Time Takes A Huey: Editor Kelly Rises, Successor Chosen

Dear Reader: If you’re really curious, leave this newspaper, go straight to our Web site, www.observer.com, right now, and behold

Dear Reader: If you’re really curious, leave this newspaper, go straight to our Web site, www.observer.com, right now, and behold the new managing editor of Time magazine! Time Inc.’s editor in chief, John Huey, as we went to press Tuesday, May 16, planned to name him or her Wednesday morning.

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The current managing editor, Jim Kelly, is moving on to an executive position with Time Inc., in which, among other things, he will navigate the legal shoals of contemporary First Amendment law.

“I’m not a lawyer,” Mr. Kelly said. “To some degree, I’ve had to act like one the last year or two.”

Mr. Kelly was on the phone the afternoon of May 16, after returning from lunch with Mr. Huey. That morning, Mr. Huey had announced that Mr. Kelly would step aside as managing editor of Time magazine in June and become managing editor of Time Inc.

After weeks of speculation about the future of Mr. Kelly and Time magazine, the first shoe had dropped. But was that the thud of an executive wingtip? A driving moccasin? Or a boot?

For the moment, it was whatever Mr. Huey and Mr. Kelly said it was: Till now, there had been no such position as managing editor of Time Inc.

On the matter of Mr. Kelly’s replacement, the guesses about candidates had begun to swing wildly and arbitrarily, like the lead in the stadium-scoreboard dot race—Tina Brown! Not Tina Brown! Kurt Andersen!

At the National Magazine Awards on May 9 (at which Mr. Kelly collected trophies for Time’s Hurricane Katrina issue and for general excellence), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg—who has discussed the Time job with Mr. Huey—was socializing over cocktails with one Time veteran. Or was it the other way around?

A less buzzy report on the 16th, from Mediaweek, named Priscilla Painton, one of Time’s executive editors, as a likely in-house pick.

Ms. Painton would, however, be a surprising choice in her own right: In a 2002 profile of Mr. Huey for GQ, writer Maximillian Potter reported that a Bronxville feud between Mr. Huey’s wife and Ms. Painton—“over child-rearing techniques”—had ended with the Huey family relocating to South Carolina and Mr. Huey commuting home from New York on weekends.

And Ms. Painton—or any other internal promotion—would be a letdown for drama-craving Time-watchers.

“It felt a little like a head-fake to me,” one Time Inc. insider said. Mr. Huey, the source said, needs for his choice to make an impression: “It’s probably the biggest thing they will do during his tenure …. I think they want big pop.”

As corporate spectacle goes, the first stage of the changeover—the redeployment of Mr. Kelly—turned out to be orderly.

Through a spokesperson, Mr. Huey declined to directly discuss the move. A Time Inc. press release described Mr. Kelly’s future duties as including “proactive policymaking, pre-publication vetting of controversial stories and recruitment of outside editorial talent.”

The next managing editor of Time magazine will report straight to Mr. Huey, not to Mr. Kelly, a Time Inc. spokesperson said.

In a staff memo, Mr. Huey wrote that Mr. Kelly’s new job is part of a “new management structure I envisioned for running the editorial operations of this increasingly complex company.”

“Each editor in chief gets to organize and run the operation the way that they want,” Mr. Kelly said.

Though rumors of the changeover surfaced only recently, Mr. Kelly said that this particular bit of reorganization dated back to last year, when Mr. Huey was preparing to succeed Norman Pearlstine as editor in chief. “In November, I agreed to go upstairs,” Mr. Kelly said. “ … I’m surprised it didn’t leak out sooner.”

Mr. Huey’s staff memo gave the same background, with a note of exasperation: “For those interested in the real story, Jim and I began serious discussions about his future and Time’s future at a lunch last November,” Mr. Huey wrote.

That also means that Mr. Huey was thinking about putting someone else in charge of Time magazine back in November. “Huey, certainly it seems like, has become a lot more of a shrewd tactician,” Mr. Potter said.

Even veterans of Time Inc. corporate politics offered conflicting guesses about the importance of Mr. Kelly’s newly created post. It falls outside the old direct-reporting lines of command, but that’s just where Mr. Huey seems to be building a new executive staff.

“He made an invitation that I found enticing,” Mr. Kelly said. “Not only is it articulate, but it’s true.”

In Mr. Huey’s old job as editorial director, he had worked closely with Mr. Pearlstine, Mr. Kelly said. “I am, God knows, not Norman Pearlstine,” he added. “I think John is looking for a colleague [to do] some of the things that Norm did in terms of looking at stories that may be problematic.”

“I hate this word,” Mr. Kelly said, “but there is a new paradigm that John wanted to do.”

Running Time magazine, Mr. Kelly said, “makes you fairly nimble both strategically and tactically.”

“I will probably never pick a cover again,” he said, “but that’s O.K., because I’ve picked a lot of them.”

Once they reach a certain critical mass, euphemisms cease to register as euphemisms. “On occasion, Abe could be a little acerbic,” William Safire said on May 14 at Central Synagogue, addressing the crowd at the funeral of A.M. Rosenthal.

Rosenthal’s obituary in The New York Times, the paper he ruled for 26 years, used the whole inventory: “abrasive,” “mercurial,” the possessor of a “tight smile.” By the time it got to “tigerish,” the point had been made.

Mr. Safire recalled Rosenthal’s sneer when he showed up for work, newly arrived at The Times, in a blue-and-white pinstriped suit: “You just got in from the racetrack?” Mr. Safire never wore the suit again, he said.

But Rosenthal also had something to say about journalism. Mr. Safire described the former executive editor telling a young audience about a reporter who had been bugged and shadowed and threatened by the police—a reporter who had burned his notes after each story, so that there was nothing to connect him to his sources. That reporter was A.M. Rosenthal of The New York Times, writing the stories from Communist Poland that would win him a Pulitzer. Rosenthal, Mr. Safire said, “saw some of his confidential sources later become leaders of free people.”

When the sides lined up right—as in Poland, and as with the Pentagon Papers—Abe Rosenthal’s fighting urges were history-making. “[N]early everyone has forgotten,” Charles Kaiser wrote in an obituary here at The Observer’s Web site, “that after Rosenthal hired Sy Hersh to cover the scandal, during the eight months before Nixon resigned, The Times matched The Post on the story, almost scoop for scoop.”

And those urges, in the right fight, were missed. Two days before the funeral, the New York Post had run an editorial denouncing news coverage of the N.S.A.’s secret program to collect and analyze Americans’ complete telephone records as “This Week’s Treason.”

When the sides lined up wrong …. In Beverly Sills’ share of the eulogy, she told an anecdote that was meant to be charming: After a Times critic had panned one of her performances, Ms. Sills said, Rosenthal had hung a giant poster of her in his office, called in the writer, and forced him to sit through a meeting staring Ms. Sills’ image. “That’s called unconditional loyalty,” Ms. Sills said. That formulation seemed either too euphemistic or not euphemistic enough.

On a global scale, though, unconditionality has its purpose. “In huts and villages around the globe, there are people who benefited,” said op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, the heir to Rosenthal’s humanitarian op-ed crusades, when he took his turn.

After the service, the funeral guests milled on the steps as limos rounded up the principal mourners for the private burial in the Bronx. Up on the corner of 55th Street, a few spectators held signs addressed to “Mr. Rosenthal,” telling him that Tibetans’ prayers “will always be with you.” They held burning incense, and the smoke drifted down into the crowd.

Time Takes A Huey:  Editor Kelly Rises,  Successor Chosen