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New York Times' Top Two Editors Resign After Scandal

Revelations of reporter's fraud exposed discord in newsroom over the pair's autocratic style.

June 06, 2003|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — 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.

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."

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