s not adversarial. “I don’t come to the table with an ax to grind—that helps me,” Sorkin says, sipping an iced coffee. He has another crucial advantage in the world he’s traveling in: He gives good son. “There’s something about his boyish, Jimmy Stewart charm that the older men he deals with find incredibly winning,” Graydon Carter says.
“When did you get the Paulson waiver?” Van Natta asked. “Is this an inquisition?” Sorkin replied
In March 2006, when the Times launched the DealBook blog on the paper’s website, it vastly expanded Sorkin’s footprint at the paper. The blog, one of the Times’ most ambitious new-media ventures up to that point, featured commentary on breaking financial news. Sorkin now manages a staff of eight DealBook contributors. Three years ago, he was also promoted to management, which meant he could be paid far above the Times’ strict union-mandated salary scale. Sources say he earns $250,000, including a bonus that is based, in part, on the financial performance of the various DealBook properties (Sorkin disputes the number, but won’t be more specific). He is among the highest-paid staffers at the paper.
In January 2008, Times business editor Larry Ingrassia promoted Sorkin’s column from Sunday, where it appeared inside the section, to the front business page on Tuesday. A former Wall Street Journal editor, Ingrassia joined the Times in 2004 and is known inside the paper as an editor who drives his staff hard to break news. In this way, Sorkin is an indispensable asset on the hypercompetitive deal beat, where the Times used to lose more often than not. “If we hear something is happening, editors turn to themselves and say, ‘Where’s Andrew?’ ” Ingrassia tells me. “It’s amazing; he’ll say, ‘Let me make a couple of calls,’ and within fifteen minutes, he’ll find out if there’s a deal in the works. He’s become a go-to guy helping us break stories.”
Sorkin’s shift to Tuesday was certainly a promotion, but for Ingrassia, it’s also a way to distance Sorkin from Sunday business editor Tim O’Brien, a former investigative reporter who was frequently at odds with Sorkin and who, according to Times sources, chafed at Sorkin’s blown deadlines and his erratic writing. Sorkin told me he clashed with O’Brien only because O’Brien wanted him to turn in his columns a whole two days before the section went to press. O’Brien told me he needed the extra time to clean up Sorkin’s messes. “When Andrew had a Sunday business column and he’d drop a thinly reported or loosely written piece on the desk at the last minute on Friday night,” O’Brien explained, “it made us concerned about our production schedule and, occasionally, about the credibility of our page. So, yeah, there were frequent tugs-of-war with him.”
Sorkin’s favored-son status with Ingrassia has been a source of consternation inside the business section. Last year, Ingrassia intervened in a newsroom dispute between Sorkin and reporter Julie Creswell concerning a story they were collaborating on about private-equity mogul Henry Kravis. Creswell wanted details about Kravis’s lavish lifestyle and art collection in the article. Sorkin wanted them pulled. Ingrassia sided with Sorkin. When both Portfolio and Vanity Fair tried hiring Sorkin away with mid-six-figure offers, Ingrassia asked Bill Keller if Sorkin’s compensation could be bumped up, according to a source. Keller balked.