U.S. News Ousts Its Editor in Continuing Management Shuffle
James Fallows, the high-profile editor of U.S. News & World Report, was fired Monday, capping months of disagreement with owner Mortimer B. Zuckerman over what kind of news should be featured in the magazine.
Fallows will be succeeded by Stephen Smith, editor of the National Journal, a Washington-based weekly on government and politics, U.S. News editorial director Harold Evans announced later Monday. Smith, 49, who founded Civilization magazine, was executive editor at Newsweek and nation editor at Time before becoming editor of the National Journal 18 months ago.
“The magazine is not going to change its franchise dramatically,” said Evans, who said he made the decision to replace Fallows, an outsider who has been very critical of the Washington press corps. “This is not an angry decision . . . I just felt it was time for a change.”
The change comes at a time when U.S. News, the nation’s third-ranked weekly news magazine, has been making gains in advertising sales and circulation. Last week, it broke a major news story about two hours of secret Monica S. Lewinsky tapes that appeared to buttress President Clinton’s version of events.
“We have been on a roll,” said senior writer Paul Glastris. “How Mort can fire Jim the week after U.S. News publishes arguably the biggest news coup in the history of the magazine is a great mystery. The better we make U.S. News & World Report, the angrier Mort seems to get.”
Behind the scenes, Fallows had been clashing with Zuckerman over the direction of the magazine, which he took over less than two years ago. Zuckerman reportedly favored hard, breaking news, while Fallows pushed for “themed” stories on issues that didn’t simply analyze what happened during the previous week.
The editor also locked horns with Evans, who was chosen last year by Zuckerman to oversee the Washington-based magazine along with his other American press holdings, which include the New York Daily News, the Atlantic Monthly and Fast Company magazines.
Indeed, when Fallows told his staffers about his dismissal Monday morning, he said Zuckerman had fired him. Evans insisted, however, that he had terminated Fallows, and he called Fallows’ comments to his staff “mischievous . . . Mort Zuckerman gave me this job, and Jim could never believe it.”
“When an owner and an editor ‘disagree’ about a magazine’s direction, the owner’s view prevails,” Fallows told his staff. “While I do not think he [Zuckerman] has a good reason for making this change, clearly he has the right.”
Few predicted an easy ride for Fallows, 48, when he took over the magazine in September 1996. A year before, he had published “Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy,” which attacked many of his fellow journalists for being lazy, arrogant and too close to power. Fallows, once a speech writer for former President Carter, had been a longtime contributor to the Atlantic before his most recent job.
The magazine has been rife with rumors that Zuckerman, a real estate titan who is famous for hiring and firing editors with dispatch, was unhappy with Fallows, and Monday’s news did not come as a complete surprise. But many staffers were still dismayed by the announcement.
“We weren’t a bad magazine when Jim came here,” said Glastris. “But the fact is, we’re so much better now.”