Toward the end of my fellowship, I got a call from Lelyveld. He asked me what I was studying? And I said, "The classics." And he said, "Like Latin?" and I said, "Exactly."
There was a long silence and he said, "Well, I guess you can cover the Vatican." I came back, and they fucked me, as Rosenthal warned. They wouldn't give me an assignment.
Lelyveld was that vindictive?
They are all vindictive. They think they are infallible, like the pope. And there are no shortage of sycophants around them willing to feed their self-delusion. Lelyveld is, I will say in his defense, a fine writer, cares about good reporting and is literate. This is very rare at that level. His successors did a good job of removing all the gravitas, much of which he had promoted, from the paper. [Former Times executive editor] Bill Keller's neocon trolls gutted the Book Review and the Week in Review. Lelyveld didn't let the editors destroy my copy. He reached out to protect the handful of good writers at the Times -- there aren't that many there. He also hired me.
And, of course, you were known to be difficult.
I was difficult. I was hired to be difficult. I had been difficult in numerous war zones around the globe for two decades. That is how I did my job and got my stories. You can't turn that off in a newsroom. When I returned from Harvard, it was like the old Soviet Union. You're a member of the Politburo, and then one day you suddenly get sent to Kazakhstan. So I sat at home and read Dostoevsky. I can remember Lelyveld saw me in the newsroom after I had been called back and said, "You still remember how to write a story?" Stuff like that. I was on the "outs." They wanted to make me do penance. It is like obedience training for a dog.
Because you were maybe a little abrasive? [smiles]
I was abrasive. Without question.
What year was this?
And then 9/11 happens.
Right. So 9/11 happens.
And by then Howell Raines has taken over from Lelyveld as executive editor.
Right. And I speak Arabic. So I'm assigned to the hijackers.
By the way, what was your relationship with Raines like?
Raines had no business running a newspaper. He and his managing editor, Gerald Boyd, were driven by naked ambition and self-promotion. This is not unique. But they were also insecure and incompetent. They promoted the con artist, Jason Blair, who fabricated and plagiarized stories. They empowered Judy Miller and Michael Gordon to publish the lies of the Bush administration to justify the Iraqi invasion. They pushed aside talented reporters and editors when they were not obsequious enough. It was all about who could grovel and flatter them the most. The newsroom, not made up of natural rebels, rose up in revolt. Raines and Boyd lost control of the paper,.
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