In Bad Press Storm, Tina Brown and Ron Galotti Start a Fight With The New York Times

Talk has a problem. No, not the persistent rumors that Hearst wants out of the joint venture to publish the monthly magazine with Miramax Films. And no, it’s not that word leaked to the New York Post that publisher Ron Galotti is seeking out new investors for the magazine. The biggest complaint Tina Brown and Mr. Galotti have right now is The New York Times- specifically,reporter Alex Kuczynski.

Talk ‘s brass are hopping mad about Ms. Kuczynski’s and Geraldine Fabrikant’s Dec. 3 Times story entitled “The Talk About Talk: With Hearst Restless, Financial Issues Threaten a Glamorous Magazine Marriage,” which reported it was increasingly probable” that Hearst would withdraw its backing.

Shortly after the piece arrived, Talk executives started making unusually public attacks on Ms. Kuczynski, a former Observer reporter. Ms. Brown and Mr. Galotti dashed off a letter that afternoon to The Times ‘ executive editor, Howell Raines, complaining of factual errors and charging that the piece in general was “misleading and damaging.” And to make sure that the rest of the world knew about it, they sent a copy to Jim Romenesko, who posted it on his MediaNews Web site.

It’s typical for magazine executives to take issue with media reporters’ coverage. But Ms. Brown and Mr. Galotti showed a particular animus towards Ms. Kuczynski in their letter. “It is a shame that one of the two reporters on the story, Alex Kuczynski, who has a history of well-documented reportorial errors, was brought back from The Times ‘ Style section to co-author this piece,” the two wrote. “This will be the 8th negative piece that Kuczynski has written about our magazine.”

A few hours after the letter showed up on MediaNews, Mr. Galotti was asked about it at a Talk –Miramax Books party at Elaine’s honoring a new book on The Producers.

“We’re not afraid of that reporter by any means,” Mr. Galotti said, referring to Ms. Kuczynski. Speaking about recent media coverage in general, the Talk president said he was upset that his efforts to find new investors in the magazine has been interpreted as a sign of trouble. “It’s business as usual,” Mr. Galotti said. “Last time I checked, raising money and, you know, continuing a business is normal for everybody. Only in my world does it become some kind of pariah mentality. I mean, please .”

Ms. Brown was there, too, posing for pictures alongside Mr. Galotti, Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein and Mel Brooks. In between handshakes, she, too, was quick to harp on Ms. Kuczynski. “It was the eighth time!” she said, before greeting another guest.

Speaking with Off the Record the next day, Talk editorial director Maer Roshan-himself praised in the Times piece as “highly regarded”-piled on.

“The article really pissed me off,” he said. “It was a nasty drive-by full of unsourced speculation, half-truths and outright errors that didn’t advance a thing. A social takedown dressed up in business drag.” He added, “I think Alex knows that attacking Tina and Ron is a surefire way to buy herself some buzz, but in the process she is damaging 100 other people who work here, just as the magazine is starting to take off.”

There was one clear error in Ms. Kuczynski and Ms. Fabrikant’s piece. The article stated that ” Talk ‘s advertising was down 39 percent for the October issue … last year’s October issue carried 109 pages of advertising, and this year’s carried 66.” In fact, those figures were a year old, reflecting the October issues of 1999 and 2000, respectively. For this year, the October issue had 60.5 ad pages, a 4 percent decline from October 2000.

In an interview, Ms. Kuczynski acknowledged the error and said a correction would run in the paper. But she defended the story overall. “Geraldine Fabrikant and I reported both sides of the story,” she said, “and I’m sorry that Tina Brown and her friends are not happy with both sides of the story.”

On her history of corrections, she said that since 1997, her 474 articles have resulted in 44 corrections, which is about even with the pace of recent Pulitzer winner David Cay Johnston, who has, since 1995, had 55 corrections for 609 articles.

The editor of the Dec. 3 Times piece, Dave Smith, referred Off the Record to The Times’ corporate communications office. A spokeswoman for The Times said that Talk ‘s complaints would be reviewed and that “we are always willing to print a correction if we have made factual errors.”

Talk is playing a little fast and loose with the facts itself. Asked for an accounting of the eight negative stories Ms. Kuczynski was alleged to have written, a Talk spokesperson ticked off a list of nine articles, but not all of them were, in fact, full articles. Two of them only mentioned Ms. Brown and Talk in an aside, and three others were smaller items on the hiring of a new editor, a deal with an advertiser, and the recycling of a photo that had appeared in another magazine.

Still, the Times story comes at a vulnerable moment for Talk . Mr. Galotti is out looking for new investors, and a prominent story in The Times about troubles at the magazine isn’t what anyone in that job would want right now.

At the same time, Talk ‘s letter did not address the reports in The Times that Hearst Corp. chief executive Frank Bennack Jr. had been “cool” on the magazine at a recent Hearst sales meeting. Nor did it take issue with the report that an anonymous “media executive” said Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein had told other people that Hearst wanted out of the joint venture, though the letter did object to the use of blind quotes-a device Talk has been known to use in its pages, as well.

Asked about Hearst’s commitment at the Elaine’s party, Mr. Galotti told Off the Record to go ask Hearst. But Hearst simply handed over the same statement from Hearst Magazines chief executive Cathie Black they have been giving to other reporters, which begins, “We are proud of the efforts of Tina and Ron,” and ends, “We are aware that Talk is seeking additional investors for the property. We support those efforts although as of now there has been no change in our relationship with Talk . We, at Hearst, expect that we will have a continuing relationship with the magazine.”

-Gabriel Snyder

Exit Tina Brown, and enter Carson Daly? According to a source close to the situation, Hearst is working on a new publication. This time, it’s with that bastion of boy bands and Britney: MTV.

“It’s definitely in the works,” the source said.

According to the source, and a report published Tuesday in Folio First Day , Hearst has enlisted two former Condé Nasters to head up the project: Pamela Miller, former deputy editor of Glamour under the excised Bonnie Fuller, and Arem Duplessis, the ex–design director of GQ . The latter was shown the door when the magazine brought on former Wenner vice president and Rolling Stone design guru Fred Woodward.

The move would seem to make sense, even amidst the rubble that currently constitutes the magazine industry of New York. After all, its fellow cable-box occupant ESPN launched its magazine only three years ago, beginning with 400,000 in paid circulation. Last year, it lured more than 1 million readers into its biweekly pages with columns by the likes of on-air personalities Dan Patrick and Stuart Scott.

“I’m certainly not surprised,” said Eric Blankfein, a vice president with Horizon Media. “It’s just an extension of a powerful media network. It’s been done before. Yahoo! Internet Life is doing pretty well. Nickelodeon and Sesame Street do fairly well. These kinds of extensions have worked.

“I’m a little more surprised,” Mr. Blankfein said, “that it’s Hearst who’s doing it.”

But remember, figuring out what goes into stories about Bert and Ernie is much different from determining how to represent the Zeitgeist of teen culture in print.

“The real challenge for them,” said Spin editor in chief Alan Light, “is whether they’re going to be a music magazine or a lifestyle magazine. It’s something the network itself has struggled with for two decades.

“MTV is all about change,” Mr. Light said. “As soon as a trend begins to shift, they can change at the drop of a hat. You can do that because it’s TV and it’s easy. Can you do that with a magazine that comes out monthly 12 times a year?”

An MTV spokesperson was unavailable for comment, while a Hearst spokesperson refused to confirm any details for Off the Record, saying only: “We analyze hundreds of new magazine ideas each year. We have numerous projects in development at this point. The details of those projects are confidential.”

Like Mr. Light, Rolling Stone managing editor Bob Love isn’t quaking in his boots over a magazine that might have war correspondents reporting from the Real World house. “There’s new competition for us every year,” he said. “This would only be one in a long line for us.”

-Sridhar Pappu

A fixture on The New York Times’ Op-Ed page for 32 years, Anthony Lewis is retiring this month. Mr. Lewis began writing his column, then entitled “At Home Abroad,” from The Times ‘ London bureau in 1969.

Mr. Lewis said that he’d decided to retire about six months ago. “My health is good, but I’ve been at it for 32 years. I’m 74-it was time to slow down,” he said. Mr. Lewis’ last column will appear on Dec. 15, and he doesn’t expect to continue writing for The Times as some retired columnists have (“a cutting of the silver cord,” as he put it). In January, he’ll be focusing instead on a class he will teach at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Mr. Lewis’ retirement will cap a career that spans more than half a century at The Times . Mr. Lewis started at The Times in 1948, shortly after graduating from Harvard. After spending four years in the Sunday department, he left for the now-defunct Washington Daily News as a reporter. In 1955, and at the age of 28, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on a loyalty screening case involving a U.S. Navy employee.

Soon after the award, Mr. Lewis was rehired by The Times for its Washington bureau. By the early 1960’s he began covering the Supreme Court, for which he won a second Pulitzer in 1963. Of his coverage, Justice Felix Frankfurter once said, “There are not two members of the Court itself who could get the gist of each decision so accurately in so few words.” Mr. Lewis has written two books focusing on civil liberties, Gideon’s Trumpet , published in 1964, and Make No Law , published in 1991, which was a history of the landmark First Amendment case New York Times v. Sullivan , decided in 1964, that established the “actual malice” standard for libel cases brought by public officials.

In 1964, Mr. Lewis was in the running for the Washington bureau chief’s position. But the position went to Tom Wicker instead, so Mr. Lewis took the job of London bureau chief. The job had its perks: Edwin Diamond wrote in his book Behind the Times that each morning, a chauffeured Jaguar arrived at Mr. Lewis’ residence to ferry him to his office, which overlooked St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Thames.

Four years later, he returned to the U.S. and began teaching at the Harvard Law School. On his return, he renamed his column “Abroad at Home.”

Mr. Lewis’ two primary areas of expertise-foreign policy and civil liberties-have been in particular demand after Sept. 11. His most recent columns have focused on President Bush’s executive order allowing military tribunals to try those arrested for terrorism, calling it “the broadest move in American history to sweep aside constitutional protections.”

Mr. Lewis lives in Boston with his wife, Margaret Marshall, the chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. He has been an indefatigable columnist, taking breaks from the column over three decades only for his vacations, which he largely spends at his home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. Lewis said he was still considering life after his column. “I once said, not entirely jokingly, life is a column,” he said.

-G.S.

Nicholas Kristof, the new Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times , headed to Afghanistan the last weekend of November. With his laptop set up and a plan for getting into the war-torn country decided upon, only one thing remained to be settled: what to call his new twice-weekly column? Maureen Dowd called hers “Liberties”; William Safire had the austere “Essay”; Thomas Friedman, the explanatory “Foreign Affairs”; while Anthony Lewis used the more ornate “At Home Abroad” or “Abroad at Home,” depending on where he was filing from.

Mr. Kristof, an associate managing editor at The Times on a year-long special assignment with the Op-Ed page to write a column about the current international crisis, was having trouble coming up with a moniker, said his boss, editorial-page editor Gail Collins. It led Ms. Collins to ask, “Why do we even have these?”

“They’re really hard to think of,” Ms. Collins said. Plus, she added, “A lot of people don’t even remember them. No one says, ‘Did you see the Liberties column?’ They say, ‘Did you see Maureen Dowd’s column?'” (Ms. Collins has a point; she had to remind us that her column had been called “Public Interests.”)

So, as of Sunday, Dec. 2, Ms. Collins yanked the titles. From this time forward, The Times ‘ Op-Ed columnists will simply have their names above their columns. Ms. Collins said the reaction of the columnists was mixed, with some supporting the change and others sorry to see the tradition ended. She would not identify which columnists fell into which camp.

One of the other reasons to drop the column titles was to make room for e-mail addresses, which most of The Times ‘ Op-Ed columnists now include in the paper.

Ms. Collins has also made one more small change: Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman are trading places on the schedule. Mr. Friedman will now appear on Sundays and Wednesdays, along with Ms. Dowd, while Mr. Krugman will run on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are the days Mr. Kristof’s column will appear. Ms. Collins said the change was made to pair the columnists who focus on international issues (Messrs. Friedman and Kristof) with the ones who more frequently write on domestic affairs (Ms. Dowd and Mr. Krugman).

-G.S.