Skip to comments.Times's 2 Top Editors Resign After Furor on Writer's Fraud (The Times Covers The Times)
Posted on 06/05/2003 10:59:42 PM PDT by Dont Mention the War
owell Raines and Gerald M. Boyd, the top-ranking editors of The New York Times, resigned yesterday morning, five weeks after the resignation of a reporter set off a chain of events that exposed fissures in the management and morale of the newsroom.
Mr. Sulzberger said that Mr. Raines, 60, who was the paper's executive editor for less than two years, would be succeeded on an interim basis by Joseph Lelyveld, 66, his immediate predecessor, who retired in 2001. There will be no immediate successor for Mr. Boyd, 52, who was the paper's managing editor.
A spokeswoman for The Times, Catherine J. Mathis, said that the search for a permanent executive editor was likely "to move quickly" other company officials said it could be a matter of weeks and that candidates would be considered from inside and outside the paper.
For the staff members of The Times, the resignations yesterday set off a wave of emotions from sadness to relief, and prompted several dozen journalists from competing news organizations to stake out the entrance of the paper's headquarters, at 229 West 43rd Street.
In one sense, the developments were something of a shock.
At a town-hall-style meeting on May 14 three days after The Times had described in an extensive article how Jayson Blair, a staff reporter, had made errors or committed the equivalent of journalistic fraud in at least 36 articles since October Mr. Sulzberger told the newsroom staff that he would not accept Mr. Raines's resignation if it were offered.
By Wednesday night, Mr. Sulzberger said in an interview, he and the two editors had "a meeting of the minds, if you will."
"This was a decision that Howell and Gerald made, that I sadly accepted," he said. "It was not precipitated by any specific event. It happened over a period of time."
"The morale of the newsroom is critical," Mr. Sulzberger said earlier yesterday. The ability of reporters and editors "to perform depends on their feeling they are being treated in a collaborative and collegial fashion."
The announcement of the two resignations came at midmorning, as many people were still arriving for work. Mr. Raines, clutching a microphone before dozens of reporters, editors, photographers and other newsroom staff members, many of whom sobbed audibly, said, "As I'm standing before you for the last time, I want to thank you for the honor and privilege of being a member of the best journalistic community in the world."
"It's been a tumultuous month, 20 months," he added, "but we have produced some memorable newspapers."
He concluded by saying, "Remember, when a great story breaks out, go like hell."
The remark, which could have been spoken by one of the role models Mr. Raines often cited to his staff, the longtime Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, underscored both the magnitude of the many news events that have taken place since the two men took over in September 2001, and the extensive resources the newspaper devoted to reporting on them.
Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd led the newspaper's coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the collapse of Enron; and the space shuttle Columbia disaster.
In addition, the two men took on additional responsibilities during their tenure, overseeing the editorial operations of The International Herald Tribune. (The New York Times Company, which already had owned half of that newspaper, bought the rest from the Washington Post Company in January.)
Fourteen months ago, The Times was awarded a record seven Pulitzer Prizes, six related to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
But after the deceptions of Mr. Blair were brought to light, including the plagiarizing of articles from other newspapers and news agencies and the concocting of quotations, long-simmering complaints about the management style of the editors rose to the surface.
At the staff meeting on May 14, Mr. Raines said he accepted ultimate responsibility for what Mr. Blair had done and pledged to improve his rapport with the people who worked for him. In recent days, he tried to win over colleagues, at dinners and in private conversations.
After concluding his brief remarks yesterday morning, Mr. Raines, who joined the paper in 1978 as a national correspondent in Atlanta and later served as Washington bureau chief and editor of the editorial page, walked through an impromptu receiving line of colleagues offering condolences and well wishes. They included Mr. Sulzberger's father, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the paper's chairman emeritus and former publisher.
To Michael Wilson, a reporter on the metropolitan staff who began working at The Times during Mr. Raines's tenure and who had just returned from Iraq, he said, "You had a good war."
A short while later, Mr. Raines grabbed a straw hat from the office he had just vacated and walked out of the building. Mr. Boyd followed a minute later. (Neither man responded to requests for interviews.)
Moments before the men departed, the younger Mr. Sulzberger had told the staff members, "There is so much to say, but it really just boils down to this: This is a day that breaks my heart, and I think it breaks the hearts of a lot of people in this room."
He added that the newspaper, which was founded in 1851, had "seen good times and bad times" and would continue to do so in the coming decades.
"We will learn from them and we will grow from them," he said. "And we will return to doing journalism at this newspaper because that's what we're here for."
For the news media, the day's events were the culmination of a story line that had played out for weeks.
The Times's investigation into Mr. Blair's journalistic deceptions revealed communication problems among the top editors and newsroom department heads. Some staff members said those problems including the top-down management style of Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd contributed to gaps in the oversight of Mr. Blair as he helped cover several major news events, including the Washington-area sniper hunt and the hometown reaction to the rescue of Pfc. Jessica D. Lynch. Other internal problems of the newsroom were soon playing out in the news media.
On May 23, The Times published an editors' note that said Mr. Bragg, a prominent national reporter, had relied heavily on the reporting of a freelance journalist for an article about oystermen of the Florida Gulf Coast in Apalachicola, which Mr. Bragg had visited only briefly.
Five days later, several reporters on the national staff circulated internal e-mail messages complaining about comments that Mr. Bragg had made to The Washington Post defending his practices.
Mr. Bragg suggested it was common practice for national correspondents to rely on such freelancers for the bulk of their reporting, a characterization that many of the reporters disputed. By early evening on May 28, the contents of those e-mail messages were being described on Newsweek's Web site and Mr. Raines announced that Mr. Bragg had resigned.
The departure of Mr. Boyd, the newspaper's first black managing editor, prompted the New York Association of Black Journalists to release a statement from its president, Errol Cockfield, that said, in part: "There are many black journalists who are questioning whether, in an effort to restore its credibility, The Times has gone too far."
Mr. Cockfield, a reporter at Newsday, added, "We should not make journalists scapegoats for a dysfunctional system."
Mr. Boyd, a former White House correspondent and metropolitan editor for the paper, told the staff that he resigned "willingly and with no bitterness whatsoever, and in the firm belief that The New York Times will be in great hands no matter who leads."
A committee of editors and reporters as well as several outside news media experts has been charged with taking a sweeping look at the paper's newsroom practices, and is expected to report its findings in July.
Gay Talese, who worked as a reporter at the paper from 1955 to 1965 and later wrote "The Kingdom and the Power" (World, 1969), a narrative account of its history, said that the resignations came on "a dark day," but that the paper surely would endure.
"I grew up believing The New York Times represented the closest that we could get in this country to trying to get the facts right with a sense of fairness and balance," Mr. Talese said.
"I believe that The Times, in doing what it did today, sad and sacrificial as it may be, is nevertheless acting in the paper's enduring spirit to be responsible," he said.
The New York Times
all Street analysts said yesterday that the five weeks of turmoil at The New York Times that led to the resignation of its top two editors had not rattled investors, and the paper's advertisers said they were undeterred.
Newspaper editors and media experts expressed hope that the resignations would end a period of controversy that was threatening to damage the paper's reputation.
"A change had to be made, and it has happened quickly and I think that is good," said Lauren Rich Fine, a newspaper analyst at Merrill Lynch. "If journalists were unhappy, then it could have longer-term repercussions in terms of the ability of The Times to hire the best talent." But, she said, so far investors viewed the matter mainly as an internal concern.
Since May 1, when the newspaper acknowledged journalistic fraud by a reporter, Jayson Blair, shares of The New York Times Company's stock have risen 1.3 percent, closing yesterday at $46.70 a share, down 39 cents, or 0.8 percent, for the day.
"I don't think this has washed over the financial community," said Kevin Gruneich, an analyst at Bear, Stearns. "I get hundreds of calls every month, and I am yet to get one call over the situation in the New York Times newsroom."
Advertising executives said they were not concerned. "The only people going crazy about this are the media," said Jon Mandel, chief executive of MediaCom, an advertising buyer. "The media goes through the self-flagellation thing all the time."
Michael J. Kowalski, chief executive of Tiffany & Company, one of the newspaper's longest-running advertisers, said his company's presumption is that recent events would not "meaningfully affect the readership in a way that would have economic significance for us."
William Powers, a media critic for The National Journal, said, "I feel a mixture of relief that maybe this institution that we all follow so closely and in a way feel so a part of can now start to heal itself, admiration that The Times has been able to take this difficult step, and hope that we are all going to learn from this now."
But he added that he hoped the newspaper would continue to investigate what he said were unanswered questions about how Mr. Blair managed to perpetrate his fraud.
Editors at a few of the roughly 600 newspapers around the world that subscribe to a news service allowing them to publish articles from The New York Times have provided early warnings of any potential damage to the paper's image.
"We have heard a smattering of queries from client editors who are nervous about the credibility of our contents," said Laurence M. Paul, executive editor of The New York Times News Service. "One of the big concerns was that they were uncomfortable with The Times's use of unattributed sources."
Mr. Paul said he responded by distributing passages from the paper's internal guidelines about attributing information to anonymous or incompletely identified sources. The guidelines state that anonymous attribution should be used only when absolutely necessary to provide important information to readers, and should include as much information as possible about the position and identity of the source.
Yesterday, John Temple, editor and publisher of The Rocky Mountain News, who had criticized The Times over the Blair case, called the resignations "a step by the paper to put this scandal behind it, and to assert new leadership," adding that he planned to continue using the Times news service.
Analysts and business consultants said the resignation of The Times's top news executive seemed an inevitable consequence of the problems there.
"They, of course, had to resign," said Warren L. Batts, adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business and the former chief executive of Tupperware. "Any company has to sell the credibility of its product, but a media company has nothing else to sell."
oseph Lelyveld is returning to the top job in the newsroom he left when he retired in 2001, but this time he will be executive editor for the interim.
"Since most of you know Joe," Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The New York Times, said in a memo to the newspaper's staff yesterday, "you'll understand why we can all be confident that during this interim period the immediate responsibility for the quality of our journalism will be in very good hands."
Mr. Lelyveld, 66, was executive editor from 1994 until his retirement. During that time, The Times won 12 Pulitzer Prizes. He oversaw The Times as new and more flexible presses made possible new sections like Circuits and more complete sports results, along with color photographs and illustrations throughout the paper.
He became executive editor after serving for four years as the managing editor, the No. 2 executive in the newsroom, and for three years as foreign editor. He had worked as a metropolitan reporter and had been a correspondent in the Congo, New Delhi, Hong Kong, London and Washington. He was the correspondent in South Africa twice, first in 1965 and again from 1980 to 1983. He was also a staff writer and columnist for The New York Times Magazine.
Mr. Lelyveld, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard and a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1986 for the book "Move Your Shadow," about the ordeals of apartheid.
Since his retirement from The Times, Mr. Lelyveld has written for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine.
The length of Mr. Lelyveld's new assignment has not been determined. Mr. Sulzberger said in the memo that choosing a permanent executive editor would take "some time." A spokeswoman for the Times, Catherine J. Mathis, said that Mr. Lelyveld's tenure "will be a limited time, but I can't quantify it for you."
Mr. Lelyveld, who declined to comment yesterday, plans to address the staff of the paper this morning.
I "grew up" with the New York Times forcing itself down this country's throat. They had a nifty marketing scheme over ten years ago, available on campus, and then offering the grad students a subscription at something less than a 50% rate.
After I got out of grad school, I had enough time to read more of the NYT's, and realized that they were hardly fair and balanced at all. The NYT's attempts to dictate to the rest of the country, what is cool and hip....(see.....MO Dowdy.) It aint't necessarily intellectual, true or right!
Besides Boyd, do you see any other black faces in that newsroom photo? I want Jesse Jackson up there demanding that blacks be given full access to the hiring system of these two positions. If the skin color of the head football coach at the University of Alabama is so important to Jesse, so should the skin color of the executive editor of the New York Times. If Jesse is truly interested in fairness and the Times is truly interested in the diversity it espouses for others, I think there should be no excuse for not hiring a black man for this position, even one that's not the most qualified applicant. That's the only way the Times can be consistent with what they themselves preach from their daily pulpit.
Yep, objective and mature professionals. Not emotionally invested at all...