As of this week, the pundit class has a new and well-connected member: Tamara Chalabi, the daughter of Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Ahmad Chalabi.
Ms. Chalabi, fresh off a Harvard Ph.D. in history, has a book due out next month, The Shi’is of Jabal ‘Amil and the New Lebanon, from Palgrave Macmillan. On Dec. 12, Slate began publishing a daily diary of her reports on her father’s campaign for prime minister.
Besides her family ties, Ms. Chalabi has some powerful help on the launching pad. Washington über-hostess Juleanna Glover Weiss, a registered lobbyist at the Ashcroft Group and a former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney, has set out to introduce Ms. Chalabi to editors.
Ms. Glover Weiss—whose soirées draw media and political figures from Campbell Brown to Paul Wolfowitz—met with Ms. Chalabi two weeks ago at a Caribou Coffee in downtown D.C. The get-together was the suggestion of mutual friends at Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey, the lobbying firm that employs Jeffrey Weiss, Ms. Glover Weiss’ husband.
Mr. Weiss currently represents Mr. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress.
Since the meeting, staffers at The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Hotline have received entreaties from Ms. Glover Weiss on her new protégée’s behalf.
Ms. Glover Weiss said the advisory arrangement is informal, and that Ms. Chalabi isn’t paying for her networking services.
“She clearly has a strong academic background and has interesting things to say about the role of religion in Middle Eastern society,” Ms. Glover Weiss said by phone on Dec. 13. “I was happy to help her get to know folks.”
On Nov. 15, Ms. Chalabi’s father attended a party that the couple hosted for Entifadh Qanbar, the deputy military attaché to the Iraqi Embassy, at their $1.5 million Washington home; other guests included Richard Perle, former C.I.A. director James Woolsey and Christopher Hitchens.
Ms. Glover Weiss said she had not read the Slate diary and had not contacted editors at the online magazine.
“There is clearly a dearth of female commentators on the Middle East,” said Ms. Glover Weiss. “That, combined with her intellect and access—I thought someone would find that very useful.”
At lunchtime on Dec. 8, New York Times Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman assembled his staff in the bureau’s conference room and informed them that Washington editor Kate Phillips, his No. 2, would be leaving.
“We were told he made the decision on his own and that was it,” a staffer who attended the meeting said. “We weren’t given any reasons.”
Mr. Taubman had asked Ms. Phillips to vacate her post two days before. The move was unaccompanied by the usual fulsome senior-staff-change Times memo. No one declared that Ms. Phillips, who had been in the post only 14 months, was jumping at an exciting new professional opportunity.
“I would love to have stayed,” Ms. Phillips said by phone Dec. 12. “The staff is extremely talented. And Washington is a great place to work.” She declined to discuss the terms of her departure.
Mr. Taubman declined to discuss his decision. “When I’m ready to talk about it publicly, I will,” he said.
The ouster came four days after Mr. Taubman traveled to New York to meet with executive editor Bill Keller and managing editor Jill Abramson to address a growing concern at The Times that the bureau is slipping.
Earlier this month, chief Washington correspondent Todd Purdum announced that he was leaving to become national editor for Vanity Fair. Reporters Jeff Gerth and David Rosenbaum have both applied for The Times’ buyout package.
The Washington outpost, perennially tense toward New York, scored a victory in the whole Judith Miller affair—seeing its alumna turned nemesis Ms. Miller reduced from martyr to pariah and eventually cast off, carrying away the bulk of the blame for the paper’s blown coverage of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
But the bureau has fared less well against its competition outside The Times. In recent weeks, some inside the paper have seen the Washington office as falling behind on major stories, including The Washington Post’s report on secret C.I.A. detention sites in Eastern Europe and the Los Angeles Times’ report on the United States’ propaganda campaign to plant stories in the Iraqi media.
According to Times sources, the Washington bureau had had reporting underway on the propaganda effort, but the L.A. Times beat it to the scoop.
So the editors were meeting to discuss bolstering D.C. coverage, especially investigative work about national security.
“Bill and Jill are concerned internally that if they don’t address areas of the paper that have been lagging, that will end up being part of their legacy,” a senior New York staffer said. “They were too slow to take action on Judy, and they don’t want to be slow anymore.”
Mr. Keller and Mr. Taubman have a long history together. Sixteen years ago, Mr. Taubman was Moscow bureau chief when Mr. Keller, then a foreign correspondent, won a Pulitzer for coverage of the Soviet Union. Mr. Taubman was deputy editorial page editor when Mr. Keller wrote a column for the page.
Mr. Keller declined to comment.
According to multiple Times sources, Mr. Taubman maintains that Ms. Phillips’ departure is not connected to the larger changes being planned for the bureau. As Washington editor, Ms. Philips was known for working 14-hour days and being closely involved in day-to-day operations—more aggressive and abrasive, bureau sources said, than the reflective and cerebral Mr. Taubman. Her relationship with the bureau chief was collegial, bureau sources said, and the two didn’t visibly spar.
Mr. Keller and Ms. Abramson have offered Ms. Phillips a position back in New York, someone involved in the proceedings said.
Staffers see the editors as looking for a Washington deputy who can direct investigative reporting. At the lunchtime meeting announcing Ms. Phillips’ departure, Mr. Taubman spent the bulk of the time outlining the bureau’s future. According to people present, the bureau chief said that the paper would seek to beef up enterprise reporting conducted out of Washington.
Mr. Taubman didn’t announce a replacement for Ms. Phillips, but he has told staffers that he would consider splitting her duties among multiple positions.
According to a source who has spoken to people involved in the proceedings, veteran investigative reporter Don Van Natta has been offered the Washington editor slot. Mr. Van Natta declined to comment, but multiple Times sources said he is semi-publicly mulling whether to take it. Mr. Van Natta is also currently discussing possible book projects with Mr. Gerth.
“I’m exploring various options,” Mr. Gerth said, “and the details of those options are personal, private matters as long as they are in the discussion phase.”
Despite the setbacks, the bureau has been breaking stories. Most recently, Douglas Jehl reported on Dec. 9 that U.S. coercion of Al Qaeda suspects may have led them to fabricate claims of Iraq–Al Qaeda links to escape harsh interrogation tactics.
“The Washington bureau is always in the position of being the neurotic child,” a bureau staffer said. “He keeps getting told he’s doing fine, but at the same time feels he’s not doing fine.”
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