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Intelligencer: Nov. 29, 2004 - Dec. 6, 2004

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The Right Man (or Woman) Is Hard to Find
The search for a replacement for William Safire.
Almost as soon as William Safire announced he was retiring after 31 years as the right-wing uncle at the Times’ op-ed dinner table, conservatives began plotting to retain his perch. “I’ve gotten much advice from people who aren’t columnists about who would be good,” says editorial-page editor Gail Collins. Emboldened by the postelection morals mandate, conservatives seem to be hoping that they can push the page deep into this territory, too: Family-values columnist Cal Thomas, who’s publicly disparaged the Times, said, “It would be a wonderful thing if Sulzberger reached out and said, ‘We get it.’ ” But don’t count on it. “They hold conservatives to a higher standard,” says a righty writer who didn’t want to speak on the record and ruin his chances of getting tapped. “They have to be more sophisticated than the average sloganeer,” he says. “You can’t just represent a party,” admits David Brooks, the op-ed page’s other conservative. Right-wing names bandied about include David Frum, Charles Krauthammer, Christopher Caldwell, Richard Brookhiser, Fred Barnes, and Robert Kagan. But the most-often-fingered candidate is the openly semi-conservative Timesman John Tierney, who, Times sources say, was once considered for the op-ed page and moved to Washington for seasoning, but seemed to stall. “They’ve already got their claws in him,” says a columnist who wants Safire’s job. And conservative or not, columnists best have good manners. “We generally come to them,” Collins says.
—Kate Pickert


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