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Baquet could be eyeing spot at New York Times

The former L.A. Times editor's prospects of returning to the paper are said to be fading.

December 14, 2006|James Rainey | Times Staff Writer

Ousted Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet is considering taking a top management position at the New York Times as prospects fade for his return to the Los Angeles paper, according to several of Baquet's confidantes.

The editor has not accepted a position and has been telling associates for weeks that his preference would be for a new owner of the Los Angeles Times to restore him to his old post.

But the auction of Times' parent, Tribune Co. of Chicago, will drag into the first quarter of next year. Baquet has told friends that for financial and other reasons he can't afford to wait too long and would soon make a decision about returning to the New York Times, where he previously served as national editor.

"I think if he knew he had a job to come back to here, he would wait," said one Los Angeles Times editor who had reported to Baquet, who left last month under pressure for opposing job cuts. "But no one can guarantee him that. And I think he feels he needs a job."

Although it's unclear exactly what job Baquet, 50, would fill at the New York Times, he has told several associates that he would like to run its Washington bureau -- a post that has been a launching pad to the top rung of the paper, which is generally regarded as America's finest.

Baquet would not comment. Through a spokeswoman, New York Times Editor Bill Keller said, "We have not offered Dean a position."

Baquet made headlines in September when he joined Times Publisher Jeffrey M. Johnson in opposing substantial cuts from the newspaper's editorial staff of about 940. Executives overseeing the paper from Chicago had, at times, suggested cutting as many as 100 newsroom positions.

Johnson was forced from his post in early October and Baquet followed about a month later. Word of his departure leaked out Nov. 7, election day.

Baquet has stayed in Southern California since then and remained in close contact with many of his former colleagues. As recently as Friday night he attended a party with many Times staffers at the South Pasadena home of Associate Editor John Montorio, who oversees the newspaper's feature sections.

"The idea of the dinner was to make sure that Dean could 'feel the love,' so to speak, and know that people at the Los Angeles Times would welcome him back at the newspaper if that opportunity presented itself," said one editor who attended the dinner.

Baquet had told his associates that he even hoped to meet with Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist who joined supermarket mogul Ron Burkle in a preliminary offer for Tribune, in an attempt to measure the prospects for the kind of local ownership he would favor.

Despite any such meeting, many of his former co-workers at the Los Angeles Times viewed it as unlikely that the energetic Baquet would sit idle long enough to see whether the paper would fall into new hands.

"It's hard to think of him sitting around for six months while our situation gets resolved," one editor said. "That doesn't seem like something he would do. He is such a frenetic guy."

Baquet, who won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the Chicago Tribune, has maintained many friendships inside the New York Times.

Most significantly, he is close to the paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who reportedly intensified a long-standing courtship of Baquet when the editor's dispute with Tribune became public in September. The men have spoken several times in recent weeks.

Keller, 57, took the top job at the New York Times in 2003 and could serve eight more years until he runs up against the paper's mandatory retirement age of 65.

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james.rainey@latimes.com

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