annals of communications
The New Yorker - June 10, 2002
the howell doctrine
The Times' new top editor has big plans for the paper. Not everyone is ready to go along.
A man who takes the subway wearing the white panama hat of a plantation owner is either blithely arrogant or irrepressibly self-confident, and in the nine months that Howell Raines has been the executive editor of the Times both qualities have been imputed to him. Raines is fifty-nine, and has worked for the Times for a quarter of a century; he has been praised and derided for the sometimes coruscating editorial page that he ran from January of 1993 until August, 2001. But until last year his acquaintance with the newsroom was only passing, and to most of his Times colleagues he was an alien--as the metropolitan editor, Jonathan Landman, characterized him, a "Martian."
Raines is built close to the ground (he is five feet eight), with short, stocky legs that churn rapidly--like those of "a Tasmanian devil," one female reporter says. He has a courtly manner and an engaging wit, and he is fond of quoting the former University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant, or Yeats, or what he learned from his father, growing up in Birmingham, Alabama--sometimes all three, and sometimes trying the patience of his listeners.
Raines's eyes are nearly black; in photographs, even when he's half smiling, they convey an unsmiling intensity. That intensity has excited and occasionally alarmed the inhabitants of the world's most powerful newsroom, who often ask if this son of hill-country Alabamans is comfortable leading a newspaper staffed by Ivy Leaguers. They see that he enjoys power and is unafraid to use it, but wonder why he is often hostile to others who hold it. What is clear, a little more than a year since it was announced that he would succeed Joseph Lelyveld in the top job, is that Howell Raines is quickening the pulse of the Times.
Raines has been waiting for this chance for years. His friend R.W. (Johnny) Apple, Jr., the paper's political sage, recalled a trip they took to South Africa in 1995, when Raines talked about one day becoming executive editor. "'I'm not at all sure I'll get it. But I'll be ready if I get it. I'm going to prepare myself,' " Apple remembers Raines saying. In early 2001, Lelyveld told Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., the Times' chairman and publisher, that he planned to retire as executive editor; and when Sulzberger decided that his choice was between Raines and Bill Keller, the managing editor, Raines had indeed prepared. "I knew that I wanted to raise the competitive metabolism of the paper," Raines said to me during a series of interviews this winter and spring. When Sulzberger asked him what he might do as executive editor, he told the publisher that he "wanted to enliven the front page with more exclusive breaking news--original stories." He knew that, unlike almost every other newspaper in America, the Times' daily circulation was growing--by April of 2001 it had reached 1.15 million--but that this growth came from the national edition, introduced in 1980, which now accounted for nearly half of the paper's readers. To continue its expansion, Raines argued, the Times had to become "a must read" for new customers, and he described the paper in somewhat military terms: just as the "Powell doctrine," promulgated by General Colin Powell, declared that American troops should be sent into battle only if they had enough force to overpower the enemy, so Raines proposed covering big stories with the overwhelming force of the newspaper: some twelve hundred editorial employees, who work in newsrooms on the third and fourth floors of the Times Building, on West Forty-third Street, and in offices scattered throughout the building, as well as in twenty-eight foreign and ten domestic bureaus.
The newsroom was introduced to its editor-to-be on May 21, 2001. For Raines, the victory was total. He did not have to contend with his rival, Keller, because Keller was given a biweekly column, alternating Saturdays with Frank Rich, and became a senior writer for the Times Magazine. With Sulzberger's prior approval, Raines picked a somewhat reserved deputy managing editor, Gerald Boyd, to be his managing editor; they had worked together in the Washington bureau in the mid-eighties. A decade later, Boyd had been in the running for the managing editor's job, but was rejected by Lelyveld; Boyd, in turn, described Lelyveld and Keller as not "inclusive," a word with deep meaning for a fifty-one-year-old black man. Unlike Keller, Boyd was invited to join the regular Wednesday lunch that serves as the paper's steering committee, along with Sulzberger; Raines; Gail Collins, whom Raines had hired, and who succeeded him as the editorial-page editor; and the Times' president, Janet L. Robinson.
Raines spent the summer getting to know the newsroom. Earlier in his Times career, he had been based in Atlanta, Washington, and London; now he spent evenings visiting various desks, and took an assortment of editors to coffee, lunch, and dinner, all in preparation for taking over, after Labor Day. He met with the sports editor, Neil Amdur, and said that he wanted more college sports, particularly football and basketball. He met with Margaret O'Connor, the picture editor, and Mike Smith, her deputy, and heard that Times photographers felt like "second-class citizens" because they weren't sent out often enough on breaking stories; their best photographs were often unused. The photo department, Raines learned, had put these unused photographs up on a wall, under the words "The Ones That Got Away." Raines assured O'Connor and Smith that things would be different.
Raines said that he would manage the newsroom in the "collegial" way that he'd run the editorial board, which has fourteen members. But he can also be autocratic--some say bullying. In a sharp and, to those inside the paper, controversial departure from the Lelyveld era, Raines said that he wanted what is known as "the masthead" to be more engaged in shaping stories and cooerdinating news coverage. (The masthead consists of the managing editor, his deputy, and the seven assistant managing editors whose names appear under the executive editor's on the Times editorial page. The department editors, whose names do not appear, actually run the various sections of the paper.) "Howell has thought about this job a long time, and he loves it," John Huey, the editorial director of Time, Inc., who worked with Raines on the Atlanta Constitution in the early seventies, said. "Some people who held that job wore it like a hair shirt." (Huey mentioned Lelyveld and his predecessor, Max Frankel.) "Howell Raines expected to have fun." His energy was obvious, and the newsroom was probably more excited than anxious in the months before he took over. There was little indication of just how fast Raines intended to move.
A WEEK IN SEPTEMBER
The Raines era began on September 5, 2001. When Raines arrived at his office, in the northeast corner of the newsroom, his favorite image was already on the wall behind his desk. Taken by a Times photographer, George Tames, it is a sequence containing seven black-and-white photographs of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson cajoling Senator Theodore F. Green, of Rhode Island; in each succeeding frame, L.B.J. shrinks his colleague's space until Green is bent backward over his desk and L.B.J. is hovering just inches from his face. Implicitly, these photographs suggest how Raines intends to bend the Times to his will.
"I just like the tribal culture of a newsroom," Raines told me one day as we sat in a small room behind his office. "I'm--in some sense--home. The populist side of me is very much about my identification with the culture of a newsroom." He explained what he meant by citing Bear Bryant. "Coach Bryant had a lot of flaws--he was late to support integration," Raines said. "But he was a very influential figure for any student of leadership....When Coach Bryant walked onto a football field, everybody in that stadium knew that football would be played here today."
September 5th, a Wednesday, was a relatively slow news day; the front page had stories about the New York mayoral primary, about Administration officials defending Bush's budget, about immigration policy. But the new editor's presence could be felt. The Washington bureau chief, Jill Abramson, remembers that Raines called her and said, "I want something with pop for the Sunday paper." To assure more "pop," he initiated, that first day, a 10:30 A.M. meeting of the masthead, to supplement a noon meeting, originated by Lelyveld, of the department and masthead editors and a 4:30 P.M. page-one meeting. The morning session, Raines said, was meant "as a teaching device for me" and as a way to "include the masthead" in shaping the paper.
On Monday, September 10th, Raines announced that Andrew Rosenthal, the foreign editor, was being promoted to assistant managing editor, and would serve as Gerald Boyd's principal news deputy, and that Roger Cohen, until recently theBerlin bureau chief, would become acting foreign editor. Raines also wanted the media reporter Alex Kuczynski to write the sort of pop-feature pieces that would appeal to the Times' national audience. "It was no accident that the first transfer I made when I got down here was to move Alex Kuczynski from media to style," Raines said. "I did that to set a standard."
On the morning of September 11th, Raines rose at around seven o'clock and prepared a pot of tea for Krystyna Stachowiak, thirty-eight, an attractive, self-possessed Polish-born public-relations executive who shares a Greenwich Village town house with him. Then he read the Times and sent e-mail. He wasn't yet dressed when he heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., called immediately. Minutes later, Raines was on Seventh Avenue, gaping at the smoldering north tower, to his left, and, to his right, at the staff of St. Vincent's hospital, in their green scrubs, mobilized for victims that never came. Uptown, Gerald Boyd was in a barber's chair at 104th Street and Amsterdam Avenue when a passerby poked his head in the door with the news. "I leaped out of the chair," Boyd recalls, and he hurried to the subway, which had already suspended service, before hailing a gypsy cab and getting to the office at 9:10 A.M., about forty minutes before Raines arrived.
Roger Cohen had just dropped off his son at school in Park Slope when he heard an explosion and looked up and saw orange flames billowing from the Trade Center and the sky raining paper. He raced to catch the No. 2 train, which ran under the World Trade Center site. "The subway must have been the last one to run," he said. Other members of the masthead never made it to the office that day. Andrew Rosenthal couldn't get across the Hudson from New Jersey; the ferry that Al Siegal, an assistant managing editor, was taking from Hoboken was turned back by the Coast Guard.
A few blocks from Boyd's barbershop, Jonathan Landman, the metropolitan editor, was at a gym on 106th Street, when he looked out the window and saw his wife running toward the building. She told him of the attacks. He hurried home and started calling some of his hundred-odd reporters, directing traffic to Ground Zero.
The police reporter Christopher John (C.J.) Chivers was already downtown. It was primary day in the city's mayoral election, and he had been assigned to the Board of Elections headquarters. He was wearing his best suit. When his beeper went off, he ran half a mile to Ground Zero, approaching Liberty Street just as the second plane hit the south tower. As desks and concrete and steel beams plunged to the street, he dived into the entrance of a liquor store near Trinity Church, and soon began interviewing people huddled nearby.
Chivers tried calling the metropolitan desk, but his cell phone didn't work. To escape falling debris, he moved under the Liberty Street Bridge to another building, stepping in dust "that was like fine powdered snow." He had reached a building that housed a day-care center, where children were fretting over the whereabouts of their parents, when he heard a "high-pitched, twisting, grinding, metallic screeching" that "sounded like an enormous train collision" and felt like an earthquake. The south tower had collapsed. He found a telephone and called Landman, who told him, "I don't really know what to tell you to do, but you have good judgment, so follow it." Chivers spent the next twenty-four hours at Ground Zero, feeding information to Times reporters in the newsroom.
Gerald Boyd was in the newsroom. "The dimensions kept growing," he recalled. "We heard Congress had closed and the airlines were shut down. We discussed what would happen if the New York Times were attacked. Could we put out a paper?" John Geddes, the deputy managing editor, who was at his desk when the first plane crashed into the Trade Center, said, "This was a story we had been training all our lives for."
Raines, who is unembarrassed by such comparisons, likened his role to that of Ulysses S. Grant: before attacking the biggest story of his career, he would concentrate his forces. All day, Raines and Boyd moved back and forth from their neighboring offices, sometimes ministering to distraught staff members. Sometimes they comforted themselves. They were not, of course, mere witnesses. Their families, their friends, their city were jeopardized. "The toughest thing for me was in a personal sense," Boyd said. "I had dropped my son at school and couldn't reach my wife and son until 5 P.M." Late in the afternoon, Krystyna Stachowiak left her midtown office, and made her way to the Times, where she greeted Raines with a hug.
For its September 12th edition, the Times deployed some three hundred reporters, thirty staff photographers, and two dozen freelance photographers. Eighty-two thousand five hundred words were devoted to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; there were seventy-four bylines accompanying sixty-seven stories, filling thirty-three pages of a ninety-six-page paper. Nearly 1.7 million copies were printed, almost half a million more than normal. At the top of the front page, which is now framed on Raines's wall, was a headline--"U.S. ATTACKED"--set in ninety-six-point type, a size used only twice before: to announce Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, in 1969, and the resignation of President Nixon, in 1974. In the center of the page were four color photographs, showing the Twin Towers ablaze and the destruction at Ground Zero. Running down either side of page 1 were four stories, not the usual seven. In a September 12th e-mail to the newsroom, Raines wrote, "Thank you one and all for a magnificent effort in putting out, in the midst of a heartbreaking day, a paper of which we can be proud for years to come.... In a different context of violence, Yeats wrote that 'a terrible beauty is born.'"
Long before September 11th, Raines had given much thought to ways of conveying a sense of command. He says that he learned the importance of this from his father, who never finished high school but built a store-fixture business in Birmingham which eventually made him a millionaire. He often told colleagues the story of one summer after he graduated from Birmingham-Southern College and had gone to work for his father, who warned him that sooner or later an employee would challenge him, and told him that, when he did, "you've got to win that fight." Now, in September of 2001, Raines wanted to challenge his editors, to get into the fray before assignments were made.
Raines became what the assistant managing editor Michael Oreskes referred to as "the reader-in-chief," meeting constantly with the assistant managing editors. To better penetrate the Pentagon and the national-security agencies, he brought the defense-and-intelligence expert Michael Gordon back from London. He asked Patrick Tyler, a trusted friend, to return from Moscow, where he was bureau chief, to write "lead-alls"--stories meant to bring together the different strands of a news event, like the stories that Johnny Apple had written during the Gulf War. Each move caused hurt feelings and aroused some opposition. So, too, did Raines's insistence on working directly through the masthead editors rather than through the department editors, as Lelyveld had done. Raines wanted his assistant managing editors to demand more of the department heads. "How come something we discussed at the page-one meeting didn't get in the paper today?" he would ask, according to Soma Golden Behr, an assistant managing editor. He started asking for stories that offered "all known thought" on a subject--what was known about Osama bin Laden's finances, or about anthrax. "Hunt big game, not rabbits," he would say. He was impatient with complaint, and in truth there was little time for it.
One complaint he would not abide was that he didn't respect borders between departments--that he shouldn't parachute in his "star" writers to cover stories. Criticism that he favored stars had attached itself to Raines when he ran the Washington bureau, and it was a criticism, Sulzberger told those he confided in, that would have blocked Raines's promotion if Sulzberger was not convinced that he had changed. Raines, however, believes that an editor's first obligation is to the readers; he wanted to use distinctive writers, such as Rick Bragg, in Pakistan. Bragg, a roving national correspondent with a taste for elegiac, sometimes purple prose, had scant overseas experience and was, in the words of John Geddes, "not an easy writer to handle" but "one of our best tellers of stories." Raines asked Bragg to come off a tour for a new book, which had just appeared on the Times best-seller list; Raines says that Bragg, who is a friend, volunteered. Raines went to the foreign desk and told Roger Cohen to send Bragg overseas, which Cohen did reluctantly.
"He wanted to own all parts of this story," Abramson, the Washington bureau chief, said of Raines. He wanted the Times to be first. "Target selection is key," Raines said. "And then you have to concentrate your resources at the point of attack. Geddes has another term for my style, which is 'flood the zone.' I've been in journalistic contests where I was up against real formidable opposition"--with the Washington Post, when he worked in the Washington bureau. "If I'm in a gunfight, I don't want to die with any bullets in my pistol. I want to shoot every one."
He also wanted the Times to be accessible, but there was too much information about the September 11th attacks, in too many different sections, interrupted by too many ads; and there were too many stories containing unrelated but vital news. At one masthead meeting, Raines turned to Al Siegal, a production expert, and asked, "Can we make a section?" Siegal said they could, and Sulzberger quickly agreed to spend the extra money. A Nation Challenged appeared on September 18th, giving the story its own section.
The ten-thirty masthead meeting became the executive editor's management tool. "We were inventing not just procedures but a philosophy of how to put out this newspaper," said Siegal, whose responsibilities include drawing up the front page. Raines, he went on, wanted to give masthead editors and himself a new kind of role. "We were essentially elbowing our way into the process." It was not unusual, certainly, for an editor to take command, as A. M. (Abe) Rosenthal did with the Pentagon Papers, or as Lelyveld did during President Clinton's impeachment. (Michael Oreskes, who was Washington bureau chief under Lelyveld, says that he heard from Lelyveld "four times a day.") But, if Lelyveld tended to take over the editing of individual stories, Raines was relying on his masthead to manage--some said micro-manage--the entire paper.
One of the talents to emerge from the coverage of September 11th was C. J. Chivers. Reared in Binghamton, New York, Chivers enrolled in an R.O.T.C. program at nearby Cornell. After graduating, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marines; he stayed in nearly seven years, served in the Gulf War, and left as a captain. "I wanted to be a writer, but I had no money," he said. "Journalism was the only writing job with a union card." Chivers is a wiry man with broad shoulders, black hair only slightly longer than a Marine brush cut, a cleft chin, and beguiling modesty. "Praise is kryptonite," he said, attempting to steer me to interview another reporter. After the Marines, he enrolled at the Columbia School of Journalism; later he got a job with the Providence Journal, where he wrote a nine-thousand-word series on the imperilled fishing industries of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, for which he won the 1996 Livingston Award for international reporting, given to journalists under the age of thirty-five. (Raines and I are two of eight national Livingston judges.) Raines, an avid fisherman, was particularly enthusiastic about Chivers's entry, and in 1999 he helped to engineer his hiring by the Times. "I had in mind that if I ever came down here he'd be a great guy to cover a war," Raines recalled.
Chivers, who is thirty-seven, had been assigned to the so-called "police shack," at Police Headquarters, downtown; his breakout assignment was as a Ground Zero correspondent, where his Marine background proved invaluable. When he came uptown twenty-four hours after the towers collapsed, his feet were bleeding. He went to the office to brief his editors, then to his apartment, on the Upper West Side, where he threw out his suit and shoes, showered, and slept. That night, he went back downtown, wearing work boots, jeans, and a Marine T-shirt. He stationed himself next to a Verizon truck just outside the security zone; he bought several cups of coffee, and, looking like a Marine volunteer, got past security and through to Ground Zero. Once there, he lay down beside sleeping police officers and firefighters, "so when I woke up I was one of them." He became what he calls "the garbage man" at the site, setting up and emptying trash receptacles. "No one asked if I was a reporter," he said. "I took discreet notes on scraps of paper." After several days, the metro editor, Landman, called him and asked if he wanted to come out. No, he said; security had tightened and he'd never get back in. When the National Guard started checking I.D.s, a sergeant who, like Chivers, had attended ranger school helped sneak him past security.
Chivers stayed at Ground Zero for twelve days, writing a page-one diary of this emerging "village":
The inhabitants of ground zero ate together in abandoned restaurants and beside piles of putrid garbage, they fell asleep together wherever they could, they sobbed and prayed together, and, as they became familiar with Lower Manhattan's emerging new landscape, they shared directions to working phones and bathrooms that were not splattered with vomit....Now and then a body, or some part of a body, would emerge, and the firefighters would bag it and begin the long march to the morgue tent.
In October, Chivers was assigned to cover the war, first from Uzbekistan, before slipping into Afghanistan in November. Although he had never been a war correspondent, he did not feel at any disadvantage. "It's just journalism," he said. "You go around asking people what happened....It's no different over there than here. Same stuff. Slightly worse living conditions. And lighter editing."
The Times, to be sure, was not alone in its brilliant 9/11 coverage. The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. The Wall Street Journal, whose headquarters were wrecked by the collapse of the Twin Towers and whose managing editor, Paul E. Steiger, was briefly missing, published a newspaper the next day; it won a Pulitzer for breaking-news reporting. The News, a Pulitzer finalist, produced vivid accounts from Ground Zero, and the Los Angeles Times excelled in war coverage. But, among America's newspapers, none matched the reach of the Times.
Reporters like Chivers, Barry Bearak, Dexter Filkins, John F. Burns, David Rohde, and Amy Waldman, from the war region; Judith Miller, William J. Broad, and Stephen Engelberg, on bioterrorism; and Landman and some of his reporters--including Jim Dwyer and the metro columnist Clyde Haberman, who wrote an elegant daily summary of the news, from Ground Zero to Kabul--are just a few of the reasons that the Times was celebrated for its coverage of September 11th and afterward.
Perhaps the most talked-about stories were the short, unsigned biographies of the dead that appeared each day under the rubric "Portraits of Grief." The idea had originated in part with the metro reporter Janny Scott, who was frustrated with an assignment to write about victims when no one would concede that there were any. Scott, who is forty-six, has a rare talent for making other people want to confide in her. She kept expecting to receive a list of victims, but it never came. Her September 13th story, co-written with Jane Gross, was about the flyers being handed out on street corners with pictures of the missing. The next morning, Scott headed to the metro section, where she spoke briefly with Landman and two of his deputies, Christine Kay and Susan Edgerley. Scott thought that the families she had interviewed would love to talk about their missing relatives as if they were alive, and she wanted to tell the stories in the voice of the person who told them; Kay suggested that each story focus on a single anecdote.
"Among the Missing" first appeared on September 15th--the next day, the title was changed to "Portraits of Grief"--and eventually a hundred and ten reporters contributed to twenty-one hundred profiles. "People pull me aside now on the street," Scott said, and tell her how "it really helped them and made them understand things they didn't understand before, made them experience this and recover from it almost, or begin to recover from it, in a way."
The imperatives of September 11th slowed Raines's agenda but also speeded some changes. Among early casualties were some of his predecessor's appointees. Although Lelyveld had known for months that he was a lame-duck editor, he still had a newspaper to run. Raines worried that Lelyveld had saddled him with people whom he might not have chosen, such as Nicholas Kristof, the associate managing editor responsible for the Sunday newspaper. Raines admired Kristof's work as an overseas correspondent (he and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for their coverage of China) and his profiles of Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign. But Raines and Kristof didn't see things the same way. Matters came to a head at a late October page-one meeting over a story from Pakistan about a deformed woman whom worshippers treated as if she possessed healing powers. Kristof was dubious; he said the piece, by Rick Bragg, was gripping, but he thought that it lacked significance, and he pushed another story for the front page.
"Are you telling me it's too good a story?" Raines asked, his eyes menacing Kristof. "What's wrong with putting on page 1 a story everyone will talk about?"
The Bragg story ran on the front page that Sunday. A few weeks later, with a nudge from Raines, the publisher gave Kristof a one-year assignment as a twice-weekly international columnist. (In an e-mail, Kristof declined to comment on "internal exchanges.") Raines also reversed Lelyveld's appointment, last summer, of the Los Angeles bureau chief, Todd Purdum, to replace, in due course, Adam Clymer as chief Washington correspondent. Purdum had been one of the newspaper's White House correspondents during the Clinton Administration, but Raines thought that he lacked the foreign-policy and national-security experience required for the new job. He made Purdum the State Department correspondent.
Raines pressed Glenn Kramon, the business editor, to cut down on "soft features" and get more news on the front of the business section. Kramon had been business editor since 1997, and had some sixty reporters at his disposal, the second-largest pool of reporters, after metro. At meetings, Kramon recalled, Raines would badger him to move more quickly, not to wait until they nailed down every last detail of a story, a delay that could give competitors a chance to beat the Times. "It's like taking your best shot after the buzzer," Raines said. He was at first so exasperated by Kramon that he thought of replacing him. "He pushed us hard," Kramon said. Raines wanted more news not just from Wall Street but from Hollywood, the fashion world, and the media.
Sometimes Raines imposed his own views on a story. In December, when Gerald Levin announced that he would step down as C.E.O. of AOL Time Warner and that his protege, Richard Parsons, would replace him, editors were puzzled by the meaning of the move. Suddenly, from one end of the long conference table, Raines asked, "It's obvious, isn't it?"
The others weren't so sure that it was.
"The old company won," Raines said. "That's the story!" The former political reporter, who is proud of being able to anticipate stories, was convinced that Levin and the Time Warner side of the company had won a battle with the AOL side. This editor-driven account appeared the next day, and it upset several business reporters, who thought the analysis was simplistic--and wrong. Perhaps emboldened by the nearly flawless news decisions that he had made since September 11th, Raines could now halt a conversation by exclaiming, "Isn't this what's really going on?" One senior editor worried that Raines was too opinionated--not in an ideological sense but in a narrow, perhaps cynical view of those in power--and that this certitude was going unchallenged.
The ten-thirty masthead meeting became a source of newsroom unhappiness. Soon after the editors walked down what one reporter called "the DMZ staircase" (it separates most of the third-floor newsroom from the area where many of the masthead editors have offices and where the foreign- and national-desk staffs sit in rows), orders would be issued. Katy Roberts, the national editor, recalls getting instructions from Boyd or Rosenthal: "'O.K., these are the five stories we want to get done.'" She was not happy with this system, which the newsroom characterized as "top-down management." Roberts said, "Joe Lelyveld always used to say that the best ideas come from reporters. I grew up with that at the paper.... And I always believed that was true." She had once worked for Raines on the Op-Ed page, and they were friendly. But now she complained loudly, sometimes tearfully, about having to undo assignments she had already made.
These complaints did not deter Raines, who knew that laments about intrusive editors were nothing new. In a 1971 memoir, "My Life and the Times," the former executive editor Turner Catledge describes one of his innovations, the daily four-thirty meeting, which many editors opposed: "I think some of the editors felt that these daily meetings were a threat to their long-standing autonomy (I certainly regarded them as such)."
In October, 2001, the New York Observer reported "tensions" between the masthead and the Washington bureau--another seasonal phenomenon at the Times. (Tension between Washington and New York was at the center of Gay Talese's 1969 portrait of the Times, "The Kingdom and the Power.") In this latest round, Jill Abramson was initially anxious because Michael Gordon and Patrick Tyler were brought in byRaines to enhance her bureau, and because the masthead now included three former Washington bureau chiefs--Raines, Craig R. Whitney, and Oreskes--and a former deputy, Rosenthal. It was well known that Tyler had been a fishing buddy of Raines's going back to the seventies, when they worked together at the St. Petersburg Times, and that Raines had hired him away from the Washington Post, in 1990; and many suspected that Raines wanted to install him as bureau chief. Raines says that his hope was to persuade Abramson eventually "to move to New York as part of the masthead or as a department head." But Abramson had become bureau chief only the previous January, and her son was still in high school. Abramson is a friend of the columnist Maureen Dowd, who is as close to Raines as any reporter on the paper is; a portrait that Raines once drew of Monica Lewinsky is on her office wall. Dowd laced into Raines for demeaning Abramson.
Raines went out of his way to praise Abramson, and to say that he saw her in a larger role at the paper, and she and Dowd were somewhat mollified. "She's very good at something Howell loves--she is tough," the editorial-page writer Steven Weisman, a Raines friend who has an office in the Washington bureau, said of Abramson. "Hemingway is one of Howell's favorite writers," Weisman went on. "There are Hemingway people and there are Fitzgerald people. Howell is a Hemingway person." So, in this view, is Abramson.
Raines believed that, with Johnny Apple, who is sixty-seven, about to become an associate editor, the paper needed other authoritative voices in Washington; he was sure that Patrick Tyler, at fifty, was his man. Tyler had headed bureaus in Cairo, for the Washington Post, and in Moscow and Beijing, for the Times; covered the Pentagon and national security and defense for the Post; spent a year and a half as a visiting fellow at Stanford; written two books; and briefly hosted a show about Congress for PBS. Other people had serious doubts. "Tyler is an extremely talented guy," someone who has worked closely with him says. "He has a motor and you can hear it purr. He's got raw energy. But is he wise enough?" Times reporters pointed out that Tyler had little experience covering the White House, or campaigns, or much politics at all, and whispered that their editor was guilty of cronyism.
In the end, Abramson accepted Tyler's move to Washington, but she did complain that Raines would bypass her and call Tyler about a lead-all. Her greatest frustration came when she and her editors were on the speakerphone to New York, outlining stories they were planning. "It was humiliating," someone who watched this unfold said. "It wasn't 'Jill, what do you have in the Washington report?' It was 'Jill, this is what we think should be in the Washington report.'" Abramson did not dispute the substance of most of the ideas from New York editors; her quarrel was with the "dictatorial style." A Washington friend of Raines's said, "Howell and his people are making the mistake everyone makes. They have this new toy and they are arrogant." The Washington bureau started referring to the masthead as the Taliban, and to Raines as Mullah Omar.
In mid-October, Gerald Boyd flew to Washington for what was to be a relaxed brown-bag lunch in the bureau's conference room. Boyd is a formal man, and an imposing figure, balding, and built like a linebacker. He is meticulously organized. He chews gum, but so slowly that his mustache hardly moves. "The most important thing I do is serve as an adviser to Howell," Boyd said in describing his job. "And by adviser I mean someone who tells him the bad and the good news." That day, Boyd said, his mission was to be a "trouble-shooter," to "reassure them how valuable they were."
The lunch was a debacle. The staff wanted to know why the best stories were assigned to reporters whom Raines had worked closely with when he ran the bureau, like Tyler. They felt insulted, particularly when Boyd said that the New York editors weren't playing favorites; they were picking the best people. Or when he said that they wanted more Johnny Apple analysis stories, because "no one does it better than Johnny." Eyes darted to Adam Clymer, then sixty-four, who was sitting directly across from Boyd. Although Clymer had the title Washington correspondent, he had not been given a major assignment since September 11th. In trying to describe the ten-thirty masthead meeting, Boyd kept saying, according to several participants, "We decide."
Boyd was shaken. "The issue of the heavy-handedness was a lot more personal than I certainly realized," he told me. "I didn't defuse it. I probably added to it, which wasn't good." After lunch, Abramson and Boyd walked across the street and sat on a park bench facing the White House. She told Boyd that she felt "disrespected" and said that if there wasn't a change she would quit. Perhaps it was her invocation of "disrespect" that broke the ice, for the conversation soon became human, that of a black man and a woman connecting on the common ground of what condescension feels like. "That was an important lesson for us," Boyd said. "It was a stylistic issue of how we were operating."
The next day, Raines apologized, told Abramson that she was "a star," and promised to abandon their speakerphone dictates. "I learned several things in that," Raines told me. "I was genuinely taken aback to learn that she was uncomfortable in those speakerphone meetings." And he was reminded that the message he intended to send was not always the message received. The next time they were on the speakerphone, Abramson said she wanted to speak first. The first time the masthead interrupted, she declared, "I'm not finished." When she did finish, Raines and the masthead broke into applause.
By the end of 2001, relations between Washington and New York had become less strained. But Raines remained what Soma Golden Behr admiringly calls "a guy in a hurry. I see a pretty determined guy who sees he has a limited lifetime at the top of this paper. He's not wasting a minute." To other Times employees, Behr's "guy in a hurry" was someone who had become a little too eager to show who was in charge.
Howell Raines's ancestors were farmers who owned neither plantations nor slaves. Many joined the Union Army, and called themselves Lincoln Republicans. They became Roosevelt Democrats during the New Deal. "Herbert Hoover had brought the hillbillies hunger and a firm economic policy," Raines wrote in his book "Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis," in 1993. "Franklin D. Roosevelt had brought electric lights and the best crappie fishing in the world."
"That outsider mentality influenced me," Raines told me. His father, W. S. (Wattie) Raines, dropped out of school when he was fourteen and went to work in a horse-collar factory, and later as a cabinetmaker for the A.&P. Wattie Raines was a handsome man with a storyteller's gift. He met Bertha Walker at church when they were teen-agers. Her father was a farmer, a postmaster, and a justice of the peace, and after high school she attended a state teachers' college, and taught first grade for a year. They were married in 1929, when they were twenty-two. "She was a country girl who had a sense of style," Raines said. In 1931, their first child, Mary Jo, was born, and two years later their first son, Jerry. The family moved to Birmingham, where, in 1937, Wattie Raines and two of his brothers opened a lumber-and-woodworking business, Raines Brothers.
By the time Howell was born, in 1943, the store-fixture business was thriving. The family did not live on the side of town with the mansions and country clubs; his father built a three-bedroom bungalow on a fifty-foot lot not far from the steel mills. Eventually, they had a nanny, a Cadillac, and cottages on the Gulf in Panama City, Florida, an area that Raines would later popularize as "the Redneck Riviera." Raines had what he calls a "sunny" childhood. He was a good student and a skilled baseball player; he was popular, and was elected vice-president of his senior class. He often went fishing with his father.
He read Hemingway and Steinbeck; because of his mother, he said, his mind first opened to the possibility of being a writer. His father taught him to sympathize with the underdog and to compete hard. He also grew up with a disdain for sloth; his father would sneer, "That man is so lazy it would not be worth the lead it would take to kill him."
Grady Hutchinson, who went to work for the Raines household when she was sixteen and Howell was seven, had a big influence on young Howell. His mother was out during much of the day, his father working, and his teen-age siblings at school or with friends, and Grady became a surrogate parent. Howell had curly hair, which he hated, so Grady would heat a straightening comb on the stove and pull it through his hair. He was insecure about his appearance and his height, and she would tell him how good he looked. He wrote stories, and she was full of praise for these efforts. She read him Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
Most of all, Grady Hutchinson opened Raines's eyes to race. He was about nine, he wrote in "Grady's Gift," a 1991 article for the Times Magazine, when she began to speak to him "of a hidden world about which no one has ever told me, a world as dangerous and foreign, to a white child in a segregated society, as Africa itself." In the magazine piece, which won a Pulitzer Prize, Raines wrote that Grady "taught me the most valuable lesson a writer can learn, which is to try to see--honestly and down to its very center--the world in which we live." He came to see that his home town, Birmingham, where four young black girls had been killed in a 1963 church bombing, was the true evil heart of segregation. Birmingham was where Raines became imbued with what he called "the choking shame" of racism. To this day, racism remains a simple evil to Raines. (In early May, the Times sent Rick Bragg to cover the trial of BobbyFrank Cherry, an ex-Klansman accused of the church bombing; later, Raines himself went. "To paraphrase Faulkner's Dilsey, I saw the first and I wanted to see the last," Raines wrote in an e-mail a few days before Cherry was convicted. "This is a story that I've been living with since my senior year in college and reporting about since 1974." When Bragg had to leave the courtroom, Raines took notes.)
Grady moved up north in 1957, when Howell was fourteen. More than three decades later, in 1994, she returned to Fairfield, just outside Birmingham, to the house her mother had owned. She is sixty-eight, and keeps in touch with Raines by phone and sometimes sees him; she thinks of him "as more like a brother." She told me that when she informed him that she was moving back, "He had my whole house done over--the roof, the kitchen--the whole house. He paid for all of it....He's the best thing that ever happened to me."
Raines graduated from high school in January of 1961 and enrolled at Birmingham-Southern College, just a few blocks from his home. "It was a great stroke of luck for me," he said. "I was able to be a small fish in a small pond, which is what I needed at that time. It had a great English department, and that's where I met Richebourg McWilliams, the most important influence on my life as a writer." It was also the height of the civil-rights movement--the time of the Birmingham police chief Bull Connor--but only two of the college's thousand students, Raines recalls, were "brave enough" to demonstrate. (Raines was not one of them.) A mixture of shame and a belief that he was witnessing a momentous event sparked his interest in journalism.
After graduating, in 1964, he planned to attend Florida State's Tallahassee campus, where a graduate teaching assistantship awaited. "My plan was to teach English and write novels," he said, yet he knew that if he pursued a doctorate he would get stuck on a campus. At about that time, a friend told him that the Birmingham Post-Herald, the smaller of the two dailies in the city, was hiring reporters. Raines landed a job there, and in November he got his first byline when he volunteered to write a feature story on an Alabama football game. He spent half the game standing behind Bear Bryant, which for him was "like watching John Wayne." In January of 1965, Raines was assigned to cover first the county school board, then Governor George Wallace's visits to Birmingham. Watching Wallace, he says, prompted in him a rage at lying--he "warped an entire society with what he knew as lies."
Later that year, a local TV station, WBRC, offered Raines a job--with a salary increase, from a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week--and he accepted. For almost two years, he covered and wrote stories to be read by TV anchors, and wrote documentaries, including one on child abuse. He had joined the National Guard in 1965, when the Vietnam War was starting to escalate, to avoid being drafted. He was ordered to active duty for six months in 1967, a tour that ended his television career.
Then he enrolled in a master's program in English at the University of Alabama. He ran out of money but stayed in school and took a job at the Tuscaloosa News, covering city hall. He started work on the same day, in January, 1968, as a layout artist named Susan Woodley. She was two and a half years younger, and also from Alabama; she had been reared in Tuscaloosa and had just graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman's College, in Lynchburg, Virginia. At first, she found him odd. What man brought fresh gardenias to the office and placed them on his desk? What Southern gentleman asked a woman to come to his apartment on a first date? "He had been trying to get me to go out with him," she recalled. "He wanted me to come to his house and watch 'Laugh-In.' I was offended and wouldn't go out with him."
In the spring of 1968, Robert Kennedy was scheduled to speak at the University of Alabama. Raines had something that Susan Woodley wanted: a press pass to the speech. They went on their first date with what newspaper reports say were ten thousand other Alabamans, most of them white, and after that they were inseparable. Raines believed that Kennedy could unseat President Johnson, end the war in Vietnam (which he says he found "misguided from the start"), and fight hard for equal rights. He said he was "a big believer in the possibility of rapid social change." Susan Woodley was struck, she recalled, "with Raines's self-confidence," with "how he didn't have a chip on his shoulder." They were married at her family's home in March of 1969.
They moved to a carriage house on twenty acres in Birmingham; every morning at five o'clock, Raines would go to the screened porch to work on a novel, tentatively titled "The Death of Bluenose Trogdon." "He had a lot of drive," Susan Raines told me. In the photographs that she took of Raines on their porch or with his fishing gear, one immediately notices his dark, brooding eyes. He had reason to brood: money was short, particularly when their son Ben was on the way. (He was born in 1970; a second son, Jeff, was born in 1972.) To earn more money, Raines left the newspaper to join the family store-fixture business as a plant foreman.
In late 1970, Raines returned to newspapers, as a reporter on the Birmingham News. He stayed just nine months, and then found a job with the Atlanta Constitution, whose former editor, Ralph McGill, had dared to denounce segregation; on weekends, he tried to work on the novel. Another young reporter, John Huey, who joined the Atlanta paper in 1974, remembers that Raines stood out. "He was the one management would talk to if they had a problem with the worker bees,"Huey said. "And he was a very eloquent writer. He wrote about popular culture in an eloquent way. He always had an air that he had been around--and he hadn't." Raines became the paper's political editor in 1974. Later that year, he was given an advance by Putnam to write an oral history of the civil-rights movement. He quit the paper to devote himself to the history and to his novel.
The novel was "turned down by virtually every major house in New York," Raines said. He kept writing and rewriting it. His retirement from journalism was short-lived, and in 1976 he was recruited by another Southern newspaper legend, Eugene Patterson, to become the political editor of the St. Petersburg Times, where he began his friendship with Patrick Tyler. Raines was determined, however, to be an important novelist, and when, in 1976, Viking bought the novel, for six thousand dollars, he was ecstatic. "We had dreams of living in Europe, and he'd be writing novels and I'd be taking photographs," Susan Raines said.
Both books got good reviews when they were published, in 1977. Of "My Soul Is Rested," the oral history, Anthony Lewis wrote, in the Times Book Review, "No book for a long time has left me so moved or so happy." If this book captured Raines's hopeful, idealistic side, the novel captured his darker side. "Whiskey Man," as the novel was retitled, is a bleak story about an idealistic young man, Brant Laster, who returns from college to his beloved father and a tiny hill town that he invests with bright hopes and gauzy memories, only to encounter the Snopes-like prejudice of hypocritical preachers and spineless politicians. Its citizens, including his father, live a life of "doubleness," their faces masked by "eyes as flat and unfathomable as poker chips." Late in the novel, Raines's narrator says:
Then I was back in the car and the car was rolling for home again, down past the church looming skull-like in the darkness, past the graveyard where Bluenose lay in the absolute silence and darkness and time-without-end of that pine box, the smell of the whiskey poured on it already smothered and absorbed by the compact earth.
After a brief moment of savoring his fine reviews and selling paperback rights to both books, Raines faced reality. It had taken years to finish and publish "Whiskey Man"; no one would advance him the kind of money he wanted for a second novel, and he had a family to support. "Doors always seemed to open for Howell in journalism and not in the literary world," Susan Raines said. He continued his work at the St. Petersburg Times.
His writing attracted the notice of editors in New York, among them Bill Kovach and Dave Jones, of the Times. In 1978, Raines and his wife came to the city and stayed at the Algonquin Hotel. He interviewed with editors at Time and at the Times. He was at "a fork in the road," feeling a need to choose between rolling the dice on a second novel and entering "the big leagues" of journalism.
Abe Rosenthal, the executive editor of the Times, remembers reading Raines's books before his interview and doing "something I rarely did, which is say, 'I want this guy on the paper.' Even before he was interviewed. The books were clear and strong, and what interested me was the catholicity of the books. This guy had more than one story."
Raines was hired by the Times as a national correspondent, based in Atlanta, and in 1979 was made bureau chief there. During the 1980 Presidential campaign, he was drafted by Bill Kovach, the new Washington bureau chief, to cover Reagan, and soon afterward Kovach offered him the White House beat, which he shared with Steven Weisman. Susan Raines, who had become a successful freelance photographer, was not happy to leave Atlanta, but the Times, and Howell, came first. Susan counts thirteen moves over the first eleven years of their marriage.
By 1983, Raines was weary of covering the White House--like many before him in that job, he felt like a stenographer. He was promoted to national political correspondent, to the great displeasure of the Walter Mondale campaign, which complained that he dwelled on campaign gaffes; after Reagan's reelection, Raines became Kovach's deputy. He prided himself on forcing the Washington reporters to "start thinking of their stories earlier in the day" and to have their thoughts clear by 4 P.M., Gerald Boyd recalled. "His approach to management was meticulous," Kovach said. "He was meticulous in explaining what needed to be done." It was in this period that Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., became more aware of Raines. Sulzberger had admired Raines's stories, but remembers hearing that he was a "harsh" manager.
Meanwhile, Abe Rosenthal was about to turn sixty-five, the mandatory retirement age for masthead editors at the Times. Kovach, a beloved editor, had hoped one day to succeed him, but he was thought, even by his friends, to be too rigid--he didn't want to work overseas, and he found it hard to be diplomatic with those he held in low regard. After Frankel became the Times' editor, in the fall of 1986, Kovach left the paper to become the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
When Frankel visited Washington, Raines asked about being appointed bureau chief. He did so with apprehension, because, of all the editors he had known at the Times, Frankel--who, like Rosenthal, had a sweep of experience at the paper--was the only one who made him feel insecure. Raines recalled, "He explained to me patiently and kindly that he was not making me Washington editor, because I didn't have foreign experience and was not as deeply experienced in economic issues as I was in national political issues." Frankel offered Raines a choice of three jobs: Paris bureau chief, London bureau chief, or national editor--all plums, but not what Raines wanted. He thought about going to Atlanta with Kovach, and that night he talked about his options with Johnny Apple.
Apple, who had been London bureau chief for ten years, recalled telling Raines that from London he could "write about anything," and could move around Europe. There was another, social advantage: the Sulzberger family passed through London regularly; Raines would get to know everyone who mattered to his career. "He's a man of intense, if not always acknowledged, ambition," Apple said of Raines.
Raines told Frankel that he would accept the London job. Yet he was not happy; he had given up fiction, although he continued to imagine a literary career for himself, and, at the same time, he fretted that his journalistic career had been sidetracked. He was forty-three. He needed to learn a new skill--foreign correspondence. Susan Raines had been working in a gallery in Washington and was thriving, and now she imagined having to become a London hostess. She was miserable; the marriage was fragile. Raines describes his mood at the time as one of "generalized restlessness...a general sense of life passing and one not having great joy." In many ways, his work in London reflected his ennui.
Senior people at the paper say they cannot remember a single memorable story that Raines did from overseas. Joe Lelyveld, who was then the foreign editor, told friends, "I did not lean on him. He was a little bruised." However, Raines had not given up hope of one day moving up the masthead. He had spent time with the Sulzbergers on their visits, and Philip Taubman, who had worked alongside Raines in Washington and had become Moscow bureau chief, kept in touch. Over a long lunch in London, where Taubman was on vacation, they discussed their careers. "We sort of agreed at that lunch that we'd try and work together if it worked out that we became editors," Taubman recalled. "He was very confident in declaring, 'I'm going to be an editor here and I want to find like-minded colleagues.'"
Perhaps Raines knew by then that Frankel's choice to run the Washington bureau, Craig Whitney, assisted by deputies Judith Miller and Johnny Apple, was not working out. After Raines had been in London less than two years, Frankel asked if he would like to trade jobs with Whitney. In July of 1988, the Raineses returned to Washington, where the bureau welcomed him. The marriage, however, did not survive. In "Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis," Raines wrote of reaching a time of "a largely unspoken sense of finality and divergence." He added, "The winding down of any long marriage is a complicated story and a sad one, too, if the marriage has been a very good one for a very long time." Susan eventually remarried, and today is friendly with her former husband; he called her just before his appointment as executive editor was announced, she told me, and said that he "could never have done it without me." (The Raines children are married; Ben is a reporter at the Mobile Register, in Alabama, and Jeff plays guitar and composes for the funk band Galactic.)
Raines pushed the staff in Washington. "Howell came in and energized a lot of the reporters who needed it," the columnist William Safire, who is an avuncular presence in the bureau, recalled. But there were complaints. Taubman, who became Raines's deputy in Washington and is now the deputy editor of the editorial page, recalls that Raines "had a management style that was very hard-driving." One embarrassing story, often told, is that Raines once asked a news clerk to take his plants outside so they could get "natural rainwater." It was, Raines says today, "a mistake in judgment that I never repeated."
The biggest complaint was that he had a coterie of pals, and saved the best assignments for them. They would congregate in a part of the newsroom that became known as Happy Valley, and others felt ostracized. At one staff lunch, Raines spoke of his A team and his B team, one participant recalled. "Some of the real talents in the bureau were not realized, because they were not encouraged," he said. "I'm all for putting the best people on stories." It was only after Raines left that people like Michael Wines and David Johnston, whom Raines had pigeonholed as members of the B team, began to stand out. At the same time, Raines succeeded in ways that others hadn't; during his four years as bureau chief, there was less second-guessing from New York, and a universal sense that the Times was more than holding its own against the Washington Post.
By 1992, Raines was ready to move on. Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., had recently been named publisher, succeeding his father, and that spring Raines told him that the Op-Ed page needed a liberal columnist in Washington, to counterbalance Safire. "Arthur Jr. found Raines beguiling," Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones recounted in "The Trust," their authoritative 1999 history of the Times dynasty. Raines was "a kindred spirit: a contrarian whose values had taken shape during the sixties, who viewed the world as a moral battleground." Sulzberger wanted the editorial page to speak with his voice--a more pointed, less old-fashioned voice--and, when Raines suggested the column, Sulzberger made a counterproposal: become editorial-page editor, succeeding Jack Rosenthal. "It was a leap," Sulzberger said. "But I knew we needed passion."
Raines did not jump. "I had never thought about that," he told Sulzberger.
"Why don't you think about it?" the publisher replied.
When they talked later that summer, Raines was surprised that the publisher didn't ask about his views on the issues of the day. Sulzberger felt no need to. He knew that Raines, like him, took liberal positions on affirmative action, capital punishment, abortion rights, health insurance, welfare, the environment, and the role of an activist government. Sulzberger said that he saw the editorial-page editor and the executive editor as partners in the Times' future. They would have lunch every Wednesday; they would discuss business as well as editorial policy. Although Raines knew that he would become what he calls "a staff officer," commanding not an army of correspondents but a platoon of fourteen editorial writers and thirty staffers, he also knew what awaited him if he said no. "The next hierarchical move for me would have been to be an assistant managing editor," he said, a position that would have diminished his chance of ever becoming executive editor or managing editor when Max Frankel retired. "I felt that he wouldn't offer me that kind of job unless he saw me as a potential executive editor," Raines said. He knew that Frankel, too, had been editorial-page editor before moving to the top newsroom job.
Raines would not take over until January of 1993, but, as he thought about filling the new post, he grandiosely chose a President as his model: Harry Truman. "I was probably more influenced by Harry Truman than by anyone else," Raines told me. "Truman wanted to find a one-armed economist so he wouldn't say, 'On the one hand, on the other hand.'" Nor did Raines believe in using precious space to outline opposing views. "My view was, let's use our space to make our arguments," he said.
Raines's politics were formed, as Tifft and Jones suggest, by the sixties, and also by his upbringing. He was proud of his own populism; in "Fly Fishing," he wrote bitterly about "reporting on President Reagan's success in making life harder for citizens who were not born rich, white and healthy"--as if Raines himself had not been born in all three categories. Over the next eight and a half years, he used the editorial page to rail against favorite targets: what he saw as a corruption of politics by money; the despoiling of the environment by oil and gas interests; the poor treatment of the less fortunate by H.M.O.s and insurance companies; the excesses of corporate America. Raines was certainly not anti-business--he grew up in a businessman's family and works for a company whose profits are essential to the well-being of its employees. But he was quick to attack what he saw as predatory practices or, in the case of Microsoft, monopolistic practices--all very much in the liberal tradition. He could also be provocative, as when, in a signed piece, he scolded the filmmaker Oliver Stone for inventing history and, in "JFK," for making a hero out of the New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, who had accused the C.I.A. of complicity in the Kennedy assassination. What was startling was that the Times' editorial-page editor went on to suggest another, "more likely" conspiracy theory: that the Mafia, not the C.I.A., may have been behind the murder.
In the past, the Times editorial page had been criticized for being too predictable, too fastidious. Raines's critics now found it becoming too shrill, particularly in its portrayal of the Clinton Administration, which Raines saw as ethically lax and politically corrupt, an enormous disappointment of early hopes. One member of the editorial board says that Raines showed more "rage" toward Clinton's obfuscations and outright lies than he did "toward genocide." Officials in the Clinton White House were furious; they thought that Raines was jealous or resentful of fellow-Southerners who succeeded as Clinton had. Raines said, "It was always surprising to me the degree to which the Clinton people saw things in personal terms"--an odd observation, since Raines had changed the tone at the Times but still expected the editorial page to be treated as if it maintained a detached voice.
If there is a common theme in Raines's commentaries--and his politics--it is a detestation of hypocrisy and lying, even in matters of lesser moment, such as a 1998 commentary, signed by Raines, in which he attacked the Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle for plagiarism, and then the Globe (which is owned by the Times) for not firing Barnicle at once. The commentary Raines is proudest of was an unsigned piece in 1995 on former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his book "In Retrospect," in which he confessed to maintaining silence about his deep misgivings while sending Americans to die in the Vietnam War. Raines wrote:
His regret cannot be huge enough to balance the books for our dead soldiers. The ghosts of those unlived lives circle close around Mr. McNamara. Surely he must in every quiet and prosperous moment hear the ceaseless whispers of those poor boys in the infantry, dying in the tall grass, platoon by platoon, for no purpose. What he took from them cannot be repaid by prime-time apology and stale tears, three decades late.
Steven Weisman said that Raines "loved making a statement and standing up for the dead, for the people he grew up with. It was a great reflection of who he is. When you strip away all the layers of civility and graciousness, you get to his unforgiving soul, particularly about race and class."
On the tenth floor of the Times Building, where the editorial offices circle a quiet library, Raines nurtured a happy family. During his tenure, he replaced half the editorial board, and hired several women, including Tina Rosenberg, who won a Pulitzer for her 1995 book, "The Haunted Ground"; Eleanor Randolph, who had been a reporter with the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times; and Gail Collins. "He was very good at explaining things and how his own mind was working and how he got to a decision about things," Collins said. Brent Staples, who joined the board under Jack Rosenthal and stayed on with Raines, and who today is the only black member, said, "You never came away from a conversation with him feeling he played you cheap or he didn't respect your intelligence. Whether you wanted something or you argued with him, you came away feeling you'd been heard."
The most important audience, of course, was the publisher, and he was pleased with Raines's tenure. "There's a relentlessness about Howell that I admire," Sulzberger told me. "On the editorial page, he just wouldn't let Clinton off the hook. I would argue that he should not have." Sulzberger, who in 1997 replaced his father as chairman of the company, hastened to add, "That is not a rap on Max or Jack, but I think what we saw with the editorial page under Howell is a ratcheting up of its level of staking out clearly defined ground"--of stating its views without a lot of shading. Sulzberger says he sometimes looked at draft editorials and maybe, once a month or so, "made suggestions." The publisher is being too modest, several members of the editorial board say. "Arthur sometimes edited our pieces and Howell never told us," one board member says, not in anger but in appreciation for Raines's diplomacy.
Raines's relationship with Joseph Lelyveld, who in July of 1994 succeeded Frankel as executive editor, was ostensibly smooth. Sulzberger told people he trusted that during seven years of Wednesday lunches, or at Times retreats and meetings, he never witnessed tension between them. Nor, he said, did either ever lobby him about the other. Raines and Lelyveld were aligned on certain issues, particularly against those on the business side who wanted to spin off the Times' news Web site as a stand-alone company. They agreed that such a move could undermine the paper's journalistic standards. At one Times retreat, Lelyveld invited Raines to spend the night at his weekend home, in Ulster County, New York.
But the relationship was never more than polite. When Frankel had announced, in early 1994, that he would step down a year before the mandatory retirement age, Raines partisans believed he did so to block Raines. They reason that Frankel, by leaving early--and little more than a year after Raines had moved to New York from Washington--made sure that his deputy, Lelyveld, would follow him. After Lelyveld was selected, he invited Raines to discuss the No. 2 job in the newsroom, the managing editorship. Corporate etiquette demanded the meeting, but it was an awkward encounter. Lelyveld had little interest in selecting Raines, and Raines had no interest in working under Lelyveld. "I had only been editorial-page editor for a year and a half," Raines said. "Also, if I came downstairs at the start of Joe's editorship, it would be unlikely that I would succeed him. You can pick up a lot of scar tissue in these jobs."
Lelyveld surprised the newsroom with his choice for managing editor: Gene Roberts, a retired Philadelphia Inquirer executive editor and a former Times national editor, who was sixty-one. In some ways, Roberts helped to crystallize the different management approaches of Raines and Lelyveld, who saw the masthead as Roberts did--as, in Roberts's word, "bureaucrats." Roberts added, "The whole point of Joe's administration, since Joe spent his life as a reporter there, was to keep his reporters from getting swallowed up by the bureaucracy and from getting second-guessed."
In 1999, the Times embarrassed itself with a series of accusatory stories, suggesting that a Los Alamos nuclear scientist, Wen Ho Lee, may have spied for China--coverage that eventually led to a long and mystifying editor's note. Raines told friends that many of the Times' reporting mistakes sprang from infighting between the Washington bureau and the science desk. Washington believed that Lee was guilty; the science reporters were dubious--and, Raines thought, no one on the masthead adjudicated. (Raines's editorial page assumed that Lee was guilty.)
Lelyveld left a distinguished legacy. He resisted salacious stories about President Clinton's sex life. He hired strong reporters, and deployed an army of reporters to provide illuminating coverage of, among many stories, the Florida recount after the 2000 Presidential election. But the differences between Lelyveld and Raines were substantive, and reflected two distinct personalities. Lelyveld wanted to publish longer pieces, one of his major efforts being a year-long reporting project that involved more than fifty people and produced a fifteen-part series, "How Race Is Lived in America," in 2000, which won a Pulitzer; he pushed for what he called "not-a-today story." Raines also wanted long pieces, but above all he wanted them to trigger news. In political coverage, Lelyveld put more emphasis on the words of the candidates and the opinions of voters; he was less interested than Raines was in tactics and drama. Raines believed that Lelyveld's approach to political reporting missed the Florentine flavor of politics, as captured in the L.B.J. photo montage displayed in his office. The assistant managing editor Andrew Rosenthal probably reflected Raines's view when he said, "I may regret saying this--I don't want to come off as critical of Joe--but the Gore campaign was profoundly hurt by a series of small stupid lies, and you won't find them in the New York Times."
For seven years, Raines and Lelyveld coexisted on their separate floors. Johnny Apple, who was friendly with both men, remembers that when he returned from the trip to South Africa with Raines, in 1995, Lelyveld "was very frosty to me."
"What's the matter with you?" Apple asked.
"I hear you were in South Africa," Lelyveld replied.
"That said to me that surely it was more than that I didn't call him," Apple observes. Lelyveld, who won a Pulitzer in 1986 for a book about South Africa, where he reported for the Times, may have been miffed at not being consulted about the trip, particularly since it was paid for out of his news budget. Lelyveld told some people that what annoyed him was "a Johnny Apple holiday dressed up as a reporting trip."
Apple can't explain the roots of the tension between two men he admires and feels close to. "I could never get either of them to confide in me," he said.
In the spring of 2001, Sulzberger invited Raines to dinner at Aquavit, a midtown restaurant that the publisher likes for its Scandinavian fare and a waterfall that prevents eavesdropping. Sulzberger had earlier tipped off Raines that Lelyveld had decided to retire in the fall, about six months before the mandatory age, and that Raines was a prime candidate to replace him. Now Sulzberger wanted to hear what Raines might do as editor.
Raines knew that his principal competitor was Bill Keller, the managing editor since 1997. Lelyveld had been best man at Keller's recent wedding, and Raines suspected that Lelyveld would champion his protege's candidacy.
"The center of my plan for the paper," Raines told the publisher, "is to grow the national edition as our main vehicle for the future of the print paper...and also to move from passive to active cooeperation in terms of extending our kind of quality journalism across digital, cable, and broadcast platforms"--from print to the Times Web site to television to radio. Raines knew that eighty-seven per cent of the paper's display-advertising revenue was coming from full-run national advertising, compared with just thirty-four per cent in 1996. He also knew that the Times was far ahead of its ten-year goal to boost daily circulation by two hundred and fifty thousand and Sunday's by three hundred thousand. And he knew that the Times Company owned seventeen daily newspapers, including the Boston Globe, eight TV stations in midsized markets, and two radio stations.
Raines saw the job as a management challenge, an assessment that appealed to Sulzberger. "I also felt that I would bring a style of closer personal engagement and interaction with the staff," Raines said. Above all, Raines concluded, his main task, like that of every previous executive editor, would be the "stewardship" of a great newspaper. He thought it could be a greater newspaper.
When Keller met with Sulzberger, he spoke of continuing what he and Lelyveld had started: a horizontal style of management which would reduce the size of the masthead and grant clear responsibilities to those who remained. Keller spoke of wanting a happy newsroom, and of expanding coverage of popular culture and the media. Sulzberger later confided to Lelyveld that, though he admired Keller as a newsman, he did not feel close to him. Lelyveld understood that Raines and Sulzberger had clicked on a personal level.
By May, Janet Robinson, the newspaper's president, whose office, on the fourteenth floor, is just down the corridor from Sulzberger's, had decided to support Raines, and told the publisher so. In addition to Robinson and Lelyveld, Sulzberger consulted his father, Arthur (Punch) Sulzberger, Sr.; his wife, Gail Gregg, an artist and a former journalist; his Times Company C.E.O., Russell Lewis; "one or two friends," including his 5:45 A.M. gym partner, the investment banker and former Times reporter Steven Rattner; and some members of the masthead. Sulzberger says he was so vexed by the choice that "I threw my back out" and took to bed. It was probably less difficult than he lets on. All along, Keller believed, and told friends, that Raines had the advantage.
"I chose Howell in the end because I decided we needed a new pair of eyes," Sulzberger told me recently. "Joe really had made Bill his partner. That's a good thing. And while Bill did lay out a vision for what the newsroom would be under him--and how it would differ--I thought the time was right for a different step....Any organization needs change to continue to improve, and that's part of my job, to assure that this organization has regular change."
Raines's age was also an advantage. At fifty-eight--six years older than Keller--he could serve no more than seven years. Sulzberger believed that the last editor to stay more than a decade, Abe Rosenthal, had become too authoritarian, especially at the end. He knew that he could select Raines and still consider Keller--or Gerald Boyd, Andrew Rosenthal (who is Abe Rosenthal's son), Michael Oreskes, Jon Landman, or Jill Abramson--down the road.
After Raines's appointment was announced, in May of 2001, Apple and his wife, Betsey, invited the Lelyvelds and Raines and Krystyna Stachowiak to dinner at Esca, an Italian seafood restaurant near the Times Building. There were a few jokes, Apple recalls, but mostly there were awkward silences. "It was clear to me that they found it difficult to be together in such a small group after all these years," Apple said.
By January of 2002, colleagues were used to seeing Raines, wearing a hat, enter the Times Building around 10 A.M., taking furious little steps up to the conference room on the fourth floor. Everyone had heard a Bear Bryant story, or his favorite exhortation: "Let's commit some journalism here!" Many had tried to peer into the two narrow glass panels of his office to see if he was at his desk; he rarely wandered around the newsroom. Sometimes, at the end of the day, editors, and occasionally reporters, were invited into the small room behind his office to share a drink--preferably bourbon, Scotch, or gin. This practice, along with Raines's frequent sports and military references, had begun to make some women in the newsroom uncomfortable.
Raines believes that January marked the real beginning of his new job--when he could concentrate on his agenda at the paper. Joe Lelyveld enjoys high culture--opera, concerts, recitals--and he had the like-minded John Rockwell edit the Sunday Arts & Leisure section. Under Raines, the newsroom began to notice a greater emphasis on popular culture and life style. An early hint of this change had come in December, when Rockwell was encouraged to step down. Rockwell is a gifted writer--and a former rock critic--but there was broad support in the newsroom for a section more balanced between high culture and popular culture. Even so, there was concern about Raines's tastes. "What makes the Times distinctive is foreign news and cultural news," one senior editor says. "That's what people outside New York find missing from their own local newspapers." This editor worried that in its quest for a national audience the Times, like the television networks, could end up making marketing-driven decisions.
The newsroom took notice when stories about Botox injections and supermodels attending World Economic Forum parties appeared on page 1, or when tensions between Lawrence H. Summers, the new president of Harvard, and Cornel West, of the Afro-American Studies department, were given repeated front-page treatment. To some inside the Times, the way Raines played the Cornel West story suggested that he and Sulzberger were allowing their own views to intrude, particularly on racial matters. At the March 15th page-one meeting, Jon Landman, the metro editor, proposed running an exclusive story about the controversial findings of a state-sponsored study in New Jersey which concluded that blacks are more likely to speed than other drivers. The story cited testimony that racial profiling was real, but it added a level of complexity to the familiar narrative.
Raines said that he was troubled that the Times did not have the actual study (though the newspaper sometimes publishes accounts of studies it hasn't seen), and after the meeting he stopped by Gerald Boyd's office to say that he had other problems with the story; he believed, as federal officials did, that the study's methodology was flawed, and he worried that the newspaper was being "spun." By 8:30 P.M., Boyd reported back that there were, indeed, flaws in the story and that it would be put on hold. The exclusive did not appear until March 21st, and then not on page 1 but on the first page of the metro section. I asked Landman if Raines was being politically correct by holding the story. Landman wouldn't answer. "You'll have to draw your own conclusions," he said.
Raines, however, was enthusiastic about Landman and his metro staff; he did not feel that way about the national staff. To capture what Raines called "the pulse" of a region and the nation, he wanted reporters in the ten domestic bureaus to travel more. He saw a business reason for mobility as well. If the national edition was to grow, the paper needed more bylines from more places. Raines was frustrated with particular bureaus, especially Los Angeles, because he considered its coverage of Hollywood to be soft. By the spring, Raines had appointed a new L.A. bureau chief--John Broder--and added to the bureau a talented metro reporter, Charlie LeDuff.
Traditionally, bureau chiefs were rotated every three to five years. Kevin Sack, however, the Atlanta bureau chief, had been in his post for five years, and in the bureau for almost seven, and wanted to remain in the city. A popular, respected reporter, Sack had been hired away from the Atlanta Constitution, partly on the recommendation of Raines. In August of 2001, Sack had told Raines that he couldn't leave Atlanta; he was going through a divorce and had an eight-year-old daughter whom he saw only one night a week and every other weekend. Sack was willing to give up the bureau-chief job, but asked to stay in Atlanta, perhaps until his daughter graduated from high school. Raines said that he thought the paper had made too many private deals, that fairness required him to rotate people, and that he and Lelyveld had agreed on this point. In January, Jill Abramson made what Sack told friends was a "great" job offer: he would cover politics in Washington--and Abramson promised that he could see his daughter on weekends. But a week later Sack turned down the offer, and later left the Times. From August to February, Sack and Raines never spoke.
As Sack began looking for another job, word of his predicament travelled through the newsroom. Few people there knew that this was not an abrupt decision, or that Sack had been offered a job in Washington. Reporters who agreed with Raines that the rotation of correspondents was only fair nevertheless fretted that the Times was becoming unfriendly to families, that senior people were getting pushed out to pasture. Raines's real message, one editor said, was that there are no special deals, but "the message received was 'Nobody's safe.'" In April, Kevin Sack joined the Los Angeles Times as a national correspondent. "They'll allow me to stay in Atlanta indefinitely," he said.
As a general rule, newsrooms are wary precincts. During the day, reporters anxiously follow editors in and out of their offices, up and down stairs, and notice when they enter and leave. Ben Bradlee, when he was the executive editor of the Washington Post, used to walk around the newsroom and call out, "Morale check, morale check!" He remembered, "I'd see two guys talking, and you wanted to know what the hell they were talking about. Sometimes you waited until the third guy joined them, because the two guys may be talking about you. You got to know what they're talking about. An editor is a lot like a coach. You wouldn't coach the football team without knowing that your guard is not talking to your tackle."
By late this winter, the anxiety level at the Times had grown. "There is enormous resentment, the likes of which I've never seen," someone who's been at the paper for thirty years told me. Perhaps not since Abe Rosenthal's last, autocratic years had the din of newsroom complaint been as loud. Reporters joked that Raines "was Southern-fried Abe." Arthur Gelb, who has just completed "City Room," a memoir of more than fifty years at the Times, observes that every Times editor is criticized by the newsroom. When Gelb started at the paper, in 1944, as a nineteen-year-old copy boy, the complaint about the first top editor he knew, Edwin L. James, "was that he wasn't accessible and hid in his office so he didn't have to give raises. Next was Turner Catledge, and the complaint was that he was away from the office a lot. Next was Clifton Daniel, and the complaint was that he was haughty. Then came Scotty Reston, who people thought was pontifical. Then came Abe. He was thought to be too demanding. Then Max was perceived as too theoretical and not impulsive enough in jumping on news. Joe was perceived as too aloof. Now Howell is perceived as moving too fast. The pendulum is that you're either too tough and enthusiastic or too laid-back and unenthusiastic."
Jon Landman, who respects Raines and the energy he has brought to the newsroom, is among those who were sometimes uneasy with the peremptory tone of the masthead's edicts to section editors. Landman is popular and respected because he is unafraid to speak his mind; Bill Keller has said that if he had been made executive editor he probably would have picked Landman as his managing editor. Landman is also a favorite with Raines, for whom he worked in the Washington bureau. "There is nothing wrong with the executive editor having story ideas," Landman told me. "The problem is when these story ideas become commands and overwhelm everything else.... There's a feeling of a one-way windstorm." He worried that reporters and editors would become "tentative."
By late February, there was concern that Raines was trying to shake up a great institution so vigorously that he might damage it. "How hard can you shake it before it cracks?" one experienced correspondent asked. Every time Raines talked about speeding up "the metabolism" of the paper and attacking "complacency," many staff members felt they were under assault. Landman, like many others, interpreted Raines's comments as suggesting that the Times was somehow broken and needed to be fixed. "When you use phrases like 'metabolism' and 'complacency,' it's unmistakable," he said. Landman believed that the Times was a greater paper last year than it had been the year before, or the year before that. What many in the newsroom heard, he said, "was assaultive. It sounded contemptuous"--not, he thinks, the message Raines meant to send.
Word even filtered up to the fourteenth floor, to Sulzberger, who joked to friends, "I'm hearing 'Abe's back'!" Not that Sulzberger was displeased. When he became publisher, in 1992, he felt that a cultural revolution was needed at the Times, and he held retreats to advance his belief. "Any executive or manager has only two drawers in his desk," Sulzberger says. "One says 'Centralize,' and the other says 'Decentralize.' There is no third drawer. And there's no right or wrong. It's balance that you want. Different times need different approaches."
Before each page-one meeting, senior editors receive a "frontings" memorandum, containing drafts and summaries of stories that each department is working on which might qualify for page 1. In the conference room, Boyd, the managing editor, sits in the middle of a long table, and Raines sits to his far left at one end, under a white board used to display pictures. On the surface, these meetings seem relaxed, and begin when Boyd calls on each department head or a deputy to make his pitch. In truth, the editors are tense, because they are fearful of being quizzed by Raines or another editor and of not knowing enough about their own story.
On Friday, February 15th, nearly three dozen editors crowded into the conference room. They all knew that Raines was keenly interested in the Winter Olympics. Before this year's skating scandal, he had demanded that the sports department produce a story about the subjectivity of the judges, and it had run on page 1; the Times had sent twenty-four people to Salt Lake City, including four correspondents from outside the sports department. Now Boyd turned to Neil Amdur, the sports editor, who described the International Skating Union's decision to reverse the judges and award a second gold medal to a Canadian pair in figure skating, and to suspend a French skating judge for misconduct.
"What is it about this that broke the I.O.C.'s high level of tolerance for shenanigans?" Raines asked. "To me, this is a watershed time for the Olympics.... Somewhere, we have to get all that together for the reader." He wanted a news-analysis piece, and worried that sports did not know how to write a broad, authoritative account that would mix skating, politics, and diplomacy.
Boyd then addressed a couple of other editors before Raines said that he wanted to go back to sports. He referred to the news-analysis piece that he wanted, and asked, "Neil, can we write about the Olympics without using the word 'firestorm' anywhere in the story?"
"Ice storm?" Amdur replied, amid laughter. Raines laughed, too. (Later, however, he said that he wanted a Johnny Apple-style analysis. "That's not something they're used to producing in that department," he said. Among themselves, members of the sports department complained that correspondents covering the Games had to wait until after the masthead met to get their marching orders.)
After finishing with sports, Boyd asked for the foreign-desk report, and Alison Smale, the British-born assistant foreign editor (who has since been promoted to deputy), offered several candidates, among them a story from Afghanistan about the assassination of a minister in the post-Taliban government. After addressing the other desks, including photo, Boyd looked at Al Siegal, who usually sits at the table across from him, and said, "All right, what do we like?" They were looking for seven stories worthy of the front page, including one especially interesting or well-written story. Most of all, they were searching for the one story to lead the paper--in the upper right-hand corner.
Siegal appeared to have no doubts, and said that the Afghan story should lead the paper, and that is probably what most of the editors thought. Certainly it would be the traditional Times lead.
"The Olympics is the biggest story of the day," Raines countered. No one challenged him.
The skating story led the Saturday-morning front page, with an extraordinary four-column headline. There was also news about the murder in Afghanistan, the secret sale of a hundred million dollars in Enron stock by its C.E.O., and the use by China of mental hospitals to incarcerate dissidents. Later, however, one senior editor said that he was disturbed. "Never in a hundred years would that story have led the paper," he said. "It did because Howell thought it was the most interesting story. In the past, it would have been seen as not having enough gravitas." Siegal, he continued, "was trying to steer Howell to the most important lead, but he backed off." Why? Because editors--himself included--are afraid to confront Raines, he said.
The Enron scandal crystallized what the newsroom admired about Raines, and also what it found alarming, as he pressed editors to produce page-one stories. He wanted editors "to forget turf lines," the assistant managing editor Carolyn Lee says. "Howell wants speed." He wanted the Washington and the Houston bureaus, the national desk, and legal correspondents to get involved, as he asked for separate stories and also for long narratives that would give readers what Raines calls "one-stop-shopping pieces." He told his business editors, "The Enron story is going to be your World Trade Center story."
Others thought the coverage was excessive. People worried that "flooding the zone" could mean diverting resources from other stories, thus losing a sense of proportion. In February, Raines held a lunch with Glenn Kramon and the business staff, and in his opening remarks talked only about Enron, mentioning none of the other stories they had produced.
The preoccupation with Enron sometimes overshadowed other business stories; for instance, in late January, Kramon argued that the "most important business story today" was not about Enron but about how H.M.O.s were curbing health coverage for the elderly. Nevertheless, Enron made page 1, and the sort of populist, people-getting-victimized story that Raines usually relishes--the type of story that, before the Enron scandal broke, would have produced an indignant editorial--appeared in the business section. One reporter observed that under Raines the Times "is a more exciting place to work," but she worried that there was "a lot of reporting on the moment." Raines, who has become a Kramon fan, defends himself from this sort of criticism. "Do I think we've had too much Enron in the paper?" he said. "It's a huge story, and it's a story of as much sociological significance potentially as the great populist reaction to the abuses of the Gilded Age."
In early March, Raines became concerned that he needed to strike a better balance. He knew that he had to spend more time praising his predecessors and his editors, and that he had to reveal his thinking to more people in the newsroom. When he was told that editors believed his message was that the paper was broken, he responded, "That's delusional! The paper is stronger than it's ever been."
Raines started meeting each Tuesday morning with the department editors; he accelerated a practice, begun in the fall but only sporadically adhered to, of lunching with various departments. One of these lunches, held on March 15th in an eleventh-floor executive dining room, was attended by twenty-six members of the national and foreign staff. "The biggest lesson I've learned since I became the executive editor is that there is real value for me in talking to the staff and real value in having time to answer your questions," Raines said. He spoke of the accomplishments of his predecessors. "You hear me talking about raising our 'competitive metabolism.' That's not because I feel we've failed in any way. It's not an invidious comparison to anything that's gone on before." For the next hour and fifteen minutes, he fielded questions from a staff that did not seem intimidated.
Early that evening, in the small room behind his office, Raines settled into an armchair, and I asked him if he had softened his message in the past few weeks. He conceded that he had. "I always thought that if you covered politics twenty or thirty years you ought to learn something," he said. "I thought one day I would get a job where I didn't make any rookie mistakes, and, since I figured this was my last job, I guessed that I was safe. One mistake I made is that I have an intensity, and...in my enthusiasm for this work my passion sometimes comes across as a harshness, or my intensity gets mistaken for an adversarial or aggressive instinct that I don't have." He admitted that his "metabolism" message had been misconstrued and left "people feeling stressed or agitated."
Three days later, Raines's charm-and-humility offensive continued, when he presided over a two-day newsroom retreat for about eighty senior editors, in White Plains, New York. He opened the proceedings by reading a speech that began, "I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your patience and good humor and professional support during my on-the-job training as executive editor....I do hereby declare that, as far as I'm concerned, our competitive metabolism has been raised!"
At the Times, the question of continued profitability is a constant one. Company revenues, compared with those of such media giants as AOL Time Warner and News Corp., appear puny: three billion dollars in 2001. Yet the Times does have one of the largest documentary television-production companies in the United States, and its Web site, nytimes.com, is the No. 1 newspaper site in the world. The Times, in a joint venture with Holt, has relaunched Times Books, which had been a Random House imprint. The paper's correspondents will soon be told of a new policy that discourages staff members from submitting book proposals to other publishers. "We are putting more emphasis on New York Times writers giving Times Books a first crack at efforts growing from their work for the Times," Raines told me. "The guts of it is that we want first refusal."
Yet the principal focus of the Times remains what Sulzberger calls the "fine art of slathering ink on dead trees." In mid-March, Sulzberger devoted most of his weekly Wednesday lunch to newspaper growth. At the beginning of the year, the Times had learned that the Wall Street Journal planned to introduce, on April 9th, a thrice-weekly section, Personal Journal, aimed at broadening the paper's appeal to both readers and advertisers. To counter this move, the five executives at the Wednesday lunch--Sulzberger, Raines, Robinson, Boyd, and Collins--decided to hurry what were still vague plans for a new section; they wanted it to appear before the Journal's, offering stories on second homes, real estate, and travel and life style for upscale readers.
Escapes, as the section was called, had an inauspicious debut; it seemed rushed, geared more to advertisers than to readers--not quite a real section. When Paul D. Colford, of the News, asked whether the new section was related to the Journal's, Gerald Boyd insisted, straight-faced, that it was not. It was "related to the Times," he said, which had desired "for a long time to present readers with a smart way of packaging some of the things you now see in the Times in different places."
At an earlier March retreat, for desk editors and their business-side counterparts, Raines said that he hoped to find "a marquee national columnist, on the model of Red Smith or Jimmy Cannon," to write about college sports. (He didn't say it, but he also hopes to expand the Times' daily sports coverage, which is only about half what USA Today offers.) He added that he wanted to increase the Times' coverage of the immigrant communities and the New York City school system.
There are other changes that Raines didn't talk about at this retreat. In April, he appointed Patrick Tyler chief correspondent in Washington, and he has told people he trusts that in a year or so he plans to promote Jill Abramson to a masthead or major department post, and then to name Tyler bureau chief. In coming days, he expects to appoint Adam Nagourney the national political correspondent, replacing Richard L.Berke, who was recently made deputy Washington bureau chief. He wants to return to the "Walter Kerr model" and have a separate Sunday theatre critic. At first, he believed that three movie reviewers were too many, and worried that none had the authority of the late Vincent Canby; he does not want all three to appear on the same day and wants them writing on broader subjects as well. He is impressed with the Times Magazine and is pleased with the three full-time book critics. As a rule of thumb, if a critic doesn't command attention--as he feels that the book reviewer Michiko Kakutani does, or as the former drama critic Frank Rich did--he will step in. He will soon hire a new Weekend editor from inside the paper, and is looking inside as well as outside for a new Arts & Leisure editor. He plans to shift Alessandra Stanley, who has reported from Moscow and Rome, to a highly visible role writing about television. He says that he plans no major changes before the summer, when a few editors might be rotated, but it is inevitable that bigger changes will come.
Except for a few technicians setting up the microphone, the newsroom was unusually quiet at 2:30 P.M. on April 8th. Times personnel were waiting to gather for the announcement of the 2002 Pulitzer Prizes, although the outcome was no surprise: Sulzberger and Raines had learned the previous week that the paper had won an unprecedented seven. Now Joe Lelyveld appeared in a blazer and dark-gray slacks; he went over to his former office and tapped on the narrow window. Raines hurried out and they embraced. Soon, Raines was hugging Max Frankel, Abe Rosenthal, Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Sr., and Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. By two-fifty-five, hundreds of staff members had surged into the newsroom, leaning against desks and file cabinets, crowding the DMZ staircase, and pressing toward the microphone to create an air of intimacy in what is, essentially, a fluorescent-lit factory room whose ceiling pipes are painted over in eggshell white. This was the first time that all living former executive editors and the current and former publisher had attended a newsroom event together. Abe Rosenthal, who hadn't been in the newsroom since the paper dropped his column, in November of 1999, stood beside Raines, wearing a bright-red bow tie. Then everyone waited for Columbia University to make its Pulitzer announcement, at 3 P.M.
Minutes later, Raines went to the microphone and hopped onto a small platform. He wore a white shirt and a red striped tie and was smiling broadly. As if he had willed it, for the next hour few phones beeped, no major news erupted. Raines didn't look at the notes he had scrawled on yellow paper as he said, "I was reminded today of the words of Mississippi's greatest moral philosopher, Dizzy Dean, who said, 'It ain't braggin' if you really done it!' Ladies and gentlemen of the New York Times, you've really done it!" Raines spoke about his predecessors in the newsroom--"We are living links in an unbroken chain of commitment"--and singled out Joe Lelyveld and Bill Keller. Applause filled the room as Lelyveld, who was leaning against a file cabinet next to Sulzberger, Sr., smiled demurely. Raines called Sulzberger, Jr., "a great publisher," and gave him a bear hug as the room applauded again.
Sulzberger asked the room to fall silent out of respect for the victims of September 11th and its aftermath, including journalists like Daniel Pearl, of the Wall Street Journal, who was murdered by Islamic terrorists. When he spoke again, he said, "Howell mentioned a lot of the folks on whose shoulders we stand, but he forgot one"--deliberately, Raines later said-- "and I'm grateful that he did, and that is my father." The applause reached its peak, and the older Sulzberger had no place to hide, which is clearly what he wanted to do; the gray, slightly stooped patriarch, who had a bright-red ribbon looped around his neck holding an I.D. badge, blushed and engaged in nervous chatter with another painfully shy man, Lelyveld. At most newspapers, publishers are the ones responsible for cutbacks that boost profit margins. At the Times, the Sulzbergers are royalty.
Roger Cohen, who had recently been promoted to foreign editor, introduced Barry Bearak, whose stories from Afghanistan won a Pulitzer for international reporting. After thanking Celia Dugger, his wife and the co-chief of the New Delhi bureau, Bearak said, "I've read a great many wonderful stories that didn't make the Pulitzer Prizes; many of them were written by people who are in this room, many of them were written by my colleagues who were in Afghanistan this year."
C. J. Chivers was one of those colleagues in Afghanistan, but he had never met Bearak, because they travelled separate roads. But as he stood listening to him he was moved. "I'll remember this as long as I have a memory," he said. "After everything he had been through and has done for the newspaper and the risks he's taken, he was talking about the larger institution, and not himself."
Jon Landman stood to accept the Public Service Prize awarded to the section A Nation Challenged, which included its daily "Portraits of Grief." He spoke briefly, then raised a plastic champagne cup and said, "Make a toast to whoever is standing next to you, and to yourself."
All the nervousness about the executive editor took a vacation on that afternoon. "What a day. I'm so proud of you all. I'm so proud of us," Raines said when he returned to the platform. He recalled the advice that Landman had offered about what he should say. " 'Whatever you do, ban all sports metaphors!' " Landman told him. Raines ignored the advice. "Whenever anyone congratulated Coach Bryant"--he was interrupted by laughter, and paused--"on winning a game, he always said the same thing: 'I didn't play a single down. The team won the game.'" Raines lifted his glass.
Raines knew that the difference between a great coach and a good coach was often a matter of inches. That day, morale soared at the Times, but he knew that it might plunge again--as it did a few weeks later, when the newsroom learned that the investigative editor Stephen Engelberg, who won his third Pulitzer this year, was leaving to become a managing editor at the Portland Oregonian. The newsroom blamed Raines for losing Engelberg, as it blamed him for losing Kevin Sack--believing that Raines could have done more to keep them. Engelberg had not been happy with Raines last fall, but the strain between them had eased; he told those he trusted that his move had little to do with the new editor, who had offered him a promotion. It was a "life-style decision," Engelberg told friends, explaining that it would be a good situation for his three young daughters, his wife would be working for the Oregonian herself, and they would be closer to his wife's family. In an odd way, the seven Pulitzers also worried newsroom veterans. Would Raines become more cocksure?
Raines wasn't happy about these doubts, but he insisted that his focus was on improving his newspaper. "Change always takes people out of their comfort zone," Raines said one evening, over a glass of bourbon and water in his small back room. "I'm not rattled by the friction of the moment. You have to set your sights on a beacon that is a journalistic ideal,and it's important not to get knocked off course by those winds of criticism. The caricature of me that I see in some of these accounts is completely unrecognizable to me. And therefore not particularly disturbing. I know who I am and I know where I will come out." (c)