Raines Talk Show is Deconstructed by Times Staff

On Friday, July 11, Charlie Rose was doing a super-mingle with super-moguls at investor Herb Allen’s Sun Valley, Idaho, retreat when he received a call: Howell Raines, the deposed ex–executive editor of The New York Times , was prepared to sit in his studio for his first post-resignation interview. That afternoon. At 499 Park Avenue, in New York.

“We contacted through e-mail, through some mutual person, that we would like to talk to Howell,” said Mr. Rose, whose PBS talk show is on 223 affiliates, recounting events up to that point. “He’s been on the program a number of times and he’s someone I consider a friend.”

Mr. Rose quickly polished off the onstage conversation he was having with Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the edification of the moguls, hopped the first plane east, headed home to the East Side, showered fast and roared over to the studio an hour before showtime.

“He didn’t know what I was going to ask and I didn’t know what he was going to say,” said Mr. Rose.

The results were devastating: In an extraordinary conversation, Mr. Rose’s generic, pitch-black backdrop became a sort of Pinter chamber for the former executive editor of The Times . In a one-hour exploration of Mr. Raines’ resignation-Mr. Rose cited former Times managing editor Arthur Gelb as saying that if O’Neill or Arthur Miller had written it, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house, and Mr. Raines’ response was that as a Southerner, he would prefer Tennessee Williams-tragedy hovered in the studio.

Mr. Raines was clearly not ready to deconstruct: His glower was that of a man who had jumped back into the frying pan before he had healed. He got things off his chest he probably should have saved for the dinner table: He cited a “complacent” staff; he gave up his former boss, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.-who he said he hoped would not fall off his motorcycle -as having asked for his resignation, despite the paper’s statement; he blinked and swallowed when Mr. Rose asked him about the accusations of arrogance leveled at him in the way that he might not have after a week in St. Thomas with some umbrella drinks.

So even his more innocent statements about growing creatively in his 60’s-after all, this is the man wrote Fly-Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis -were later taken and whipped around various lampposts by an angry staff, as though by bringing up the name of Pablo Picasso he was comparing himself to him.

He slogged through the hour as though nails were driving up through the soles of his shoe into his bare foot. He went through each well-worn chapter-Jayson Blair, Rick Bragg-as dutifully as Nixon had with David Frost, until Mr. Rose asked him the $64 million question: Did the punishment fit the crime? And at that point, Mr. Raines was too far in the process to extricate himself.

Mr. Raines was steadfast in recalling the effect he’d had–his spiking of the paper’s EKG, the way his colleague Phil Boffey had called his fearsome game face “The Look,” like that of an “angry hawk,” the face of a man who pushed too hard.

For a media student, Mr. Raines hadn’t anticipated one of the main rules of TV: It will show your emotion no matter what words are coming from your mouth. In real TV time, Mr. Raines transformed his own image from that of a Faulknerian martyr-a tough but sensitive man whose departure brought tears to the eyes of even the most hardened reporters-into a defiant captain, certain of his mission, beaten but unbowed. From Gorbachev to Khrushchev, in real time.

By the time the show was transcribed into sentences on CharlieRose.com, his words became tiny darts in the fists of Times staffers in the building: The staff was lazy and resistant to change, entrenched in their “folkways,” and had “settled into a kind of lethargic culture of complacency.” To which his former champion, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., responded with a kind of cracker-barrel New England terseness: “There’s been no complacency here. Never has been. Never will be.” Ayup.

Mr. Raines also went off-message on his agreed-upon statement with Mr. Sulzberger about his resignation, saying he had been shoved and forcing Mr. Sulzberger to dance around the facts, saying only that the circumstances of Mr. Raines’ departure were “sad.”

Then the paper had to report on Charlie Rose’s interview as news. The Times ‘ internal-affairs reporter Jacques Steinberg quoted the interview in a Times story announcing Bill Keller’s hire as the new executive editor on July 15, bringing in Mr. Sulzberger’s contradiction of Mr. Raines’ version and describing Mr. Keller’s calm and home-loving personality as a direct contrast to the driven, dark description of Mr. Raines: “Mr. Keller’s soft-spoken public bearing-he sought at one point in yesterday morning’s ceremony to quiet the sustained applause for him, and later said, ‘this job is not about me’-stood in contrast to the public style of Mr. Raines …. At a ‘town hall’ meeting with several hundred members of the Times’s staff on May 14 … Mr. Raines acknowledged that many at the paper ‘view me as inaccessible and arrogant.'”

The Times became Pravda reporting on Khrushchev, the morning after he was deposed.

As for the Charlie Rose interview, it became one of the medium’s moments where electronic image turns to print turns to chiseled history. In another month or two, Mr. Raines could have come on like Robert E. Lee and wished the victors well; instead he looked like the general who lost Atlanta. “My analysis,” said Mr. Raines toward the end of the hour, “is it would be naïve to think if you come into a place as a change agent, with a mandate for change from the publisher, not to expect friction.” This was Mr. Raines’ verdict on himself, and it stuck.

For his part, Mr. Rose was circumspect: Mr. Raines, he said, is a friend, but Mr. Rose has “a lot of friends everywhere.” He said the show was “personal and dramatic,” but he declined to describe Mr. Raines’ mood before or after the event.

“I played a role and this was a great moment and I’m proud of what I did,” Mr. Rose said. “My job is not to judge him, but to raise the important questions.”

Tonight, a chaser: Mr. Rose talks with rap mogul, Russell Simmons. [13, PBS, 11 p.m.]

Thursday, July 17

This week, the producers of the Stone Phillips–faced Dateline NBC turn to the hallowed journalistic stables of Access Hollywood for a hard-boiled news exclusive: An interview with the future Ben and Jen Affleck-Lopez. Pat O’Brien will grill the couple about their J-Love and about Gigli , the film they made together. It’s being billed as Ben and Jen: A Dateline NBC Special .

Damned special! But can Pat O’Brien throw hardballs? Did Ben know about Jen’s W.M.D.’s?

“There were no restrictions or anything,” said David Corvo, Dateline ‘s executive producer. ” Access Hollywood has a different function than Dateline on a day-to-day basis, but we produced it. Our producers are cutting it and writing it with Pat.”

Mr. Corvo also said he used to work with Mr. O’Brien at a CBS Los Angeles affiliate called KNXT, where Mr. O’Brien covered the blood ‘n’ guts police beat.

Note: For you phoneticists who thought Gigli was pronounced “giggly,” or “jiggly,” it’s not. It’s pronounced ….

How the hell is it pronounced? [4, NBC, 10 p.m.]

Friday, July 18

1 If you’ve driven down the West Side Highway lately, you’ve no doubt caught sight of the huge billboard for Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street . The man is GIANT! Forty-five feet high to be exact.

In an e-mail message from an undisclosed vacation spot in Mexico, Mr. Rukeyser said of his epic visage: “In the immortal words of the great Asian philosopher, Hideki Matsui, when asked how he felt about seeing his enormous image displayed on a Japanese airliner, ‘My head was too big already.'”

That’s very humble, Lou, but you know your old buddies at PBS never would have paid for that! [15, CNBC, 8:30 p.m.]

Sunday, July 20

6 Can NYTV make a little suggestion to Snoop Dogg and his MTV show, Doggy Fizzle Televizzle ?

Get Martha Stewart on your show. And then change the name to Martha Stizzle Omnimizzle . And then step aside. [20, MTV, 10 p.m.]

Monday, July 21

When the Emmys for TV news were announced on July 14, publicists for news orgs across the dial trumpeted their victories-CBS News, embarrassed by their recent new low in ratings for the CBS News with Dan Rather , practically did a leaflet drop about their 19 nominations.

Of course, Rupert Murdoch’s crown jewel, Fox News, took a different tack: This year, they aren’t submitting any nominees! Fox News chief Roger Ailes considers the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, official Emmy-issuers, to be something other than fair and balanced.

“We advised the … board that we were dropping our membership,” said Sharri Berg, the vice president of news operations, “because after year after year of being snubbed and none of our work being nominated, we decided to end our participation and save our money.”

Ms. Berg said the order came directly from Mr. Ailes, who along with Ms. Berg, didn’t see the use of spending $14,000 on entry fees to see their 35 or so nominees go winless. They’ve been submitting since 1997.

The Academy told Variety that Fox News simply wasn’t submitting enough entries.

But there was a bright spot, said Ms. Berg: “In reverse proportion to ratings, MSNBC has the most nominations.” By that logic, she said, “we’re happy.”

Tuesday, July 22

On the eve of July 4, Robert M. Batscha, the galvanizing longtime president of the Museum of Television and Radio, died of leukemia at age 58, stunning nearly everyone who knew him. He had kept his 12-year struggle with the disease a secret, which, in retrospect, makes his accomplishments all the more amazing: In the 21 years that he ran the museum, Mr. Batscha managed not only to fulfill the original vision of CBS’ founding father, William S. Paley-who died in 1990-but to become the true, beating heart of the institution.

After Paley died, Mr. Batscha oversaw the completion of the Philip Johnson–designed edifice on West 52nd Street, eventually growing its collection of archival material from 5,000 programs to 100,000, and establishing a sister museum in Los Angeles in 1996. Mr. Batscha went far beyond Paley’s original idea of a “broadcast” museum, widening the museum’s mandate to include radio, cable TV, international programs and even Internet programs. He created an International Council which has met in London, Rome and Madrid. He met with Chinese leaders in Beijing last year.

“He was one of those people who thought very big,” said Morley Safer, the 60 Minutes correspondent and Mr. Batscha’s close friend for more than 20 years. “And you know, this probably is the most cynical of industries when you think of it, and Bob wouldn’t have any of that. He regarded television and broadcasting as more serious than the people who are in it. And I think the constant carping and moaning about television, partly by people who are in it–if there’s one thing that really pissed him off, it was that refrain. He saw it as a reflection of society at its best and worst. Maintaining that extraordinary archive was as important as any anthropology museum or any art museum or any archeology museum.

“Broadcasting is us, in a certain way,” added Mr. Safer.

Mr. Batscha made actors, politicos and media bigs see that Us was Them: The list of names on the museum’s board of trustees-Henry A. Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Barry Diller-testifies to his ability to persuade.

“When you hear that there’s a Museum of Television and Radio,” said Alan Alda, another trustee, “you approach it with not nearly the understanding of what it can be to all of our lives as you do after you worked with Bob a while.”

Friends described Mr. Batscha as erudite, dapper, funny-he told great dirty jokes, according to his friend Tom Fontana, executive producer of Homicide and creator of HBO’s Oz -and his easy yet persistent bonhomie helped him squeeze time and massive money out of the tightest of C.E.O.’s.

“I used to shudder when he was on the line because he always needed money for something,” said Bob Wright, the chairman and chief executive of NBC. “I had to admire him because he was a determined individual. He had a polite way of constantly asking you for things. That’s not an easy job, with all the egos he had to deal with. Your hand is always out.”

“I used to joke like that actor in Casablanca ,” recalled Sir Howard Stringer, the chief executive of Sony. “I’d start checking my pockets to see if they’d been picked.”

Conceived and engineered by Paley in 1975, the museum existed in a converted office building on East 53rd Street for many years. Mr. Batscha, the son of immigrants who had a doctorate in political science, was handed the museum from its first president, Robert Saudek, in 1982, but until the new building was erected in 1991, he largely toiled in Paley’s shadow.

“He had a tough time in the early days,” said Mr. Stringer. “It wasn’t easy working for Bill Paley, building his legend. Bob was very calm and very methodical and very charming.”

Now the museum has become a simultaneous institution on both coasts, creating cultural memory in an age where it evaporates fast, a museum practically without walls, where David Letterman’s writers come to seek out Ernie Kovacs’ programming for inspiration and students study Brown vs. Board of Education by watching network news reports on segregation. Mr. Alda said he took his grandchildren to see an episode of M*A*S*H that he wrote for his father and brother. 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace said that the children of his former TV partner, producer Ted Yates–who was killed in the Six Day War in 1967, and whose widow Mr. Wallace eventually married–visited the museum to see their father’s work.

“When his kids wanted to see some of the stuff their dad had done-he had three boys-there they were,” Mr. Wallace said. “It was astonishing. Anytime you wanted to hear or see something, somehow it was there. They just got everything. And Bob-he’s the guy who did it.”

Mr. Batscha knew exactly why the museum would thrive; he saw that television images and radio recordings could be archived with the intelligence of a genuine cultural institution and could add up to something like a history of the 20th century-the first century to be seen and heard-and the 21st. It was a payment to a culture that allowed him to become the man he was and that he deepened by not only explaining it, but replenishing and invigorating it. The museum became a focal point Mr. Batscha constructed to show Americans the catalyst that television and radio were-a catalyst that not only reflected change, but created it throughout the world. And in his life he came to embody that very catalyst, as a cultural executive who changed the very society around him. Through the years, the institution became inextricable from the visionary, jolly, hard-driving intelligence of the man who made it.

“In a curious way, if you think in the long term, maybe 150 or 200 years from now,” said Mr. Safer, “when they want to see what we were laughing at and what we were listening to and what we regarded as important, it’s an interesting record. That museum could have been one of those little obscure establishments that the industry supports to praise itself, and he made it into a very, very important institution.”

Tonight, Joel Stein acts as guest programmer at avant-cable channel Trio and runs 1978’s Battle of the Network Stars . But you can head down to the Museum of Television and Radio and watch Edward Murrow and SCTV if you’d like. [102, Trio, 7 p.m.; museum hours: Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m, Thursdays, until 8 p.m.]

Raines Talk Show is Deconstructed by Times Staff