Beleaguered editors

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

abusing prisoners.

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.

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