BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Most media critics, if they believed it would happen at all, figured it would take a few months, a decent interval, before Howell Raines left the helm of the New York Times. But the Jayson Blair scandal, followed by an acrimonious meeting with the staff, the departure of star reporter Rick Bragg under a cloud, and reports of a disheartened newsroom in confusion, combined it seems to make sooner much better than later. So publisher Arthur Sulzberger, a few weeks after saying he would not accept Raines' resignation, received it Thursday with sadness, he said, along with that of managing editor Gerald Boyd. And Jayson Blair released this statement: "I am sorry to hear that more people have fallen in this sequence of events that I had unleashed. I wish the rolling heads had stopped with mine." Newsweek media reporter Seth Mnookin is one of those who believed that Raines soon would be shown the door. Seth, welcome to the show!
SETH MNOOKIN: Thank you for having me!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now Seth, Jayson Blair may have sparked this sequence of events, but subsequent reporting by people like you suggests that Raines has to take a lot of the credit for his own demise.
SETH MNOOKIN: I think that's absolutely true, and one interesting comparison is looking back at when Janet Cooke was caught fabricating a story that won the Pulitzer for the Washington Post. Ben Bradlee was the editor there at the time. Obviously he had been editor for a while and led the paper through the Watergate coverage, but he also had a reservoir of good will in that newsroom, and one of the things that we've learned in the last month is that Howell Raines not only did not have a reservoir of good will, but there was a lot of resentment and anger towards him, and that really was what brought about his downfall more than an--anything that one reporter did.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But what about Gerald Boyd? By most accounts he was regarded with both respect and affection in the newsroom. If, if life were fair, would he have to go?
SETH MNOOKIN: Life isn't fair [LAUGHS] as, as we know, and, and I think one of the things we've seen is that Gerald and Howell were viewed very much as a team, and there was a sense that as a team they had lost the respect and the ability to lead that newsroom. I mean it's interesting that in the past weeks and, and especially in the past days as it seemed increasingly obvious that there was at least a strong possibility that Howell was going to resign, no one was really talking about Gerald as a replacement, and in most situations, the second in command would be a logical choice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I want to quote Mickey Kaus, whose Kaus Files appears on slate.
SETH MNOOKIN: Mm-hm. Right. Sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:He wrote: "If this happened ten years ago when the internet didn't exist, Raines would still be running the place; the Times' staff would be just as unhappy but they'd be unable to instantaneously organize and vent their displeasure on Romanesco -- a media news website--
SETH MNOOKIN: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- and elsewhere. It's this suddenly transparent internal opposition that brought Raines down.
SETH MNOOKIN: Right. It's not only the internet -- although I think that has a lot to do with it, but the whole notion of covering the media with the same scrutiny and intensity that we cover any other industry I think is something that has really multiplied exponentially over the past five or ten years. But I think the point that Mickey makes that is most valid is that the internal dissent became so publicly known, and I think that before that town hall meeting, and before these last couple of weeks when all these reports started leaking out, Arthur Sulzberger hadn't been aware of how unhappy the newsroom was.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Let's turn to Raines' short term replacement, Joe Lelyveld who used to run the place. His management style was completely different. Raines ruled from the top and Lelyveld seemed to trust his top editors to run their sections without is perpetual supervision. His, they say, was a happier newsroom -- but that system of delegated responsibility that Lelyveld had used changed when he left. Do you think he can marshal the forces now, especially since it's clear that he isn't staying in the job?
SETH MNOOKIN: Yeah. I think everyone at the Times is very interested in maintaining the paper's reputation, and I think that a lot of the bickering and infighting that we've been seeing is going to fall by the wayside not only because, as you, as you say Joe is an incredibly popular person in that newsroom, but also just, just out of a lot of genuine affection and care and respect for the institution that they work for. You couldn't invent the New York Times today. If you hired all those reporters and started a new paper, it wouldn't be the New York Times. And I think the people there are very aware of that, and they don't want to see the paper that they work for and that they love be more tarnished than it has been.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Seth, how much longer do you think the Times will be the butt of Leno and Letterman-type jokes? I mean in a hearing on the Senate floor this week, one senator quipped that she'd read something in the New York Times and so she'd better check and make sure it's right.
SETH MNOOKIN: You know we'll, we'll probably be hearing jokes for another couple of weeks, and some other news will come along and, and it'll fall by the wayside. It's not going to have the half life of Monica Lewinsky jokes, but-- one of the unfortunate things that has happened is there's become a sort of new cultural currency is not only making fun of the Times but making fun of the fact that of course journalists make things up and, and of course they plagiarize and, and fake quotes. And, and one of the things that this has shown to all of us as an industry is the sort of low esteem in which we're held in, in a lot of the country, and I think there needs to be work done to try and right that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. Seth, thanks a lot!
SETH MNOOKIN: Thank you so much, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seth Mnookin writes on media for Newsweek.