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Why Brian Grazer?

March 21, 2007 |  8:16 pm

Some questions have been raised in the blogosphere and in our newspaper (on Friday) about the choice of Brian Grazer to guest edit Current this Sunday, and whether our judgment was affected by a conflict of interest. It was not.

I think it’s important to address these questions, and innuendo, head on because our integrity is our most important currency in this business of offering scarce space in the paper to outside voices. This is why in 2005 I instituted anti-nepotism policies barring editors’ relatives from writing for our pages, even if the editor at issue is disclosed. No one I have a personal relationship with would ever dream of approaching me about trying to get something in the paper.

At issue here is my personal relationship with a publicist named Kelly who works for a firm that does some work for Imagine Entertainment, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s firm, as well as most other Hollywood studios. Our worlds rarely overlap since the bulk of her work involves Hollywood clients and I am more interested in stuff like the Mayor’s school plan and Doha Round trade talks.

Given his well-known intellectual curiosity and his track record as a Hollywood producer, Brian is a terrific choice to kick off this quarterly program of guest editors. Brian and his partner Ron Howard have had a hand in bringing such stimulating fare as “Felicity” and “24” to the small screen (as well as my fav sitcom of all time, the tragically short-lived “SportsNight”) and such blockbusters as “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Da Vinci Code” to the big screen.

Two senior editors, besides me, agreed that Brian was a good choice, especially after a brainstorming session with him on January 22. And I believe readers on Sunday will also agree with the wisdom of our choice, when they see what Brian, who has long been known for seeking out interesting thinkers across a wide array of disciplines, cooked up.

The idea of a guest editor program dates back over a year. I believe we were already talking about it when the Independent of London beat us to the punch. Former publisher Jeff Johnson and former editor Dean Baquet both signed off on the concept back then. We approached Warren Buffet Buffett and Steve Jobs initially, but they declined.

What we ask a guest editor to do is assign the bulk of one Sunday’s section – four or five stories. The hope in asking intriguing personalities from various walks of life to serve as guest editor is to offer readers some compelling content we might not otherwise run, as well as an insight into the personality and mindset of the particular guest editor. We have approached well-known figures from the realm of politics, sports and philanthropy to follow in Brian’s footsteps.

The apparent conflict in this instance arises from the fact that I called up Allan Mayer early this year to ask if he’d ask Steven Spielberg if he’d be interested in being our first guest editor. Mayer is a well-known former journalist and public relations guru who is Kelly’s boss. Months earlier, Allan had come into the paper for lunch with a number of editors (at a time when I had no contact with Kelly) to talk journalism and some of the preemptive crisis management he’d done on Munich for Spielberg.

Long story short, Spielberg said he was intrigued, but couldn’t do it then. Allan then suggested Brian Grazer, and I quickly decided this was an inspired choice. I told Nick Goldberg, Current’s editor, and Michael Newman, my deputy, that Allan had suggested Grazer, and we all read up on him and met him, and were excited about his involvement.

At no point was Kelly involved in pitching the concept of a guest editor, or any individual. My conversations were with Allan, who himself had no role in our subsequent talks with Brian and Michael Rosenberg, Imagine Entertainment’s president.

The decision to ask Brian to do this was not mine alone, but was taken by three editors here, and then approved by the publisher. The suggestion that my relationship with Kelly had anything to do with this choice is without merit. Suggestions that she or anyone else has favored access to our pages is also absurd. When Allan has pitched op-ed pieces to the Times – and we can only think of two instances this has happened in the last year – he has dealt directly with that page’s editor, Nick Goldberg.

Neither he nor Kelly would dream of approaching me. One of the pieces Allan pitched was about diamond trade, authored by an African head of state. Nick rejected it. Another was about the Oscars, by Harvey Weinstein. Nick accepted it. In both cases, I was unaware the pitch was being made.

Because Kelly does some work for Imagine, we are planning on disclosing this in an editor’s note on Sunday. But I can assure readers she had no role in our decision to choose Grazer, and readers can make up their own minds as to whether this choice was a wise one. Thanks for reading.

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