×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Raines takes the fall

N.Y. Times sees first exec editor resign under controversy

NEW YORK — The Gray Lady did extensive housecleaning Thursday: executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd resigned after being made to answer for one of the worst scandals in the history of the newspaper.

The New York Times announced it has tapped Raines’ immediate predecessor, the staid and deliberate Joseph Lelyveld, to run the paper on an interim basis. The post held by Boyd, Raines’ No. 2, will remain unfilled for the time being.

“Howell and Gerald have tendered their resignations, and I accepted them with sadness based on what we believe is best for the Times,” said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher and chair of the New York Times Co.

Loss of faith

Despite Sulzberger’s sorrow, it was clearly his loss of faith in Raines that led to the resignations.

“Arthur hired Howell. For him to fire him is saying that he didn’t think Howell could regain control of the newsroom,” said one industryite who wished to remain anonymous.

It was well known that Raines, the first executive editor to resign under controversial circumstances, had more critics than supporters during his brief tenure. He took over the post just days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Outspoken and autocratic, Raines made abrupt staff transfers and ordered sweeping changes to the paper itself: He retooled the Arts & Leisure section to up the pop culture ante and brought quirky stories, usually from somewhere down South, where Raines is from, to the front page.

Relief in newsroom

The resignations brought an immediate sense of relief to the newsroom.

“Morale is better today than it was yesterday,” one Times staffer said.

News reverberated across the media world, which has been riveted by the controversy that erupted last month when the newspaper disclosed that former staff reporter Jayson Blair had repeatedly fabricated information and plagiarized from other publications.

Across the country, newspapers and TV journalists have dusted off their own standards and practices of reporting, huddling with editors to sniff out potential Blairs.

The Times detailed the Blair saga in an unprecedented four-page spread over Mother’s Day May 11, a tactic that may have only served to fuel the fire.

In recent days, Times reporter Rick Bragg resigned after he was criticized for habitually using information gathered by interns and editorial assistants without giving due credit.

Both Blair and Bragg were considered Raines proteges, part of a favored circle.

Those outside the circle were sorely demoralized and staffers say there was growing hostility simmering below the surface.

High demands

Raines was also known for his undue demands on reporters, even on the Times’ most experienced correspondents.

“People would go out on a backbreaking, exhausting assignment and when they’d come back, he’d send them to do it again,” one Times reporter said.

Sulzberger, who once served as a reporter under Raines in the paper’s Washington bureau, was one of Raines’ most ardent supporters and handpicked him for the exec editor slot.

When the Blair crisis broke, Sulzberger stood by Raines. In a photograph of Sulzberger, Raines and Boyd walking into a New York theater for a staff meeting last month, all three were smiling.

But the pressure never let up, even with the mea culpas, and the decision for Raines to step down was made a few days ago. The Times’ Board of Directors wields enormous clout, and board members are sure to have had their say in the matter, particularly those members of the Sulzberger family.

“The place is devastated. But, as time goes by it will be seen as the right thing to do and Joe is the right guy for the job,” the Times source said. “Objectively, Arthur made a mistake in the first 48 hours to embrace Howell as unequivocally as he did.”

It is not clear how long Lelyveld will remain in his interim position, but staffers speculate he will stay through Labor Day or even possibly the 2004 presidential election.

Age-old question

The Times newsroom was already abuzz by late Thursday as to possible candidates for the top job. Names being tossed around include Boston Globe editor Martin Baron and L.A. Times managing editor Dean Baquet (both former Times staffers).

A key problem in choosing the next executive editor is finding someone who is the right age: The Times mandates that the exec editor retire at the age of 65.

The preference for not having executive editors serve too long at the Times harks back to Abe Rosenthal, who had to be pried from the top post.

When Raines was picked over Bill Keller for executive editor, one of the key selling points was that Raines was 58 while Keller was 52. This mattered because it meant Raines would be executive editor for 7 years while Keller could conceivably try to stay in the post for 13 years.

“Anyone below Howell’s age looks like a big risk. Who do they want to bet on for 15 years?” says a source.

Dramatic to the end, Raines made one final exhortation after newsroom staffers were told of the resignations: “When a great story breaks out, go like hell!”

(Jill Goldsmith in New York and Gabriel Snyder in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

More Scene

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron attends the 44th Annual

    Alfonso Cuarón to LAFCA: 'Thanks to Your Help We Can Break Down Walls'

    Inclusion was the big winner at the L.A. Film Critics Association Awards, which was held Saturday night at the InterContinental in Century City. “This year’s winners are the most diverse in LAFCA’s 43-year history,” announced its president, Claudia Puig, adding that 14 out of their 18 awards were won by women and people of color. [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Max Malandrino/REX/Shutterstock

    Hollywood Power Players Assemble to Save Iconic Deli Nate 'n Al

    A group of Hollywood executives and celebrities have banded together with the intent to save Beverly Hills deli and star haunt Nate ‘n Al, a stone’s throw from tourist destination Rodeo Drive. A consortium of investors including music kingpin Irving Azoff and wife Shelli, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell, and Rande Gerber and [...]

  • Charlie Collier, FOX Chief Executive Officer

    'The Passage' Team Talks Diversifying Races, Genders and Ages of Book Characters

    “The Passage” star Saniyya Sidney was unaware that the book version of her character was originally white until her father, a fan of Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic trilogy, informed her during the audition process. “I was like, ‘Oh, she is?'” Sidney told Variety at Thursday’s series premiere in Santa Monica, Calif. “And when I got it, [...]

  • KiKi Layne and Stephan James'If Beale

    Regina King Praised by 'If Beale Street Could Talk' Co-Stars for New 50/50 Initiative

    Two days had passed since Kiki Layne and Stephan James had attended their first Golden Globes and the “If Beale Street Could Talk” co-stars were still trying to wrap their heads around having been there. “It was such a special night — and pretty unreal,” says James, who was also nominated for his work opposite Julia Roberts [...]

  • Steven Van Zandt, Edie Falco, Tony

    'The Sopranos' 20th Anniversary Reunion: Cast, Producers Remember James Gandolfini

    Jan. 9’s 20th anniversary reunion of the cast and producers of HBO’s “The Sopranos” was a raucous family gathering from its first moments. “I saw a picture of myself in the newspaper,” series creator David Chase said at the start of the event. “And I thought, 20 years. Jesus Christ.” “People come up to me,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content