In the wake of The New York Times’s recent profile of New Yorker editor David Remnick, The Observer has unearthed new evidence that calls into question many of the story’s key assertions, including those relating to Remnick’s reportorial techniques, his editorial policies, and even his famed work ethic. Fearing Mr. Remnick’s titanic reach, sources–former colleagues, acquaintances, rivals, waiters, and convenience-store employees–spoke to The Observer only on the condition of anonymity.
“He didn’t learn his management style at The Washington Post,” said one former assistant. “He learned it by covering the Kremlin.” The ex-staffer, now a pastry chef in Philadelpha, mentioned the practice, installed under Mr. Remnick, of holding what she referred to as “show trials” whenever the magazine killed an article. She refused to elaborate further, however, citing “post-traumatic stress disorder,” but indicated that one such procedure resulted in Ian Frazier being assigned a two-part report from Siberia.
A clerk at the 7-11 in Mr. Remnick’s hometown of Hillsdale, N.J., who described himself as a “former New Yorker subscriber,” confirmed The Times‘ account that as a teenager Mr. Remnick picked up the Village Voice at the store, but he had another reason for stopping by. “We were the only convenience store in the state that carried Pravda. Little Davey never missed an issue. That and Slurpees. Now he’s turned Harold Ross’ magazine into a propaganda sheet for the Obama administration,” said the unusually strident clerk. “I mean, did you read that Ryan Lizza profile of Peter Orszag? It’s like they’re taking dictation over there.”
Others pointed to a different part of Remnick’s past, his years spent reporting on boxing. “He’s the Mike Tyson of journalism,” said one rival. “Just as crazy–he once told me he wanted to eat Dan Baum’s babies–but without the face tattoos and the endearing fondness for pigeons. Si Newhouse is his Don King.”
Indeed, perhaps prompted by The Times‘ comparison of Mr. Remnick to Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, Mr. Remnick’s dissenters repeatedly resorted to sports metaphors in their criticisms. “As a player coach he’s less like Bill Russell than Pete Rose,” said the editor of a prominent literary quarterly. “He only balances the magazines budget by funneling winnings from the Vegas betting pool on the Ellies.” The accusation could pose a risk to Mr. Remnick’s chances of entrance to the ASME editors’ Hall of Fame.
While thuggishness, a tendency toward Soviet tactics, and gambling addiction were themes echoed by figures from Mr. Remnick’s past, sources more familiar with his efforts to juggle his duties as an editor with his foray into presidential biography, The Bridge, said the editor’s steely resilience had started to rust.
“He stole the title of his book from a Billy Joel album,” said one Conde Nast mailroom staffer. “That tells you something. When he mentioned in the elevator that he got most of his ideas about Obama from the song ‘A Matter of Trust’ and then started humming it, I knew the book wouldn’t be worth reading. I don’t care what Michiko Kakutani says.”
In recent months, even Mr. Remnick’s editorial acumen had been dulled. “I knew something was wrong,” said one former fact-checker, “when his galleys for David Grann’s death-penalty expose came around and the only marks he’d made were some doodles and the words ‘AWESOME SPACESHIP.'”
“His desk was such a mess,” said one Conde Nast cleaning lady, an independent contractor, “that he mistook the liner notes from the new Joni Mitchell album for a poem and then ran it in the magazine.”
A waiter at Ouest, Mr. Remnick’s regular dinner spot on Broadway and 84th St., rebutted the Times’ claim that Mr. Remnick is able to accomplish his many duties as editor and author without perspiration. “The guy sweats like a pig,” said the waiter, also an aspiring actor. “Luckily the booths here are vinyl.”
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