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The Devil Made Him Do It

What was John Podhoretz thinking?

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For a story that was killed, it's getting plenty of ink. Even the London Sunday Telegraph mentioned John Podhoretz's aborted July 21 New York Post column, "A Conversation in Hell." Podhoretz, writing in the voice of Satan, welcomes Joseph Kennedy Sr. to his domain ("Nice to see you. Are you enjoying the air conditioning?") and explains their pact ("Every time you think your family is on its way back to glory, I just have to do something. Like I did this weekend with your grandson John"). It was deemed too over-the-top even for Rupert Murdoch's rabidly anti-Kennedy tabloid. While the presses were still running, Post editor Ken Chandler deleted the column -- and with it any hopes that editorial-page editor Podhoretz had of rising to the top of the masthead.

"Normally, I'd review the page proofs in the office," explains Chandler. "But I had an appointment, so I reviewed the faxes when I got home." As soon as he saw the column, he says, "I ordered it to be removed immediately." Only the early edition, a small print run that's sent out of town, carried the column. But Podhoretz's judgment lapse was covered by the Washington Post, the Daily News, and Jeannette Walls's online "Scoop" column.

In the newsroom, "dumb" was the nicest thing anyone had to say about the column, which included a particularly tasteless line about Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy, and some Post reporters were positively gleeful about Podhoretz's public humiliation. Conventional wisdom has it that publisher Marty Singerman will retire in about a year and a half, when the paper's new printing plant in the Bronx is up and running, and everyone expects Chandler to then be promoted to publisher. Whether or not Murdoch is yet compiling lists of potential new editors, his reporters certainly are.

"There was a lot of terror in the newsroom that Podhoretz was a candidate -- at least in his own mind," reports one Post-er, though those fears were somewhat eased earlier this year when Podhoretz's duties were cut back considerably. "If they wouldn't name Eric Breindel editor of the paper, why would they name John Podhoretz?" snipes an ex-Post man. "Their politics are similar, but one guy could articulate it and one guy can't -- and that's a serious drawback when you're a journalist." Now the well-regarded deputy editor, Xana Antunes, is considered the leading in-house contender to take over the top job. Neither she nor Podhoretz returned calls, but Post spokesman Howard Rubenstein says that Podhoretz "was never on a short list -- or any list -- to be editor."


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