Wall Street Rift: Journal Reporters Reject Gigot Line

071706 article otr2 Wall Street Rift: Journal Reporters Reject Gigot LineThe Wall Street Journal news staff can live with occasional opposition from the paper’s editorial page. What it can’t live with is the editorial page’s support.

“People feel like we’re walking around with knives in our backs,” one news staffer said. “We rely on our editors to stick up for us. There’s really a feeling we’ve been left to twist in the wind.”

The initial wound came June 30, when The Journal’s editorial page praised reporter Glenn Simpson’s handling of the news of the Bush administration’s secret program of tracking international bank transfers. The editorial described Mr. Simpson, unlike the perfidious reporters of The New York Times, as having received the story from the Treasury Department, which was willing to “offer him the same declassified information”—because, the editorial conjectured, the administration “felt Mr. Simpson would write a straighter story than the Times.”

Journal sources said that editorial-page editor Paul Gigot produced that characterization of the paper’s news operation without speaking to Mr. Simpson, Washington bureau chief Gerald Seib or managing editor Paul Steiger. Instead, Mr. Gigot consulted with a Treasury spokesperson. Mr. Steiger was not even aware the editorial was running, according to a Journal source, till he saw a front-page blurb promoting the piece late in the day on June 29.

A Journal spokesperson said the information in the editorial was sourced to the Treasury Department, not the newsroom. “[T]he editorial based its assertion that the Department of the Treasury contacted Glenn on information attributed to a Treasury spokesman,” the spokesperson said.

The wall between news and opinion has traditionally been a tall and sturdy one at The Journal—with missiles lobbed over it. The editorial side has never been afraid to pick its own facts to support its arguments, even if those facts conflict with the ones reported in the paper’s news columns. Nor has it been reluctant to attack Journal reporters for writing stories that disagreed with its editorial premises, as when it downplayed the Enron scandal while Journal reporters were documenting the corrupt energy giant’s downfall.

“They’re wrong all the time. They lack credibility to the point that the emperor has no clothes,” said one staffer whose reporting has been at odds with an editorial crusade.

But the current disputed facts concern The Journal’s own news-reporting practices. And the news staff has viewed the editorial as an outrageous presumption—made worse by Mr. Steiger’s lack of a public response.

“To have Paul Gigot as our captain is bullshit,” one staffer said. “It’s not for real.”

“I’ve been here 16 years, and in my 16 years, this is something different,” political reporter Jackie Calmes said.

At a July 5 meeting in the Washington bureau, Ms. Calmes urged her fellow staffers to take action in response to the editorial. Currently, the staff is drafting a letter of protest to Mr. Steiger. “It could be one sentence: ‘We object,’” Ms. Calmes said. “It doesn’t have to go into chapter and verse. But I was just throwing it out there. I’m not instigating it. I’m not going to take the lead.”

Neither is Mr. Steiger. A Dow Jones spokesperson said that the paper doesn’t comment on its reporting and editing decisions. In an e-mail, Mr. Steiger noted that the editorial had explicitly not speculated about whether or not the news operation would have held a story if the administration had asked it to. “That said, the edit page is free to comment on anything it wants to comment on,” Mr. Steiger wrote. “The news department is free to write about anything it considers newsworthy, which on rare occasion has included the activities of The Journal’s edit page. The edit pages expresses opinions. The news pages do not.”

Mr. Gigot, meanwhile, has continued pushing his message. On July 9, on Fox News’ Journal Editorial Report, Mr. Gigot repeated the characterization: “[T]he news side was fed it …. The news side of The Journal was given the story because … [the administration] wanted to affect the way that this story was portrayed.”

According to Journal staffers with knowledge of the situation, Mr. Simpson, who is based in Brussels, had been working for months on a story about government monitoring of the international banking system operated by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT. On June 22, Mr. Simpson was in Washington when a Treasury source tipped him that The Times would be publishing a piece on the subject, according to Journal sources. Mr. Simpson delayed a flight back to Belgium and raced to put out a piece on deadline, posting one online minutes after the Times story went out. The Journal, The Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post all had SWIFT stories in the next day’s papers.

Mr. Gigot forwarded requests for comment to a spokesperson, who said that The Journal doesn’t comment on editorials.

Mr. Simpson declined to comment on the editorial. “All I’ll say is, people should make up their minds if I’m anyone’s lackey, or whether the piece should have run or not, based on what I’ve written during my last 11 years at The Wall Street Journal,” he said.

“Glenn Simpson brought great insight and context to our account of the Swift program,” Mr. Steiger wrote. “Mr. Simpson has done this a number of times in recent years. He has broken a number of stories on international terrorism finance and tax legerdemain that have won praise from readers and at times elicited objections from governments, companies and libel plaintiffs in Washington and around the world.”

But the news staff isn’t looking for Mr. Steiger’s endorsement—it’s looking for him to reject the editorial page’s endorsement.

“What I said is, ‘How could any reader take away anything but the fact that [the editorial page] had talked to people on the news side?’” Ms. Calmes said. “I’m unhappy. I know a lot of other people are unhappy. The question is: What do we do about it?”

skinnyblueline Wall Street Rift: Journal Reporters Reject Gigot Line

How far has the world turned when the anarchists are with The New York Times? They were from the New York Metro Alliance of Anarchists, a small handful of them, standing on the north side of West 43rd Street on July 10—their backs to the wall of the New York Times Building, blowing whistles and jeering at the larger anti-Times demonstration across the street.

The main demonstration, packed in behind metal police barricades, was more numerous—about 70 heads at its peak—and substantially louder. A treble-heavy public-address system sent the speakers’ remarks clattering across the hard, charmless space between the Hilton Theater (where Hot Feet is playing) and the sullen pile of The Times. Occasionally, a bus bound for the Port Authority would pass in front of the sound rig, gently muffling the blast.

But there was plenty left to blast The Times about between buses. The speakers, using the bed of a black Ram 1500 pickup as their podium, had convened the demonstration to denounce The Times for publishing news of the government’s secret bank-monitoring program. “What The New York Times is doing borders on treason,” announced Rabbi Aryeh Spero, of Caucus for America.

It was an oddly delicate choice of wording—but what Mr. Spero was seeking was a prosecution under the Espionage Act. Most of the signs and slogans didn’t bother with “borders on.” Either way, the banking story was only the jumping-off point for a sort of jazz improvisation of grievance. The building across the way, various orators said, was “a temple of Babylonian decadence,” a bastion of the “smug” and the “arrogant,” people with “transnational” loyalties, people who “think Americans are rednecks.” The word “latte” came up frequently.

“You go around in your fancy limousines—liberal limousines,” Mr. Spero declared. The protesters, by implication, took the subway: “We have to worry about terrorism and you’re aiding the terrorists.”

The Times folks were in limousines—that is, if they were in Manhattan at all. “I’m sorry, it’s July,” Mr. Spero said. “They’re out in the Hamptons!”

Other speakers included Debra Burlingame, whose pilot brother died on American Airlines Flight 77 when it hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and Roy Innis, of the Congress of Racial Equality. But the real work of carrying the rally fell to Mr. Spero and Beth Gilinsky of the Jewish Action Alliance, who returned to the microphone again and again, modulating and amplifying and extemporizing with the relish of old-fashioned politicians on the stump.

Ms. Gilinsky, blond with black sunglasses, sounded in her fury like an improbable cross between early Patti Smith and South Park’s Sheila Broflovski. “I grew up with you!” she told the Timespeople hidden inside their building. Inadvertently, she quoted Suicidal Tendencies: “I went to your schools …. I know everything you are.”

“I know you from the Upper East Side,” Ms. Gilinsky said, “and the Upper West Side and Long Island and the beaches of East Hampton and Southampton. I know you.”

There is something in attacking The Times for everyone. Apart from the main body of protesters, a man drifted back and forth across the street with a hand-scrawled sign: “NYT Used Eminent Domain to Get Their New Building.” Another man, with straggling gray hair, quietly taped handbills to the front of the building accusing the paper of “covering up for a still-unknown number of crooked casinos.”

At one point, the protesters would serenade the building with a chant of “Boring! Boring!”

Ms. Gilinsky even found an accidental point of agreement with Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. “Pinch, Pinch, pinch me, wake up, Pinch!” she taunted. “What kind of stupid name is that for a Jewish boy?” She had the publisher’s religious affiliation wrong, but his own loathing for the nickname is on the public record.

“You’re just an old gray lady and you might as well drop dead and die,” Ms. Gilinsky told The Times.

The speakers kept going. The anarchists heckled. A fire truck passed down the block, drowning everything out. The demonstrators paused, then applauded it.

Two different protesters were dressed as Osama bin Laden. Osama No. 1 wore black Converse sneakers and carried a messenger bag. “It was my idea,” he said, of dressing up. “I couldn’t find a mask.” He wore a fluffy light-gray beard on a string and a long off-white robe.

Osama No. 2 looked more like the real Osama, only short, with a big, bulbous nose. He wore a camouflage-patterned laundry bag torn open to make a fatigue vest, worn over a long white garment he bought at “a Judaica store.” His beard, very professional and full, came from a costume shop.

An hour into the protest, Mr. Spero—after invoking Tokyo Rose and Benedict Arnold—went ahead and called The Times a “traitor.”

Ms. Gilinsky attacked the paper for writing that the latest fashions were “more boyish.” “Don’t you realize that there’s a war on?” she asked.

Mr. Spero took another turn, then Ms. Gilinsky came up again. “Please don’t cover this event,” she said, addressing The Times. “You’ll make us into people that we never were, but that you wish that we would be.”

Craig Whitney, the Times standards editor, came out of the building unrecognized by the demonstrations. Mr. Whitney turned and walked east, in the direction of the beaches of Southampton, or the Times Square subway station.

—Tom Scocca and Choire Sicha

skinnyblueline Wall Street Rift: Journal Reporters Reject Gigot Line

On July 10, at breakfast time, the newest Condé Nast cafeteria opened for business. The eatery is on the second floor of 750 Third Avenue, the home of the former Fairchild Publications.

Fairchild was absorbed into Condé in September 2005. The cafeteria is a ceremonial embodiment of the changeover: It was designed by Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, under the eye of W creative director Dennis Freedman—just as Frank Gehry did the cafeteria at 4 Times Square, working with Condé Nast’s then editorial director, James Truman.

(Disclosure: This reporter will be absorbed by Condé Nast later this month.)

Staffers enter the cafeteria down a hallway with translucent lighted walls. The internal lamps pulse with a revolving palette of muted hues, part lava lamp and part Rorschach blot. Only a handful of people were present at 9:30 on the opening morning, chatting over breakfast in the near-empty space. The ceiling is finished in sleek aluminum, studded by rows of recessed lights.

“Someone said it was like a Mariah Carey video. It’s sort of like a spaceship,” one diner said.

Oh, the food: Inside the cafeteria, staffers can choose from a fruit salad bar, selections of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, croissants from Balthazar bakery and berry smoothies. On the north side of the serving area, chefs in toques prepare omelets to order, along with egg-white frittatas and egg-and-cheese sandwiches. Beverage coolers are stocked with sodas, juices, Vitaminwater and Total Greek Yogurt.

Beyond the checkout kiosks, the 150-seat eating space is finished in ivory walls and slate floors. Rows of circular tables have interlocking cutouts, like Venn diagrams. The chairs are sculpted and modern. Three-quarter walls, with more pulsing lights, break up the space.

The north wall of windows, looking over East 47th Street, is shielded by metallic-colored blinds, billowing calmly in the breeze from air-conditioning vents. Private dining alcoves line the west and south walls.

To promote the cafeteria’s grand opening, Condé Nast is running a week of promotions. Monday was Trans-Fat-Free Muffin Day, where staffers could select from complimentary blueberry, corn or bran muffins. The rest of the week’s freebies: bottles of Aquafina water on Tuesday, berry parfaits on Wednesday, Balthazar croissants on Thursday and organic Stonyfield Farm Yogurt on Friday.

One 750 Third Avenue staffer likened the new space, unenthusiastically, to a mid-90’s nightclub. But another reacted positively to the opening: “The old West 34th Street space was like a prison cafeteria. This is a major, major upgrade.”

But, this being Condé Nast, some things need to be worked out.

“They need to get the two-percent yogurt,” the staffer said.

—G.S.

skinnyblueline Wall Street Rift: Journal Reporters Reject Gigot Line

The new Hearst Tower is close to being completely tenanted. On July 17, the editorial staffs of Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping and the business staff of Town & Country are due to move in, finishing the transfer of Hearst’s New York–based consumer magazines to the building.

But the angular, Norman Foster–designed glass-and-steel shaft, thrusting out of William Randolph Hearst’s old Art Deco headquarters on Eighth Avenue, is not quite completed. Employees entering the pleasure dome’s giant lobby/atrium have noticed that the three-story waterfall in the lobby—Alph, the sacred river—is periodically dry.

According to Hearst real-estate director Brian Schwagerl, the waterfall, which flows below the escalators, is still in the testing phase.

“The building itself is not opening until September,” Mr. Schwagerl said. “All of these people were told they’d see work unfold before their eyes.”

So the attractions have been coming online in stages, since the occupants began arriving in April. The cafeteria, Café 57, opened in mid-May and is currently serving more than 900 meals a day. The 14th-floor gym opened last month as well. On July 11, the 168-seat theater held its first event, a speech from Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black to the summer interns.

Mr. Schwagerl said workers are still calibrating the computer software that operates the waterfall. The aim is to regulate the flow of water down the slope so that it produces the right burbling sound—neither a gush nor a trickle—and proper ambient humidity level as it passes around hand-sculpted glass outcroppings. The whole thing is fed by a 14,000-gallon holding tank in the basement of the building, filled with collected rainwater.

Mr. Schwagerl said that even though 200 construction workers are still working on the premises, everything is on track for the September official opening.

“It’s been on more and sooner than we expected,” he said.

—G.S.