Keller Memo on Baquet Cites D.C. Bureau’s ‘Toxic Storms’ in Recent Past

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By: Joe Strupp

In a memo to staff today announcing the hiring of former Los Angeles Times Editor Dean Baquet to head The New York Times Washington bureau, Executive Editor Bill Keller said Baquet would take over a bureau that has gone through “toxic storms” while being rebuilt into “a dominant force.”

Citing an array of events, from the murder of former reporter David Rosenbaum to the Judith Miller scandal to attacks by the Bush administration on several Times exclusives related to National Security, Keller praised the leadership of outgoing bureau chief Philip Taubman, who will remain with the paper in a high-level associate editor capacity.

But he also noted that Baquet would bring a charismatic leadership to the “high-octane” bureau. The entire memo is posted below.

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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….

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 hecan 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, earless 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 an beat to California — which happens to be a
kind of national laboratory for environmental policy.

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Related E&P Stories:

Baquet Joins ‘New York Times’ as D.C. Bureau Chief

Keller Wants Baquet to Return to ‘New York Times’ (Jan. 17)

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