I readily admit that I live in an anglophone bubble, but I think it’s probably
fair to say that Piers Morgan is the highest-profile newspaper editor in the
world. Make that was the highest-profile newspaper editor in the world:
He has now been fired, and escorted out of the building without even having
the oppportunity to say goodbye to his own staff, for refusing
to apologise for running faked photographs purporting to show UK soldiers
The Mirror staff blame
mysterious "faceless American shareholders" for the ouster, but even
without elaborate conspiracy theories, it is clear that Morgan, for all his
ethical misjudgments, was very popular in his own newsroom. The people clamoring
for his head were in Westminster, not so much in the media or the public.
In the UK, hacks misbehave the whole time, and their worst punishment is usually
ridicule in the pages of Private Eye, rather than righteous defenestration.
In the US, on the other hand, editors should be much more afraid when newspapers
attack them than when politicians do. It was media hounding, more than anything
else, which resulted in the firing of New York Times editor Howell Raines, and
now the New
York Times and LA
Times have both rushed to print today with stories saying that Graydon Carter,
the editor of Vanity Fair, might be a little too cozy with Hollywood; more such
stories seem sure to follow. The articles are pretty weak – one of the
reasons that readers like Vanity Fair is precisely because it oozes
insiderism – but the defenses of Carter’s apologists are weaker.
Kurt Andersen, Carter’s co-founder at Spy, says in the LA Times piece that
"the obligations of a reporter for the Los Angeles Times or New York Times
are different from an editor at a magazine or other media entity," before
sensibly deciding not to dig himself any further into that particular hole,
and declining to elaborate.
Jack Shafer, in Slate, on the other hand, makes an attempt at a full-fledged
defense, saying that what Carter did was not so different from the actions
of Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone or Tina Brown at Talk. But there’s a crucial
difference: Carter is a hired editor, not a proprietor. Journalistic ethics,
in real life, do not apply to publishers: if Piers Morgan had owned
the Mirror, rather than merely editing it, he would have been untouchable. The
distinction that Shafer elides is that Wenner is being accused of abusing his
position for personal benefit, rather than for the benefit of the magazine
or its owners.
And Shafer also buries the most damaging accusation so far down that you’d
barely notice it. Here’s his take on what Carter’s accused of:
The two newspapers compile similar dossiers on Carter’s extracurricular adventures
in the movie business: He’s produced pictures (The Kid Stays in the Picture;
9/11, a CBS documentary), worked as a paid consultant (Brian Grazer’s A Beautiful
Mind), partnered with screenwriter Mitch Glazer to pitch (unsuccessfully)
a movie based on a Vanity Fair story, acted (the Alfie remake), and built
friendships with Hollywood notables (Barry Diller, Jim Wiatt, Grazer again).
Do you see the smoking gun? No? Well, it’s that bit about "worked as a
paid consultant". Long after A Beautiful Mind was produced and distributed
to critical acclaim, Carter started saying that he deserved some kind of reward
for suggesting that the Vanity Fair article on which the movie was based should
be turned into a film in the first place. And so it came to pass:18 months after
the film came out, Carter got his $100,000. No-one was paying Carter to consult:
he basically demanded cash from a successful Hollywood film producer, who knew
better than to say no.
It seems corrupt on its face: a powerful magazine editor (the most powerful
magazine editor in Hollywood, in fact) essentially extorting money from film
producers. But Carter runs an extremely profitable book, and he’s likely to
keep his job, along with its hefty 7-figure salary, for the time being. Unless
much more along these lines starts trickling out, of course.