New Yorker Staff Protests Editor’s Hiring

Times Staff Writer

In a strongly worded letter expressing “sadness and outrage over the manner in which a new editor has been imposed upon us,” about 170 writers, editors and artists at the New Yorker magazine have written to newly appointed editor Robert A. Gottlieb urging him to withdraw his acceptance of the position.

Among the four-page list of signers of the letter, sent by messenger to Gottlieb’s home here late Tuesday evening, were writers J.D. Salinger, Jonathan Schell, John McPhee, Calvin Trillin, Janet Malcolm, Bobbie Ann Mason, Donald and Frederick Barthelme and the artist Saul Steinberg.

Gottlieb was named late Monday afternoon to succeed 79-year-old William Shawn, editor of the New Yorker for the past 35 years.


‘I Understand the Feelings’

Gottlieb responded Wednesday with a letter of his own. “Of course I understand the feelings you express in your letter,” he wrote in his three-sentence reply. But “ . . . I do plan to take up this new job as soon as is convenient and practical.”

Gottlieb, 55, is president and editor-in-chief of Alfred A. Knopf Inc., the New York book publishing house. Both the New Yorker and Alfred A. Knopf are owned by Samuel I. Newhouse Jr., who purchased the 62-year-old weekly magazine in 1985 for $142 million.

At the center of the controversy, one writer at the New Yorker said, was “the feeling that we had had no warning” about the announcement of Shawn’s successor. Shawn himself, characteristically taciturn, was unavailable for comment. But staff members at the magazine insisted that the venerable editor had not planned to retire March 1, as an announcement distributed at the time of Gottlieb’s appointment on Monday indicated.

On the contrary, the letter to Gottlieb stated that at “a spontaneous meeting” of New Yorker staff members on Tuesday afternoon, Shawn had reiterated his intention to eventually select his own replacement from within the ranks of the magazine.

‘Powerfully Held Conviction’

“The New Yorker has not achieved its pre-eminence by following orthodox paths of magazine publishing and editing, and it is our strange but powerfully held conviction that only an editor who has been a longstanding member of the staff will have a reasonable chance of assuring our continuity, cohesion and independence,” the letter said.

A writer at the magazine said staff members, clustered about the halls of the New Yorker’s editorial headquarters on the 18th floor of a mid-town Manhattan office building, decided to write the letter to Gottlieb after Shawn’s address to his editorial troops Tuesday afternoon.


A committee of writers then withdrew to draft the letter, which was “unanimously approved” at yet another 18th-floor meeting the same afternoon.

He described the ensuing events as “quite a New Yorker scene,” with fact checkers furiously checking the content of the letter, proofreaders and collators (as the magazine’s “second-line” proofreaders are called) scrupulously reviewing it, typists and word processors “hard at work” and messengers waiting eagerly to deliver the letter to Gottlieb’s home just 10 blocks away.

No Animosity, Staffers Say

New Yorker staff members stressed privately and in their letter to Gottlieb that they bore no animosity toward him personally. “We wish to assure you . . . that none of these feelings or reservations were directed against you,” they wrote.

Gottlieb, in turn, said in his response that he “can even sympathize” with the feelings of the New Yorker staff.

One New Yorker writer said that the letter to Gottlieb was written “less for our sake than for the sake of Mr. Shawn . . . who as far as anyone can tell was dismissed Monday.”