Tina Brown’s Contract Negotiations at The New Yorker

With Tina Brown’s contract as editor of The New Yorker set to expire on July 1, Condé Nast president Steven Florio is supposed to be working hard to keep her happy. Ms. Brown is preparing to renegotiate her contract with Mr. Florio’s boss, Advance Publications chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr., and she has no shortage of options. According to sources close to Ms. Brown, Leslie Moonves, president of CBS Entertainment, recently asked the editor, through an intermediary at 60 Minutes , if she’d be interested in taking over as producer of an expanded weeknight schedule for the newsmagazine show. Ms. Brown demurred, sources close to the discussion say. (Reached by Off the Record, Mr. Moonves didn’t exactly deny that the network had approached Ms. Brown. “I have not only never spoken to her, but never met her,” he said through a CBS spokesman.)

But the thought that Ms. Brown might even be entertaining the idea of jumping ship apparently left Mr. Florio weak in the knees. On May 21, he took action: He removed his younger brother, Thomas Florio, from his post as president of The New Yorker , and replaced him with House & Garden publisher David Carey. The younger Mr. Florio was made publisher of Condé Nast Traveler , a position he has held before; Mr. Carey was named publisher of The New Yorker .

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Ms. Brown has complained to colleagues for over a year that she had unfairly taken the heat for the younger Mr. Florio’s poor performance–ad sales under Tom Florio have remained basically flat–and the change of publishers on May 21 was supposed to make her feel appreciated. So why did Ms. Brown have such a long face on when she returned to her West 43rd Street offices that afternoon?

It seems the elder Mr. Florio made an error in the execution of his Campaign to Keep Tina Happy. He appointed Mr. Carey to his new post without consulting Ms. Brown. “To not bring her in on the conversation, you’d think they were trying to make her leave,” said one highly placed source at Advance Publications. “It’s an antagonistic thing to do.”

“She was surprised,” said a New Yorker source.

Ms. Brown was not the only one who was surprised; the offer came as a surprise to Mr. Carey as well. On the morning of May 21, Mr. Carey showed up for a meeting with Mr. Florio and Mr. Newhouse about House & Garden ‘s September issue. “They had not talked about [the New Yorker job] before,” he said. Ms. Brown found out that morning as well, sources at The New Yorker said, and that afternoon she met Mr. Carey for 20 minutes over coffee. Although Ms. Brown has reported to colleagues that she was impressed with Mr. Carey, she returned from the meeting wearing a pronounced scowl, her office mates say, a result of the elder Mr. Florio’s faux pas.

Ironically, it was Ms. Brown who was the younger Mr. Florio’s early champion. He replaced his elder brother at the helm of The New Yorker ‘s business side in 1994, inheriting a financial disaster. Under Steve Florio, the magazine lost upward of $30 million the first year of Ms. Brown’s tenure. Ms. Brown advocated the younger Mr. Florio for the president’s job when Steve Florio left to take over as president of Condé Nast.

“Tina thought Tom was a ‘young man in a hurry,'” said a colleague of the young Mr. Florio’s. Early on, the two were downright chummy; for Tom Florio’s 40th birthday, Ms. Brown presented him with a humidor and a birthday card in the form of a personalized New Yorker cover by artist Edward Sorel. Despite flat ad sales, Mr. Florio cut costs, helped implement a money-saving digital layout system and substantially cut losses the magazine endured under his older brother.

“We had a professional working relationship,” Mr. Florio said of Ms. Brown. “There are times at every magazine where you have the artist versus the suit. We sometimes disagreed on how to market the magazine, but I get on well with Tina. We talk all the time.”

But New Yorker sources said that Tom Florio’s business-side operation began to suffer in 1996. Ms. Brown was meeting her generous budgets, but the sales department continued to lag. Mr. Florio endured an unusually high turnover rate among his staff, and frequently had to revise his sales projections downward at midyear. New Yorker sources said Mr. Florio and Ms. Brown fell out at the end of the first quarter in 1997, when, despite a booming ad market, Mr. Florio could only manage modest gains. The relationship between the Florio brothers took a bizarre turn in January 1998 when Steve Florio seemed to undercut his younger brother’s reputation in interviews with The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times .

Steve Florio’s removal of his younger brother from his New Yorker post spurred another round of news stories on the publishing-world fratricide theme, but one detail to emerge from Condé Nast suggests we should all suffer the younger Mr. Florio’s fate: Sources at the company said Tom Florio received a $250,000 raise for his move back to Condé Nast Traveler . “I’m not going to comment on my income,” Tom Florio said.

The preliminary results are in from “Operation Broken Glass,” The New Republic ‘s effort to assess the veracity of the 41 stories written for the magazine by Stephen Glass. The findings suggest that in his short career, Mr. Glass, who was fired by editor Charles Lane on May 9 for fabricating elements of three stories, may have committed the most far-reaching act of journalistic malfeasance uncovered in recent times.

Sources at The New Republic have said that after going over Mr. Glass’ oeuvre and fact-checking it again, editors concluded that roughly a third of the young reporter’s pieces for the magazine were wholly fabricated, a third are credible and a third seem to be an embroidery of fact and fiction. “It’s much worse than I expected,” said one New Republic staff member working on the Glass case.

Sources at the magazine said that for Operation Broken Glass, editors at The New Republic divvied up Mr. Glass’ pieces for an initial round of fact-checking, then rotated the pieces for a second phase of scrutiny. Most of the young reporter’s dispatches from Capitol Hill have proven to be reliable, but Mr. Glass seems to have resorted to fiction in the majority of the first person “diaries” he wrote for the magazine. Staff members said that while the bodies of his longer reported stories sometimes check out, they are often preceded by grandiose leads sourced only by Mr. Glass’ imagination. Staff members said they have a high degree of certainty about most of their findings, but that one Glass trope has caused them trouble: Mr. Glass sourced his more fantastic episodes to unnamed and unverifiable subjects. Some of these portions of Mr. Glass’ work will likely be dubbed “presumed to be false,” staff members said. Operation Broken Glass has proceeded without input from Mr. Glass himself, who has not been in touch with his former colleagues since his abrupt departure.

Sources at The New Republic said that Mr. Lane’s final report on the Glass affair is scheduled for the magazine’s June 22 issue, pending the approval of the magazine’s attorneys. What form the editor’s statement will take is apparently still undecided; staff members said that a comprehensive accounting of all of Mr. Glass’ misdeeds might take up an entire issue. And yet the magazine can’t afford to shortchange any victims of the young reporter’s creativity. Mr. Lane wouldn’t confirm the date of the upcoming report. “You can look for a report in our pages on the findings of the investigation,” he said.

Other publications are issuing their own findings about Mr. Glass’ articles. Adam Meyerson, editor of the Heritage Foundation’s journal Policy Review , which published six stories by Mr. Glass, issued a carefully parsed statement: “We are sorry to report, however, that an article written by Glass for the May-June 1997 issue of Policy Review contains quotations that appear to be from fictitious people.”

Rolling Stone has been curiously silent about the Glass affair–prompting other editors wrapped up in the mess to speculate that the magazine was angling to retain Mr. Glass after the wave of bad publicity had passed. The magazine’s silence has done little to placate those who took hits in the Glass pieces it published. U.S. News & World Report ‘s editor, James Fallows, told the Off the Record he was demanding some answers about an October 1997 Rolling Stone piece in which Mr. Glass blasted the U.S. News college ranking system.

“I will bet the editors of Rolling Stone any amount of money that the episodes in Glass’ [ U.S. News ] piece did not occur,” Mr. Fallows said. Lincoln Caplan, U.S. News ‘ special project editor, recently sent a letter to Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann Wenner requesting the magazine recheck the piece and publish the results. Rolling Stone managing editor Robert Love denied any unseemly motives behind the magazine’s silence on the Glass affair and said that he is, in fact, conducting an internal investigation. “When reporters have called with specific questions, we have responded with specific answers,” Mr. Love said. “If we find something that’s egregiously wrong in the re-fact-checking, we’ll publish the results in the letters column.”

According to friends, Mr. Glass returned to Washington, D.C., for two days during the week of May 18 to take an exam at Georgetown University Law School and to move into a new apartment. These friends also characterize the young writer as “despondent” over the recent revelations. However, Mr. Glass should not abandon all hope just yet. There is, in fact, a publication out there that thinks it could benefit from his particular brand of talent: the New York Press . Russ Smith, editor of the free weekly, author of the publication’s Mugger column and, like Mr. Glass, an avowed libertarian, has been trying to track down the writer to offer him a job.

“I’d like to talk to the guy and if he’s not a complete nut, I’d like to get him to write,” Mr. Smith said. “I think this guy showed a lot of promise … It seems to me that his being sent to the glue factory at 25 seems a little premature.”

You can reach Off the Record by e-mail at wstjohn@observer.com.