The Pulitzer Prizes, 2007 edition: Howell Raines pulls out the video of the ’02 awards.

March 9th, 2007 → 12:29 pm @

Here’s yet another example of why I’m glad I’m no longer covering the media: I don’t need to spend days furiously tracking down possible Pulitzer finalists. Editor and Publisher did the legwork this year, and there’ll undoubtedly be lots o’ chatter about this list in the month to come. (Back in 2000, I did a too-long but actually pretty fascinating article about the Pulitzers, which, it turns out, are about as trustworthy as the Golden Globes. Unfortunately, since said article was for the now-defunct Brill’s Content, and since Steve Brill hoped to monetize that content with the similarly defunct Contentville, that article isn’t available on Nexis or anywhere else online.)

One interesting thing about the list: the The New York Times has, according to this probably inaccurate and still incomplete list, a mere three finalists, only one more than the morale-leaking Los Angeles Times (and only one more than The Seattle Times). (Note: one of those finalists is supposedly columnist Joe Nocera — and I touted him months ago!) Does this mean the NYT is only 33 percent better than the LAT or the ST? Obviously not: the LAT was once a great paper. It’s not any more. And it’s getting less great by the day.

This does point to the ridiculousness of using awards — and in particular the Pulitzer — as a way to judge a newspaper’s overall quality. Just as the Times‘s 2002 haul meant a lot less than Howell Raines liked to think — a point I hammered home in my under-read (but well received!) ’04 book, Hard News — this year’s tally doesn’t say all that much about what’s actually going on in the industry this year. Some papers are excellent at launching prize-trolling projects (see: Philadelphia Inquirer in the ’70s), and kudos to them. But the Times is on a roll. It could shore up their political coverage, and its investigative reporting has had some notable screw-ups in the last four or so years, but its far and away the best general interest daily paper out there.

This list — again, with the healthy caveat that it might not be accurate — also likely demonstrates the ways in which the Pulitzer committee uses the prizes to send out pointed messages to the industry. Here the message to the Tribune Co., owner of the LAT, seems clear: stop screwing with our product. For some reason, I bet the Trib board isn’t gonna be listening.

Post Categories: Hard News & Howell Raines & Media reporting

Somewhere, Howell Raines is smiling

July 23rd, 2006 → 11:09 pm @

“But at some point, saturation coverage of a story begins to raise more questions about the newspaper’s motives than about the story being covered. The Times reached—and passed—that point this morning with its 40th-plus news story, column, or editorial (since July!) about the Augusta National Golf Club’s refusal to admit female members. Only a five-star general like Raines could have commanded such extravagant coverage as this.”

— Jack Shafer, “The New York Times’ Augusta Blog,”, November 25, 2002

(On July 13, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art confirmed that, as of August 1, it would be raising its suggested admission price from $15 to $20.)

“Museum Is to Raise Its Admission Fee to $20”
July 13, 2006
By CAROL VOGEL, The New York Times

“For $15, Admission to the Metropolitan. For 50 Cents, a Real Museum Experience.”
July 15, 2006
By RANDY KENNEDY, The New York Times

“Into the Metropolitan Museum: What’s It Worth to You?”
July 21, 2006
By DAVID LEONHARDT, The New York Times

“Should Art Museums Always Be Free? There’s Room for Debate”
July 22, 2006
By ROBERTA SMITH, The New York Times

At this rate–which, admittedly, will be hard to sustain–the Times will have churned out 60 pieces on the Met’s new (suggested) admission price by the end of November. Girodet and Cai Guo-Qiang fans: the new multi-millionaire female golfers.

Post Categories: Flooding the Zone & Howell Raines & New York Times

Howell Raines: There’s a wicked wind still blowing…

June 11th, 2006 → 9:41 pm @

“I’m a political reporter,” Howell Raines writes in his new memoir, The One That Got Away. “I can read an audience.” Only half of this is true: Raines was a political reporter, and, at times, a very good one. But in the final years of his career, he showed he was horrible at reading an audience. In the days after September 11, Raines, who’d been the executive editor of The New York Times for less than a week when the Twin Towers collapsed, took pride in the fact that his staff, as he once pungently put it, had been “rode hard and put up wet.” After hundreds of Times journalists performed truly heroic feats of journalism, Raines took all the credit for himself. And when Jayson Blair was outed as a plagiarist and fabricator, Raines misinterpreted anger directed at him as the griping of a complacent newsroom.

This passage in The One That Got Away is of particular interest to me because it’s where he takes a swipe at my own reporting and reputation. Referring to what he calls “a Bermuda triangle of angry druggies,” Raines writes, “[T]he guy hammering me in Newsweek had been treated for heroin addiction. … I had passed on a chance to hire this guy earlier in his career because I believed he was too easily spun by his sources. If I had known about the heroin, I might have hired him, too.”

This sentence is a beautiful example of Raines’s M.O.: start with some basic facts and twist them in a way that’s both inaccurate and demeaning. It was an approach executed with aplomb in Raines’s semi-hysterical settling of scores in his Atlantic Monthly article of May 2004, when he started with some undeniable premises—that the Times‘s cultural coverage needed to be updated, for instance—before misstating facts in order to create a new reality in which Raines’s predecessor at the paper had led a lazy and incompetent staff and he had been the savior cast off by bitter ingrates.

In the section I quoted above, Raines refers to me dismissively as a junkie, implies that my critical coverage of him had stemmed from the fact that he hadn’t hired me, writes that he would have hired me out of pity had he only known about my past, and disparages my reporting. I was, at one point, a heroin addict; that’s no secret. And I had sent in some clips to the Times in the fall of 2001, after and Brill’s Content shut down. But if Raines had ever even seen those clips, he would have known about my personal story: I included an essay I’d written about my treatment and recovery because, as I said in my cover letter, I wanted to give prospective employers “the broadest sense of my abilities” and not have them caught off guard. In fact, Raines had not “passed on a chance” to hire me; as I later confirmed, my clips—which I sent to Adam Moss, then the editor of the Times‘s Sunday magazine, Dave Smith, then the Times‘s media editor, and Trip Gabriel, the editor of the Times‘s Style section, had never made their way up the ladder. (Neither Raines nor anyone else at the Times contacted me at the time about a possible job.) And to the extent that I had a reputation in 2001, it was for being hard on my sources, something Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker discovered when, in my final story for Brill’s, I wrote how Whitaker had bungled (and possibly prevaricated about) the handling of a story detailing Bob Kerrey’s role in a massacre of Vietnamese civilians. Whitaker, to his credit, hired me soon after. What is undeniably true is that I had hammered Raines both before and after I sent clips in to the Times—for the very things that would lead to his downfall. I’d written critically about Raines since before he had taken over the paper, when, as the media reporter for Inside, I had written about the anxiety in the newsroom related to his appointment. After Inside closed, I reported on Raines’s roiling of the Times‘s national staff for New York. Then there was my coverage of Raines in Newsweek and in my book, Hard News.

By the end of his career as a journalist, Raines had come under fire in many quarters for letting his personal agendas get in the way of the real story. Three years after he was fired for this and for his mishandling of the best newsroom in the country, it’s clear not much has changed.

Post Categories: Bob Dylan & Hard News & Howell Raines & New York Times & Oblique Refrences to Killed Newsweek Headlines & Street Legal Lyrics