“It’ll take a while,” Adam Moss, the newly installed editor in chief of New York magazine, told Off the Record. “People will be disappointed by the magazine for a while-only because the expectations now, I guess, are pretty high.”
It was Monday, Feb. 16, three days after Mr. Moss was officially taken off the payroll of The New York Times , where he had served as the cultural-coverage czar for six months after leaving his five-year position as the top New York Times Magazine editor. But the 46-year-old, dressed casually in a white shirt open at the collar with the sleeves rolled up, was still finishing up business on West 43rd Street. In his Times office, there remained a couple of moving boxes. A fake cover of The New York Times Magazine , which had been given to him when he left in October, had been updated so that the New York magazine banner was splashed across the top. Books lay flat where they fell together in the mostly empty shelves. It was hard not to sense that he was at the end stage of some amicable divorce with a spouse of long standing; as he moved his effects into the new office at 50th and Madison, mostly his mistress was on his mind.
Mr. Moss said his involvement with New York began innocently enough three to four weeks ago. He knew Bruce Wasserstein and New York Holdings chief executive Anup Bagaria were talking to various people around town, soliciting opinions on their new prize, when he got a call from Jack Berkowitz, an executive with the Wasserstein-controlled American Lawyer Media. Afterward, he and Mr. Bagaria met “very casually” in what Mr. Moss said didn’t feel like a job interview. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Bagaria suggested that Mr. Moss meet with Mr. Wasserstein-which Mr. Moss did.
“There wasn’t a job aspect to the conversation,” he said. “I wasn’t planning to leave here. Then they called me on Friday [Feb. 7] and asked me if I would have dinner with them on Sunday night. I started to smell something at that point.” New York announced Mr. Moss’ appointment three days later.
It’s been a decade, perhaps more, since New York generated the kind of emotion and conversation that it has in the past few months. First came word that Primedia-the Henry Kravis–led company that stripped and bled the magazine for years-was selling the former Sunday supplement to the Herald Tribune . When a gossip-driven media mob salivated at the thought of a consortium of Harvey Weinstein, Nelson Peltz and Mort Zuckerman swooping it up, in came Lazard chief executive Bruce Wasserstein with a $55 million check. Then, as we settled into the thought that Mr. Wasserstein and Mr. Bagaria would keep the talented but much beleaguered Caroline Miller on as editor, in stepped Mr. Moss, assistant managing editor and culture czar of The New York Times .
In doing so, Messrs. Bagaria and Wasserstein have guaranteed that New York ‘s actual physical product-the magazine itself-will be a topic of conversation for months, if not years, to come.
Under Mr. Moss, New York will be pored over in both the lower ranks of senior editordom in Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, and in the Manhattan corridors of editorial power-Michael’s, the Four Seasons. His reinvention of the brand will be the most watched since Tina Brown ran rampant in the offices of The New Yorker . But he needs time.
“It takes a while to imprint something like this. It takes actually longer than a monthly, because you have to put the magazine out. The job of thinking in the present and future simultaneously is harder. We’re going to move as quickly as we can-but also deliberately, smartly.
“New York is not Cincinnati,” Mr. Moss said. “And that is a gigantic difference. Think about the way people talk to each other: The conversation ranges from the 9/11 memorial to some sample sale where they got this great sweater, to what they thought of The Dreamers , to whether they’re for Bloomberg or against him. All of that happens within two minutes of conversation.
“New Yorkers have a lot of things going through their head at once,” Mr. Moss continued. “And the magazine needs to do as good a job as possible of reflecting the range of interests and passions New York has. New York is a highly emotional place, and it needs to be a highly emotional magazine.”
Oh, yeah, he’s on a mission. This is not “Let’s redesign the front of the book with some entry points.” Nor is it an attempt to draw younger readers with photos of unshaven men in $3,000 suits and sneakers. Mr. Moss is out to reinvent the city-magazine genre itself: the particular package of service and stories that New York created, that was then copied in Oklahoma City and Little Rock and Richmond and that, over time, has simply become unbundled. Under its former owners, Mr. Moss said, the magazine, “rather than continue to refresh and reinvent that genre … had started to imitate what other, lesser cities had done-particularly the service-package approach that was so much a part of the Primedia strategy.
“I think part of the problem with the way they did service is, it so overwhelmed the rest of the magazine that a lot of good journalism they were doing got obscured. The second thing is that the service itself was more encyclopedic-more like a directory than it was journalism solving particular New York problems.
“That strategy is sometimes very effective,” Mr. Moss said. “I have a lot of respect for what those editors and writers have been going through. Caroline Miller is a very good editor and a tremendous professional. She and her staff have been trying to put out the best magazine they could under a set of corporate directives that, in my view-and maybe also in their view-were misplaced.”
(The irony is not lost that, when asked what he liked about the magazine, Mr. Moss, in addition to its sales and bargains and shopping, pointed to two recent covers featuring a murder at Rao’s restaurant and the disappearance of Spalding Gray. Ms. Miller executed both under the auspices of the new ownership, a symbol of what the staff believed was Mr. Wasserstein’s confidence in her and her final break from the Primedia corporate dictates.)
That’s not to say service is bad, Mr. Moss said. But there’s a difference between what he deems the “encyclopedic” approach (500 best doctors, 2,000 best schools, 3,000,000 things you could do on the corner of 79th and Lexington with a banana and some gummy worms) and being an authority on “how to beat the system.”
“When Adam Platt tells me where I should eat,” Mr. Moss said, “I find it immensely useful. That’s valuable. All of that stuff is what New York magazine should always be about. And yet, it can’t be the only thing the magazine does. The magazine has always been a tricky balance, and that’s the fun of it: to balance out the service and the journalism and have it come from the same place-which is to say, have them come from an idea of what New York is and what New Yorkers are.”
Mr. Moss comes to the job with both promised largesse and flexibility. He said Messrs. Wasserstein and Bagaria gave him no specific dollar amount to play with, but that together had run through a number of “scenarios,” after which he was confident of adequate resources and support. Likewise, Mr. Moss said, he wasn’t given a template of what should or shouldn’t go in the magazine.
“Nor did I present them with any sort of template,” Mr. Moss said. “We just talked generally about values more than any kind of specifics-that New York was a magazine that needed to take its readers seriously. That it needed to speak from a sense of where New York is right now. That it needed not to coast on people’s nostalgic attachment to what Clay Felker created. That the conventions of a city magazine probably ought to be looked at.”
That city magazine, that city-perhaps to the chagrin of the 11 o’clock crowd at Elaine’s-is not Clay Felker’s New York . Ms. Miller, Kurt Andersen, Ed Kosner-every editor in chief who has come after New York ‘s founder and great avatar has labored under his legacy. His city.
“The main thing that’s in common with Clay Felker’s New York and the present New York is the sense of a place apart,” Mr. Moss said. “A place absolutely unlike everywhere else. The mistake the previous ownership made was that they tried very hard to make the magazine like everywhere else. And I suspect the editors railed against that.
“I can’t emphasize 10,000 times,” Mr. Moss said, “as I speak about the magazine they put out, that it had actually some really great things. But it was buried under what seemed a corporate idea. Now we have to dig it out.”
It will not be easy. As Mr. Moss observes, ” The New York Times was not in the lifestyle business” when Mr. Felker was building New York . There was no Internet. No Time Out . And the demands of a city magazine publishing weekly can’t be overstated. New York must move with the force of a newsweekly while giving its readers a blueprint on how to get by in one of the toughest cities on earth.
“The magazine needs to be a careful mix of a lot of things,” Mr. Moss said. “Information. Voice and reporting revelations. A magazine like New York needs as its main job to find things out that you didn’t know and want to know and that you need to know. That’s its main job.”
Mr. Moss could have died at The Times . A former editor at Esquire and editor in chief of the short-lived weekly magazine 7 Days , he edited The Times Magazine with distinction for five years before agreeing to become culture czar last August.
“I liked this job,” Mr. Moss said. “I didn’t like every aspect of it. But it’s true that the job description was too far removed from actually doing stuff, and I missed playing in the sandbox. I missed actually making something; I missed seeing my impact on something in a direct way. My impact was meant to have a kind of long-term effect, and, you know, I’m impatient.”
In his previous job, Mr. Moss filled two roles, according to Times executive editor Bill Keller: “creative rainmaker” and thinker on the culture sections of the paper, and the chief advocate for features, which often get lost in a paper that stakes its day-to-day existence on the strength of its foreign and political news.
“Both of these are roles that I’d like to have filled,” Mr. Keller said. “I’m not sure whether we fill them in one person or two. For the moment, [managing editor Jill Abramson] and I will probably spend a little more of our time dealing directly with culture, the book review, styles and so on. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.” (Mr. Keller said the plan Mr. Moss submitted to overhaul the culture sections through, among other things, additional personnel and space is currently with him and Ms. Abramson, and is being prepared for presentation by the business side of the paper.)
“I’ll come to miss a lot of things about The Times ,” Mr. Moss said. “But I’m a magazine guy. And if you’re a magazine guy, and if one of the legendary magazines is presented to you, and the opportunity is offered to rethink it and take it forward and the resources are there to do it right, what person with my DNA could ever turn it down?”
And now a word from The Observer culture reporter. Naomi Wolf is back in the news. Nearly two decades after graduating from Yale, Ms. Wolf is taking on her alma mater and the patriarchy, in the form of eminent literary scholar Harold Bloom. According to sources at New York magazine and Yale University, in the course of reporting an article slated to run in next week’s issue, Ms. Wolf has been claiming that Mr. Bloom sexually harassed her while she was an undergraduate 20 years ago.
Mr. Bloom didn’t agree to be interviewed for the New York magazine story, and he declined an interview with The Observer. Sources close to Mr. Bloom, however, told The Observer that the 73-year old Shakespeare scholar has called Ms. Wolf’s claims a “vicious lie.” These same sources also note that Mr. Bloom wrote Ms. Wolf a recommendation for a Rhodes scholarship when she was a Yale undergraduate, a scholarship which she subsequently won. When asked about the Rhodes recommendation letter and how it might bear on Ms. Wolf’s accusations against Mr. Bloom, a spokeswoman for New York magazine, Serena Torrey, said, “I can’t comment on the content of a story that’s not closed.” She described the story as “a broader examination of the way that Yale and institutions of higher learning handle incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment.” After being contacted about the controversy, Ms. Torrey called back to say that the article may not appear in next week’s issue: “It’s subject to a number of reviews. We can’t be sure when it’s running.”
Ms. Wolf declined an interview and issued a statement through Ms. Torrey: “My story will speak for itself.”
According to Yale University, Ms. Wolf approached the university last month with various requests. For one thing, she wished to explore filing a complaint of sexual harassment against Mr. Bloom. Helaine Klasky, a spokeswoman for Yale, said Ms. Wolf was told that “you are not permitted under Yale statutes to file sexual-harassment complaints 20 years after an alleged event occurred. There were policies and procedures in place when Ms. Wolf attended Yale and the alleged harassment took place, yet she did not avail herself of them.” (Yale has a two-year statute of limitations on such complaints.) Ms. Klasky said that last month Ms. Wolf also contacted the offices of Yale president Richard Levin and the dean of Yale College, Richard Brodhead, as well as the public-relations office, in the context of writing her article. Furthermore, according to Ms. Klasky, Ms. Wolf “requested an apology from the university, and was told that an apology could only be issued if wrongdoing was found-and unless one’s filed a formal complaint, there cannot be any apology.”
Ms. Wolf made her name as the author of the 1991 best-seller The Beauty Myth , and more recently has written books on motherhood and adolescent sexuality. Her notoriety seemed to have peaked when she famously advised Al Gore during the 2000 campaign, suggesting that he wear more “earth tones” in order to appeal to the women’s vote, and reportedly collected a monthly fee of $15,000 for her advice.
Sources close to Mr. Bloom said that Ms. Wolf never tried reaching the professor at home-his number is listed-but rather left specific, and potentially incendiary, phone messages with administrative assistants at his two Yale offices.
In her 1997 book Promiscuities, Ms. Wolf wrote about an unnamed college professor who placed his hand between her legs after showing up at her apartment to discuss her poetry. Other classmates, she claimed, had had similar experiences, but she thought she could resist. “My whole body, my whole self-image, once again, again, burned with culpability,” she wrote. “It felt so familiar: this sense of being exposed as if in a slow-moving dream of shame. I could practically hear my own pulse: What had I done, done, done?”
Ms. Wolf’s editor at New York, Joanna Coles, a former reporter for the Times of London , denied that Ms. Wolf had contacted Yale about a sexual-harassment claim. Ms. Wolf had been “working with a lawyer on this story,” Ms. Coles said. “She is fully aware of what is on the statute, and she had no intention at all of bringing a claim against Harold Bloom.”
Ms. Coles told The Observer that Yale had been uncooperative with Ms. Wolf in her efforts to report on its sexual-harassment policies. “She’s been back and forth trying to talk to people at the university for months and months,” Ms. Coles said. “She succeeded in talking to some of them, but she didn’t get the information that she was looking for.”
Ms. Wolf’s article landed during a particularly turbulent few weeks at New York magazine, with editor in chief Caroline Miller departing as former New York Times Magazine editor Adam Moss prepares to take over the reins.
Camille Paglia, who traded blows with Ms. Wolf in the early 1990′s over their radically different views on female sexual power, said she was no longer at war with Ms. Wolf, but was “shocked” to learn of Ms. Wolf’s accusations against Mr. Bloom, who is a long-time mentor of Ms. Paglia’s.
“I just feel it’s indecent that if Naomi Wolf did not have the courage to pursue the matter at the time, or in the 1990′s, and put her own reputation on the line, then to bring all of this down on a man who is in his 70′s and has health problems-who has become a culture hero to readers in the humanities around the world-to drag him into a ‘he said/she said’ scenario so late in the game, to me demonstrates a lack of proportion and a basic sense of fair play,” said Ms. Paglia, who is professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she said she helped institute that university’s sexual-harassment policies in the 1980s.
“At the beginning of the 90′s, people said, ‘Oh, Naomi Wolf, this great thinker,’” said Ms. Paglia. “But what she’s managed to do in 10 years is marginalize herself as a chronicler of teenage angst. She doesn’t want to leave that magic island when she was the ripening teenager. How many times do we have to relive Naomi Wolf’s growing up? How many books, how many articles, Naomi, are you going to impose on us so we have to be dragged back to your teenage-heartbreak years? This is regressive! It’s childish! Move on! Move on! Get on to menopause next!”
Since Ms. Wolf’s days at Yale-she graduated in 1986-the university has, like many of its counterparts, strengthened its sexual-harassment grievance procedures. In the late 1990′s, the university instituted a strict policy forbidding student-teacher relationships.
Sources at New York said that Ms. Wolf’s article was being fact-checked, and may change significantly in the next few days.
And now for Off the Record’s New Yorker scorecard update ….Nicholas Lemann, who’s in his second semester as dean of the Columbia journalism program, will return regularly to the magazine’s pages with a press column this spring. The column-called “Wayward Press”-revives the franchise established by the magazine in 1927 and once written by A.J. Leibling.
“When Liebling wrote the ‘Wayward Press,’” New Yorker editor David Remnick said, “he lived in a world of newspapers-scads of them-but no television to speak of, no 24-hour news cycle, no rumor-go-rounds on the Web that can tip a Presidential election. In addition to the reporting that Ken Auletta gives us, Nick is interested in, and wise and funny about, the language and mechanics of media today.”
In addition, Los Angeles–based writer Caitlin Flanagan will join The New Yorker as a staff writer. Since 2001, Ms. Flanagan has written essays and book reviews for The Atlantic Monthly , where she was twice nominated for the National Magazine Award. At The New Yorker , she’ll write pieces on “modern domestic life.”
“If it were possible to splice the DNA of Mary McCarthy and Erma Bombeck without the world exploding,” said Ms. Flanagan of her new gig, “that’s what I’m going for. I’m interested in the kind of keen social observation and-at times-caustically precise criticism of McCarthy, but my subject is domestic life. Middle-class Americans used to think of work as a burden and home life as a pleasure-but now people tend to think just the opposite. I’m interested in how and why that change took place. If a household is a tiny state-as, of course, it is-I want to be its chronicler.”