UPDATED THROUGHOUT DAY: Dean Baquet, the fired editor of the Los Angeles Times, has landed at The New York Times as Washington Bureau Chief and Assistant Managing Editor. His return follows the Tribune Co.’s quiet rejection of the Broad/Burkle bid for the Chicago media company. (Broad and Burkle submitted their joint bid just a day after Baquet was forced out of his job November 7th and have been talking with him ever since. “Everybody liked him. There were lots of meetings,” an insider told me earlier.) Realizing that his dream of returning to the LAT was dead, Baquet quickly made the move to the NYT. Once the Tribune board concluded that the Burkle/Broad offer for the company was not “an appropriate premium” above the current share value, insiders tell me, a management-led solution is now in progress. That meant there was no longer any reason for Baquet to wait on the sidelines because he’d been assured a return to the top spot at the paper by Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad after an expected takeover. (Then again, it’s always a zero-sum game waiting on the whims of any billionaire and Baquet was placed in the awkward position of having to search for an LAT buyer among very rich locals.) Baquet told the NYT that he had met with Broad and Burkle, yet characterized the conversations as casual, and claimed he kept his personal distance, thinking that he might someday be in the position of directing news coverage of them if they won the paper. Nice try, Dean. My info shows Baquet through surrogates and on his own was actively and anxiously wooing Broad both before and after he was fired — not only to make a bid for the LAT but then to bring him back as editor. It was indeed a very slippery slope for Baquet to be navigating ethically, and one which, in my opinion, undermined his crusade as Dean Of Arc to preserve the editorial integrity of the LAT in the face of Tribune Co.-ordered staff and budget cuts.
Baquet is replacing Phil Taubman, who will be moving to California for the NYT along with his wife, fellow NYT‘er Felicity Barringer. (Taubman has many California connections, among them Stanford where he developed a friendship with Condoleeza Rice that continues to this day.) I understand there has been tension between the Washington bureau and the NYT headquarters for some time now. I’m told by NYT insiders that managing editor Jill Abramson disliked Taubman’s running of the Washington bureau and actively pushed to remove him from the leadership position there. But Taubman and NYT executive editor Bill Keller go way back, having reported from Moscow together. Baquet, meanwhile, has told pals again and again over the years that he’s always wanted to be the chief of a big, busy Washington bureau because “it was the one thing he had not done.” Ironically, today’s changes now mean that Baquet, still immensely popular with NYT‘s editors and reporters who remember him as National Editor, will be in direct competition with Abramson as well as editorial-page editor Andrew Rosenthal and deputy managing editor Jonathan Landman, to be heir apparent to Keller. It’s a situation the paper’s management is sure to shrug off but which will prove endlessly entertaining for NYT staffers in the forseeable future. Let the games begin. Meanwhile, I have no doubt that Baquet’s arrival will lead to even more LAT defections to the NYT since he left behind a cadre of sycophants. Here is Keller’s statement to the newsroom this morning:
“Colleagues: After guiding The Times through toxic storms and rebuilding our bureau into a dominant force in Washington coverage, Phil Taubman is returning to his first love, the correspondent’s life. Phil has chosen a new mission that capitalizes on his deep experience as a foreign correspondent, investigative reporter, military historian and editor. He will be taking on a special reporting assignment in the area of national security; we’ve decided to be a little secretive about the details for now for competitive reasons. He will be based in California. He will also be promoted to Associate Editor — a title previously worn by one Times journalist, Johnny Apple. It signifies both Phil’s stature as a counselor to the masthead and our expectation that he will return to senior management in the future.
When Phil accepted my invitation to leave the Editorial Page masthead three and a half years ago and take over our largest bureau, he can hardly have imagined what a roller coaster ride awaited him. In the years that followed he helped the paper deal with the imprisonment of a reporter, the murder of a revered colleague, the faceoff with a hostile administration (including one tense session with the President), vilification by partisan critics, and the general anxiety of an industry in transition. His tenure also saw a succession of journalistic triumphs that shook the country and brought a shower of awards. Over the past year Phil presided over a period of ambitious rebuilding and still more ambitious journalism. He leaves behind a bureau in which a cadre of world-class bylines has been enriched by excellent new hires. He leaves behind a great editing team. And he leaves behind a bureau that has taken to heart a mandate for incisive, original, hard-hitting coverage.
And the new chief of that high-octane bureau will be Dean Baquet.
Back in 2005, when Dean moved into the top job in Los Angeles, I described him as “a world-class investigator, an inspiring editor and a barrel of fun.” It was hard to miss the subtext: “And I miss him.” Since then he has demonstrated that, in addition to being all of those things, he is a charismatic leader, an unflinching advocate of the value and values of professional journalism, and a cool character under fire. It’s nice to have him back where he belongs, at a paper where he can devote his talents and enthusiasm fully to the practice of journalism, in a bureau that can rise to all of his expectations.
The many of you who worked with Dean before he left us in the year 2000 know what to expect from a bureau under his leadership: tough-minded, aggressive, fearless reporting, original insights, great craftsmanship and the thrill of competition. He reminds you why you got into this business, and why it matters.
Dean will take over March 5, allowing time for transition and for a little celebration of two great journalists. He will be an Assistant Managing Editor, reflecting both the depth of his experience in the upper echelons of our profession and the cross-departmental importance of the bureau.
There are undoubtedly other consequences that will follow from all of this, and I can’t begin to say what they are. But here’s one: Felicity Barringer, Phil’s accomplice in journalism and in just about everything else, will be taking her intrepid and prescient environmental reporting and beat to California — which happens to be a kind of national laboratory for environmental policy.”