New York Magazine runs a big cover story next week on the beleaguered New York Times, bane of the Bush Administration for its stories on NSA spying and secretly-reviewed bank records. Joe Hagan gets more details on the fateful December 5th* meeting at the White House where Bush had summoned the Times brass — consisting of executive editor Bill Keller, publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Washington Bureau Chief Philip Taubman — to prevail upon them not to publish the warrantless-wiretapping exposé. According to Howard Kurtz in WaPo, those meetings were supposed to be off the record; but in the NY Mag story, Keller reveals to Hagan many previously unpublished details of the meeting, including the fact that Bush warned Keller that, if they published the story, the NYT would bear responsibility if there was another attack:
"The basic message," recalls Keller, "was, 'You'll have blood on your hands."
Hagan also reports that joining Bush, Keller, Sulzberger and Taubman were national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Bush lawyer Harriet Miers, and the then-current NSA Director Michael Hayden "with a thick briefing book in his lap." The story had already been held for over a year. Keller, Sulzberger and Taubman listened to Bush, and eleven days later, they published the story.
Hagan explores the aftermath of that decision, the right-wing backlash against the NYT (as well as from the left), plummeting public support and eroding press freedom in the piece, which the mag teases as wondering "Is this the right time for quiet and deliberate leadership at the Paper of Record?" To this end (based on the cover, which contains a mock-up of the NYT front page with the actual stories excerpted for verisimilitude), New York also profiles Keller, calling him "fiercely intelligent, taciturn, [and] occassionally prickly," and citing New Yorker editor David Remnick who says: "To watch him work, there's a certain kind of cool intelligence to his bearing."
The New York Times is a popular subject at New York: Kurt Anderson wrote scathinly of Sulzberger last fall following the debacle over Judith Miller, and in the recent "Influentials" issue** the magazine described the Times as "America's most vital news outlet, the chief codebook with which New Yorkers (and the world) decipher the interesting times we've been cursed to live in." (NY Mag editor Adam Moss was formerly the editor of the New York Times Magazine). Hagan's most recent NY Mag story was a feature on ABC's Charlie Gibson which was contested by the anchor, who called Hagan a snake (NYMag stood by the story).
The full text of the story can be found here.
* Reported as Dec. 6, 2005, in Newsweek by Jonathan Alter, who originally broke news of the meeting.
**Disclosure: I contributed to that section.