(AP) Howell Raines, the former executive editor of The New York Times, said in his first public interview since resigning over the Jayson Blair scandal that he stepped aside only because of pressure from publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
“Arthur said, ‘I don’t think we can calm this place down. … I’m having to ask you to step aside,'” Raines said during an appearance Friday on “The Charlie Rose Show.”
Raines resigned from the paper June 5, five weeks after the discovery that Blair had fabricated parts of stories and lifted material from other publications.
Asked by Rose whether he would have quit on his own, Raines said, “I don’t know the answer to that. I suppose not.”
The hour-long interview focused more on the changes Raines tried to put into place at the Times than specifically on the Blair scandal.
Raines also acknowledged that he had already angered some staff with efforts to raise the newspaper’s energy level by the time he “stepped on a land mine named Jayson Blair.”
But Raines said he had no idea of Blair’s history of errors until he read his personnel file after the 27-year-old reporter was accused of lifting passages from a San Antonio (Texas) Express-News account of the family of a soldier missing in Iraq.
He also spoke about a now-famous memo written by an editor that said, “We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now.” Raines said the memo was only addressed to two mid-level editors and never found its way to the top.
The Blair controversy led to a drumbeat of criticism of the management style at one of the world’s most distinguished newspapers, with many staffers characterizing Raines as autocratic and overbearing.
Raines did not address the May 28 resignation of national correspondent Rick Bragg, who left the paper after revelations that he relied heavily on a freelancer’s reporting for a feature on Florida oystermen.
Asked about his management style, Raines said he took the executive editor position with a mandate from the publisher. “Arthur sent me to the newsroom to be a change-agent, to lead a talented staff that was settled into a kind of lethargic culture of complacency into being a performance culture,” he said. “And much of the conflict that came to the surface post-Jayson Blair was around the friction caused by that kind of cultural change which would cause friction in any workplace.”
Along with Raines, Managing Editor Gerald Boyd also resigned. Joseph Lelyveld, Raines’ predecessor as executive editor, has been heading the paper until Sulzberger picks a new executive editor.