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Kinsley, Veteran Commentator, Is Named Times Opinion Editor

THE NATION

April 29, 2004|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

Michael Kinsley, a prominent commentator in print and on television, will become the editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times, the paper said Wednesday.

Janet Clayton, the longtime leader of the paper's opinion pages, will return to the newsroom as the assistant managing editor for state and local news. Both appointments will be effective June 14, Times Editor John S. Carroll said.

Clayton, 48, took over the editorial and opinion pages in 1995, and writers on her team have won two Pulitzer Prizes in the last three years. A 27-year veteran of The Times, Clayton had been a reporter in the news department before moving to the editorial pages. In her new post, she will direct a staff of about 200, the largest in the paper's news-gathering operation.

Kinsley, 53, was the founding editor of Slate.com, the pioneering online journal published since 1995 by Microsoft Corp. A former editor of both Harper's and the New Republic, he was the left-leaning co-host of CNN's political talk show "Crossfire," opposite Pat Buchanan on the right. He also moderated William F. Buckley's "Firing Line" debates.

Most recently, Kinsley has been a columnist for Slate and the Washington Post and a contributing writer for Time magazine.

At The Times, Kinsley will be responsible for the daily editorial and letters page, the Commentary page and the Sunday Opinion section.

"Mike is a writer of wit and insight, a lucid thinker on public policy and an innovative editor known for spotting and developing talent," Carroll said.

Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the hiring of the high-profile Kinsley had raised the issue of whether The Times would change its editorial philosophy.

"The question people will ask, of course, is whether he's going to be following his own editorial agenda, or is he going to be following an institutional agenda," Jones said.

Carroll, to whom Kinsley will report, said he didn't foresee a shift.

"One of the things that appealed to me about Mike is that his political philosophy is more or less in keeping with our editorial page," Carroll said. "There may be a few different wrinkles, but essentially the spirit of the page will remain the same."

For his part, Kinsley described himself as politically "all over the lot" but said he was generally "mainstream liberal."

"I wouldn't say that politically I am left of where the L.A. Times is now," Kinsley said. "There are issues on which I probably will take different positions than the L.A. Times has, but my difference will be in both directions, and who knows where they will average out."

For much of its history, The Times was known for its conservative voice and its unabashed promotion of the region's commercial interests -- which often dovetailed with those of the Chandler family, which owned the newspaper. But after Otis Chandler became publisher in 1960, the tone of the editorial page began to change and, over the years, moved largely left of center.

In his new post, Kinsley will divide his time evenly between Los Angeles and Seattle, where he now lives. Working partly from an office 1,000 miles up the coast from headquarters won't be a stretch for Kinsley, considering his experience managing a virtual staff for the online publication, Carroll said.

Although he was at first hesitant about the arrangement, "the more I got to know Mike," Carroll said, "I realized he was just about perfect in every other way, so we decided to do this."

Kinsley said that part of the appeal of joining The Times was its venue: "You get to live on the West Coast, which is important for personal reasons, and yet you are working for a national publication."

Although the editorial and opinion pages and the newsroom both report to Carroll, they are by design isolated from each other.

The search that landed Kinsley started after Times managers decided to bring Clayton back into the news operation. As assistant managing editor, she will succeed Miriam Pawel, who joined The Times in 2000.

"Under Miriam's leadership, the coverage of California has been expanded and improved," Carroll said. The metropolitan staff recently won the Pulitzer Prize in the breaking news category for coverage of last year's Southern California wildfires. Pawel's next assignment will be announced later.

The Times, a Tribune Co. newspaper, has won 35 Pulitzer Prizes, including five this year, the second-largest yearly total in the history of the awards.

Times staff writer Josh Getlin in New York contributed to this report.

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