Having tumbled from the chair held by Turner Catledge and James (Scotty) Reston, Howell Raines, the ex–executive editor of The New York Times , is creating a Page Six atmosphere at his alma mater.
His 23-page autopsy report on his Times career-due out in the May Atlantic Monthly and widely circulating in preview form-owes its samizdat popularity to a pair of questions: What was he thinking? And who is he talking about?
Second question first: Mr. Raines may not have been much of a manager, but he’s no slouch as a blind-item writer: Which “respected veteran reporters” had higher correction rates than Jayson Blair? Which mid-level editor used his post at Arts and Leisure to bore the readers with his esoteric classical-music tastes? Which desk editor broke down under “normal deadline demands” and “wept in front of the staff that was looking to this person for leadership”?
Some have turned to other recent biographical tomes of Times lore, like Ken Auletta’s gigantic 2002 New Yorker profile of Mr. Raines. Could the music bore be Sunday Arts and Leisure editor John Rockwell? “Joe Lelyveld enjoys high culture-opera, concerts, recitals-and he had the like-minded John Rockwell edit the Sunday Arts & Leisure section,” Mr. Auletta wrote. “Rockwell is a gifted writer-and a former rock critic.”
Katy Roberts, the national editor, “complained loudly,” according to Mr. Auletta’s account, “sometimes tearfully, about having to undo assignments she had already made.”
Elsewhere, The Weekly Standard last year credited Adam Clymer and R.W. (Johnny) Apple Jr. with heavier correction rates than Mr. Blair.
Others are trickier. Many on the right, for instance, will be surprised to hear of the “small enclave of neoconservative editors” that ran around “making accusations of ‘political correctness.'” Present and former Times staffers place the cabal, such as it is, somewhere around the desk of then Metro editor Jonathon Landman.
“I can’t read the guy’s mind,” Mr. Landman said. If there are other candidates for membership in Mr. Raines’ reactionary fifth column, he adds, “I don’t know who they are.”
But on one occasion, Mr. Landman did accuse Mr. Raines of “political correctness”-when Mr. Raines asked him about the paper’s coverage of Augusta National.
“I told him I didn’t think it was too good,” Mr. Landman said dryly.
And now to the first question: What, for instance, occasioned Mr. Raines’ braggadocio about his Pulitzer performance in the Atlantic piece?
Mr. Landman granted Mr. Raines full and enthusiastic credit-“despite his churlishness”-for The Times ‘ victories in photography. But Times staffers point out that it was Mr. Lelyveld, Mr. Raines’ predecessor (and short-term successor)-who, Mr. Raines writes, had been making the paper “duller, slower, and more uneven in quality with every passing day”-who assembled the metro and national reporting crew that was on deck for the Sept. 11 attacks, for which The Times ‘ coverage won a record seven Pulitzers in 2002. It was the Metro desk that came up with “Portraits of Grief,” the series of short biographies of each person killed in the attacks; according to one source who worked on the ongoing (and prize-winning) feature, Mr. Raines was not an early fan.
That covers a big swath of the prizes right there. Then there’s the business desk, which Mr. Raines depicts as an uncompetitive backwater-especially on Sundays, when it was “put out with bits and pieces left over from the daily business report.”
“The Pulitzer jury felt that the Sunday business section, at least to some degree, was exceptional,” said 2002 Pulitzer-winner Gretchen Morgenson. The bulk of her winning entry, Ms. Morgenson pointed out, consisted of pieces from the Sunday section-regarded by the staff as prime real estate.
“I’m surprised Howell didn’t see it that way,” Ms. Morgenson said.
Here’s where Anne Fadiman, award-winning editor of the award-winning American Scholar , agrees with her apparently ex-bosses at the Phi Beta Kappa Society: Her time at the magazine has been a “great experience.”
Her apparently ex-publisher, Phi Beta Kappa secretary John Churchill, said he regards Ms. Fadiman’s tenure with “nothing but admiration and pride.”
The two also agree, harmoniously, that budgetary times are tight at Phi Beta Kappa, that the magazine has been running a deficit and that budget cuts “were necessary,” as Ms. Fadiman said. The deficit was $250,000 last year, on a $1.5 million budget, according to Mr. Churchill-and Phi Beta Kappa wants the shortfall cut in half.
The disagreement comes over the question of whether Ms. Fadiman, who has made the quarterly title a perennial contender in the American Magazine Awards, was asked to make those budget cuts. And whether she refused. And whether she’s been fired as a result.
By Mr. Churchill’s account, Ms. Fadiman presented an ultimatum in December, telling him that she wouldn’t be the editor anymore if cuts had to be made. Ms. Fadiman says that the question of her willingness to make cuts didn’t come up till March 23, when Mr. Churchill surprised her by telling her that he’d “been authorized to negotiate an amicable transition.”
Mr. Churchill said that he hasn’t heard from Ms. Fadiman since the meeting. Ms. Fadiman says that she’s been communicating-amicably-with Phi Beta Kappa president Niall Slater to sort out her status with the magazine.
Magazine contributors and staff express bafflement over the dust-up-particularly given the central role of cost-cutting. Ms. Fadiman’s tenure was marked, they say, by a phenomenal ability to stretch a dollar. As editor, she received a salary of $60,000 and used her talents to attract name-brand writers to work for a flat-rate $500 per story.
Novelist Nicholson Baker, a contributor to the magazine, said he reacted to the news by “walking around with my hands slackly at my sides, thinking, ‘What is going on?’
“My brow is furrowed in puzzlement,” Mr. Baker reported.
Ms. Fadiman, who worked on the magazine from her home in Western Massachusetts, evidently didn’t run up the deficit by flying the likes of Mr. Baker to Phi Beta Kappa headquarters in Washington, D.C., and discussing headlines over lunch at the Palm. In his work for the magazine, Mr. Baker said, “I didn’t feel right about charging The Scholar for my transportation, so I ended up swallowing some of that.”
One budgetary sticking point seems to have been a trio of part-time deputy editors-Bill Whitworth, John Bethell and Pat Crow-retained by Ms. Fadiman. The three epitomized Ms. Fadiman’s approach to The Scholar : a senior council of magazine editors, who brought decades’ worth of experience to bear for a combined salary of roughly $45,000 per year.
New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly veteran Mr. Whitworth, who said he’s been doing the work “for fun,” praised the standards Ms. Fadiman has brought to the magazine, saying her careful precision matched that of his old employers.
Boston College professor Carlo Rotella said his own book excerpt that ran in The Scholar received “the New Yorker treatment” from Mr. Whitworth. In cutting the piece from some 17,000 words to 8,000, Mr. Rotella said, he went back and forth with Mr. Whitworth “five or six” times and spoke on the phone with him some 25 times.
“Makes me wish my whole book had been edited by him,” Mr. Rotella said.
But the trio of editors, however cost-effective, represents an expense that previous American Scholar editors did without.
“We did not anticipate several years ago that we would have an editorial staff the size we have now,” Mr. Churchill said. No decision will be made about staffing levels until the editorial transition has been settled, Mr. Churchill said.
Such potential cutbacks, Mr. Rotella said, betray a “misunderstanding of what editing is.”
The magazine may be put out on an even thinner shoestring, he said, but it won’t come close to being the same magazine.
“If it’s half as good,” Mr. Rotella said, “they’ll be lucky.”
“If you’re calling in response to the article in the April issue …. ” said the voice mail at Details magazine on March 30. The recording didn’t need to specify which article was involved: The Web is swarming with invitations for outraged people to bombard the magazine with complaints over a one-page item in the current issue titled “Gay or Asian?”
The features a photo of a well-groomed Asian man with captions about his “bonsai ass” and “ladyboy fingers.”
Calls to Fairchild Publications to ask about the issue are being sent straight to the recording. Calls to Details spokeswoman Andrea Kaplan drew a blanket “no comment” and an advance e-mail copy of a message that Details will be printing in the letters page in May, which insists that the magazine values its readers “from all cultures” and that editors “appreciate the substantial feedback on this item that we have received.”
Never mind the fact that Details is the founding entry in the “Gay or Lad Mag?” category that appears to have reached its apotheosis, in these Queer Eye times, in the Condé Nast men’s shopping and lifestyle magazine, Cargo .
Why would Details foray into post-racial humor-under the distinctly non-Asian byline of Whitney McNally, yet?
“Probably tens of thousands of Asian people bought Details because this came out,” said Erik Nakamura, editor of Giant Robot Magazine . The item itself, Mr. Nakamura said, scarcely seems worth the trouble. “The ‘Gay-or-Something’ joke is getting old anyway,” he noted. Like Shaquille O’Neal spouting ching-chong gibberish at Yao Ming, “they’re just guilty of making a crummy joke.”