Graydon Carter, the star-struck bon vivant editor of Vanity Fair magazine, has crossed a line that no journalist can afford to cross, and few would dream of crossing. As has been recently reported, Mr. Carter has been taking money from the movie people his magazine covers in its pages-thereby severing the relationship of trust that any reputable magazine or newspaper must keep with its readers. The moment Mr. Carter accepted a $100,000 payment from Universal Pictures-money he received in return for suggesting that the book A Beautiful Mind be made into a movie- Vanity Fair as an institution threw in the towel on its claims to journalistic ethics.
What Mr. Carter did was unconscionable. Reporters and editors are free to be on the take from their story subjects-but at that moment, they have declared their interest: Their fealty is to their sources, not their readers. By placing his own self-interest ahead of the integrity of his magazine, Mr. Carter has permanently tainted the fruits of whatever success Vanity Fair has enjoyed during his 12 years as editor and made its motives suspect to its readers.
The secret payoff arose from a conversation Mr. Carter had with his friend Brian Grazer, chief executive of Imagine Entertainment, in which he noted that A Beautiful Mind -which went on to win the Academy Award in 2002-would make a good movie. According to The Los Angeles Times , Mr. Carter later let it be known that he felt he deserved a handsome “finder’s fee” for his initial suggestion. And indeed, a year and a half after the movie came out, he received a consultant’s fee of $100,000-leaving the impression of Mr. Carter as a shakedown artist, with a Universal check in the pocket of one of his custom-made Anderson & Sheppard suits.
Both Mr. Grazer and his partner, Ron Howard, have been consistent recipients of favorable Vanity Fair coverage; both were “New Establishment power brokers” in 2002 and 2003, congratulated for “their places atop the Hollywood pantheon with the best-picture Oscar for A Beautiful Mind .” When accepting the Oscar, Mr. Grazer thanked Mr. Carter in his speech; as The New York Times reported, a few days before the ceremony, Mr. Carter had told producer Joel Silver, “Brian better thank me if he wins.”
This isn’t the only example of Mr. Carter profiting financially from a business on which his magazine pretends to be an honest reporter. Paramount Pictures paid him $12,000 for a small part in its upcoming remake of Alfie , a movie Vanity Fair has already started plumping up, publishing a photo of the film’s star, Jude Law.
One imagines the talented Mr. Carter-who edited The New York Observer for a time-thinks he has already put this mess behind him; he has a way of fleeing and leaving others holding the bag. When a small Canadian literary magazine he ran hit the skids, Mr. Carter left investors to pick up the pieces. And when he’d had enough of Spy magazine-the satirical monthly he founded with Kurt Andersen-he left just as abruptly, not having the grace or manners to give Mr. Andersen a heads-up. Like so many who affect the surface approximations of the upper class-we can’t help but remember Lord Conrad Black-the tweedy Mr. Carter has, it seems, bypassed considering the inner disciplines that make a true calculation of a gentleman.
Not content with a $1.5 million salary, his exorbitant expense account, chauffeured Lincoln Navigator, Greenwich Village townhouse and Connecticut country house, Mr. Carter’s needs have exceeded his grasp. Will Condé Nast chairman Si Newhouse allow one of his company’s most majestic magazines-built, in part, by Mr. Carter’s vision and ambition-to be perceived as an attached appendage to the movie business? Does anyone think that Mr. Newhouse would have much patience with David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker , if he learned that Mr. Remnick was on the take from a political slush fund? And how should the American Society of Magazine Editors-which has, in the past, bestowed six National Magazine Awards on Vanity Fair during Mr. Carter’s reign-regard the magazine when it’s time to cast its votes next year?
If E. Graydon Carter, Hollywood Oscars host and occasional editor, wants to be in the movie business, there’s probably a place for him. Countless ex-journalists have headed to the coast in the past, certain that the power they had accrued in the press would float them through studio deals and onto great wealth; believing, as Herman Mankiewicz once wrote to Ben Hecht, “Millions are to be grabbed out here, and your only competition is idiots.” But once they got there, their platform of print abandoned, they generally found themselves alone in a silent, sunny office, their telephone calls unanswered. Mr. Carter looks to have one foot in that sunny, silent office, a copy of Mr. Newhouse’s Vanity Fair reminding him of the price of cashing in your integrity.
Pataki Loses, City Wins
It’s not often that good news for New York City flows down the Hudson River, but such was the case several days ago when the state’s highest court approved a bond-refinancing plan that will save the city hundreds of millions of dollars.
Though foolishly contested by the Pataki administration, the plan will free up about $500 million a year over the next five years, further stabilizing the city’s finances. It’s another important step for the Bloomberg administration in its effort to rebuild the city treasury after the post-1990’s economic downturn and the catastrophe of 9/11. The mechanism is complex, but the essence is clear-the city will be relieved of old debt, while the state assumes the responsibility of paying off new notes, at an annual cost of $170 million over 30 years.
It’s hard to believe that Governor George Pataki fought this plan, which the State Legislature approved last year, for nine months. Rather than accept the fact that Albany had come up with this innovative way of helping the state’s economic engine, the Pataki administration brought the issue to the courts, and they lost every argument, culminating in a 6-0 decision by the State Court of Appeals.
Mr. Pataki still insists that the plan is “wrong.” No, it’s the Governor who is wrong. And the Governor is wrong to avoid making hard decisions about how he will restructure the state’s school-funding formula-as the courts have ordered-to give New York City’s schoolchildren the education they deserve.
Midway through his third term, the Governor is showing signs of exhaustion and poor judgment. He may be Governor, but when it comes to New York City, he is a genuine clown. The city pays $2 billion more in taxes to the state than it receives in state aid each year; Mr. Pataki is well aware that the city is in fact carrying the state. Upstaters and suburbanites may not believe that, but the Governor knows better. Doesn’t he?