Daily News Scoops Post in Organizing First 2001 Mayoral Debate

So winning does matter, after all. That truth was abundantly clear when New York Times editor Joseph Lelyveld strolled into the third-floor newsroom at 43rd Street on Monday, April 16, for the daily’s annual Pulitzer Prize gathering with staff. The champagne had already been cracked. “Well, this is more like it, don’t you think?” Mr. Lelyveld announced.

Last year, it wasn’t such a happy party. Oh, the Times brass had tried to put a good face on things, after the Pulitzer board passed the paper over for the first time in 14 years. They said the rejection didn’t really hurt; that somebody else deserved to win sometime; that the hallways where The Times kept its Pulitzer hardware were already too crowded.

But it stung, and they knew it. At last year’s Pulitzer gathering, a source told Off the Record, Mr. Lelyveld confided in his crew: “When we win, we say it doesn’t matter. But apparently it does.”

And so the Times staff had themselves a nice little back-slapping fiesta over there on Monday afternoon, as the paper celebrated two Pulitzers, one for its “Race in America” series (for national reporting) and one for tax reporter David Cay Johnston (for beat reporting).

“Race in America” was the Gladiator of this year’s Pulitzer competition, an epic so sweeping and ambitious that it was considered all but a shoo-in. Other heavy favorites delivered the goods, too, including photographer Alan Diaz’s shot-seen-round-the-world of Elián González being seized by federal agents. Even the small-paper-underdog victory has become something of a predictable Pulitzer nod; this year, David Moats of The Rutland Herald won in the editorial-writing category, the first Pulitzer ever awarded to a Vermont paper.

But there were some curve balls thrown in. The Newhouse chain had a great year–two Pulitzers for The Oregonian and one for The Star-Ledger in Newark. But perhaps the slider with the most break on it this year was the prize in commentary that went to Wall Street Journal editorial-board member Dorothy Rabinowitz.

Ms. Rabinowitz, who most notably has written about falsely accused sex offenders and is also The Journal ‘s television critic, said the award was a complete surprise. She had come close to the Pulitzer several times; she was a finalist twice for her criticism and once for her commentary–commentary which, to her credit, tends toward thoroughly reported accounts of specific cases rather than Op Ed-style musings.

This year, Ms. Rabinowitz assumed she wasn’t going to win, hearing through the Pulitzer grapevine that she wasn’t a finalist. A juror in this year’s investigative-reporting category, Ms. Rabinowitz left Columbia University on April 12 with the impression–from informal chatter with other jurors or friends of jurors–that she had come in fourth in both commentary and criticism, and therefore wasn’t a finalist in either category.

“I forgot about it the next day and just went on to do my business,” Ms. Rabinowitz said.

But on Monday, Ms. Rabinowitz started getting strange signs. That morning, she received a curious e-mail from her boss, Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley. “I hope you come in this afternoon,” Ms. Rabinowitz remembered the e-mail from Mr. Bartley reading. “I’d like to hear your critique of the winners.”

Ms. Rabinowitz found the e-mail a bit strange. “I thought, ‘That’s odd, because why wouldn’t I come in?’” she said.

The next clue was a cryptic voice mail. The phone message, Ms. Rabinowitz recalled, said “something really interesting happened.”

Later that day, Ms. Rabinowitz found Mr. Bartley and asked whether there was any chance that she had been moved up from fourth place to a finalist position.

“I then said, ‘Bob, you don’t suppose I … well, if any of us had won, you and everyone else here would know about it.’ He said, ‘That’s right, we would .’”

But even then, she wasn’t sure. Ms. Rabinowitz confessed to Off the Record that after Mr. Bartley’s comment, she “lacked the acuity to understand the possibilities of such an answer.”

At the newsroom celebration after the announcement, Ms. Rabinowitz got a mild revenge. She said she accused Mr. Bartley of misleading her. “I said, ‘Bob, you knew .’”

Mr. Bartley still tried to wiggle out of it, Ms. Rabinowitz said. “He said, ‘I told you yes, we would know, I did know.’”

Calm down, calm down, everybody! The odds of Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman buying the New York Post are about as good as Rich Lowry’s chances of becoming the next Mayor of New York City. (The wise Mr. Lowry, editor of National Review , recently announced he wouldn’t be running.)

Mr. Zuckerman’s “bid” for the Post was exposed on Monday, April 16, with a report that the real-estate and media titan had expressed interest in purchasing the Post in a letter he wrote to the Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation:

Angela Campbell, a law professor, represents several organizations–including Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-PUSH Coalition–that are opposed to Post owner Rupert Murdoch’s bid to purchase a second local television station in New York. The Federal Communications Commission is set to consider whether or not Mr. Murdoch’s company, News Corp., the owners of WNYW Fox 5 in the city, can add WWOR-9 to its stable of media holdings.

Though there are exceptions and the rule is expected to be rewritten in the near future, the F.C.C. has historically frowned on a single company owning both a newspaper and a TV station in the same city, never mind two TV stations. Still, News Corp. secured a waiver in 1993 saying it could own both the Post and WNYW; now it’s looking for the F.C.C.’s blessing again.

And here’s where Mr. Zuckerman comes in. One of News Corp.’s arguments to the F.C.C. for why it should be allowed to own WWOR-9 while holding WNYW and the Post is that no one would want the money-losing Post , anyway.

Hoping to call News Corp.’s bluff, Ms. Campbell and Mr. Day wrote to Mr. Zuckerman on April 11 asking if he knew of anyone “interested in purchasing and operating the New York Post should the Commission require its divestiture.”

So, playing along–and clearly happy about the opportunity to stick it to his old pal, Mr. Murdoch–Mr. Zuckerman wrote back the next day that yes, he was interested in the Post . Should the F.C.C. require that News Corp. sell the Post , “I or my affiliates would be prepared to make a bid to purchase the New York Post .”

But don’t hold him to that pledge. In his letter, Mr. Zuckerman gave himself plenty of wiggle room: “Of course, the final terms of our bid cannot be determined until we have had the opportunity to review appropriate information concerning that newspaper.”

Well, don’t hold your breath. Executives at News Corp. scoffed at Mr. Zuckerman’s bid, saying there have been no talks with the Daily News publisher about any purchase. A spokesman for the Daily News had no comment on Mr. Zuckerman’s letter.

Most observers see Mr. Zuckerman’s bid as just a cutesy poke at his competitor. While Bill Clinton’s F.C.C. chairman, Bill Kennard (a friend of the Reverend Jackson’s) may have raised an eyebrow, few expect a George W. Bush-era F.C.C. to have any problems with the News Corp./WWOR deal.

In other developments on New York’s tabloid scorecard, the Daily News is mighty pleased that it, and not the Post , has secured bragging rights to the city’s first Mayoral debate.

Yee-haw! Mayoral debate fever–catch it! The Daily News does the honors with TV cohort WNBC on Sunday, May 6, at 9 a.m.

How did the Daily News get the pole position? By locking down all the debate participants, of course! Way back in December, the Daily News editor in chief Ed Kosner sent out letters to the prospective Mayoral candidates asking them to participate in what he promised would be the “first” debate.

The thing was, Mr. Kosner didn’t exactly have any kind of official clearance to host the “first” debate, except that he thought it a nifty thing for the paper to do. But by the first week of January, Mr. Kosner had made it so. Three of the candidates (Mark Green, Peter Vallone and Fernando Ferrer) signed the letters saying they’d participate. Alan Hevesi–who apparently wanted to leave his options open–didn’t sign on.

Then came the Post , a bit late to the party. Mr. Murdoch’s paper decided it would be pretty nifty if they hosted a high-profile “candidate forum” as a sort of kick-off to the Mayoral campaign–not technically a debate, but still a major campaign event–like the one they held in February 1997. The Post tried to round up the Mayoral candidates for an April 17 meeting.

When the Daily News caught wind of the Post event, they scurried back to the candidates and reminded them that they’d already committed to a first debate sponsored by the News . After some semantics and jostling–was the Post forum really competition, since it was a forum and not a debate?–Messrs. Green, Vallone and Ferrer decided that they were bound to the Daily News .

“Obviously, we need to keep our word and we will,” said Mr. Green’s press secretary, Joe DePlasco.

But Post editor Ken Chandler contended that the paper’s forum plan was scrapped for reasons other than the candidates bailing on them. “The candidates have made so many appearances all over the city that we felt it would not be a unique event.”

Magazine insider Alex Heard is headed to Outside in the newly created position of editorial director. The No. 2 at Wired was the in-house favorite to succeed Katrina Heron, who announced her departure in March, as editor in chief. But when Mr. Heard didn’t get the nod–Condé Nast tapped Economist U.S. business editor Chris Anderson instead–he decided it was time to go.

“I was in the running for that job, didn’t get it and was disappointed,” said Mr. Heard, who added that he was made an offer to stay on at Wired .

This will be Mr. Heard’s second stint at Outside . From 1992 to 1996, he was a senior editor for the magazine. Outside editor Hal Espen said, “He’s an old friend of the magazine and a friend of mine.”

Mr. Espen admitted that there was little editorial overlap between Outside and Wired –so don’t expect a whole lot of techno-futurism added to the Outside editorial mix–but, he said, “Both magazines share an outsider spirit. We’re both out west beyond the Satanic mills of New York.”

Mr. Heard said that moving to Santa Fe was part of the draw. “I love New York, but I wasn’t really comfortable living there,” said the Mississippi native, who also worked at The New York Times Magazine between his first Outside stint and his time at Wired .

Ms. Heron and Mr. Heard both will finish up at Wired on June 7. Mr. Heard will start at Outside sometime in July.