The cry rang from hill to dell-or at least from West 43rd Street to Augusta, Ga.-protesting New York Times executive editor Howell Raines’ decision to kill columns by two of his most prominent columnists, Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton, who weighed in-or tried to-on the right of women golfers to play at the Augusta National Golf Course.
The two columnists had dissented mildly with a Times editorial on the subject. The Nov. 18 editorial had suggested that Tiger Woods should boycott The Masters Golf Tournament, which is played at Augusta.
“PLEASE,” Mr. Anderson wrote a few days later, “let Tiger Woods play golf. That’s what he does, and does better than anybody else. He’s not a social activist … it’s not his style.” The column wouldn’t run for two weeks, but the first line could have applied to Mr. Anderson: Please, let Dave Anderson write about golf .
Ira Berkow, the columnist who in many ways has become a kind of in-house sports historian for the paper, said he’d heard an exhalation of disappointment from readers who believed in the sanctity of The New York Times and now felt let down by events-on the sports pages, of all places, the home of Joe Durso, Leonard Koppett, Red Smith and … Dave Anderson.
It was as though a straining editor had spit the bit, booted the ball, taken the dive or whatever sports cliché you wanted to employ: Howell Raines, through Mr. Boyd at least, spiked the column! And not just anybody’s column. No Paul Krugman on Larry Lindsey or R.W. Apple on Chateau Marmont, no! But a column by that dangerous, dangerous 73-year-old Pulitzer Prize–winner, Dave Anderson.
And his point guard, 50-year-old terror Harvey Araton.
“I was concerned that if I wrote a column,” Mr. Berkow said, “would I have to look over my shoulder?”
So, on Dec. 9, here he was, in an 11th-floor executive dining room at the paper-a tough enough venue under any circumstances, and the food is nothing to write home about, either-one of six columnists brought in by Mr. Raines, managing editor Gerald Boyd and the outgoing sports editor, Neil Amdur. The meeting was a kind of victory, but Mr. Berkow didn’t feel victorious. He felt, well, unsure.
He had ever since Wednesday, Dec. 4, when the New York Daily News reported that editors at The Times had killed columns by fellow Times sports columnists Mr. Anderson and Mr. Araton involving the no-admittance policy of women by Augusta. The Times ‘ involvement in the issue had been remarked upon as one of its strangest crusades-not unworthy, exactly, just odd. Wasn’t there an all-girls’ sweatshop somewhere in Queens?
At any rate, the executives had been scrambling behind the scenes to calm a muttering staff, but also to challenge the suggestion that the paper’s particular editorial agenda-the Augusta pieces were a matter of pride for Mr. Raines, an Alabama-born sports fan with a vision of a national New York Times -had led the newspaper to squash the opinions of anyone who broke ranks.
Then The Times explained that the two pieces hadn’t been good enough , issuing a memo so impenetrable that Pravda would have been proud. Then it finally ran the suppressed pieces, so that readers could survey these defective, not-good-enough columns.
And now, it was time to clean up the broken china, to explain to the group who’d been silenced what kind of newspaper it was they were working for.
So Mr. Raines, Mr. Boyd and Mr. Amdur gathered Mr. Berkow, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Araton, as well as William C. Rhoden, Selena Roberts and George Vecsey, on the 11th floor. The editors expressed regret and said that what had happened had been what Mr. Vecsey later described as “an aberration” in the editorial process. The writers were told they would have no future interference and shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves. Mr. Raines spoke about The Times as a national paper, which Mr. Anderson said “we all already knew, but was nice to hear about in that setting.” The writers told the editors they liked not being tied to the five boroughs and Jersey.
Mr. Berkow brought up the disappointment. Mr. Raines, he said, “acknowledged that, to his credit, and addressed it in a positive way.” Mr. Berkow then suggested Mr. Raines write up his thoughts, “because I thought it’s important for people to better know him and better know the thinking for what the future holds, in terms of what the top echelon of editors are thinking. It was my suggestion that readers wanted to be reassured about the credibility of the paper.”
Like the others, Mr. Berkow said he that emerged “reassured.”
Good sportsmanship prevailed. Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd emerged in one piece-or at least in two. And they were probably lucky to have been facing the sports staff of The New York Times, not the football writers of the Irish Times . But there was blood on the floor: For sinking two benign columns that had committed the sin of snarling the newspaper’s party line, the upper management of The Times had shattered the public’s general image of the America’s greatest newspaper being “without fear or favor,” etc. It martyred Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton, neither of whom had ever expected to stand on the John Peter Zenger Memorial Pedestal. And suddenly it needed to reassure the public, and the veteran members of its own staff, that the paper was carrying out its editorial mission in good faith.
“It’s inevitable,” said Gail Collins, The Times ‘ editorial-page editor, “when people are making hundreds of decisions every day, that some will eventually come back and bite you. It’s made everybody very, very aware of how important it is to constantly underline the separation between the editorial and news sides.”
It was Ms. Collins’ Nov. 18 editorial that Mr. Anderson had attempted to address in his column. She had been with Mr. Raines in Paris on Dec. 4, when Golfgate actually burst, sending the News , The Washington Post and delirious sportswriters from New York to Maui into thrilled recriminations. Earlier in the week, Mr. Raines and Ms. Collins had gone on a fact-finding mission to the International Herald Tribune , whose full ownership The Times will soon formally assume from its embittered ex-partner, The Washington Pos . (Mr. Raines told members of the staff that the paper would stay in Paris, and that he considered the revamped Herald Tribune one of his most important legacies as executive editor. On Monday, Dec. 9, the Times Company announced that Walter Wells would replace Herald Tribune executive editor David Ignatius, who would return to Washington following the final completion of the sale. On Tuesday, Dec. 10, Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis, confirmed that the paper will continue to run stories from The Post , even after the deal’s done.)
“There’s no rule,” Ms. Collins said. “There’s absolutely, absolutely, absolutely no rule that” the news reporters have “to agree with our editorial position.”
Nevertheless, that was the crux of the difficulty after Nov. 18-the day The Times ‘ editorial page called for Tiger Woods to boycott The Masters. That day, Mr. Araton submitted a column around 5 p.m., in which he attempted to link the Augusta controversy to issues regarding the future of women’s softball in the Olympics and the enemies of Title IX-the federal statute that assured gender equity in college sports.
When Mr. Araton arrived at the Meadowlands for a New Jersey Nets game that evening, Mr. Amdur informed him that the piece couldn’t run the next day in its current form.
The next day, after working it over, Mr. Amdur told him it wouldn’t run at all.
“It was explained to me that Gerald”-Mr. Araton meant Mr. Boyd-“felt the idea I was trying to link the two [would] minimize one at the expense of another. I didn’t think I was trying to dismiss what was going on at Augusta National, but just trying to say that there are far greater issues of gender equity in sports.”
According to one Times source, some within the department agreed with Mr. Boyd, but said they would have run the column regardless. (Mr. Amdur did not return calls seeking an interview). The next morning, Wednesday, Nov. 20, Mr. Araton said he and Mr. Boyd “agreed to disagree.”
Mr. Anderson submitted his column on Thursday, Nov. 21. In it, he argued that, contrary to the opinion of the paper’s editorial page, Mr. Woods should not boycott the 2003 Masters Tournament. Afterward, Mr. Anderson said, Mr. Amdur told him “it would not fly. He had apparently taken it to Gerald Boyd. Neil told me I wasn’t supposed to argue with the editorial page-not the Op-Ed page, but the editorial page itself.”
One Times source said that “under the old order, this was the kind of thing that might well have been brought to the attention of the masthead anyway.” However, “there’s a greater chance it would be brought to the executive editor now because it is more centralized, and there’s a greater fear about doing something without clearing it with Howell.”
Following the newsbreak by the Daily News , Mr. Boyd contacted Mr. Anderson and Mr. Araton to tell them that he intended to release a memo regarding the situation. Mr. Boyd conferred with Mr. Raines on the memo. But Mr. Boyd’s memo explaining things belly-flopped, saying Mr. Anderson’s column had been killed to eliminate intramural squabbling, while Mr. Araton’s “logic did not meet our standards: that would have been true regardless of which ‘side’ the writer had taken on Augusta. The writer was invited to try again, but we did not think the logic improved materially.”
Needless to say, it didn’t soothe the news staff. “That memo did not reflect the effort that both those columnists made to write a thorough and accurate column that stood up to every test imaginable,” said one Times employee. “There wasn’t anything rash or illogical with it. The memo did not help matters at all.”
Mr. Araton said he wasn’t “thrilled with the statement,” but “at that point, I got the sense that it was only Day 1 of the story being out, that something bigger was brewing and that wouldn’t be the end of it.”
He was right: The Washington Post and Fox News both went to town on the story, and when Mr. Amdur-who had been on vacation-returned to the office on Dec. 5, he was forced to spend his day putting out brushfires. That night, Mr. Amdur went to what he thought was a dinner in honor of his wife. It turned out to be a surprise party celebrating his retirement, and the first people to greet him were Mr. Araton and Mr. Anderson-the latter fresh from an appearance on CNN to talk about the flap. And while the event eventually became a love fest for Mr. Amdur’s 12-year tenure-Mr. Anderson called him “the best editor” he ever had-the specter of the story could be felt. Hell, as part of his going-away present, Mr. Amdur received a crimson T-shirt with “Alabama” printed across the chest … a reference to Mr. Raines’ birthplace and interest in college football.
By Friday, Dec. 6, Mr. Raines got directly involved. Having come back from Paris, he called both writers to tell them he’d decided to run their columns after all. He told Mr. Araton he didn’t have a problem with the second version he’d turned in. Asked if Mr. Raines had apologized, Mr. Anderson said: “He didn’t use the word ‘sorry.’ He told me about what his decision was now.”
The following day, the public make-good measures began. The Times addressed the controversy in its own story by Felicity Barringer by Saturday, Dec. 7, and ran the columns, side-by-side, on Sunday, Dec. 8.
“The reason we went forward and printed the columns was there was a concern there had been an appearance of unfairness,” Ms. Mathis said. “And we wanted to address that in open way.”
Since then, both columnists have said they’re satisfied with the outcome. And Mr. Raines, according to a Times source, has told people that the incident will not change the way he and the rest of the masthead conducts business at the paper. However, the story revealed a measure of control that surprised the outside world. Some asked if Mr. Raines had contracted the kind of iron-fisted attitude that former editor A.M. Rosenthal had insisted upon during his tenure.
“So much of this comes from a top-down management structure as it does ‘censorship,'” said one Times source. “These are decisions that would normally be made by a section editor who would say, ‘You know what? I don’t like this for whatever reason.’ … Here, they’re actually making the decisions and putting their fingerprints on it and they’re going to continue to put their fingerprints on it because they don’t trust their editors enough.”
Ms. Mathis said: “We are an edited newspaper and certainly one of the jobs of the senior folks in a newsroom is to edit the newspaper. But I also think there is a willingness to listen to people.”
Mr. Araton said he received little micromanagement of his column … until now. However, he said the group addressed the issue with Mr. Boyd and Mr. Raines at the Dec. 9 meeting in the 11th-floor dining room. “Once the process begins where management is getting involved in a column like that,” Mr. Araton said, “Sometimes, the process just is kind of made more difficult, just because it began. It’s unleashing these forces.
“In retrospect, everyone agreed, things would have been better had they said, ‘We have some objections to this, call Harvey, call Dave, re-work this. Try and make this better.’ Why it got to this point, I don’t know.”
Say goodbye to Mr. Latte. Or to Tad.
On Tuesday, Dec. 10, New York Times Magazine editor Adam Moss confirmed to Off the Record that Amanda Hesser will no longer write her “Food Diary,” where for the past year and a half she’s chronicled her life with food and New Yorker writer (and now husband) Tad Friend.
“The Food Dairy had its perfect logical ending with Amanda’s wedding [in the Nov. 3 Food Diary],” Mr. Moss said. “That ended that. Amanda may appear in the magazine in other forms.
“From the beginning it was a serial narrative of her life as a single person,” Mr. Moss continued, “and it ran its course.”
One Times source told Off the Record that part of the decision was due to a backlash from readers who “were sick of reading about Mr. Latte.”
In response, Mr. Moss said: “We liked the column. Some readers liked it. Some didn’t. But it was not ended because of readers’ dissatisfaction.”
Ms. Hesser, who remains a writer at The Times , did not return a call seeking comment.