The Terry McDonell era has begun with a rumble at Sports Illustrated .
Mr. McDonell’s first cover as Sports Illustrated ‘s managing editor-a sweaty, shirtless shot of retired N.B.A. great Charles Barkley busting from broken chains and shackles-has infuriated not only some readers, but also minority employees and others within Mr. McDonell’s company, Time Inc., sources said.
At one point, angry Time Inc. employees considered demanding a sit-down with Mr. McDonell, sources said. But as of Tuesday, March 12 it is unknown if such a meeting will occur.
To be sure, creating controversy and drawing attention to SI was exactly what Mr. McDonell had in mind when he approved the cover shot, which was accompanied by the tag line “CHARLES UNCHAINED: Living Large and Holding Forth on Everything From His Golf, Money and Politics to Michael Jordan, TV Sports and Enron.” The tag was accompanied by a quote from Mr. Barkley: “Every black kid thinks the only way he can be successful is through athletics. That is a terrible thing.”
Certainly Mr. McDonell, an experienced editor who was hand-picked by Time Inc. editorial director John Huey to help reinvigorate the venerable yet tired SI , knew the provocative photograph and text would elicit a reaction. It’s uncertain, however, that he knew what a hubbub he would cause within Time Inc.-not to mention SI itself.
“People at the magazine are upset about it,” said one SI source. “Terry was questioned about it before it went to press.”
Mr. McDonell declined to comment on the cover decision or its repercussions. Still, sources said it’s unlikely that the cover stir will have much impact upon Mr. McDonell’s leading of the magazine-or upon Mr. Huey’s stewardship of Time Inc. Since assuming the editorial director’s role in July 2001, Mr. Huey has made aggressive changes at several prominent Time Inc. titles-none bigger than bringing aboard Mr. McDonell, the former editor of US Weekly , Men’s Journal and Esquire , to shake up SI .
A Time Inc. spokesperson said Mr. Huey was not available for comment. But his boss, Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine, sounded untroubled by the cover controversy. Mr. Pearlstine said the shot and cover line “said a lot about Charles Barkley and Charles Barkley’s feelings about racism in sports.”
Mr. Pearlstine said he was not surprised that there were staffers within Time Inc. who found the cover problematic. “We have a lot of editorial employees and, believe it or not, a lot of African-American employees,” he said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there were a difference of opinion. I don’t picture a unanimous point of view.”
Mr. Pearlstine also said he wasn’t sure if the anger was primarily because SI had given such a platform to Mr. Barkley, an athlete turned TV telecaster known for expounding on a variety of subjects, or because of the cover imagery and what it represented.
“What I can’t tell, frankly,” Mr. Pearlstine added, “is if people are upset for Charles Barkley being Charles Barkley, asking ‘Why is Sports Illustrated playing to his way on the world?’, as opposed to seeing the cover perpetuate a racial stereotype.”
A Sports Illustrated spokesperson said the cover, which was photographed in Miami, was a “collaborative effort,” though Mr. McDonell, who started at SI on Feb. 28, had the authority to make a call on the final shot. Mr. Barkley was photographed chained, and then the chains were “broken” by the “CHARLES UNCHAINED” text when the cover was digitally altered at SI ‘s offices, the spokesperson said.
Mr. Pearlstine, who routinely looks at covers for all Time Inc. magazines, said Mr. McDonell reached out to him for his input on the Barkley cover.
“Terry made the decision that the chains should be broken,” Mr. Pearlstine said. That, in conjunction with the coverline, the Time Inc. editor in chief added, “took away most stereotyping in my mind.
“Maybe I should have worked harder on that,” Mr. Pearlstine continued. “But I think if I had the decision to do over again, I’d do the same thing.”
Outside the magazine, the cover shot has generated wrath from former SI scribe and Savoy editor in chief Roy Johnson and Kenny Smith, Mr. Barkley’s co-host on Turner Network Television’s Inside the NBA . Upon seeing it, Mr. Smith went after Mr. Barkley on the air, saying, “The cover perpetuates racism and the stereotypes that you basically went at.”
Mr. Barkley responded by saying, “America assumes that black people are [like] black athletes. Black athletes are really rich. Black people are struggling. Black athletes are not black America. Black people are really struggling. Everybody is not going to like the picture, but you will get over it.” Mr. Barkley said that after the photo session, he discussed the cover before its publication with friends who advised him it was a bad idea, but he didn’t appear to regret it.
Meanwhile, Mr. McDonell may soon have other headaches to deal with at SI . According to sources familiar with the situation, ESPN the Magazine has made overtures to three top SI writers-Gary Smith, Rick Reilly and Steve Rushin. While no details have been put before Mr. Rushin, it’s unlikely he would leave. Sources said Mr. Rushin’s contract expires early next year, and he has shown indifference for ESPN in the past. Meanwhile, though, according to sources, ESPN has approached Mr. Smith with a proposal to write long features that could later be turned into full-length documentaries. Similarly, ESPN’s television arm has offered “several different television options” to Mr. Reilly, including co-hosting a television show and “several writing options,” but they have not yet discussed money.
“He’s just giving the new regime time to get adjusted and see what kind of changes they make,” said one source of Mr. Reilly, whose $500,000-a-year contract runs out in November. “Negotiations could heat up there in about a month or so.”
Mr. Rushin did not return a call seeking comment. Mr. Smith, when reached, declined to comment. Mr. Reilly, too, declined to go into the matter. “You want me to predict the future?” he asked, then answered, referring to the NCAA basketball tournament: “I can’t even figure out who’s going to win the West regional.”
A spokesperson for ESPN denied that such overtures have been made to SI staffers. “We have not made an offer to Rick Reilly or anyone else at Sports Illustrated ,” the ESPN spokesperson said. “We have a great editorial staff in place right now. And we’re very happy with the way things are going.”
Asked about the prospect of ESPN stealing his top talent, Mr. McDonell said only: “They wish.
A few weeks ago, when The New York Times announced that then–chief correspondent R. W. Apple had been appointed the newspaper’s associate editor-an unusual but not unprecedented title that recognized him as an in-house Svengali in his expertise with politics, international affairs and eating well-the appointment felt ceremonial. In The Times’ own story about the move, executive editor Howell Raines called Mr. Apple “a kind of resident sage on journalism.”
What the move really showed, Times sources said, was that Mr. Raines is concerned about filling the void that has been left in the D.C. bureau’s coverage now that Mr. Apple, 67, isn’t writing as much for the news pages. Since the beginning of this year, Mr. Apple has only written for The Times on food for the Dining In–Dining Out section.
In recent years, Mr. Apple and chief Washington correspondent Adam Clymer have been the authoritative voices that The Times could muster for big, sweeping, analytical pieces on foreign policy and politics. Mr. Clymer, 64, is approaching retirement, though he told Off the Record he doesn’t know when exactly.
Mr. Raines’ solution, sources said, is to bring in Patrick Tyler, currently the Moscow bureau chief, to Washington on a permanent basis. “I don’t think anyone doubts that Howell wanted to bring Pat Tyler to Washington,” a Times source said. “Howell thought Washington didn’t have any more good big voices. He’s obviously looking for Pat to do that.”
Mr. Tyler, whom Mr. Raines hired away from The Washington Post in 1990 when Mr. Raines was the D.C. bureau chief, came to Washington after Sept. 11 to cover the Bush administration’s foreign policy and the possible expansion of the Afghan war to other nations like Iraq and Libya.
Though Mr. Tyler has plenty of experience covering the State Department, the Pentagon and the C.I.A., he has not been a part of the Washington bureau for many years. Before taking up the Moscow post in 2000, Mr. Tyler spent four years as the Beijing bureau chief.
Sources also said that Mr. Raines wants Mr. Tyler to expand his portfolio by covering politics as well as foreign policy. As a result, Times staffers are worried that Mr. Tyler might displace other people at the bureau, if and when he moves there.
When reached by Off the Record, Mr. Tyler declined comment. A spokesperson for Mr. Raines and The Times had no comment before deadline.
The role for Mr. Tyler sounds a lot like the role Todd Purdum was supposed to fill at the Washington bureau. Up until last year, Mr. Purdum had been the Los Angeles bureau chief. In May of last year, he moved to Washington, where, as D.C. bureau chief Jill Abramson put it in a staff memo at the time, “it is expected he’ll emerge as our next Washington correspondent”-the title that Mr. Clymer holds.
But to date, that hasn’t happened. Mr. Purdum, who also declined comment, is covering the State Department for The Times , and within the paper, the talk of him becoming a “big voice” for The Times has been put on hold. Mr. Clymer said that Mr. Purdum’s assignment was driven by necessity. “They needed a diplomatic correspondent,” he said, “and they thought he’d be good at it, and they’re right.”
Of course, the plan for Mr. Purdum to come to D.C. and become a big voice was one of a raft of personnel moves made during the spring of 2001 by The Times ‘ then executive editor, Joe Lelyveld. Now, sources at the paper said, Mr. Raines appears to be revisiting and reconfiguring some of his predecessor’s changes.
On Mr. Purdum’s situation, a source said: “That was Joe’s intention. Joe’s not the executive editor any more.” Last spring’s moves, which put new people into big-ticket posts like the White House, United Nations, Jerusalem and Los Angeles, were made by Mr. Lelyveld in the weeks before the announcement on May 21 that Mr. Raines would be the next executive editor.
“I’m sure Howell was irritated that Joe moved Todd back here, as he was irritated by all of those moves,” a Times source said. “Howell was pissed off that Joe was making these 11th-hour pardons like Clinton.”
On Feb. 22, two reporters for the Far Eastern Economic Review -owned by company Dow Jones, which also owns The Wall Street Journal -had their visas revoked by the government of Thailand. Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker had been ordered to leave following the publication of a Review article on Jan. 10 detailing differences between the country’s king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, and the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Within the country, copies of the Jan. 10 issue of the Review were banned.
On Friday, March 8, the situation was resolved when the government of Thailand reinstated the visas of the two men.
In approaching the situation, Review editor Michael Vatikiotis treaded lightly-and in a way that an editor would never react if the disagreement were with a U.S. governmental agency. In a letter sent on March 3 to the president of the Thai National Assembly, he wrote of his “sincere regret for the misunderstanding and controversy that has been generated by an article published in our issue of January 10, 2002.”
Mr. Vatikiotis went on to write that “It was never the intention of the Far Eastern Economic Review to write or generate any adverse commentary concerning Thailand’s highest institution and if our issue of January 10 has been so interpreted, we most sincerely apologize for it.”
Even the normally hard-charging editorial page of The Journal found itself on its tippy-toes in this regard. In its March 4 issue, the editorial page went out of its way to say that “the report meant no disrespect to Thailand’s royal family” before going after Mr. Thaksin, whom, it said, “has a thin skin and is quick to blame others, especially foreigners.”
Paul Gigot, The Journal ‘s editorial-page editor, said the careful wording was an example of realpolitik . “While you have to speak for your own principles,” Mr. Gigot said, “you have to be aware of certain local sensitivities. The biggest sensitivity in Thailand is the king. There’s a real taboo against attacking the king. And in any case, we wouldn’t. He’s very enlightened. That’s why we aimed our response at the prime minister.”
While Mr. Gigot, a former Review reporter who also worked for The Asian Wall Street Journal , was happy with the reinstatement, he expressed concern regarding the problems faced by other journalists there.
“We’re pleased with the outcome for our reporters,” Mr. Gigot said. “It boosted circulation for the Review . But the problem remains with the government’s treatment of local Thai journalists. That’s troubling because Thailand has, in the past, been enlightened compared with Malaysia and some other countries in Asia.”
The New York Sun ‘s business operation recently filled another desk when it announced that former New York Times executive Christopher Garrity would become the paper’s vice president of advertising sales.
Mr. Garrity spent 15 years at The Tim e s , and for the last two years of his tenure he served as group director for the national sales office. He joins The Sun’s circulation director, Catherine Lane, formerly of Newsday , and William Kummel, the company’s chief operating officer.
Mr. Garrity is no stranger to start-ups. Having been cut as a backup quarterback for the Washington Redskins in 1982, he joined the upstart Washington Federals of the United States Football League. The Federals went 4-14 in 1983, and after the 1984 season moved to Orlando. Following the 1985 season, the league itself folded. (Off the Record trivia bonus: The Washington Post ‘s Federals correspondent was … David Remnick!)
When asked if he saw a similarity between The Sun and the USFL, Mr. Garrity said: “Anytime you’re an upstart in a city like this, it’s going to be a challenge. Given the economic environment, it’s going to be an even bigger challenge.”
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