“We believe that insurgents, or whoever these people are, read Web sites,” New York Times foreign editor Susan Chira said.
It was Sept. 20, the day after The Times had confirmed that reporter Fakher Haider, one of its Iraqi stringers, had been abducted and killed in Basra. It was the second murder of a journalist who’d worked for The Times in that city in two months—both times reportedly with the perpetrators dressed as police or presenting themselves as police.
Ms. Chira said that it was too soon to tell what connection, if any, Haider’s Times work may have had to his death. “To be completely honest with you, we’re still trying to understand completely what the circumstances are,” Ms. Chira said. The paper, she said, would “be making inquiries.”
Before now, if The Times wanted to know the details of an incident in Basra, it would have turned to Haider, 38, for assistance. He had been part of the paper’s nationwide network of frequently anonymous reporter-fixer-correspondents, its eyes and ears in places where it could be difficult or dangerous for Western reporters to work.
Haider “knew the lay of the land and didn’t sort of attract attention,” said Times executive editor Bill Keller.
For the Baghdad bureau, which hired Haider at the outset of the invasion in 2003, the loss was deeply personal. “It’s devastating,” Times Iraq reporter James Glanz said, reached on the phone while stateside in New York. Mr. Glanz said that Haider had been his companion on a number of major assignments. They had covered the elections together, he said, and had taken a “pretty elaborate reporting trip” to witness the restoration of the marshes in the south.
Haider had also, Mr. Glanz said, worked with him on a piece that ran in the Week in Review section this past February—in which Mr. Glanz described Basra as a tranquil and secure city that “seems to be in a different country from the grim battlefield that much of Iraq has become.”
“It was just the closest thing to normal reporting you could find,” Mr. Glanz said.
Five months later, The Times published an Op-Ed by freelancer Steven Vincent, describing the deteriorating conditions in Basra. Two days after that, in early August, Mr. Vincent was seized in the street and killed; his translator, Nouraya Tuaiz, was shot and wounded.
Times reporter Kirk Semple, also in the U.S. at the moment, said he went to Basra for a week in August, doing reporting for a yet-to-be-published story about Mr. Vincent’s murder. Haider accompanied him.
It was clear, Mr. Semple said, that the mood in the city had taken a turn for the worse. “It was a fairly tense assignment,” he said—requiring him to walk into interviews with unfriendly officials, on their turf.
“Without Fakher, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” he said.
As with other Iraqi stringers, Haider’s contributions to The Times were sometimes anonymous. But on some occasions, his name would appear on his work—including a story that ran on Sept. 19 (with his name spelled “Hadar”), the day his body was found.
Mr. Glanz recalled Haider as a good-natured and talkative companion—“a wry sort of guy”—who habitually wore a jean jacket. He had made himself an integral part of The Times’ news operations, despite limited English. He would file dispatches in Arabic, Mr. Glanz said, and staffers in Baghdad would translate.
“He had a Western side that was about 30 percent of his personality,” Mr. Glanz said, “and an Iraqi side that was about 70.”
Mr. Glanz said that Haider had a knack for securing interviews and assistance through an elaborate network of friends, relatives, and friends and relatives of friends and relatives. “If that didn’t work, then Fakher cracked jokes,” he added.
Mr. Glanz said that Haider might not necessarily secure a requested appointment at the specified hour, but he would secure it. “He’d joke about being on Arabic time rather than Western time on those occasions,” he said.
Despite his mature age, Mr. Glanz said, Haider had the character of a freshly minted young reporter. The fall of the Baath regime, Mr. Glanz said, “gave Fakher an opportunity, and he took it. And he was a brother in the trade.”
Next week marks the second anniversary of the arrival of much-gossiped-about gossip columnist Lloyd Grove at the Daily News. But his tenure at the Mort Zuckerman–owned tabloid may not extend through a third year.
Sources familiar with the circumstances of Mr. Grove’s hiring say that the scribe has been working under a two-year contract, which began in September 2003. That deal would expire at the end of this month. According to Daily News sources, the talk inside the paper is that Mr. Grove is in contract negotiations with News executives.
Both Mr. Grove and Daily News editor Michael Cooke declined repeated requests for comment on the Lowdown columnist’s contract status. Mr. Zuckerman said through a spokesperson that the paper doesn’t comment on personnel matters.
Mr. Grove’s first Lowdown column appeared in the News on Sept. 29, 2003, a day after The New York Times ran a 1,600-word piece on his arrival from The Washington Post—where he had served as the Reliable Source columnist for three years. At the time, Mr. Grove denied reports that he had signed a three-year deal with the News worth $250,000, calling such accounts “false.”
Change the numbers to $225,000 and two years, and you may be closer to the actual terms, according to a source familiar with the hire.
Mr. Grove isn’t necessarily perceived as a fixture on the New York gossip scene. For months, Slate’s Mickey Kaus has been using his Web log to nag the Los Angeles Times: “Hire Lloyd Grove.”
Coincidentally, Daily News staffers noted that Mr. Grove had traveled frequently to Los Angeles.
“Grove has a girlfriend out here,” wrote Mr. Kaus on Feb. 27 of this year. That relationship has since ended, associates say, sometime around the end of the summer. Mr. Grove hasn’t returned to L.A. since.
Mr. Kaus—a proponent of rear-wheel-drive cars and of Democrats bucking teachers’ unions—isn’t necessarily a prophet of the actual. But the West Coast Times, which currently has no gossip column at all, could offer wide-open space to a cramped New York scribe.
And since the addition of Mr. Grove, the gossip beats inside the News have gotten as crowded as the elbow-filled lane at Madison Square Garden. Unlike the New York Post, at which the prime gossip gets channeled through Richard Johnson’s Page Six empire (while Cindy Adams and Liz Smith work their respective niches), the News has no clear hierarchy. Mr. Grove leads off the section with one page, then Rush and Malloy—the franchise gossips before Lowdown’s arrival—follow with a page-plus spread. Throw in Ben Widdicombe’s Gatecrasher column and it’s hard to know where to turn for what kind of gossip, or where each column falls on the ladder.
According to News insiders, Mr. Grove’s column has heightened the jurisdictional confusion by steering into entertainment froth, away from the politics-and-media material that made up his portfolio in Washington. Editors, sources said, have had to arbitrate scoops when the two columns have reported similar items.
Last summer, insiders said, the overlap grew so frequent that editors instituted a formal traffic-control system. Now, when columnists wish to cover particular events, they put in requests in advance, and editors make assignments.
“We were stepping on each other’s toes,” a News gossip staffer said.
But one gossip denied those accounts, saying that “we’re all surprisingly cordial, considering that we’re nominally competitors. There’s really no behind-the-scenes drama.”
Whether Mr. Grove stays or goes, in one sense, his column has been pulling a vanishing act all along. When it first appeared, Lowdown sometimes ran to 1,100 or 1,200 words and rarely dipped below 800. Mr. Grove’s longest column last month was 899 words, and one of his efforts checked in at 651.
Forget athletes or Hollywood ingénues: Lately, Condé Nast’s fashion and shipping titles have been turning to the Good Gray Lady for inspiration. On newsstands this month, the October Domino pops into the kitchen of New York Times Magazine food editor Amanda Hesser.
Besides offering advice for entertaining (“Always invite a gregarious person to sit mid-table”), Ms. Hesser gives an auto-aspirational lifestyle survey of some of her favorite edibles and kitchenware, complete with price tags.
The Times foodie recommends dousing ice cream with La Colombe coffee ($11.25 per pound from lacolombe.com), tells about serving eggs with chorizo ($8.50 at tienda.com) as an appetizer, and praises her 31¼2-quart “modern white” Le Creuset casserole (“If I could only have one piece of Le Creuset, this is it”; $135.99 through cooksworld.com). She even works in one of her trademark puffs for a celebrity chef’s product: “I read about Edmond Fallot Dijon mustard in Thomas Keller’s cookbook Bouchon.”
“I think it’s unfortunate,” Times standards editor Allan M. Siegal said of Ms. Hesser’s Domino appearance. Mr. Siegal swiftly cited Paragraph 59 of the paper’s Ethical Journalism Guidebook as the governing rule. That passage specifically forbids Times writers and editors from offering “endorsements, testimonials or promotional blurbs for books, films, television programs or any other programs, products or ventures.”
But despite the rule—and despite the open question of who would want step-by-step instructions on how to emulate the life of a Times staffer—there has been a steady flow from West 43rd Street over to 4 Times Square.
Then–deputy Arts and Leisure editor Ariel Kaminer took her turn as Times person-turned-consumer-muse for the August edition of Lucky. Over four pages, the magazine explained how a “culture-savvy New York Times editor” manages her wardrobe through a week: “Kaminer looks for pieces that are professional without being somber, feminine but not overly girly.” The piece ended by laying out an assortment of clothes (a $355 Diane von Furstenberg cardigan; a $187 pair of Seven for All Mankind jeans from Scoop) and then combining them on seven days’ worth of tiny head-to-toe images of Ms. Kaminer (“Wednesday: cashmere top + wool pants + suede heels + leather satchel—lunch with a writer”).
Ms. Kaminer was followed by war correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman, who appeared in the debut issue of Men’s Vogue, standing between The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson and Fox News’ Christian Galdabini. For the occasion, Mr. Gettleman wore a $795 Burberry jacket, $495 Dolce & Gabbana sweater, and $50 pants from the Gap.
Ms. Kaminer declined to comment on her Lucky appearance; Ms. Hesser didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
As promised for months, on the morning of Saturday, Sept. 17, The Wall Street Journal became a part of New Yorkers’ weekends. For Journal reader Billy Hutchinson, it was an indirect process.
Mr. Hutchinson, a 42-year-old trader, was holding a copy of the paper’s new Weekend Edition at the Soho Starbucks. But he confessed to scavenging it—he subscribes to the Journal at his office on weekdays, he said, but never got around to giving the paper a home address for weekend delivery. “I guess I’ll get my copy on Monday morning,” he said.
A few tables over, another Journal reader, Abdul Seck, a 33-year-old financial risk manager, said he had recently canceled his weekend subscription to The New York Times in anticipation of receiving the weekend Journal at his Nolita apartment. “I’ll probably still buy the Sunday Times,” Mr. Seck added.
The red-framed Weekend Edition logo was popping up around the city on the paper’s first morning. So were a few stories of readers—10 percent of subscribers, by the paper’s estimate—who hadn’t yet arranged to get their copies at home. Marty Kenny, a real-estate developer from Hartford, Conn., had The Journal at a sidewalk table at the Caliente Cab Co. Mexican restaurant on Seventh Avenue South. But Mr. Kenny said he’d been forced to make a run to the newsstand that morning, because he hadn’t yet set up weekend delivery.
At an uptown Starbucks on Columbus Avenue, however, investment banker Scott Whitworth was holding his own home-delivered copy. Mr. Whitworth said he welcomed The Journal’s weekend foray.
“Sometimes [ The Journal] plays catch-up with everything that’s happened since Friday,” he said.
Michael Devito, a supervisor for the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, was reading The Journal’s editorial section at the Sony Plaza on West 56th Street. Mr. Devito, 46, said his usual Saturday newspaper diet consisted of the New York Post, but his Journal had been free. “They’re giving out huge stacks of them at Rockefeller,” he said.
How’d he like it? “It’s interesting,” Mr. Devito, 46, said. “They still have their regular editorial section. I like their editorials because they’re right of [the] Senate.”
According to a Journal source, the Weekend Edition rolled off the press without any printing or production snafus. The staff had prepared for the event with a pair of simulated closes earlier in the month. Employees from the weekend paper’s centerpiece lifestyle section, Pursuits—including lame-duck Condé Nast–bound deputy managing editor Joanne Lipman—gathered at the Tribeca lounge Dekk after the editorial close. By 11, they were passing around early copies fresh off the presses.
One night earlier, the Journal had held its public rollout party, on the second floor of the Standard Oil Building in lower Manhattan. Attendees entered the party through a hallway covered with an artificial-turf putting green, while sounds of chirping birds were piped in, à la the Masters, for added atmosphere. Around the corner, a video-golf simulator continued the simulated-leisure-time theme.
In the main party space, servers wearing aprons with the new edition’s motto—“Have a Brilliant Weekend”—doled out miniature hamburgers cooked on electric grills. A bartender poured pints of imported English ale.
At the rear was another room, island-themed, featuring a row of beach chairs. Another nature recording—the peaceful sloshing of waves—battled the raucous beats leaking in from the dance floor.
Dow Jones chairman Peter Kann was across from the burger stand, expressing optimism for the project. “I don’t want to exaggerate,” Mr. Kann said, “but we’re the only company making a commitment to print.”
And speaking of commitment, what about Ms. Lipman’s recently announced plans to jump ship to Condé Nast? Mr. Kann downplayed the impact. “I’m a big fan of Joanne,” he said. “But overall, [Pursuits] has been guided by [ Journal editor] Paul Steiger and a lot of others.”
Mr. Steiger, meanwhile, said that despite the focus on Pursuits and its lifestyle coverage—cue crashing surf!—the new six-day week would be good for the news desks. “We’re not running away from news,” Mr. Steiger said. “Friday is often a heavy news day. A large part of why we’re publishing on Saturday is so we can break more news.”
—G.S.; with additional reporting by Brad Tytel, Erin Coe and Nicole Pesce
New York Times pundit standings, Sept. 13-19
1. Frank Rich, score 25.0 [no rank last week]
2. (tie) Maureen Dowd, 22.0 [rank last week: 1st]
Thomas L. Friedman, 22.0 [4th]
4. Paul Krugman, 12.0 [3rd]
5. John Tierney, 10.0 [6th]
6. David Brooks, 9.5 [7th]
7. Nicholas D. Kristof, 6.5 [5th]
8. Bob Herbert, 2.5 [2nd]
The TimesSelect pay-for-content experiment is underway. And in science-fair terms, the New York Times pundits who published on Sept. 19 are like the tomato plants grown in total darkness. During the last six days of free access, the paper published 13 columns by the Op-Ed columnists—and 12 made the Most E-Mailed list. On the first day of restricted access, it published two pundits’ columns—and neither one made the chart. Sorry, Bob Herbert and Nicholas D. Kristof!
Even as the pundits’ scores begin to shrivel, though, The Times offers them a bit of cheer. Now that the old system of charging for access to articles more than a week old has been superseded by TimesSelect, the Web site includes a new, third version of the Most E-Mailed list—this one covering the past 30 days. On that one, the pundits occupy 19 of the top 25 slots. Oh, weren’t those the days!