Departing New York Times editor Joe Lelyveld received a surprising newsroom sendoff at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 4, complete with champagne and a Dixieland band. The impromptu ceremony started off in the conference room where The Times ‘ editors meet to map out the paper’s front page. First, incoming executive editor Howell Raines made some remarks. Then Mr. Lelyveld, Mr. Raines, and Bill Keller– The Times ‘ managing editor under Mr. Lelyveld–did a tour around the editorial offices, accompanied by the Dixieland band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
But the real party for Mr. Lelyveld is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 5., and you’re not invited. The affair, hosted by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., will be held at the New York Public Library. ( The Times announced earlier this summer that Sept. 6 is Mr. Raines’ first day as executive editor.)
Mr. Lelyveld no doubt deserves a bash, but the trouble is that the chosen space at the Public Library holds around 200 guests. And because the Times editorial staff numbers over 1,000, there are a lot of people on West 43rd Street asking, “Why wasn’t I invited?”
According to sources, it appears that all the masthead biggies will be there. That includes the deputy managing editors (like Gerald Boyd, who will be Mr. Raines’ managing editor) and assistant managing editors like Craig Whitney and Michael Oreskes, as well as editorial-page editor Gail Collins. Also getting nods are the department heads, like John Darnton, who edits the culture section, and Adam Moss, who edits The Times Magazine .
Some writers will be there, too–but mostly just the senior writers, a well-paid grade of veterans at the paper. And some younger reporters whom Mr. Lelyveld considers protégés made the cut as well.
“People’s feelings have been hurt,” said one reporter who didn’t. “[Mr. Lelyveld] is apparently saying that he’s not controlling the guest list.”
Another source, who also wasn’t invited, said, ” The Times never does these things very well.” He pointed to the 1996 centennial party celebrating 100 years of Sulzberger-Ochs ownership of the paper, when many Times people were left off the guest list in favor of celebrities like Martha Stewart and Tom Brokaw.
A spokesperson for The Times said: “It’s a celebratory moment for Joe and his career, and there isn’t any more we want to say about it.”
He’s baaaa-ack! On Thursday, Aug. 30, Cahners ended Peter Bart’s dunce-cap stint in the corner when it announced that the Variety editor in chief would return to his post on Monday, Sept. 10.
Mr. Bart’s career obit, of course, had already been written. Here was one of Hollywood’s biggest free-swinging machers –the man who greenlighted The Godfather at Paramount and moved on to journalism, where he wielded the heaviest of pens over the heads of studio bosses and stars–undone by the forces of politics, journalistic correctness and his own tongue. Mr. Bart was suspended on Aug. 17, following the release of a Los Angeles Magazine article that alleged Mr. Bart’s use of John Rocker-esque slurs and also that he’d sold a script while serving as editor of Variety . The day the piece broke, many figured him for toast.
But there was Mr. Bart on Thursday, back in Variety ‘s newsroom, meeting with members of his staff. Cahners Media division president Tad Smith said that after an internal probe, it was decided that Mr. Bart’s 21 days without pay had been punishment enough, but that he’d still have to attend sensitivity training (oh, to be a fly on that wall!).
Hardly a career-ender, to say the least. It was, as one source who knows Mr. Bart put it, “a slap on the wrist.”
“We all knew he was coming back,” said one Variety source. “Our only question was: Why’d it take so long?”
Indeed, for all the hand-wringing in the national media, many of those in Hollywood’s innermost circles never thought that Mr. Bart would be axed. They simply presumed that he would sit poolside, take his lumps in the press and wait out the storm.
And now that he’s back, they’re doubtful that he’ll change his old take-no-prisoners approach. As former Universal Pictures chairman Tom Pollock politely put it: “I think Peter Bart is who he is. I doubt he’s going to change very much. He’s been a very good editor of Variety , and I’m sure that’ll continue.”
Another was more blunt: “He’s 69 years old! I can’t see that this will make him change his spots. He’s still going to say potentially obnoxious things. I don’t seriously think that sensitivity training will help. He’s too old to change.”
But how long will Mr. Bart last? The West Coast scuttlebutt following Mr. Bart’s reinstatement was that Cahners brought its embattled editor back in the fold with the understanding that he’d retire by the end of next year. That way, Mr. Bart would get his graceful exit, and the company would have time to figure out who comes next. One source who knows him told Off The Record, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he stepped aside as soon as January.”
“In my opinion, he’ll be leaving after he turns 70,” another source said. “I think Cahners probably asked themselves, ‘How much longer is he going to be around?’ Now, whomever his successor will be, he’ll end up being trained.”
A spokesperson for Cahners declined to comment. Likewise, when reached, Mr. Bart politely told Off the Record: “I wish I could help. But the agreement is, I can’t talk. Alas.”
For the moment, though, a battered but not beaten Mr. Bart is once again running the most powerful entertainment publication in the world. So look out, sources said.
“All of those people who said bad things about Peter during this,” one source who knows Mr. Bart said, “better watch their ass.”
Does that mean Mr. Bart will be gunning for them?
“That’s what I would do.”
Late on the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 31, callers to the New York Post who asked for columnist Rod Dreher heard this voice-mail greeting:
“Hi, it’s Rod Dreher at the New York Post . If you’re calling about the Aaliyah column, press 1 to leave a death threat. Press 2 to leave a bomb threat. Press 3 if you want to get me fired. Press 4 if you wish to use profanity. Press 5 if you wish to use racist rhetoric. Press 6 if you want to use anti-Semitic slurs. And please remember to speak as grammatically as you can.”
Starting around 9:30 that morning, calls began flooding into the Post about Mr. Dreher’s Aug. 31 column questioning the elaborate plans for the 22-year-old pop singer’s funeral following her death in a plane crash.
Mr. Dreher wrote: “Right, so we’re all sad that Aaliyah is dead, and no one begrudges her a proper sendoff. But a traffic snarling, horse-drawn cortege in honor of a pop singer most people have never heard of? Give us a break!”
Hot 97, the hip-hop radio station, urged its listeners to call Mr. Dreher to complain (somewhat ironic, given that Hot 97 suspended one of its own staffers, a D. J. named Star, for making light of Aaliyah’s death on-air). Mr. Dreher told Off the Record that almost 99 percent of the calls accused him of being a racist. The following day, the Reverend Al Sharpton held a press conference to excoriate Mr. Dreher and the Post .
Asked if he had received any actual death threats, Mr. Dreher said, “I’ve got a couple of them I’ve saved on my voice mail in case it turns into anything. But I’ve gotten more threats from people implying there’s going to be violence against me: ‘Oh, you better watch your back! We’re going to come at you with force’–and it’s all very racial.”
But the volume of calls was enough to cause problems with the Post ‘s phone and e-mail systems newsroom sources said. And the paper took the threats seriously enough that it increased security at its offices, posting security guards outside the newsroom.
That Friday, Mr. Dreher said, his editors wanted him to write a follow-up column, and he filed one that recounted some of the outraged reader comments. But that column didn’t run. The next day, the Post put a mournful photo of the funeral on its front page with the headline “FANS’ TEARS FOR AALIYAH,” and tapped Andrea Peyser to write a column with the headline “Tragedy Unites Two Different Worlds.” And the entirety of the letters column was dedicated to angry Aaliyah fans.
A spokesman for the New York Post said that neither Post editor in chief Col Allan nor publisher Ken Chandler had any comment for Off the Record. Mr. Allan was quoted in the Post ‘s own story about Mr. Sharpton’s press conference as saying, “I stand by Rod Dreher. He had a right to express an opinion.”
Mr. Dreher was a bit bemused by all the commotion. “People have said, ‘If this was Madonna or Britney Spears or Paul McCartney, you wouldn’t be saying the same thing.’ Well, of course I would,” he said. “And even in that column, you could see I was sort of rolling my eyes at the outpouring of sentimentality around Princess Diana. The column is about celebrity worship, not black celebrity or anything like that.”
He added, “What I wish I would have said now, just to sort of further defuse the race thing, and this is what I believe: that, say, Martin Luther King Jr. would have deserved this kind of grand funeral, or even an African-American artist like Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald–somebody of that stature.”
And Mr. Dreher was also thankful for the grainy head shot that runs with his column. “My picture that runs with my column, it doesn’t really look like me. So a lot of people don’t really know what I look like.”
On Sunday, Sept. 2., The New York Times ran a long, contemplative piece in its City section about a group of young New York City friends who rented a beachside bungalow at Rockaway Beach. The story–written by Field Maloney, who was identified in an inset caption as “being on the editorial staff of The New Yorker “–was conspicuous in that Mr. Maloney himself did not identify his employer, nor a single one of his housemates. He wrote that the bungalow buddies “worked together at a magazine in the city,” but that’s kind of like saying you “go to college in New Haven.” Mr. Maloney, who himself went to college in Princeton, N.J., was similarly cryptic in referring to one of his bungalow mates as a “tough-nerved editorial assistant” and another as “a fact checker who claims to have body-surfed 6,758 waves,” but nowhere did he give their actual names. The absence of names seemed especially strange considering The Times ran a photograph of all the New Yorker -ites inside the section.
And a couple days later, Mr. Maloney still wasn’t into divulging the names. When contacted by Off the Record, he referred the phone call to a New Yorker spokeswoman, Perri Dorset. (A call at deadline to City section editor Connie Rosenblum went unreturned.)
“No one was identified because it wasn’t relative to The New Yorker ,” Ms. Dorset said. “There was no need to identify anyone. It was a piece about Far Rockaway.”
O.K. Well, as a service to all, these are the names of the Garbo-esque New Yorker staffers in the Times photo: Lauren Porcaro, William Cohen, Mr. Maloney, Gibbe Slife and Willing Davidson. That’s how they appear in the shot, with a guest–Ms. Porcaro’s brother–standing in the background.
As A.J. Benza would say: Fame, ain’t it a bitch.
Dow Jones & Company and its employees’ union seemed to get into scraps over everything this year: health-club membership fees … cafeteria prices … union meetings on company grounds. Now comes word that the union–the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees, C.W.A. Local 1096–is ready to butt heads with The Wall Street Journal ‘s parent company over … birth-control pills.
In an internal memo sent to the company on Friday, the union calls out Dow Jones for its inaction following a June 18 request for the company to include prescriptive birth control in all of its health plans. Citing both a recent federal-court decision and a ruling last December by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to support its case, the letter reads: “We hope the company’s answer comes soon and is positive. However if one doesn’t come by the end of next month, we are fully prepared to explore filing a formal EEOC complaint.”
Dawn Kopecki, head of the union’s health-care committee, wouldn’t comment on the memo or on possible legal action, but did say: “This is a matter we brought before the company in June. We’re waiting to hear back from them.”
Dow Jones spokesman Steven Goldstein told Off the Record: “We’re looking into it. We haven’t made a decision yet. Everyone would like their health plans to cover absolutely everything, and sometimes that’s not possible.”
Mr. Goldstein also didn’t think that the recent series of tiffs foreshadowed negotiations for the new union contract, set to begin next March.
“It’s just natural give-and-take,” Mr. Goldstein said. “I don’t think the union leadership would get elected if they talked about how well the company treats its employees.”
Needless to say, the union leadership sees matters quite differently.
“Most of us think it’s going to be a tough round of negotiations,” said union secretary and treasurer Virgil Hollender.
If Us Weekly editor Terry McDonell’s not careful, he may end up inside the pages of his own magazine, just like his Wenner Media colleagues at Rolling Stone , who back in April showed off their good looks in a fashion spread.
“Yeah,” Mr. McDonell told Off the Record. “I’m clearly cover material for myself. I look like a healthy middle-age white guy.”
Mr. McDonell said he’s lost almost 30 pounds since March. And while we’d love to attribute it to the stress of having to constantly clean his desk for the benefit of his famously neat-freak boss, Jann Wenner, the truth is that Mr. McDonell did it the way all those people in Ohio and Indiana do: by cutting out those pesky carbs, eating a lot of meat and working out.
“You realize you should probably get in shape,” Mr. McDonell said, “when you’re walking alongside one of those big building windows and you look in the glass and suddenly ask, ‘Who’s that guy?’ It had nothing to do with the magazine.”
Off the Record can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.