Howell Raines resigned as executive editor of The New York Times yesterday along with his chief deputy, casualties of a young reporter's betrayal that led to the loss of confidence in the top editors' ability to lead the nation's most prestigious newspaper.
Former Executive Editor Joseph Lelyveld was tapped to head the Times on a temporary basis.
Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd announced their resignations just past 10:30 a.m. yesterday in successive remarks to newsroom staffers on the third floor of the Times' Midtown Manhattan headquarters. Both spoke briefly, in quavering voices, according to people present. Many employees broke into tears during the hastily arranged gathering, while others applauded.
Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the newspaper's publisher and chairman of the parent New York Times Co., thanked the two for "for putting the interest of this newspaper, a newspaper we all love, above their own," according to the Times' online account of the event. No managing editor was named for the short term.
Susan E. Tifft, a co-author of the book The Trust about the Sulzbergers and the Times, says reporters and editors there have been consumed by the scandal. Journalists have been distracted from their work by panels conducting grim-faced internal reviews or simply talking endlessly about the crisis.
"The Times was being completely absorbed in this enervating process," Tifft says. "Arthur Sulzberger decided this had to be done for the good of the Times."
Possible successors are said by Times staffers to include Los Angeles Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet, a former New York Times national editor; former Times editor Martin Baron, editor of the Boston Globe, which is owned by the Times; and former Times Managing Editor Bill Keller, who was passed over when Raines was picked as Lelyveld's successor in the summer of 2001.
Journalists at the Times characterized the past six weeks as incredibly painful.
"Anything that gets us past this episode and allows us to pull together and get back to what we do best has to be seen as constructive," said reporter Felicity Barringer, who covers the United Nations for the Times. "It's been a very destructive period, and I hope it's over."
On May 1, 27-year-old Jayson Blair - a reporter mentioned publicly by Raines as an example of the promising young talent found at the Times - quit after dozens of his stories proved to be fabricated, plagiarized or otherwise deeply compromised.
Boyd became entangled in the plagiarism scandal as the head of a hiring committee that recommended Blair be promoted from intern to full-time reporter despite metropolitan editor Jonathan Landman's stated misgivings about his work. Boyd and Raines had also encouraged Blair to play an increasing role in coverage of the Washington-area sniper last fall as a result of his "scoops" - articles whose content have come under serious attack.
Raines, Boyd and Sulzberger held meetings with employees during which Raines accepted responsibility for creating an environment in which a serial fabricator could flourish. In addition, he acknowledged that some people perceived him as arrogant and unwilling to absorb criticism, leading to a "culture of fear." On May 14, during a session at a rented Manhattan movie theater, reporters pressed Sulzberger on whether Raines would resign. Sulzberger replied that he would neither ask for nor accept resignations from Raines and Boyd.
In a smaller-scale fiasco that nonetheless proved costly for Raines, a Pulitzer-winning national feature writer, Rick Bragg, was rebuked late last month for writing a richly detailed article in June 2002 for which an unofficial stringer had executed most of the reporting. Bragg was a friend of Raines', who the reporter said had known of similar arrangements in the past.
Bragg subsequently granted interviews in which he said that his reliance on uncredited junior stringers was a common practice at the Times, unleashing a backlash. Former stringers complained on Jim Romenesko's media Web site for the Poynter Institute and elsewhere that they were routinely denied credit for their work. Meanwhile, Times reporters heatedly argued in print and online that they did their own reporting.
Raines and Boyd were uncharacteristically silent, Times staffers said, further angering some correspondents who believed their integrity should be defended. After Bragg unrepentantly resigned, saying his style had been approved by his bosses, the two top editors circulated a memo disavowing Bragg's characterization of the Times: "We don't recognize ourselves or you in that picture."
Landman was not on close terms with Raines, and his objections to Blair's hiring and assignments went unheeded. Yesterday, he sent out an e-mail to his staff commiserating about the "tough day." But, he pointedly added: "(R)emember: The executive editor and managing editor don't put out the paper. Never have, never will. You do."