By Hillel Aron
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Keller says he has “complete confidence” in the current cultural team and recites the usual platitudes about “talented staff” and “something that doesn’t need fixing.” A close Keller ally confirms that the new editor really means it. “First of all, take Bill at his word that there’s not going to be bloodletting.” As for the controversial Kantor, the insider explains, “He thinks also her work has been very strong, and is aware that outside the paper and within it, there’s a sense that she’d really done some terrific stuff and made it a lot better in a short time. In the end, that’s what matters, rather than the thought she’s connected to the old management.”
As soon as Keller emerged as the editor-of-choice, the NYT grapevine claimed Keller had asked Lyman to stay put. Fueling the speculation was the fact that the two men were friends from their concurrent time covering South Africa (Lyman for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Keller winning a Pulitzer for the NYT.)
For Keller to keep Lyman in the job would have sent not merely mixed signals to Hollywood, but certainly the worst signal about the coverage to come. As the Weekly previously reported, Raines had wanted Lyman to stop writing those articles headlined “Watching Movies With . . .” on the grounds they were too long and boring. And Raines threw a fit when he saw his paper trailing everyone on the Ovitz–Vanity Fair “gay mafia” story. Meanwhile, NYT insiders and outsiders felt that Lyman allowed himself to be used as a mouthpiece by many movie studios, most regrettably by Miramax.
Without revealing how he feels about Lyman’s time on the movie beat, Keller says the murmuring “isn’t true. Yes, I know Rick from South Africa. And, yes, I’ve talked to Rick a few times in recent weeks. We talked about our kids, and which of the various venues around New York he might want to go house hunting in, and about the new job he’s lined up for. But I did not talk to him about staying on.”
It turns out that, if asked, Lyman would have said no. Lyman did not return calls, but NYT’s Los Angeles bureau chief, John Broder, says, “I asked Rick, in hypothetical terms, after he made the commitment to go back to New York, if he would consider staying. He said, ‘No, the die is cast,’ because not only had Lyman’s home here sold in an afternoon, but he’d already bought a new house in Pelham.” Two weekends ago, Lyman was feted at a going-away party thrown by Broder at Santa Monica’s La Serenata de Garibaldi attended by 25 non-show-biz intimates. Broder made the toast. “I stood up and said we’d miss him and saw him as the canary in the mineshaft. You know, about whether it’s safe to go back to New York.”
Keller quite candidly admits that he doesn’t have the faintest idea where things stand with choosing Lyman’s replacement. When he hears that the Weekly wrote recently about the selection process, he instantly reverts to reporter. “What did you write?” “What do you think of the candidates?” “How should we change the coverage?” He’s told that, back in April, the shortlist included Los Angeles Times editor-writer Michael Cieply, Los Angeles magazine writer Amy Wallace, Washington PostStyle correspondent Sharon Waxman and Wall Street Journal staff reporter Bruce Orwall.
“Hmm. I know something about some of those candidates from having read them in the past,” Keller says. “I don’t believe the executive editor of the Times should handpick everyone who fills every job. But I certainly would expect to review the selection process. It’s certainly something I want to look at.”
Erlanger prepared a dossier about possible candidates for Raines, but there wasn’t time for Raines to read it before the Blair scandal broke. Even so, according to insiders, the field had narrowed to Waxman and Wallace, with Waxman being given the best odds. Neither Wallace nor Waxman would comment. Erlanger declined comment by e-mail, and Rich didn’t respond. But sources say last week Erlanger stressed that the process was starting all over again and that meant collecting more names, résumés and clips to include in a new dossier for Keller. “I’m sure they’re going about the search in just the right way,” Keller comments. “You start by assembling a list. And those are the right people, Steve and Frank, you’d ask to do it.”
It will not be surprising if Keller urges Erlanger and Rich to look beyond the usual suspects and, more to the point, the usual venues.