Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When It Raines, It Pours (Outrage)

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When It Raines, It Pours (Outrage)

Article excerpt

Who will seize pulpit on editorial page?

If moral outrage were a sacrament, Howell Raines would have been canonized by now, instead of merely promoted to executive editor of The New York Times.

Of all the Times editorials that have borne Raines' cognitive mapping, it was the one marking the sudden demise of Dale Earnhardt that seemed the apotheosis of the Raines regnum. "Death at Daytona" might have been a parody of a Times editorial. It started out normally enough, a calm take on "the legendary NASCAR driver who died after crashing in the final lap of Sunday's Daytona 500," an event that doesn't usually rate the Times' front section.

Then, only one paragraph later, the editorial took a bizarre twist, suddenly becoming a call to arms, with demands for new helmets, neck restraints, and "changes in the mind-set of many of NASCAR's devoted fans." Only on Raines' galactic plane would a simple obit for a folk hero so quickly turn into a cry for regulation of stock-car racing.

But that's the thinking that's marked Raines' tenure, whether as Washington bureau chief or editorial page editor. Some things merely trouble other people, but Raines is usually outraged. His moral outrage over the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal drove the president himself to complain that Raines was pissed off because Clinton was a Southerner who, unlike Raines, didn't have to leave the South to succeed. The pieces on last year's presidential election, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris burned holes in the paper. And you don't have to read the Op-Ed page to know exactly how outraged Raines is about President Bush's proposed tax cuts.

So what does Raines' promotion mean for the Times -- and for the competition? "What competition?" says a former editor for The Washington Post, laughing. The ascendancy of the Times -- a much better written paper with better stories in better focus -- has come at the expense of the Post in recent years. And Raines' new job comes at a unique time for the other papers that have beefed up Washington coverage and begun beating the Post, such as the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.

The whole paradigm changes, says an editor at one of the national papers, if Raines pushes the Times even further into the spot as the most influential paper in Washington. This could open the door for another paper to take the No. 2 spot, instead of the Post, whose political coverage today is often shallow even at 2,000 words.

If Raines fortifies the Times' stature, it could also force other papers, including the Post, to take a hard look at the direction of their coverage, muses a veteran bureau chief at another paper. …

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