Off the Record

New York Times White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller is close to signing a deal with Random House to write a biography of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Bumiller plans to go on a yearlong book leave beginning in June. Reached by phone on Feb. 27, she confirmed her book plans but declined to discuss specifics.

“I’m writing a biography of Condi,” she said.

Amanda Urban, Ms. Bumiller’s agent, was traveling and unavailable for comment.

While the book project is good news for Ms. Bumiller, it has been less so for her husband, Times diplomatic correspondent Steven Weisman. Executive editor Bill Keller has told Mr. Weisman that he must relinquish the State Department beat to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest, since his wife’s book will cover the same subject area.

Mr. Weisman declined to comment on the proceedings.

In a written statement through a Times spokesperson, Mr. Keller explained that the decision was made because “perceptions can be damaging and distracting.”

“It was a judgment call,” Mr. Keller wrote. “Our concern was that while Elisabeth is striving for close access to the Secretary of State, anything Steve writes about her might be suspected of pulling punches. These are two professionals of the highest integrity …. And in this case the perception of a conflict is relatively easy to avoid.”

Outside books have become an increasing source of consternation for The Times. In December, the paper took a drubbing from both the right and left about the relationship between its N.S.A. eavesdropping scoop and reporter James Risen’s book on the topic—a connection that, depending on who was talking, demonstrated either a successful Times plot to promote Mr. Risen’s book or an unsuccessful Times plot to stifle the scoop.

Even more recently, star investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. turned down a top editing position in the Washington bureau to write an investigative biography of Hillary Clinton.

In this climate, The Times has tightened its policy for reporters who seek to write independent book projects. Currently, staffers who leave to write books must officially resign their positions and arrange with their supervisors to be rehired when they’re done.

Mr. Weisman has covered the State Department for the past three years, and according to Times sources, he’s in talks to transition to the economic-policy beat. Mr. Weisman is well versed in money issues: In 2002, Simon & Schuster published his book The Great Tax Wars: Lincoln–Teddy Roosevelt–Wilson: How the Income Tax Transformed America. For that, the marital-beat overlap was less of an issue; Ms. Bumiller was covering the White House at the time, but not the Woodrow Wilson White House.

Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman wouldn’t comment on the beat shuffle. “We haven’t made any announcements about Steve, whether or not he’s changing beats, and I’m not going to comment on internal matters,” Mr. Taubman said.

Some staffers see Mr. Weisman’s departure from the State Department beat as an unfair and overly cautious move by editors.

“They’re getting very tough with everybody,” a Times staffer said. “This is just one more way editors call the shots at The Times.”

—Gabriel Sherman

We showcase editors,” Martin Peretz said. Mr. Peretz, the owner and editor in chief of The New Republic, was on the phone from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Feb. 28, one day after changing the contents of his showcase. Editor Peter Beinart was out; Franklin Foer, 31, was in.

“We showcased Michael Kinsley,” Mr. Peretz said, “we showcased Rick Hertzberg, we showcased Andrew [Sullivan]. We showcased Michael Kelly. This is our destiny. I take that element of our history as a compliment.”

This switch is an amicable one. Later this week, Mr. Foer and Mr. Beinart will swap offices, with Mr. Foer moving three doors down into the editor’s corner office. Mr. Beinart will become an editor at large, while continuing to write the not-quite-voice-of-the-magazine “TRB” column.

At the meeting announcing the change, Mr. Beinart—who had spent much of last year out on book leave—said that if he stayed in his post, there was a danger “he would be mailing it in,” according to one staffer present.

“I was just losing some of my fire in the belly for the job,” Mr. Beinart said in a phone conversation. “The book period was partly an effort to get it out of my system. In a way, it had the opposite effect. I didn’t want to take this place for granted.”

During the book leave, Mr. Beinart talked to Mr. Peretz and co-owner Roger Hertog, expressing a mounting desire to pursue long-form writing instead of editing.

“During Peter’s book leave, we were on autopilot,” one staffer said. “We didn’t have an editor.”

“This is exactly what the magazine needs. It’s been dead lately,” another staffer said.

Shortly after Mr. Beinart returned from leave in January, Mr. Peretz approached Mr. Foer about taking over as editor.

“It was obvious Frank was the choice,” Mr. Peretz said. “His office was the office in which the staff congregated. Certainly, among the younger people on staff, he stood for the journalistic principles and objectives of The New Republic.”

“Frank is the only person who understands the magazine,” one staffer said.

At a magazine obsessed with rooting out error among Democrats, Mr. Foer may bring more of an opposition-party approach. Mr. Foer was instrumental, with Mr. Beinart away, for orchestrating a cover article titled “Welcome to the Hackocracy” and a parody of a travel guide, illustrating Washington’s G.O.P. strongholds.

And speaking of opposition, what about that Iraq War? “I don’t know what Frank thinks precisely about the war,” Mr. Peretz said. “I’m for the war. In certain ways, I’ve always had editors I disagreed with.”

“The broad consensus of the staff is, we’re deeply depressed about the broad course of the war,” Mr. Foer said. “That said, I don’t think the magazine is about to change its foreign-policy instincts.”

So: war abroad, peace on the home front?

“Marty and I, we’re not completely on the same page on every issue, but we have a lot of broad agreement,” Mr. Foer said. “I think there are places where the differences are pretty substantial. But he knows my work over time. I don’t need to pass any litmus test, because he knows me.”


February marked the two-year anniversary of Adam Moss’ arrival at New York magazine. How has New York fared? To find out, Off the Record used New York’s own “Approval Matrix” technology—sampling every third magazine cover of the Moss Era and evaluating its intellectual and moral performance. Our deliberately oversimplified guide to what falls where on our taste hierarchies is below.

—Matt Haber

Off the Record