Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Fired `NY Times' editor hits back at complacency

ACERBIC TONGUE The former editor of `The New York Times' who left after the most embarrassing journalistic scandal in the paper's history blamed it for its `self-satisfaction'

THE OBSERVER , NEW YORK

Howell Raines, the former editor of The New York Times who left after the most embarrassing journalistic scandal in its history, has launched an attack on the paper's culture of "complacency and self-satisfaction." Contradicting reports that he had quit the most powerful job in American journalism, Raines made it clear on Saturday that he was fired after becoming a political liability.

In his first public comments since leaving the paper last month, Raines mounted a strong defense of his management style and suggested he had been a casualty of an ideological war over the direction of the paper.

"We were on a carefully planned march ... In the course of that march we stepped on a land mine ... a land mine called Jayson Blair," he said.

Blair was the junior reporter who left the Times a month before Raines' departure, after it emerged that many of his stories were either invented or plagiarized from other newspapers. The Times printed a 14,000-word front-page story detailing his transgressions.

Instead of dampening the scandal, this unprecedented mea culpa led to the Times being widely ridiculed and provoked open revolt by some staff against his editorship. Critics claimed he was arrogant, dictatorial and operated a "star system" that rewarded his favorites -- charges that Raines denied during an interview broadcast on national television.

"I do want to say, having known every person who has ever held the title of executive editor ... extending up to myself, that humility and modesty are not adjectives that leap to mind with anyone in that group," he said. "We should all strive for inner humility, but it's a job that draws assertive people."

Raines said that when he became editor -- six days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center -- he had set himself the task of changing the culture of complacency at the Times with a culture of competitiveness. The paper, he said, had "never been out-thought, but we had been out-worked."

He made a series of similarly combative remarks about the Times' old-boy network and the conservatism shown by some of its journalists when faced with change, though he conceded that he had put too much pressure on some members of his staff.

"I worked them too hard and didn't rest them enough. And also, in terms of the culture of the Times newsroom, I moved the newsroom too far too fast. That was a mistake on my part."

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