Bad Day at Pink Rock: Si Tells GQ Editor It’s Time to Go

At the annual GQ Christmas party in December 2002, the magazine’s long-time editor in chief, Art Cooper, approached a veteran member of his staff and issued a sobering prediction.

“I’m 65 years old: I just want five more years,” the staffer recalled Mr. Cooper as saying. “Five fucking years. And they’re not going to give it to me.”

Indeed, Mr. Cooper-who denied ever making such a comment about his tenure-didn’t get five more years. On Monday, Feb. 24-and just weeks after he told the crowd at his Jan. 29 induction speech into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame that his “best years are yet to come”-Mr. Cooper was summoned to the office of S.I. Newhouse Jr., chairman of Condé Nast, for a chat. According to sources within Condé Nast, Mr. Newhouse told Mr. Cooper that he had been thinking about the editor’s status for some time.

“Art, I think it’s time for you to retire,” Mr. Newhouse said, according to the sources.

And so, Mr. Cooper did. The official line on Mr. Cooper’s departure-echoed in press reports-was that he volunteered his resignation after deciding that he’d had enough after 20 years on the job.

But this was Mr. Newhouse’s call, according to multiple sources within Condé Nast. They said that Mr. Cooper’s sudden “retirement” follows in the same vein as those of Vogue ‘s Grace Mirabella and The New Yorker’s William Shawn-two long-time magazine czars given the quick hook by Mr. Newhouse.

“He’s [Art’s] trying to take the high road,” one Condé Nast source said, “but Si will not let you go gracefully.”

Maurie Perl, the company’s spokesman, said Mr. Newhouse was unavailable for comment. And for his part, Mr. Cooper-who denied to the New York Post on Feb. 19 that he was soon to retire-denied being pushed.

“The only people who know what went on are Si and me,” Mr. Cooper said. “This is not the first time I’ve had a conversation like this with him. Obviously, we had been talking about it for a long, long time.”

After his meeting with Mr. Newhouse, Mr. Cooper didn’t tell anyone on staff about what happened until later that morning, when he informed his managing editor, Martin Beiser. The two had an extended lunch at Mr. Cooper’s favorite haunt, the Four Seasons.

Later that afternoon, Condé Nast issued a press release announcing Mr. Cooper’s retirement. After fielding press calls (the announcement was made while GQ ‘s publicity director, Lisa Dallos, was on vacation), Mr. Cooper said that he spoke with his staff at 7 p.m.

“They just came in,” he said. “There was no speech. We just exchanged anecdotes and hugs and things like that.”

If anything, there’s a sense of relief in Condé Nast’s corridors, after what seemed like months of rumors surrounding the fate of Mr. Cooper, who was hired by Mr. Newhouse in 1983. Sources said that tensions between Mr. Cooper and former Talk publisher Ron Galotti had grown over the past few months-particularly over the development of a 13th issue based on the “Fahrenheit” section in the front of the magazine. The 13th issue, said GQ sources, was heavily pushed by Mr. Galotti, who had the notion that it could become a possible spin-off for readers too young for GQ . One Condé Nast source said that Mr. Cooper hated the idea and was glad when the project was finally killed.

“Art felt Ron was undercutting him,” another Condé Nast source said. “He wasn’t comfortable with him, because he felt the publisher was against him. It’s a tough situation to be in.”

Mr. Cooper, in his interview, denied any ill will towards the “Fahrenheit” issue, adding that it had been something he’d come up with “more than a year ago” with design director Fred Woodward and Condé Nast chairman Steve Florio.

“I wanted very much for it to happen,” Mr. Cooper said. He said its abandonment was the result of “no corporate interest.”

Mr. Cooper also characterized his relationship with Mr. Galotti as “extremely good.”

“Tom Florio [the former GQ publisher and current Vogue publisher] and I are the ones who petitioned for Ron to become publisher,” Mr. Cooper said. “I’ve known Ron for over 20 years. He started as the publisher of Mademoiselle , which was edited by my wife.”

Ms. Perl said that Mr. Galotti was unavailable for comment.

As for Mr. Cooper’s replacement … gentlemen, start your ab rollers! Mr. Cooper said that both Mr. Newhouse and Condé Nast editorial director James Truman wanted him to help pick his successor. According to sources within the company, four names have emerged as the top candidates. Mr. Cooper’s choice, according to sources, would be GQ executive editor Jim Nelson. Men’s Health editor in chief Dave Zinczenko and Dylan Jones, the British editor of GQ , are among the outside candidates. Mr. Zinczenko has earned praise for boosting the circulation of his publication; Mr. Jones is considered a promising young editor with strong ties to the fashion industry-not an insignificant connection in the magazine-publishing world.

The fourth candidate, sources said, is former Spin editor and Inside.com co-founder Michael Hirschorn, currently toiling away in the news division at VH1. Mr. Hirschorn worked as features editor for Esquire for four years, from 1990 to 1994, and as the executive editor of New York from 1994 to 1997.

Mr. Nelson did not return a call seeking comment, while Mr. Jones and Mr. Hirschorn declined to comment. Through a spokesperson, Mr. Zinczenko declined to comment, but in a memo sent to members of his staff he affirmed his commitment to Men’s Health , saying, “The next few years will be quite a ride for this magazine … I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

More names are sure to surface, but asked to evaluate these four, Mr. Cooper was brief. He called Mr. Nelson (the editor of “Fahrenheit”) a “brilliant young editor.” Mr. Cooper said he didn’t know Mr. Jones terribly well, and didn’t know Mr. Hirschorn or Mr. Zinczenko at all.

However, in Mr. Zinczenko’s case, Mr. Cooper did say: “He’s done a wonderful job with that magazine.”

Mr. Cooper added that he hoped the search would be concluded by June 1, his official retirement date, because “I don’t want to edit this magazine on the beaches of Tahiti.”

“I’ve been working for people since I was 16 years old,” Mr. Cooper said. “I’m looking forward to the freedom of doing what I want to do.”

In the meantime, it’s sure to be a three-month testimonial to Mr. Cooper in Times Square. Lucy Kaylin, a GQ senior writer who’s been with the magazine for 15 years, called his appreciation and support of writers “uncommon.”

“There’s so much pressure for editors to make things short and snappy and easy to digest,” Ms. Kaylin said. “I understand these pressures. Art resisted them as much as he could. He had the stamina for that fight. With him leaving, there’s one less person fighting that fight.”

When asked about Mr. Cooper’s influence on his career, GQ senior correspondent Alan Richman told Off the Record: “Thirteen years ago, I was at People writing about dwarf-tossing contests. Does that say what Art meant for my career?”

Reached at his home the night of Feb. 24, GQ writer at large Bob Drury said: “Other than deaths [of editors], this is the saddest day of my professional career. He gave me lots of opportunities to do a lot of great stuff.

“When he starts his next magazine,” Mr. Drury added, “he can give me a call.”

Last week, when Newsday reported that Matthew Winkler, editor in chief of Bloomberg News, had pulled the plug on funding for a Bloomberg-sponsored fellowship program at New York University because of comments critical of the news organization made by an N.Y.U. professor in The Observer last year, media ethicists howled. They complained that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s news organization didn’t understand academic freedom or First Amendment rights, and was punishing students not even associated with the professor in question.

But sources within Bloomberg itself weren’t surprised. They said Mr. Winkler’s action was indicative of the way the news outfit has operated since its founding in 1990- strictly enforcing company loyalty and reacting strongly to criticism, especially from outsiders.

One Bloomberg source called the matter “embarrassing.”

“This is just another example of Bloomberg being unable to take criticism,” the source said.

The tempest comes as Bloomberg News’ profile continues to rise to new heights, both because of its success as a news-gathering organization-its growth is one of the factors to which analysts attributed Reuters’ first-ever quarterly loss as a public company-and because of its inexorable link with its founder, now the city’s highest-ranking official.

“I don’t think they realized the kind of microscope they’d be under,” another Bloomberg source said. “I’ve seen morale fall and rise, and right now it’s at an all-time low. At first, I didn’t think [Mr. Bloomberg’s election] would affect things very much-but it has. I don’t think you’d have the public-relations disasters you’ve had recently if you still had Mike here.”

Ironically, this situation started with an attempt by Mr. Winkler to resolve any appearance of conflict. In a January 2002 story, Mr. Winkler told Off the Record that he had hired Tom Goldstein, then the outgoing dean of the Columbia Graduate School for Journalism, to oversee its coverage of the Mayor. In the piece, Mark Crispin Miller-a professor of media ecology in the school’s Department of Culture and Communication-called the move both “troubling” and a “P.R. gesture” that wouldn’t resolve the central issue of having a major news organization whose founder also ruled over the most important city in the world.

To most, including those at N.Y.U. and Columbia, Mr. Miller’s comments were responsible media criticism. However, Mr. Winkler didn’t take it that way.

A couple of weeks later, Stephen D. Solomon called Mr. Winkler to see about renewing two student fellowships that Bloomberg had established the previous August.

However, according to Mr. Solomon, Mr. Winkler had little interest in discussing the fellowships, present or future. What he wanted to talk about, Mr. Solomon said, was Mr. Miller.

“How could this happen?” Mr. Winkler screamed, according to Mr. Solomon. “We give money to N.Y.U.! How could you have an N.Y.U. professor saying this?” According to Mr. Solomon, Mr. Winkler added that, because of Mr. Miller’s comments, Bloomberg had no interest in continuing the program.

Thus began months of pleading on the part of N.Y.U. to have Mr. Winkler change his mind. Mr. Solomon said he approached Mr. Winkler again a few weeks after they first spoke, thinking things would have “leveled off.”

“But that never happened,” Mr. Solomon said.

Mr. Solomon said that during their second discussion, he tried to emphasize the importance of free speech and academic freedom, adding that not renewing the funding would only hurt the students. Mr. Miller, he argued, didn’t even teach in the journalism department.

However, according to Mr. Solomon, Mr. Winkler remained unmoved. According to Mr. Solomon, Mr. Winkler said that should N.Y.U. apply for funding again, they wouldn’t have much luck.

After these entreaties failed, Mr. Solomon called upon Catherine Stimpson, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, to intervene. Ms. Stimpson met with Mr. Winkler once and had a couple of phone conversations with him, but Mr. Winkler wouldn’t change his mind, she said. “Obviously, I was hopeful that our students could be supported,” Ms. Stimpson said. But after her conversations with Mr. Winkler, she said it “became clear that an application would not be treated favorably.”

N.Y.U. then decided it would not apply to Bloomberg for funding, Ms. Stimpson and Mr. Solomon said.

“I have no idea who makes decisions of funding from Bloomberg,” Mr. Solomon said, “but when I met with Bloomberg, the essential person in getting the deal done was Matt Winkler. When he’s saying he wouldn’t approve funding, why would we apply?”

Mr. Winkler was traveling and unavailable for comment, Chris Taylor said that N.Y.U. hadn’t applied for funding for the 2002-3 school year, which is why the fellowships weren’t renewed. “We never pulled funds from the N.Y.U. journalism school,” Ms. Taylor told Off the Record. “We gave them a commitment of $26,000, and we lived up to our commitment 100 percent-and we still continue to support the school in the form of a gratis Bloomberg terminal, which is valued at $25,000 a year.”

Ms. Stimpson, meanwhile, still seemed in shock a year after the events.

“I can’t explain why this happened,” she said. “I can’t explain the motivations here. These actions speak for themselves.”

Contacted by Off the Record, Mr. Miller said he’d been unaware of the events following his statements until just recently. He said Mr. Winkler’s actions were not only “preposterous,” but also a revealing insight into the culture at Bloomberg.

“It portrays a news organization that has no room for disagreement,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s simply ludicrous, because they’re depriving funds for some program I have absolutely no involvement in. It’s in the same universe as bombing Iraq because of 9/11. It’s just weird.”

Despite all that’s happened, Mr. Solomon said he hoped for a day when Bloomberg and N.Y.U. could be brought together again. Like the Supremes.

“We would love to have a close relationship with them,” Mr. Solomon said. “There’s a community of interests here. That’s why it’s so hard to understand. You have one of the top two or three business-news organizations in the country and one of the most specialized business-news programs in the world. There are mutual interests involved here-it’s so clear. Whether the damage will ever be repaired, I don’t know.”