Quotable Passages From Reviews Of Endtimes: Crises And Turmoil At The New York Times, 1999-2009

                                                                         BY

 Daniel R. Schwarz, Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, Cornell University


 

1.  [In Endtimes? Schwarz has presented] is a balanced grappling with big issues and tumultuous changes in journalism and at The Times between 1999 and 2009. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty/professionals; general readers (A.R. Cannnella, Choice,) 50:3 (November 2012).

 

2. To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, The New York Times is the worst newspaper except for all the others in the world. Continuously published since its founding in 1851, The Times has won 106 Pulitzer prizes, the most of any news organization. Its electronic version is the most read American online newspaper website, with more than 30 million unique visitors each month.
No newspaper is more cited, honored and parodied. As the newspaper of record, it takes itself very seriously. Changes at the top of the masthead are scrutinized with the same diligence that Kremlinologists used to apply to photos of the Soviet Politburo arrayed atop Lenin’s Tomb.
For years, and even now, the rest of the mainstream media — particularly the evening news programs — have taken their cues from the Times front page, released at 9 p.m. the night before publication and regarded as a kind of Rosetta Stone of the news. Due to the paper’s prominence and prestige, everything concerning it is magnified, so warts become mountains of shame and modest scoops and insights the Word From On High. Call it unfair or unwarranted, but I doubt that the true Timesperson would have it any other way.

In this spirit comes Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times, 1999-2009 to examine a decade in which all manner of plagues befell The Times — many of them self-inflicted. Ten years like these would have killed some lesser rags. But this is The Times, and it survived Howell Raines, Jayson Blair and Judith Miller. What didn’t kill it may have made it stronger. . . .

Raines, a success as editorial page editor, became executive editor in September 2001, days before the 9/11 attacks. The Times’ coverage of those events was superb, winning seven Pulitzers, and it marked the high point of Raines’ tenure. His autocratic style eventually undid him (he resigned in June 2003), and Schwarz duly chronicles the “Raines reformation and demise.” Raines’ regime was also marked by the unmasking of reporter Blair, an admitted fabulist, and star writer Rick Bragg, who resigned under pressure after admitting to unorthodox reporting methods.

No one, however, is as emblematic of this period of turmoil as Miller, an “investigative” reporter whose exclusives on the purported existence of WMDs in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the run-up to the war were eventually revealed to be fraudulent. She was the “Woman of Mass Destruction” in columnist Maureen Dowd’s memorable phrase and the self-styled “Miss Run Amok” in her own. Schwarz details how she was coddled by Raines and tolerated by his successor, Bill Keller, until forced to resign. In 2005, Schwarz asked then managing editor (and now executive editor) Jill Abramson what she regretted about how the Times handled the Miller situation. “The entire thing,” she responded.

Schwarz treats Keller’s regime more gently, describing it as a period of restoration and general overall improvement of the paper. Keller “brought calm and equilibrium to the newsroom.” But it was not without its missteps, and Schwarz focuses on two: withholding a warrantless wiretapping story in 2004 that could have affected the presidential reelection of George W. Bush and a bungled attempt to tie Arizona senator and GOP presidential candidate John McCain to an attractive female lobbyist.

Schwarz is less kind to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., derided by his nickname “Pinch” as compared to his predecessor and father, the stalwart Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger. “Controversial, proactive, prickly, defensive, and self confident to the point where a listener wonders if he is delusional” is Schwarz’s take on the scion.

Schwarz also is highly critical of the Times’ coverage of pop culture—Timestrash he calls it—and the paper’s attempt to cover the new sexual frankness of the 21st century. He dislikes anything that smacks of prurience—as if The Grey Lady should be clad in blue stockings.

A final chapter—and what other paper could warrant such treatment?—is titled “Struggling With Its Ethnic Heritage” and wrestles with the assertions that the paper, owned by Jews, downplayed the Holocaust, opposed the creation of the state of Israel and “bends over backward to be fair to the Palestinians.”

The author, a Cornell professor, is diligent in his research and his interviews. . . . He puts The Times on the couch and gives us a very through psychoanalysis. . . .
If you love newspapering and The Times, in whichever order, you will pass many a happy hour reading details about decisions on coverage, the new lifestyle sections, the dumbing down of features and blatant pandering to the stylish 1 percent. If not, well, you know who you are.

(Steve Goldstein, The Washington Independent Review of Books, Dec. 13, 2011)

 

3. New York Times goes under microscope in book by Dan Schwarz

The New York Times is Dan Schwarz’s newspaper.

It belongs to him not because he’s its publisher, editor or reporter. He’s one of its devoted readers – addict, he says some would call him – and he’s been a Times reader for as long as he could read.

“I have had a lifelong love affair with the New York Times,” he writes in the introduction to his forthcoming book, “EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009.” The State University of New York Press is publishing it in March.

This love doesn’t turn a blind eye to real problems. The book addresses the two tumultuous years of Alabama native Howell Raines’ editorship, 2001-03. These years included the scandal surrounding reporter Jayson Blair’s series of fictitious articles about serial killings in Washington, D.C., and the resignation of Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, also of Alabama, following a charge of fraudulent reporting for relying on stringers to do his footwork.

Another scandal rocked the paper after Bill Keller took over as executive editor. Reporter Judith Miller’s inaccurate stories about WMD in the run-up to the Iraq War and her involvement in the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity also raise doubts about the steadiness of editorial leadership.

Still, some passages read like a love letter to the newspaper:
“Proust has his Madelaine, I my Times. For me it implies satisfying private moments when I recused myself from worries and lost myself in a world beyond my own concerns. Even though it doesn’t leave its mark – its ink – on my hands as it used to, it leaves its mark indelibly on my brain and heart.”

“EndTimes?” is a product of brain and heart – passion for its subject, yes, but also clear-eyed critique of that subject’s strengths and weaknesses. Brain and heart are well balanced here, and I expected no less from the book’s author.

“I have had a lifelong love affair with the New York Times,” he writes in the introduction to his forthcoming book, “EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009.” The State University of New York Press is publishing it in March.

This love doesn’t turn a blind eye to real problems. The book addresses the two tumultuous years of Alabama native Howell Raines’ editorship, 2001-03. These years included the scandal surrounding reporter Jayson Blair’s series of fictitious articles about serial killings in Washington, D.C., and the resignation of Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg, also of Alabama, following a charge of fraudulent reporting for relying on stringers to do his footwork.

Another scandal rocked the paper after Bill Keller took over as executive editor. Reporter Judith Miller’s inaccurate stories about WMD in the run-up to the Iraq War and her involvement in the disclosure of Valerie Plame’s CIA identity also raise doubts about the steadiness of editorial leadership.

Still, some passages read like a love letter to the newspaper: “Proust has his Madelaine, I my Times. For me it implies satisfying private moments when I recused myself from worries and lost myself in a world beyond my own concerns. Even though it doesn’t leave its mark – its ink – on my hands as it used to, it leaves its mark indelibly on my brain and heart.”

“EndTimes?” is a product of brain and heart – passion for its subject, yes, but also clear-eyed critique of that subject’s strengths and weaknesses. Brain and heart are well balanced here, and I expected no less from the book’s author.

Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English Literature and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He’s written extensively about the works of James Joyce and other early 20th-century novelists. His many books include “In Defense of Reading: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century” and “Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture.”Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. He’s written extensively about the works of James Joyce and other early 20th-century novelists. His many books include “In Defense of Reading: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century” and “Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture.”

I met Dan in 1996 when he was Visiting Eminent Scholar in the Humanities at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and I was doing graduate work in the English department. I took his seminar on Joyce’s “Ulysses”. . . .

I discovered that his academic analyses are insightful and get to the point of the matter, and he presents his points in readable prose. So when [I learned about] his New York Times project, I knew I would appreciate his examination of America’s iconic newspaper and also enjoy the reading experience. I was right on both counts.

During a recent phone interview from his home in Ithaca, N.Y., Dan told me he conducted about 45 interviews starting in 2004 and continuing into 2008 when he began to write the book. Then he went back in 2010 “for a retrospective view.”

“I interviewed every living executive editor of the Times,” he said, “as well as a good number of the masthead figures and a good number of the section editors.”

Along with a good overview of the Times’ history and recent past, Dan focuses on an issue facing all newspapers in the digital age: Will there still be a print edition in 10 to 15 years?

“That’s one thing we see implicit in the question mark (in the title of the book),” he said. “ ‘Crisis and Turmoil’ implies that there was a period of difficulty, and I’m not talking about Jayson Blair and Howard Raines, although those are very important focal points in the book.

“I’m talking about the challenge of the Internet, or the challenge to the print newspaper by the Internet model and also the challenge to the business model, which is very real.”

Under the business heading, Dan looks at the growth of the paper’s lighter side, and not always favorably, as it tries to find new readers and revenue sources. He also offers critiques of various columnists, Maureen Dowd among them.

There was a bit of printer’s ink in Dan’s veins as well as on his hands before he began “EndTimes?” He’s written travel articles. His brother is a journalist. From the point of view of this newspaper veteran, the literary and social scholar becomes, in this book, a pretty good newspaper reporter.

Dan said writing about Damon Runyon  and his world [in his 2004 Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture]helped fuel the spark of curiosity that became “EndTimes?”

“It was after the Runyon book that I realized I was interested in journalism and how it worked, because I had done a great deal of reading about tabloids and about the newspaper industry from the turn of the century and even earlier.

“But you are absolutely right. This certainly made me 100 times more of a journalist underneath.”

(http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2011/12/new_york_times_goes_under_micr.html) Dec, 28, 2011, The Huntsville (Ala.) Times, reprinted Dec. 29th, 2011 in the New York Times examiner as “End Times? New York Times goes under microscope in book by Dan Schwarz,: Dec.. 29, 2011. 
Ann Marie Martin, The Huntsville Times' former books editor, is now communications director at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. Contact her at amartin@hmcpl.org.)

 

4.  In other Times news, Cornell professor Daniel Schwarz, who says he’s had “a lifelong love affair with the New York Times,” is coming out with a book titled “EndTimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009.” Ann Marie Martin writes:

Dan told me he conducted about 45 interviews starting in 2004 and continuing into 2008 when he began to write the book. Then he went back in 2010 “for a retrospective view.”

“I interviewed every living executive editor of the Times,” he said, “as well as a good number of the masthead figures and a good number of the section editors.”

Along with a good overview of the Times’ history and recent past, Dan focuses on an issue facing all newspapers in the digital age: Will there still be a print edition in 10 to 15 years?

(Jim Romensko, Dec. 29, 2011; http://jimromenesko.com/2011/12/29/ny-post-pulls-out-the-black-eye-photo-of-course/)

 

5. In his new book, "Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009," Cornell Professor Daniel R. Schwarz takes an in-depth look at 10 difficult years in the recent life of America's most esteemed newspaper.
"I have had a lifelong love affair with The New York Times," Schwarz writes in his introduction to the book, published by State University of New York Press. . . .

The first decade of the 21st century was not kind to the Times, which was beset with self-inflicted troubles -- including a series of fictitious articles by Times reporter Jayson Blair and false stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- and pressure to respond to growing competition from online outlets and 24-hour cable news.

Schwarz's book discusses virtually every aspect of the contemporary Times, from columnists to cultural coverage; and how it has responded to constant updating in broadcast and online news by providing increased analysis -- as opposed to reporting -- of the news, and adding features on health, investing, travel and food.

Starting in 2004, Schwarz interviewed more than 40 Times insiders, such as publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., every living executive editor, and senior business managers.
He says the book places "the Times in the context of the evolution of newspapers from print to digital, as well as taking account of the changing economic realities of the newspaper business."
The book details the transformation of the Times as it has confronted various challenges, and provides a critical account of its strengths and weaknesses in responding to and surviving in today's media environment, including its survival as a print newspaper.

Schwarz, the Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English Literature and a Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, has taught at Cornell since 1968. His 15 books include "In Defense of Reading: Teaching Literature in the 21st Century" (2008), "Broadway Boogie Woogie: Damon Runyon and the Making of New York City Culture" (2003), "Imagining the Holocaust" (1999) and several volumes of literary criticism including "Reading Joyce's Ulysses" (1987).
(Daniel Aloi, Cornell Chronicle, “Schwarz book examines changes at The New York Times,” March 1, 2012)

 

6. Crisis and Turmoil at The New York Times: A Book Review

Do you ever wonder if the Murders’ Row of New York Times lions, namely, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Arthur Ochs ``Punch’’ Sulzberger Sr. , Anne O'Hare McCormick, James ``Scotty’’ Reston, Meyer "Mike" Berger, A.M.`` Abe’’ Rosenthal,  R.W. ``Johnny’’ Apple Jr. , and Red Smith are tossing and turning in their graves right now wondering what has become of their sacred institution?
In this digital age of fewer subscribers to their print edition, plummeting advertising revenue, and editors racing to adapt to readers mad dash to the Internet, has the Times lost its moorings while sinking to the level of Timeslite or Timestrash?
Daniel R. Schwarz, a Fredrick J. Whiton Professor of English Literature and Stephen H. Wise Presidential Fellow at Cornell University tries to answer this in his new book: "EndTimes’?: Crisis and Turmoil at The New York Times, 1999-2009.’’

Schwarz spent seven long years talking, emailing, and. . . interviewing a galaxy of past and present senior editors at the Times in an attempt to unravel how such a world-class newspaper lost its footing in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, including letting its reporting being influenced and badly manipulated by White House operatives during the Iraqi War, most notably with Judith Miller (some say recklessly) giving credence to questionable sources confirming Saddam Hussein had indeed been stockpiling weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

By the time the dust had settled after one of the gloomiest eras of the Gray Lady (2001-2003), Blair, executive editor Howell Raines, managing editor Gerald Boyd, national correspondent Rick Bragg (Judith Miller with one foot out the door, she resigned in 2005) had been jettisoned; and it was up to Bill Keller, a former managing editor (who was once passed over for executive editor) to restore the Times damaged credibility, while reviving the morale of the newsroom, which had sunk to historic lows during the stormy Raines years.

If the Raines regime (known to be bombastic, dictatorial, megalomaniac, misogynistic, promoting favorites over more qualified journalists), was ``Stalinesque’’ as one Times’ staffer described it–Keller ushered in the counter-reformation in which the new executive editor made a ``serious and sometimes effective effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

Under Keller, Schwarz writes, more emphasis was placed on listening carefully to different viewpoints, instilling a strong sense of community and working together among its staff, while relying on a diverse network of editors to help him better manage the newsroom.  Despite the sense of ``calm’’ and ``equilibrium’’ Keller undoubtedly brought to the newsroom after the ``Raines of Terror’’, some staffers nonetheless consider Keller a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, to paraphrase Winston Churchill. 

Two years into Keller’s editorship in 2005, metro columnist Clyde Haberman told Schwarz: ``What I haven't figured out about Keller is how much of some of the changes that taken place...is a true vision he'd had all along, and how much he had to be reactive to his immediate processor Raines.''

Whatever the final verdict on Raines successor (Keller experienced his share of hiccups), he undoubtedly brought sweeping changes to the content of the paper, including placing more emphasis on scrupulous analysis and investigative journalism, while working with the online side of the paper, stressing more graphics and digital journalism, such as the 2006 Election Guide in which dazzling maps showing safe and contested Democratic and Republican seats were colorfully displayed.

Still, by the time Keller passed the baton to Jill Abramson in September 2011,  the Times was left in a state of ``perpetual crisis’’, though  in areas completely outside of Keller’s area of control, namely loss of advertising revenue from its print editions and not enough ad revenue from its digital side to make up the difference.  Beginning in March, 2011, the Times placed a pay wall on its website in which it charges online visitors between $15 and $35 a month (after 20 free articles) for access to its content.

Readers hoping to learn more of the back stories, sharp elbows, and power grabs of the mighty and most powerful editors inside the Times’ newsroom, certainly won’t be disappointed by ``EndTimes?’’ But the reader should bear in mind that the main thrust of the book is the daunting economic challenges the Times is facing as it devotes more and more effort to its website. Schwarz traces the beginning of the Times financial despair back to 2005, when its third-quarter 2005 SEC filing showed a significant loss in operating profit due predominantly to higher wages and benefits, outside printing expenses, and higher newsprint expenses, among other factors.

In his interviews with Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Schwarz believes the publisher of the Times has some ``Pollyanna moments’’; tone deaf to the financial straits of the paper, believing things aren’t as bad as they appear.  In his 2005 interview, Schwarz says Sulzberger boasted of rising ad revenue on the website and the increased number of page views,  while skirting the issue of whether that was enough to compensate for rising costs and lost revenue.  Schwarz describes Sulzberger as ``controversial, proactive, prickly, defensive, and self-confident to the point where a listener wonders if he is a tad delusional.’’

Sulzberger or "Arthur’’ as he is known around the newsroom, wanted to make a profound impact on the direction of the paper when hiring his first editor back in 2001. He wanted a strong personality, someone akin to Abe Rosenthal who was hired by his father, Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger, Sr.  It was under Rosenthal, many argue, when the Times cemented its strong liberal voice.

His choice of Raines over Keller was badly flawed even according to some staff members; more damaging still was that Sulzberger seems to have been out of touch with the level of animosity that staffers felt toward Raines, including Judith Miller, well before the train wreck occurred.

Deputy Managing Editor Jonathan Landman told Schwarz: "With Howell there was no reformation. It was all bullshit. It was all gas; he transformed nothing, through he talked about it a lot."

Will Sulzberger ever be replaced despite his family controlling Class B voting stock?

Probably not, Schwarz makes clear, since he seems to have the support of the 13 member board of directors.  But if the declining stock prices continue apace, the only possible successor might be his cousin, Michael Golden, vice chairman of The New York Times Company and president and chief operating officer of the Times Regional Media Group. But even Golden would be a long shot since he turned 62 in 2011. . . .

Taken together, Schwarz criticism of the Times shouldn’t be confused with a personal vendetta or waging a war against a institution which is easy to criticize since it is constantly being held up to the glaring light by friend and foe alike. Rather, the reader will quickly come to appreciate Schwarz, like many of us news junkies, is a long time passionate Times reader, who is seeing the newspaper he mostly closely identifies with skimp on its news coverage at times; other times give into advertising pressures and feed its readers a little too much fluff at the expense of quality and hard driven news. . . .

It is clear the Times, and that includes Mr. Sulzberger and Ms. Abramson, the new executive editor, are doing everything within their power to keep the Times relevant, maintaining its long storied tradition of journalistic excellence, while still meeting its financial obligations and preparing for the time in the unforeseeable future when it will segue into a standalone digital operation without a print edition. We all hope that is still very far into the future, but the Times wants to prepared when that day does arrive.
-Bill Lucey, “The Morning Delivery,” March 7, 2009, http://www.wplucey.com/2012/03/crisis-and-turmoil-at-the-new-york-times-a-book-review.html

 

7) When the New York Times—nicknamed the Grey Lady—become embroiled in a series of scandals, it was seen not merely as an embarrassment but as an existential threat. Despite the gloomy title of his book, however, Daniel Schwarz has not come to read the last rites over an institution which he believes publishes ‘the worst newspaper in the world except for all the others.”

In microscopic detail, he relates how during the alternately autocratic and indulgent editorship of Howell Raines from 2001 to 2003, the New York Times became ensnared in a scandal surrounding fabricated articles about serial killing written by a reporter called Jayson Blair, and also published reports by Judith Miller, which hyped the Bush Administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.  Raines was deposed in a staff coup but Miller stayed on to embarrass his successor, Bill Keller, when she was jailed after refusing to reveal her sources for what she knew about the outing by the administration of Valerie Plane as a CIA operative.

Schwarz has been diligent in his groundwork, interviewing every living executive editor of the newspaper along with a good number of section editors and senior staff writers. The result, which took seven years to write, is stronger on the economic causes and consequences, than on the personality clashes which also contributed to its troubles. The economic rot set in, according to Schwarz, around 2005, when operating profits and the company’s stock price plunged and investors took fright.  He does not hide his disdain for the smoke and mirrors that too often surround media economics, and lambasts a number of Times journalists for their rose-tinted reporting of the paper’s situation. . . . Schwarz believes.  .  .that media reporters ought to “occupy a place like the public editor, that is, a place insulated from the editorial supervision and hierarchy of the Times.” . . . No doubt the reporters were sent in to bat for their senior executives who really did seem to have their heads stuck in the mud. [H]e is surely correct when he writes that the publisher of the Times “flagrantly misread” the economic situation and behaved as if ”he were trying to convince himself that the gathering storm clouds didn’t exist.”

If he is acute on his description of the disease, Schwarz seems to me on less sure ground in his prescription of a cure. . . . In essence, he was written a lament for a passing world, one where standards were higher, motives were nobler, and newsmen . . . more honorable. We are tall tabloid reader now. (John Keenan, “Grey Lady’s Men,” TLS, April 4, 2014).