Advertisement
Share

New York Times’ Top Two Editors Resign After Scandal

Times Staff Writer

The New York Times’ top two editors resigned Thursday, capping a tumultuous five weeks in which the Jayson Blair reporting scandal revealed broad staff discontent with the newsroom leaders’ autocratic management style.

Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd quit their posts because “they believed and I sadly came to agree that this was the best action they could take to help the New York Times newsroom heal,” Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. said in a telephone interview. The publisher called it “a day of deep sadness.”

The resignations abruptly ended the New York Times careers of the top editor -- a Pulitzer Prize winner -- and his handpicked No. 2, who was one of the nation’s highest-ranking African American journalists.

Sulzberger announced that Joseph Lelyveld, who preceded Raines in the top post, would come out of retirement to serve as interim executive editor, pending the selection of a new team to lead the 152-year-old institution. The Sulzberger family, which has controlled the New York Times since 1896, is determined now “to go back to doing what we do best, which is producing a great newspaper,” the publisher added.

Raines, 60, took over as executive editor days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During his 21 months as editor, the newspaper won eight Pulitzer Prizes, including a record seven last year, mostly for its widely hailed Sept. 11 coverage. Raines formerly served as the Times’ Washington and London bureau chief, and head of the editorial page, before being tapped by Sulzberger for the top job. Boyd, 52, had been seen as an eventual contender for the executive editor position.

Advertisement

The resignations, which had been the subject of heavy media speculation and debate in recent weeks, further roiled the highly honored newspaper, which commands attention from the nation’s government, business and cultural elites. They were sparked by revelations last month that Jayson Blair, an ambitious 27-year-old reporter, had plagiarized or faked at least 36 stories.

The revelations of fraud at the New York Times and embarrassing disclosures that touched on race and alleged favoritism quickly put Blair’s face on the cover of magazines and turned the prestigious newspaper into the butt of jokes from late-night comedians. Commentators who once relied on the paper as the virtual “gold standard” of information suddenly wondered whether the Times could restore its lofty reputation.

Blair resigned May 1, amid charges that top editors had ignored warnings that he was untrustworthy when they promoted him to the national staff. Other critics said that Blair, who is African American, received special treatment.

In a statement given to CNN, Blair said of Thursday’s resignations: “I am sorry to hear that more people have fallen in this sequence of events that I had unleashed. I wish the rolling of heads had stopped with mine.”

The disgraced reporter’s actions became the subject of an extraordinary, four-page report by the newspaper on May 11 that acknowledged key failures of internal communication. But the issue quickly widened into a referendum on Raines’ and Boyd’s managerial styles and what some called a “culture of fear” in the newsroom.

Several section editors had long-standing complaints that they had lost their sense of independence under Raines and Boyd. They said their daily story lists were being dictated by a handful of top editors, whom they derisively called “the Taliban.”

When the two editors held an acrimonious staff meeting in a Midtown movie theater several days after the Blair report was published, angry reporters and editors criticized them for favoring a small number of journalists and being imperious with the rest of the newsroom.

The two editors pledged not to resign.

Criticism escalated two weeks ago when Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg, a Raines favorite, resigned amid charges that he had relied excessively -- some Times reporters said inappropriately -- on an unsalaried freelancer’s contributions in writing a Page 1 feature about Florida oystermen.

On Tuesday, Sulzberger visited the Washington bureau and found anger and resentment still brewing among correspondents. A special committee formed to evaluate Times standards and procedures seemed to increase the friction.

“I think [Raines and Boyd] found themselves in a situation where there had to be a dramatic gesture and this was it,” said Alex Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University and the author of a history about the Sulzberger family. “The Jayson Blair incident continued to roil the paper and it unleashed a lot of anger within the New York Times that came as a surprise to the people in the higher reaches of the institution.”

Raines tried to calm the newsroom anger by meeting with staffers and attempting to reach out to them. But those meetings “were not very successful,” one ally said, “and at the end Howell’s problem was one of confidence. Not so much that the newsroom had lost confidence in him, but that he had lost confidence in himself. He didn’t really know how he was going to fight his way out of this.”

The two editors announced their resignations during a somber morning staff meeting, where many onlookers wept, according to Times reporters who spoke on the condition that they not be identified. After Raines sent a newsroom-wide e-mail asking the staff to assemble at 10:30 a.m., he and Boyd addressed the group.

Raines said his time as executive editor had been “tumultuous,” but added that “we have produced some memorable newspapers.” After thanking Sulzberger for the privilege of leading the newspaper and thanking his wife, Krystyna, for her support, he told his former staffers: “And remember, when a big story breaks out, go like hell.”

As Raines and Boyd spoke, “there were people crying. I saw a great deal of sorrow, and you could see that the publisher was shaken,” said one staff member.

Jim Dwyer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, said: “There’s a feeling of great sadness throughout the newsroom today, because these two men had a lot of outstanding days here. And their careers ended prematurely, even in the eyes of those who didn’t like them. The human cost of this episode became clear today.”

Others, however, said there was a grim inevitability to the resignations, and that the Times would be the better for them. There was “such a tremendous lack of confidence in the top leadership, and a sense that this couldn’t go on, that it wasn’t going to be getting any better,” said an editor who asked not to be identified.

Raines and Boyd “had disenfranchised such a large number of middle-level editors, shutting them out of decisions,” the editor said. “So when push came to shove and there was controversy, those people were not willing to stand up and help them. As it turned out, they didn’t have a lot of political support in the newsroom.”

Strong-willed, top-down management is nothing new to the newspaper industry, which has a long history of press lords dating back 100 years, to the age of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

But many newspapers and editors are now taking a collegial and more collaborative approach, because reporters, editors and photographers are better-educated than before and expect to be treated fairly, said Loren Ghiglione, dean of Northwestern University’s school of journalism.

The authoritarian management style practiced by Raines works “only as long as you can get people to go along with it,” said Samuel Culbert, a professor at UCLA’s business school and the author of a book about authoritative management structures, “Don’t Kill the Bosses.”

The management professor said Raines’ failures were not all that different from the recent corporate scandals in American business, especially in the sense that he failed to take action when warned.

“We could be talking about any boss-dominated relationship,” Culbert said. “This could be Enron or Arthur Andersen.”

If it wasn’t Blair, it would have been some other incident that would have tripped up Raines, Culbert added.

“What happened to Howell Raines is a lesson for leadership all over. You can’t brutalize your workforce,” said Warren Bennis, a USC business professor.

Hours after the two editors left their offices, speculation intensified about who would succeed Raines. Jones and other observers said several potential candidates already have surfaced: Martin Baron, editor of the Boston Globe and a former New York Times associate managing editor; Bill Keller, a New York Times columnist and former managing editor who was Raines’ chief rival for the Times’ top post in 2001; and Dean Baquet, former national editor of the New York Times and currently managing editor of the Los Angeles Times.

“All three of those people are great journalists,” Sulzberger said. “I know them and respect them. But I won’t start speculating. We’ll look inside the Times and outside the Times. We’re beginning the search, not narrowing our options.”

Baron said, “I haven’t talked to anybody at the Times about this,” and declined to comment further.

Baquet confirmed that he had breakfast last week in New York with Lelyveld, before the newsroom changes were announced, but he noted: “We’re close friends ... so that breakfast was just about friendship. I haven’t had any conversations with anybody at the New York Times other than conversations with good friends, and nothing about this [the executive editor’s job]. I really love being the managing editor of the Los Angeles Times.”

Keller did not return phone calls, and a New York Times corporate spokeswoman said Lelyveld would not be available for comment.

Sulzberger indicated that the search was beginning immediately, adding that “ideally” he would hope to announce the new executive editor and managing editor “as a team.”

*

Times staff writers John J. Goldman in New York and Jerry Hirsch in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


Advertisement