Office Politics Come Back to Haunt Life Editor Isolde Motley

Call it an even week for CBS News. On the one hand, the network rid itself of Susan Molinari, the human Quaalude of morning-show hosts. On the other hand, CBS News president Andrew Heyward disbanded the network’s investigative unit after only one year of operation. A noble experiment designed to supply the network’s evening news and news magazine programs with a steady flow of ambitious, long-form stories, the I-team supplied pieces to 60 Minutes , 48 Hours and the CBS Evening News on high-minded topics like the smuggling of Chinese immigrants into the United States and the cleanup of the Rocky Flats nuclear power facility in Colorado. The unit operated independently within the news division, and individual shows were charged for the cost of the pieces they used.

Sources within the unit say it was backed by John Klein, the CBS executive vice president and the executive producer of Bryant Gumbel’s Public Eye . But as that show faltered, Mr. Klein couldn’t provide the boosterism needed to keep the unit alive. (Mr. Klein is scheduled to leave Public Eye by the fall.) Mr. Heyward will distribute its producers between various news shows.

One CBS news producer upset with the changes read the breakup of the I-team as a signal of management’s waning commitment to long-form news. “They were frightened to death of any story that people had to watch for more than three minutes,” the producer said. “They’re playing to the lowest sensibility.”

CBS News spokesman Sandy Genelius disagreed strongly with that characterization. “CBS News’ commitment to long-form journalism has by no means waned,” she said. “We’re probably doing more of that now than we have before.”

You’ve got to hand it to Harry Evans. He left his glamorous post as president and publisher of Random House Inc. in 1997, under circumstances that can generously be described as requiring spin, to take the not-so-glamorous post of head tinkerer at Mortimer Zuckerman’s mini media empire. And though Mr. Evans earned a reputation as someone who could spin or charm or bully himself out of any bind, earlier this year he engaged in a publicity battle with the shiny-headed young British scribe Toby Young and got trounced. But just as it seemed his game was fading, Mr. Evans has won an old-fashioned media staring contest against a considerable foe: Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter.

The two men recently faced off over a planned profile of Mr. Evans by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Margolick, which was scheduled to run sometime this summer. Mr. Carter assigned the piece earlier in the year, not long after Mr. Evans started his new job under Mr. Zuckerman. The idea was to see how Mr. Evans was handling the transition from book publishing back into newspapers and magazines. “We thought it would be really interesting to see how these two were getting along,” Mr. Carter said.

Mr. Evans had other ideas; he told colleagues he thought he was being set up for a hit job. Though the two men ostensibly worked together under S.I. (Si) Newhouse Jr., chairman of Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., they never particularly got along. Their rift dates back to 1992, when Mr. Carter took over at Vanity Fair after Mr. Evans’ wife, Tina Brown, moved over to edit The New Yorker . Condé Nast lore has it that Ms. Brown didn’t exactly call the welcome wagon to greet her successor. According to one Vanity Fair source, Mr. Carter came to feel that Mr. Evans gave The New Yorker preferential treatment on Random House book serializations, to the detriment of his magazine. Suffice it to say, the two men kept contact to a minimum.

Fast forward to 1998: Mr. Carter’s been riding high at Vanity Fair (ad pages rose 12 percent in 1997 and are up substantially in 1998) while Ms. Brown’s New Yorker has floundered and Mr. Evans has had to leave Advance Magazine Publishers’ premises. So … when Mr. Evans finds out Vanity Fair wants to do a piece on his transition, he tells the writer that he won’t cooperate. “He told me from the outset that he wouldn’t be talking to me,” Mr. Margolick said. “His official explanation was that it was too early in his tenure.”

Mr. Evans remembers it a bit differently. “My suggestion was, isn’t there some serial killer or megalomaniac out there who’s interesting?” he said. Then he sent Mr. Margolick a note saying, “At least you won’t have to ponder how to make the piece balanced.”

Mr. Margolick said he found the note “patronizing.” “I don’t need anybody’s permission to do something I wouldn’t do otherwise,” he said. “I guess he thought this was funny.”

Mr. Margolick tried another tack. He asked intermediaries to help persuade Mr. Evans to give him an interview. But a few of those intermediaries reported back that Mr. Evans feared Mr. Carter was “out to get” him. (Mr. Carter denied that he was going after Mr. Evans and said it was “insulting” to impugn Mr. Margolick’s motives.) Not only did Mr. Evans decline the entreaties, he made sure that his allies didn’t talk to Mr. Margolick, either. Neither Ms. Brown nor Mr. Zuckerman would take the reporter’s calls. Mr. Margolick reported around the wall of silence and filed the profile in early May. “It’s extremely straight and extremely fair,” he said.

The piece was in the editorial pipeline at Vanity Fair when Mr. Evans played his trump card; he granted an interview to The New York Times on June 15 in which he gave an account of how he spends his time in Mr. Zuckerman’s shop–the very subject Mr. Margolick had hoped to discuss. Mr. Zuckerman ponied up a quote or two himself. Soon afterward, Mr. Carter spiked Mr. Margolick’s story.

Mr. Evans offered his own spin on the Times piece; he said he’d agreed to give the paper an interview as long ago as January and only snubbed Mr. Margolick because “I couldn’t break a promise.” Mr. Carter insisted that he tabled the Evans profile not because of the restricted access or the Times piece, but because, as it turns out, Mr. Evans’ tenure under Mr. Zuckerman hasn’t been interesting enough.

“I think readers find press stories in a magazine like Vanity Fair at the lowest end, so they better be good,” Mr. Carter said. “The fact is, there was nothing really happening.”

On this point, at least, Mr. Evans seems to agree. “I’m a well-drilled hole that’s not yielding any oil,” he said.

Attention, Stephen Glass: Call Dick Morris. Mr. Morris, the former Presidential adviser and call-girl patron, has been trying in recent weeks to contact Mr. Glass, the former New Republic writer who was fired for fabricating stories in the magazine. According to sources at Rolling Stone , which also published Mr. Glass’ work, a man identifying himself as Mr. Morris has been leaving messages on the company voice-mail system, offering his services as a kind of one-man support group for scandal survivors. In a distinctive nasal voice, the man has asked the magazine to forward his number to Mr. Glass, and has explained a desire to console and encourage the beleaguered young writer. Several staff members assumed the calls were pranks.

Contacted by Off the Record, however, Mr. Morris confirmed that he was indeed the caller. He said he hopes to speak to Mr. Glass for “humanitarian reasons.” He declined to comment further except to say that he not yet heard from Mr. Glass.

Richard Beckman, the successful, somewhat bigheaded publisher of GQ , recently ended a brief flirtation with Wenner Media Inc. Mr. Beckman left his perch at 350 Madison Avenue in mid-June to visit Wenner Media editor and publisher Jann Wenner and general manager Kent Brownridge at the company’s Sixth Avenue headquarters. A source familiar with the discussions said that Mr. Beckman was being courted for the post of group publisher of Wenner’s three titles, Rolling Stone , Us and Men’s Journal , but that he had turned down an offer to join the company. Mr. Brownridge disputed that account.

“Explicitly, emphatically, totally, resoundingly No ! There was no offer,” Mr. Brownridge said. “One guy shows up for one meeting in one building, and everyone in the industry gets atwitter about it.”

Mr. Beckman was more coy, if not modest, when asked about the talks. “Talent gets approached all the time,” he said, “I can say that I’m not leaving Condé Nast. I’m happy where I am.” GQ editor in chief Art Cooper had another explanation for Mr. Beckman’s decision to stay put. “He knew if he left, [Steve] Florio would break one leg and I’d break the other,” he said.

In other news, Anita LeClerc, longtime executive editor of Esquire , will be setting up shop as deputy editor of The New York Times ‘ House & Home section. Ms. LeClerc, who edited the Man at His Best section, as well as the brunt of Esquire ‘s style and service sections during her tenure, left the magazine in April after difficulties with editor in chief David Granger. She put her exit in such vivid perspective at the time that Off the Record feels obligated to bring it back for a repeat performance: “It was either that or grow a dick.” Give ’em hell, lady.

Recently distributed press editions of Cosmopolitan All About Men (an annual special issue) contain a short letter from Cosmopolitan editor in chief Bonnie Fuller that reads like a sexually charged haiku. “The effects of El Niño haven’t been all bad–it’s been raining men at Cosmopolitan . So let yourself get absolutely soaking wet!”

Towels, anyone?

Office Politics Come Back to Haunt Life Editor Isolde Motley