After the Blackout, Goodwin Emerges Top of News Pack

Many inside the Daily News took it as a sign that Michael Goodwin’s longtime aspiration to run the tabloid wouldn’t come to pass when publisher Mort Zuckerman, upon accepting editor in chief Edward Kosner’s resignation on July 21, didn’t immediately name him as a successor. It had been long assumed that Mr. Goodwin, a controversial and divisive figure within the newsroom, would automatically be promoted into the position when Mr. Kosner, 65, decided to step down. It didn’t help that rumors of the impending retirement announcement had Steve Coz, who once oversaw tabloids like The Star and The National Enquirer for American Media, in talks with Mr. Zuckerman to take over the top job.

Then came Thursday, Aug. 14, when all of New York City, along with parts of Canada and the midwestern United States, went dark. Mr. Goodwin, left in charge while Mr. Kosner was vacationing, oversaw the paper’s 27-page blackout special-even as power at the News , pumped by a diesel-fueled generator, flickered in and out-with comprehensive city coverage that included stories on the causes of the blackout, the effects on subways and traffic, reports on price-gouging and a blow-by-blow assessment of how Mayor Michael Bloomberg deported himself.

In the process, according to sources at the News with knowledge of the situation, Mr. Goodwin re-established himself as the front-runner to take over when Mr. Kosner steps down from the job in March 2004.

“Let me put it this way,” said one. “The horse race is by no means over, but he’s pulled ahead. He definitely distinguished himself. He put out a great paper, and the boss definitely noticed.”

He’s certainly been trying. In the weeks that have followed Mr. Kosner’s announcement, sources said Mr. Goodwin has assumed more and more power in directing the paper, in what many saw as an unofficial tryout for the job. While News president and chief executive Les Goodstein directed advertising and production efforts-and made sure the physical plant kept the newsroom operating on diesel power during the blackout-Mr. Goodwin was earning fans, at least temporarily, in a newsroom that at times he’s alienated with his hardball office politics, as well as what many felt was a non-impartial, pro-Giuliani news stance during the former Mayor’s reign.

“I have to say he did a great job,” said one News source who is ordinarily not Mr. Goodwin’s biggest fan. “He dispatched people here and there. He ordered all the features reporters out into the street. Had the computer guys hopping. It was an amazing evening.”

It didn’t hurt that while the News ‘ Jersey City printing plant was able to print one million copies (roughly 300,000 more than usual), the Bronx printing plant of the archrival New York Post lost power, forcing the paper to devote only seven pages to the blackout, while printing only half of its usual press run from the Bergen Record ‘s printing facility in New Jersey.

Mr. Kosner-who, along with New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and Post editor in chief Col Allan, was on vacation at the time of the blackout-said the paper planned to nominate the Friday, Aug. 15, issue for a Pulitzer Prize in spot news. When asked if Mr. Goodwin’s performance helped his chances, Mr. Kosner said: “Anytime Michael fills in in this environment, it could be thought of this way. He’s not auditioning for me; I know what he can do. He put out a great paper and showed what he could do on a fantastic news story. How can it hurt?”

Mr. Goodwin himself was on vacation the week of Aug. 17 and was unavailable for comment. Ken Frydman, spokesman for the News , and Mr. Zuckerman declined to discuss the succession issue, and gave credit only to the News ‘ staff as a whole.

“Everyone involved with the paper that day did a great job under the most adverse conditions,” Mr. Frydman said, “from the editorial to the distribution to the production to the physical-plant staff, which made sure the power went running, both here and in New Jersey.”

She goes straight for Arts and Leisure, I check out the porn …

On Sunday, Aug. 17, The New York Times , as part of a special Arts and Leisure section devoted to DVD’s, ran an above-the-fold feature by Dana Kennedy entitled “The Fantasy of Interactive Porn Becomes a Reality,” accompanied by an enormous color photograph of two clothesless, sudsy women making out in what appears to be a hot tub.

But when it comes to adult-film stars, The New York Times seems better with faces than with names. While a story on the same page featuring Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz named the two actors, the caption accompanying the photo of the two women read only: “A scene from a pornography DVD. The new technology has changed the nature of porn movies: many have bonus features that let viewers direct.”

When contacted, Wunderkind Arts and Leisure editor Jodi Kantor referred the matter to Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis, who said: “We used the picture because it was the most appropriate of the several available to us. And we didn’t use the names because we weren’t given them. Since the story was about the genre and technology, not the actresses, we didn’t think the names were absolutely necessary, though more information is better than less.”

As a public service, Off the Record’s crack research department worked for, er, days to determine the identities of the Arts and Leisure cover subjects: The photo shows Vivid Video actresses Jenna Jameson (blonde, left) and Kobe Tai from their new film, Jenna Loves Kobe . The movie marks Ms. Tai’s return to adult film following a three-year break. It is also first time the two have worked together.

The Times’ enthusiasm for adult themes isn’t limited to blue movies.

Also in the Aug. 17 edition of The New York Times came a Week in Review piece by Times Hollywood chronicler and sometimes Gulf War embed Bernard Weinraub entitled, “This Story Is Not Rated R. Everybody Please Read It.” In it, Mr. Weinraub makes the argument that the PG-13 rating issued to movies by the Motion Picture Association of America is “now almost slavishly sought after, even by filmmakers who may have shunned it 20 or 30 years ago as too chaste.” He even goes on to cite the remarks of screenwriter Robert Towne, whom Mr. Weinraub recounts as saying that “Thirty years ago … he and other writers went out of their way to make R-rated movies, exploring adult themes for adult audiences. Mr. Towne, who won an Academy Award for ‘Chinatown,’ and wrote such 1970’s hits as ‘Shampoo’ and ‘The Last Detail,’ said the notion of writing a PG-13 film at the time appalled him and his friends.

“By all accounts, the wide release of ‘Jaws,’ the 1975 film directed by Steven Spielberg, incited the hunger among studios for PG-13 films,” Mr. Weinraub wrote.

Um, yeah. Here’s the thing: While the Motion Picture Association of America created the original PG rating in 1970, PG-13 didn’t come into existence until July 1984 (for those who don’t do math: 19 years ago, and nine years after the release of Jaws ). The first movie to appear with a PG-13 label was Red Dawn with the brilliant and unfairly forgotten C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze.

Mr. Weinraub was away and didn’t return an e-mail and phone call seeking comment. Alison Silver, Mr. Weinraub’s editor on the piece, likewise didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said she couldn’t check on the story before our deadline, but added: “If we were wrong, we will, of course, run a correction. That is our policy.”

Over its 49-year history, the Sports Illustrated cover curse has spelled misfortune for many of its featured subjects, bringing loss and injury to athletes and teams that were successful and happy and healthy only a week before.

(Off the Record still blames SI for the mighty Cincinnati Bengals’ last-minute collapse in Super Bowl XXIII, after the magazine featured Bengals fullback Ickey Woods pumping his fist on the cover. Thirty-four seconds. Thirty-four …. )

But recently, the very prospect of an appearance on the cover of SI appears to have worked its black magic.

For its forthcoming N.F.L. preview issue, SI had picked the mug of superhuman Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

“We had finished the cover shot,” said SI managing editor Terry McDonell. “We had finished a lot of things and were where we wanted to be.”

Then, on Saturday, Aug. 16, in a blow heard by fantasy-football general managers across the cosmos, Mr. Vick fractured his right fibula in a pre-season game against the Ravens. The moment it happened, Mr. McDonell began receiving e-mails from his staff as they pondered having to scrap the centerpiece of a project that takes months of reporting and research to put out.

“We all just felt really terrible for him,” Mr. McDonell said of Mr. Vick. “Hopefully, he’ll be back by the fifth or sixth game. Michael Vick can expect to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated at another point.”

Mr. McDonell declined to divulge the identity of the stand-in cover boy, though according to sources at the magazine, dreamy Rams quarterback Kurt Wanner is the likely choice. Condolences can be sent to Coach Mike Mantz c/o the St. Louis Rams, St. Louis, Mo.

Let John Burns have Baghdad. We have Michael’s.

On Sunday, Aug. 10, Pulitzer Prize winner (and Off the Record’s fellow Talawanda High School alum) Gretchen Morgenson came out with a piece entitled “Financial Disclosure, the Barry Diller Way” that, among other things, attacked Mr. Diller for making the earnings statements of his Internet conglomerate InterActiveCorp purposely complex, and charged that the company had inflated its earnings.

On Aug. 11, Mr. Diller shot back. In a letter to Times editors that he concurrently made public, Mr. Diller wrote: “It is unfortunate that newspapers-unlike public companies-appear not to be bound by the material misstatement and omission requirements of the federal securities laws.” ( The Times stands by its story.)

The following day, Tuesday, Aug. 12, Mr. Diller lunched at Michael’s, seated- surprise!-at a table adjacent to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

“Was it a happy accident?” Michael’s service director Bill Rhodes said. “No, I wouldn’t put it that way. It was just the way the way the tables fell.”

A spokesperson said Mr. Diller was unavailable for comment. Likewise, Mr. Sulzberger, through a spokesperson, said: “The only thing better than running into him at lunch would be having lunch with Barry.”