It is a popular parlor game inside the Times whether Sorkin, who has gained the trust and respect of the most powerful men on Wall Street, might join them. Twenty-five years ago, Steve Rattner, then a 30-year-old reporter in the paper’s Washington bureau, left to join Lehman Brothers and went on to found the Quadrangle Group, earning hundreds of millions in the process. I asked Sorkin if he would follow the Rattner route. “I don’t know if I should say it’s flattering or not given that he just got involved in that other situation,” Sorkin says, referring to Rattner’s recent entanglement in the New York State pension-fund scandal. “I like Steve, and he’s done very well. Over time, people have said you should go do something like that. I don’t know if that’s for me or not. Years ago I thought more about it than I do now.”
No matter what Sorkin decides to do, he has options, which is more than many a Timesman can claim these days. “We have a standing invitation,” Graydon Carter said of his ongoing campaign to recruit Sorkin to Vanity Fair. “I’ve never seen this kind of talent.” Three weeks ago, New York Observer owner Jared Kushner reached out to Sorkin to see if he was interested in running the paper, but the talks went nowhere. Observer sources speculated that Kushner would have had to offer Sorkin an ownership stake in the paper, but a source close to Kushner said salary terms weren’t discussed.
Inside the Times, Sorkin’s glittering future preys on the anxieties of those who see an uncertain road ahead for journalism, with jobs disappearing and the paper’s long-term survival at stake. Some staffers wonder if Sorkin would team up with one of his Wall Street sources to start a DealBook of his own. Sorkin says he has received offers from investors, but so far hasn’t taken anything seriously. “People have been kind,” he told me. “I haven’t done it yet.”
And, despite the concerns, Sorkin is too valuable a brand for the paper to let go. “Undoubtedly, Andrew has built himself (and DealBook) into brands of their own,” Keller acknowledges. “But he and others who have done that successfully—think David Pogue, Mark Bittman, Tara Parker-Pope, some of the op-ed columnists, et al.—built their brands on a pretty mighty platform, namely the New York Times. The benefits are reciprocal.” Whether Sorkin’s brand can stand independently of the Times is a question to which no one yet knows the answer. The first step is mending some fences. “I clearly have some work to do,” Sorkin says.
On November 3, when Warren Buffett announced he was buying the Burlington Northern railroad, Sorkin picked up the phone and got the legendary investor on the record for the paper’s front-page story. (A DealBook colleague had done most of the legwork.) It was just one more reason why, for the Times, the Sorkin brand is too big to fail.