A New Editor at The New York Times
Jude Wanniski
July 15, 2003

 

Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Sulzberger Picks Bill Keller

When Howell Raines announced his resignation last month as executive editor of The New York Times, I immediately assumed publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would name Bill Keller to succeed him. It took a month, but this morning's front page made the announcement. How could I be surprised? On July 21, 1999, almost exactly four years ago, I predicted that when Joseph Lelyveld would retire in 2001 as executive editor, Sulzberger would choose Raines to succeed him and when Raines left, he would pick Keller. I'd been a longtime admirer of both journalists and actually told Raines when he was deputy Washington bureau chief in the 1980s that I thought he would grow up to be exec editor some day. I've corresponded with Keller a bit over the last year or so, commenting on his Saturday op-ed column -- which was often superb, but sometimes wishy-washy. I did think he was too easily snookered into supporting the pre-emptive war against Iraq when he had plenty of evidence that diplomacy was working and bloodshed was unnecessary. I suspected he didn't want to look like a softie. His recent column on why he did support warring on Iraq was, well, wishy-washy. The exec editor of the Times is the most important news media job in the world, which makes his appointment, on the margin, the most important today. We will keep an eye on his work and withhold judgment for at least several months, as it will take that long to see if he is up to the job.

July 21, 1999
First Raines, Then Keller

Memo To: Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. NYTimes publisher
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Joseph Lelyveld's successor

I see in the New York Daily News that the guessing game already has begun as to who will be the next executive editor of the Times, and of course you get to pick. The News has it that the two men in the running are Bill Keller, the managing editor, and Howell Raines, the editorial page editor. Now I dont know Keller personally, but when I ran the MediaGuide a decade ago, I would generally give him between *** and, our highest, **** for his work. In 1989, for example, we gave him **** for his work in 1988 and wrote: "Moscow bureau. Beautifully organized reporting, with perceptions and revelations coming like clockwork, simply phenomenal reporting of perestroika and glasnost. Accurate and objective, he's one of the most enterprising and resourceful foreign correspondents around."

I did meet Howell Raines when he was deputy bureau chief in your D.C. bureau and have stayed in touch with him over the years. Iíve not seen eye-to-eye with him on very many issues, but respect his work and his arguments, and the vitality of his editorial page. I earlier had admired his work earlier as a political correspondent, because I couldnít tell whether he was a liberal or a conservative, just an ace reporter. In the 1987 MediaGuide I wrote that "[Bill] Kovach's talented deputy, Howell Raines, 43, was named London bureau chief. Raines, who had been the bureaus national political correspondent, helped establish the eminence of the bureau in recent years after a long period in the Post's shadow."

As the Daily News tells it, Arthur, you seem to be leaning toward Raines and Joseph Lelyveld is leaning toward Keller, and the scrapping is going on -- even though there are three years to go before Lelyveld is 65 and gets to write a column instead of running the show. I gather Lelyveld and Raines are cool toward each other, although there are no details why. Strong personalities with strong views have a tendency to produce friction, but to an outside aficionado of the newspaper game, I can say without doubt that the Times has been steadily improving under their stewardship.

But what's the problem? Raines was born in 1943 and Keller in 1949. In three years, Raines will be 61, at the top of his game, a perfect choice. All Keller needs are four years as editorial page editor, to round out his professional skills. It really does help to have your executive editors manage the opinion pages for a few years, as it forces them to understand the cross-currents of the geopolitical economy in ways they do not quite pick up as bureau chief, or even managing editor. In either case, though, the Times will continue to flourish. These are two solid fellows, two of the best in the business. What a happy problem for you. Good pickin'.