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The Battle for the Newsroom

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THE PAPER AND THE RACE CARD

Race at the Times is, to say the least, a charged issue. “The two attitudes at the Times are Upper West Side liberal or southern guilt. Nobody knows how to deal with black as just neighbor,” notes one reporter. Diversity is of declared importance to the paper, and to Raines himself—after all, he won his Pulitzer for a piece on the black maid he grew up with. That afternoon at the theater, he sought to head off criticism by admitting up front: He might’ve given Blair more chances than he would have otherwise gotten because he was black.

“The black reporters are really angry,” says one reporter. Because Blair opened the door to the idea that maybe they didn’t deserve to be there.

Blair seemed to understand these issues, and turned them to his advantage. “There’s that perception that Howell has unique feelings in this realm, and the widespread perception is that this kid gamed the system,” says an editor.

By all accounts, Blair was not hesitant to bring up race around the office. “As soon as we met, he wanted to know how I felt about him being a black man,” says a Times writer. “He was obsessed about how minorities were hired differently.”

There was certainly a kind of favoritism in Boyd’s treatment of Blair, but it wasn’t necessarily racial. Some actually say Boyd was known for being out for himself more than for participating in the mentoring of other young black reporters. Even Boyd’s critics—and there are many—tend to cut him slack when it comes to his relationship with Blair. “Jayson was really Gerald’s guy. And I think people will overemphasize that he was black, but I think that came almost more from Jayson’s playing of that than Gerald’s pushing of that,” says one reporter. “Gerald was certainly in his corner, but Jayson made sure that was the way it was.”

“He latched on to Gerald,” says another.

Boyd denied having any sort of mentoring relationship to Blair at the town-hall meeting.

A former Metro editor known for his dry wit in large meetings and his often brusque style, Boyd has been portrayed as a crucial element in the succession drama that pitted Bill Keller, Lelyveld’s managing editor, against Raines for the top job when Lelyveld was nearing retirement. Keller said that if appointed executive editor, he would pick Jonathan Landman as his No. 2. Howell told Sulzberger he’d select Boyd, which was widely perceived as a canny political move, since Sulzberger was committed to diversity and Boyd was the only serious possibility.

“Keller said, ‘We can’t have Gerald as the next editor of the paper,’ ” says a well-placed Times reporter. “And Howell picked Gerald to please Arthur.”

“It’s totally why he picked Boyd, and he’s not the best person for the job,” says one well-placed Timesman.

“He’s Howell’s henchman,” says a Metro-section observer. “Howell’s about politics. It’s like Mondale picking Ferraro. They both turned out to be mediocre candidates, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

POWER AND THE DIVIDED KINGDOM

Saying this scandal is about Blair is like saying Clinton’s impeachment was about Monica Lewinsky. Blair was just the spark. The old guard was as up in arms at Raines as the Army is at Donald Rumsfeld for his dreams of reengineering the military. Both emphasize speed over depth, and both share a contempt for the people who are standing in their way.

Over the past twenty months, the Times has become Raines’s Times in the way that Tina Brown’s New Yorker was hers. Where Lelyveld had been a soft-spoken mandarin (and a skilled infighter), Raines is brash, loud. Glamour, never a hallmark of the newsroom, was suddenly in—Raines’s wedding reception at the Bryant Park Hotel, with its array of notable potentates, which was featured in a page 1 full-access New York Observer story, was in a sense the new regime’s coming-out party. But the velvet glove in evidence at the hotel contained—of course—an iron fist.

He’s treated the staff in what is widely seen as a very top-down, high-handed way, especially Metro and Business. As many point out, you can issue fatwas when you have a job like Washington-bureau chief or edit-page editor, Raines’s previous jobs. Arguably, his attacks on Clinton were what got him promoted—certainly they raised his profile. But the take-no-prisoners style has alienated many long-standing reporters.

There’s a philosophy behind all this change. Raines, with Sulzberger’s blessing, is taking the paper back to the future, to an older news-gathering model. He’s treated people roughly because he sees no place for them in his reengineered paper. Under Lelyveld, given the growing 24-hour-news saturation from outlets like CNN, the paper took a more thoughtful tack, becoming analytical and investigative, less obsessed with breaking news. Raines, though, armed with the Website and, with the absorption of the International Herald Tribune, a European newsroom, seemed to view the news-gathering operation as a vast, directable army he could use to “flood the zone” of whatever the story of the moment was. The problem is that “flooding the zone,” and “competitive metabolism” (another Raines favorite), while good catchphrases, are not necessarily where the paper’s strengths lie, which is in deciding the national news agenda, declaring what is important.

And for all of Raines’s interest in racial diversity, his p.c. views, according to some Timespeople, haven’t extended to women. “Its totally a boys’ club,” says one veteran. “Not one woman even in that group that wrote that piece on Sunday,” says another. “And the only woman with any real news authority”—aside from Gail Collins, who is the editorial-page editor—“is Jill Abramson.”

But Raines is known for governing by his gut. He has his favorites—like Patrick Tyler. Raines and Tyler have been close since their days working together on the St. Petersburg Times in the 1970s; Tyler had been put in place to replace Jill Abramson in the Washington bureau. Rumors are rampant that the Washington Post is about to make a serious play for her. Tyler is now the Times’ chief correspondent. He’s had stories on the front page almost every day explaining Iraq, even though he’s been involved in two of the paper’s highest-profile errors in recent years, once writing in a dual-byline story that Henry Kissinger had come out against the war, and also being entirely bamboozled by a Russian defector who claimed to have seen atrocities in Chechnya (a story he had to retract).

Even before the Blair affair became public, these kinds of sins didn’t sit well with the Times faithful. “He’s kind of run this place like a frat boy,” says one Timesman. “There’s this atmosphere of immaturity. There’s a lot of laughter over silly things. It’s the way he uses football metaphors. It’s almost like he’s brought down the dignity of the place. He’s taken away this self-image people have built up over decades.”

SAINT JON

Metro editor Jon Landman and Raines, though similar in stature, are opposites in most other ways. Landman isn’t a media cool cat. He’s a Timesman’s Timesman, a bit of a nerd, with a stiff posture that mimics his reputation for journalistic and ethical probity. He and Raines worked together once before, at the paper’s Washington bureau. Coming to the Times from the Daily News, and before that the Chicago Sun-Times, he took care of the members of the bureau who weren’t part of Raines’s inner circle, the reporters who weren’t Maureen Dowd or Michael Oreskes. Even before the Blair affair exploded, he was seen as a beacon in a dark time.

By all accounts, he hasn’t had an easy time of it under Raines. Raines made it clear that the focus of the paper was on being a national, or global, news source. Landman made a stand over Raines’s micromanaging the news coverage after 9/11, and Raines backed off. In a New Yorker profile of Raines a year ago, Landman was quoted being critical of his boss as being, implicitly, politically correct about race, and the two quarreled over the remark.

Landman was much more interested in investigative reporting. He had defended the Pulitzer-garnering investigations department even though that wasn’t an interest of Raines’s (Stephen Engleberg, the head of investigations, left a year ago; several other members of that staff have since left). Raines killed later installments of a hard-hitting series on Senator Robert Torricelli just before the senator dropped out of his reelection campaign, angering some who thought the Times had missed an opportunity to take credit for the kill. Still, the Times won a Pulitzer this year for Clifford Levy’s Metro-section investigation of the state’s poor supervision of mental-health facilities.

Landman’s role in the Blair affair is more ambiguous than it appears. In the daily front-page meetings, Landman sits next to Jim Roberts, the national editor. When Blair was suddenly yanked out of his post-Metro Sports refuge in late 2002 to cover the sniper case in Maryland, he was picked by Raines and Boyd to do so. But Roberts never knew of Blair’s history, partly because, sources say, Landman didn’t tell him—because Roberts and Landman aren’t on speaking terms. Which seems a less-than-efficient way to run a news-gathering operation.

WHAT MOOSE KNEW

Landman’s name was invoked many times in the meeting last week. In the dull, repetitive, self-flagellating, and in some cases tearful questioning that went on at the Loews theater last week, when someone suggested the committee investigating the Blair after-effects be named the Landman committee, the room exploded in applause.

Raines and Boyd, by contrast, were under continuous fire. Investigations editor Joe Sexton took them to task for not having demanded Blair’s sources. “It’s right fucking there,” he said.

Raines called the inquiry “demagogic.”

But it was Sulzberger, the real power in the kingdom, who made the strangest showing. “The publisher today showed up with a stuffed moose—the moose is a symbol on the fourteenth floor of speaking openly,” said one reporter.

Sulzberger removed the stuffed moose from a plastic bag and handed it to Raines. Raines looked nonplussed for an instant, then set it down next to his chair.

"You’re sitting in the room with giants in the business,” said the reporter. "It was mortifying.”


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