Deposed New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, sidelined and mostly silent after his eviction last June from West 43rd Street, is throwing himself back into the action. On March 24, The Atlantic Monthly will begin allowing the press to get a preview look at the cover story of its May issue, a gargantuan piece by Mr. Raines pondering his former place of employment.
The piece will check in at something greater than 20,000 words, according to The Atlantic. That’s some 2,500 words longer than Ken Auletta’s mammoth New Yorker profile of Raines. Or, by Atlantic standards, it means Raines gets to spend one-third as much space picking through the wreckage of his own career as William Langewiesche spent picking through the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
For a man whose exit came off with all the subtlety of a stadium-implosion ceremony, it’s been a stealthy return. The story was conceived and executed under blackout conditions at The Atlantic, with access to the copy restricted. The Daily News broke word of the piece’s existence last week, but no cascade of juicy details has followed.
Indeed, as of Tuesday, some corners of The Times remained unaware that Mr. Raines was about to weigh in on their paper’s bruising past-and, according to The Atlantic, its future.
“It was not a story that we wanted to have leak out in bits and pieces, so we certainly took care in that regard,” managing editor Cullen Murphy said.
Mr. Murphy declined to comment on how the piece came to be assigned, pending its unveiling.
Mr. Raines’ low profile, while everyone else in and around the Jayson Blair disaster was signing a book deal, had led to newsroom speculation he’d signed some sort of no-tell agreement on his way out the door. Apparently, Mr. Raines was just saving his opinions for the right moment.
“It’s really the first time that Howell Raines has spoken out at all publicly since the Charlie Rose show,” Atlantic spokesperson Julia Rothwax said. That was the TV appearance in which Mr. Raines described himself as the inheritor of a “lethargic culture of complacency.”
Yet while Mr. Raines stood accused of hopeless tone-deafness as Times editor (Augusta National, anyone? Anyone?), he appears to be showing an astute sense of timing in his role as Times expert.
Even as the Blair book tour has revived the memory of last year’s debacle, it has subtly recast the story. The fall of the Raines administration resulted from Mr. Blair’s mendacity (or, among more compassionate souls, Mr. Blair’s personal demons). The months of backbiting and dysfunction that helped set up the coup have faded in the glare of Mr. Blair’s celebrity.
Meanwhile, the standards of journalistic scandal have been bumped up considerably. Last week, USA Today revealed that its star reporter, Jack Kelley, had invented several Hong Kong movies’ worth of incident in his dispatches: drowned Cubans, gunned-down Palestinians, bomb-severed heads rolling in the streets.
Mr. Blair’s forged datelines and fake sit-down interviews seem suddenly quaint-and Mr. Raines’ purported white liberal guilt seems unremarkable, as editors’ biases go.
Now, it’s hard to remember exactly why the man got fired.
In New York magazine’s March 15 Martha Stewart wrap-up, the newly re-enlisted Kurt Andersen wrote the lead essay, which compared the Stewart case to the plot of a 19th-century novel. The ex-editor particularly invoked Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, drawing parallels between Sam Waksal and Trollope’s Augustus Melmotte, Ms. Stewart and the novelist’s Lady Carbury.
It was a resonant point of comparison-not so much from Ms. Stewart’s point of view as from New York magazine’s. “The Way We Live Now” happens to be the name of the front-of-the-book section of The New York Times Magazine, born under the editorship of Adam Moss.
Here things again get novelistic: Mr. Moss is now editing New York. Hugo Lindgren, who left New York to work for Mr. Moss at The Times Magazine-on “The Way We Live Now”-has followed Mr. Moss back to New York.
And Ariel Kaminer, who likewise left New York to edit “The Way We Live Now” for Mr. Moss at The Times, had a byline of her own in the Martha Stewart package. Ms. Kaminer, currently an editor with The Times’ Arts and Leisure section, declined to discuss her appearance in her former employer’s pages, or whether it might lead to anything else.
The Times ethics handbook discourages work for competitors, including any newspaper or magazine that focuses on New York City. “Ariel Kaminer was unfamiliar with our rules, and she did not have permission to write for New York magazine,” Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis wrote via e-mail. “She has been familiarized with our policy.”
Ms. Kaminer wouldn’t be the first or most famous Times figure to be linked to the new regime at New York. The Daily News recently reported that powerhouse Times culture columnist Frank Rich is talking to Mr. Moss about coming on board. In Mr. Moss’ Superfriends approach to staffing, it’s not clear that anyone would be off limits.
New York spokeswoman Serena Torrey said she couldn’t comment on personnel moves, beyond promising “a lot of exciting additions to the staff in the weeks and months to come.”
The Times has not put any restrictions on Mr. Moss’ ability to raid its staff, if he so chooses. Times editors don’t sign contracts, Ms. Mathis explained. “He did not have any kind of formal separation agreement,” Ms. Mathis wrote in an e-mail to Off the Record, “or any agreement that would prevent him from recruiting Times people.”
The Times is more accustomed to being the destination planet on career trajectories than it is to serving as a launching pad. But the more The Times strives to include magazine-style cultural coverage in its pages-Mr. Moss’ jurisdiction in his previous job as The Times’ culture czar-the further it ventures into the marketplace of magazines. There, loyalty can be a more flexible proposition. And the No. 1 broadsheet is not necessarily the No. 1 outlet for a writer who wants to be a star.
Mr. Moss, after all, had already reigned as the editor of The Times Magazine. Then he rose to his czarship. And then-having already been promoted at The Times-he jumped at the chance to run New York. The up-and-over move may have been amicable and situational, not a deliberate statement about Mr. Moss’ former magazine post, but it neatly captures the vicissitudes of magazine work.
“The world of young magazine editors is sort of a fluid one,” said Times Magazine editor Gerald Marzorati. The Times Magazine, Mr. Marzorati added, is set up in some ways to encourage their free flow. “We don’t have a masthead,” Mr. Marzorati said. “We don’t have a visible way of rising within the magazine, the way other magazines do.”
So, Mr. Marzorati said, after budding story editors have sharpened their chops at The Times, “it doesn’t surprise me that other people want to hire them for their magazines.”
Through Ms. Torrey, Mr. Moss said that there’s a long tradition of mobility between magazines, newspapers “and things in between.”
“At some level, journalism is all the same,” he said in a statement.
O.K. Well, Mr. Marzorati? Has New York come a-calling? Offering a chance to write the crossword, maybe?
“No,” Mr. Marzorati said.