The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, May 16, 2002  

And a Careless Reporter As Well

Slate, a site we continually find ourselves forgetting to look in on, had a terrific piece yesterday about Andrew Sullivan's departure from the pages of the New York Times Magazine.

The fundamental question posed by author Jack Shafer is this: "The sacking of Sullivan makes it easy to villainize [Times Executive Editor Howell] Raines as the autocratic boss who squashed the Weblogger with his mighty thumb. But what American newspaper--outside of the old Village Voice--would have allowed a contributor to serially and publicly deride it as long as Sullivan did the Times before bouncing him?"

A very good question, indeed. While working in publishing, our editor encountered a similar problem with a contributor to the magazine's web site whose opinions flatly contradicted those of the editors and writers at both the web site and the magazine. Our editor found the situation intolerable and frustrating, winning some battles and losing others as the problem was handled on a case-by-case basis.

Summing up the situation at the Times, Shafer writes:

"Sources surmise that the Sullivan banishment didn't come out of the blue but evolved out of discussions between Raines and [NYT Magazine editor Adam] Moss, in which Raines' aversion to Sullivan's work ripened into a complete ban. The anti-Krugman eruptions and Times slagging marked Sullivan as a non-team player, but other forces were at play. [Ed.: Emphasis added.]

"Sullivan excels at punditry, happily riffing off the news or essaying exuberantly off the top of his head. But when he dons the reporter's hat, Sullivan's enthusiasm for a conclusion sometimes outruns the facts at his disposal, whether he's discussing the science of testosterone (see Judith Shulevitz's Slate critique) or prematurely diagnosing the end of AIDS (see Jon Cohen's Slate critique)." [Ed.: Emphasis added.]

"You might guess that Raines' previous job as the Times' fulminating editorial page editor would make him partial to a fellow member of the commentariat, especially a bomb-thrower like Sullivan. But Raines' highest passion is for hard news and reportorial detail, which explains the saturation coverage of breaking stories--Enron and the priest scandal--in the Times under his editorship. Raines might very well have already assigned two or three strikes against Sullivan before he even started blogging against the Times."

Shafer's essay offers an account of Sullivan's departure, and an interpretation thereof, that differs markedly from that published at We recommend the article be read in its entirety.

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