Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Saturday, June 07, 2003
 
Off With His Head There's been plenty written about the resignations of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd at the NY Times, but I can't resist adding a few cents. With any luck, they'll find a successor who's less inclined to run platitudinous paens to American rural life on the front page (not that there isn't a place for that -- last week's Food section piece on the Chinese American community in the Mississippi Delta was fascinating).

Was it inevitable? The post-resignation comments from Times staffers seem to indicate that everyone was spending so much time worrying about the internal politics and witchhunts that it was interfering with their day jobs. If that's the case (and the dozens of notes posted to Jim Romanesko's media-news weblog from Times staffers and stringers in the wake of the Rick Bragg incident suggest it is), then the move needed to be taken now. Reading the letters, the rift between the stringers and staff reporters was embarrasingly laid bare, and Raines, whose management shortcomings have been discussed at length elsewhere, did not seem capable of healing the scars.

Is The Times Manageable? Which leads us to this other, crucial question. Pete Hamill actually came close to this point in an interview with Don Imus a few weeks ago -- he voiced some sympathy for Raines, noting that in a 375-person newsroom, it's gotta be difficult for the executive editor to really understand what kind of work each reporter is doing. Now, in the wake of Bragg-gate, it is clear that 375 people is a low estimate -- the Times' editorial effort relies on dozens, if not hundreds of additional stringers, free-lancers, and others.

So, given that it's difficult for a single editor to have tight relationships with a staff that big, one answer to the above question is: The Times isn't manageable if the managers insist on a highly centralized power structure. Putting power in the hands of the various desk editors, as the once and current executive editor Joe Lelyveld did, reduces the risk of a Blair problem, but also makes it more difficult to have the various desks operate as a "team," and almost guarantees that the output will be more dispassionate, which may or may not be what the paper needs to grow its audience. It seems inevitable that the next executive editor will have to have a strong feeling on the appropriate structure for The Times, and there are plenty of candidates willing to argue each one. We'll see what course the publisher chooses.


 
Bush Gaffe Watch: Just to follow up on the previous item, the only gaffe on the President's Middle East trip I heard about came when Bush pledged his committment to establishing a "continuous" Palestinian state -- ever-faithful Ari Fleischer quickly clarified that he had intended to say "contiguous."

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
 
He said what? Could the famously early-retiring president be getting winded by his whirlwind European/Middle East trip? That's one excuse for a pair of gaffes he's made in recent days. First, he surprised everyone by declaring that the discovery of the two alleged mobile bio-weapons factories were the same as finding actual Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Then, yesterday, in a closed-door meeting with the other members of the G8 nations, Bush said something indicating that he'd like a stronger dollar, but "it's not him who decides, it's Mr. Greenspan" -- at least that was how an unnamed Canadian diplomat in the room heard it. Ari Fleischer quickly held an impromptu press conference to state the official White House line: "The president's position is that the United States supports a strong dollar and a strong dollar is determined by the market." It sounds like Bush was trying to wash his hands of responsibility for the sliding dollar (even though it was Bush's Treasury Secretary, John Snow, touched off this recent sell-off, not Greenspan), and just executed it wrong.

Of course, as an equal-opportunity cynic, it's possible that the Canadians got it wrong, too. That's the story floated by an unnamed "senior Bush administration official" in this press briefing.

Whatever. These seem relatively harmless, but it'll be worth watching to see if Bush misspeaks any more as he moves into the truly sensitive portion of his trip: The Middle East Summit.


Monday, June 02, 2003
 
Cognitive Dissonance Glad to see that at least some "anti-globalization protesters" don't let their beliefs get in the way of their personal style. This photo from Geneva Switzerland (via the Associated Press -- wouldn't want to be accused of failing to attribute it) appeared in this morning's NY Times. How many Nike symbols can you find on the protesters' clothing? I counted 4...