Michael Raeburn was in his early 30s when he first met James Baldwin in 1974, a chance encounter at the London book launch for If Beale Street Could Talk. Raeburn was an aspiring filmmaker and screenwriter, with just one short film on his resume, while Baldwin was a literary giant, an essayist, and a civil rights activist. The connection between the two was instantaneous. “He was an extremely influential figure in my life,” Raeburn says. “We were very strangely connected in an almost psychic way. I knew when he would arrive somewhere—he’d travel to New York City, and I would be aware of when he’d arrive at his house.” Read more…
More than 40 years ago, Richard Nixon subtly changed the modern presidency. During past administrations, the American news media had always been referred to as “the press,” but Nixon, whose contentious relationship with the nation’s newsrooms was longstanding, tweaked that policy, and began labeling the press as “the media,” a term he felt sounded more ominous and less favorable. As Jon Marshall wrote in 2014 for The Atlantic, Nixon was the first president to exclusively use this term, and while subsequent presidents were similarly at odds with those whose job it is to hold the country’s chief executive in check, none were as vitriolic as Nixon.
New York is an outlier in Lou Reed’s discography. The 1989 album—his fifteenth—is arguably his most straight-forward, track after track of stunningly simple music, just featuring a few guitars and Reed’s deadpan and utterly dry cutting lyrics. Read more…
According to art critic Clement Greenberg, Jackson Pollock was “the most radical alcoholic [he] had ever met.” At the same time, though, Pollock’s paint splattered-and-dripped canvases, a method he pioneered and honed for a three-year period in the late 1940s, “broke the ice,” says Willem de Kooning, who added a postscript-like qualifier, “It was another step in space‐time.”
More than 60 years after Pollock rammed his green 1950 Oldsmobile-88 convertible into a tree off an East Hampton, Long Island road, Vox considers whether Pollock’s stature as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century is truly deserved. Or, more bluntly, how he “became so overrated.” That’s a bold stance for Phil Edwards, host of Vox’s Overrated video series, to take, but Edwards posits that without Greenberg and his writings for the Partisan Review, ArtForum, and others, Pollock’s stature wouldn’t have achieved the same heights. Which, as a premise, has some merit: though not the only art critic opining at the time, Greenberg was not only the loudest voice in favor of “modern art,” he immersed himself in the world in which the artists lived.
As he explained in his seminal 1939 essay, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” Greenberg felt that there was nothing more avant garde than abstract expressionism, an art movement fueled by emotions, that resisted politicizing art (which had consumed art during the period after World War I). Through Greenberg’s embrace of Pollock, whom he indeed hyped up in his writings, the artist became an emblem of the Ab-Ex movement. A by-product of Pollock’s rise was the increasing shift of the art world’s gaze away from Paris and towards New York City, where artists like Pollock, De Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and others (including Greenberg) were living. The group of artists involved in Ab-Ex were a huge force, and thus NYC transformed into art’s epicenter.
So while Vox addresses how Greenberg’s influence within art criticism greatly benefited Pollock, effectively branding the artist as “the most powerful painter in contemporary America,” the video glaringly sidesteps any mention of Lee Krasner, a brilliant artist in her own right who just so happened to be married to Pollock. Krasner elicits one mention in the video, a throwaway reference during the captioning of a photo of Pollock and Greenberg at the beach, which is not only astonishing, it is frankly dismaying.
The video’s narrative is marred by a tunnel vision approach to explaining Pollock’s rise and enduring importance — yes, Greenberg boosted him, but Krasner, with her management and stability, sustained him. It was Krasner whom Pollock first turned to when his art began to radically depart from norms at the time, asking her upon completing Lucifer in 1947, “Is this a painting?” Prior to Lucifer, writes critic Jerry Saltz, “All seemed lost for him. I love his early work, but much of it is labored, muddy and glutted. Pollock is in hell. Then it happens.” And it was Krasner who convinced Pollock to agree to an interview with Life magazine in 1949; the article’s headline — “Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?” — and a spread featuring Pollock’s painting introduced the artist to mainstream America (and to those who didn’t regularly read Greenberg — or even know the critic’s byline). And finally, it was Krasner who managed Pollock’s estate for nearly twenty years after his death; under her stewardship, prices for Pollock’s works tripled and quadrupled, setting the standard for modern American art. More so than Greenberg, Krasner deserves credit for maintaining Pollock’s relevance and importance — without Krasner, Jackson Pollock doesn’t become Jackson Pollock.
As she told the New York Times in 1981,
Look, they don’t take de Kooning and put him up that way. And if de Kooning or Motherwell takes from Pollock, nobody even breathes a word about it. But with Lee Krasner, wow, wow. It’s been a heavy, heavy number. It’s hard for them to separate me from Pollock in that sense, you know.
Which is why omitting her from a video on Pollock’s legacy is so discouraging, especially with the wealth of research, reporting, and examination of Krasner as an artist and a person in recent years. Krasner attended the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union and then later studied with Hans Hoffman, and in the years following Pollock’s death, her own abstractions evolved, earning not only acclaim but also space in museum collections worldwide. She derisively dismissed being labeled as Pollock’s widow, which many had saddled her with: “I may have resented being in the shadow of Jackson Pollock, but the resentment was never so sharp a thing to deal with that it interfered with my work…By and large, people look at my work and it is connected with me, and a lot of those old hurts are no longer there. I have utter confidence in what I’m doing.”
In Mary Gabriel’s recently published Ninth Street Women, Krasner is a main character — she was one of the 11 female artists whose work was selected to be displayed at the historic 1951 Ninth Street Show, and over the course of a thousand pages, Gabriel highlights how the artist’s experiences and work align with those of her peers (and, if some cases, veer from drastically). Krasner once told the Times that she wished feminism “should have come along 30 years earlier…We could have used it then.” But Gabriel’s impressive work doesn’t seek to explore the import of these artists merely on their gender — as Elaine de Kooning (another central figure in Gabriel’s text) said, “To be put in any category not defined by one’s work is to be falsified.”
Without Krasner, Vox’s video is incomplete. There is no point to any argument that questions Pollock’s artistic worth that neglects to mention Krasner’s own contributions. And while Greenberg did give Pollock a boost, Krasner remained with Pollock after the photographers from Life left. To ignore Krasner 34 years after her death is frustrating, especially in this day and age. In the most recent New Yorker, Claudia Roth Pierpont delves into both Gabriel’s work and Krasner’s own legacy:
The real advance has come through the dedication of feminist scholars, such as Linda Nochlin, Hayden Herrera, and Kellie Jones, who have revitalized the discipline of art history and expanded the protest against exclusion to consider race along with gender. Gabriel’s firsthand sources are extensive, but her work stands on the shoulders of biographies by other women with a mission: Gail Levin on Krasner, Patricia Albers on [Joan] Mitchell, Cathy Curtis on de Kooning and [Grace] Hartigan. (There is no biography of [Helen] Frankenthaler, as yet.) Perhaps the tipping point will come when men write about women artists as easily as women have always written about men.
Among the standout tracks on Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V, the long awaited and oft delayed fifth album in the rapper’s conceptual discography, the highlight might just be “Uproar,” a ridiculously bouncy track that is as much of a throwback to Wayne’s glory days as it is a sign of the musician’s continued evolution.
Of note, though, isn’t just the song’s lyrics — but also the beat, produced by Swizz Beatz and a reimagining of G. Dep’s “Special Delivery” beat, a 17-year old song that reigned supreme over the NYC airwaves in the early 2000s (signed to Bad Boy Records, G. Dep was a Harlem native). What’s so fascinating about a remixed “Special Delivery” is two-fold: Wayne uses the beat as he would a freestyle, nimbly interweaving bars throughout the boombap-cum-keyboard laden sample; and the release of “Uproar” brings G. Dep (born Trevell Coleman) back to the current pop culture fold.
As chronicled by Jennifer Gonnerman for New York Magazine, Coleman confessed in 2010 to a cold case murder committed in 1993; Coleman pled guilty to second-degree murder, revealing how he shot a man three times and fled the scene without knowing whether the individual died. In his confession, Coleman outlined why he decided to suddenly come forward: “The reason I turned myself in was because I felt awful about what I did and I wanted to make it right for this guy’s family.”
Gonnerman deftly reports on Coleman, his rise to G. Dep fame, and his current incarceration (at Elmira Correctional Facility until at least 2025), and it’s worth revisiting the 2012 profile in light of Lil Wayne’s “Special Delivery” revival.
At times, his life felt like a series of endless internal calculations, all part of an effort to, as he later explained, “balance myself out.” If he bought a coat, he might scribble on one pocket with a marker before putting it on, just to deprive himself of the chance to wear something completely new. He never had much money, and he was so determined to give away what he did have that a few times he stuffed bills into the coin slots of pay phones, then walked away. Afterward, he’d feel a little better—“I did think, Well, okay, now I don’t have to feel like I have too much regret,” he says—but the relief was only temporary.
Coleman and his wife had separated, but he still stopped by to visit his 7-year-old sons. Some days, he’d be seated with them at the table, sharing a meal, thinking how blessed he was to have such beautiful boys, and suddenly be seized by guilt. Did the man he shot at have any kids? What happened to them? And why should he get to spend time with his kids if there was a chance he’d robbed another child of his father?
September 2008 was a whirlwind month for Michael Grynbaum, then a markets reporter for the New York Times. A self-described “newbie” to the paper’s business desk (he had previously worked on the metro desk), Grynbaum was immediately thrust into reporting on a financial maelstrom, a period which included the collapse of Lehman Brothers (otherwise known as the largest bankruptcy filing in United States history), the sale of Merrill Lynch to Bank of America, the transformation of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley into bank holding companies, and what very well could have been the collapse of the nation’s economy.
Among Grynbaum’s responsibilities was “covering all the daily market plunges and the economic reports,” he told me, which meant he was busy that September, trying to keep pace (along with the other Times reporters like Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jenny Anderson, Eric Dash, and Michael de la Merced, among others) with a tumultuous flurry of daily breaking news. “As a reporter, you couldn’t divert your gaze for one minute,” says Diana B. Henriques, then a senior financial writer for the Times. “It was like an atomic blast, with ripples going in every direction.”
One of those ripples was the House of Representative’s September 29th vote on a $700 billion economic rescue plan; despite pleas from both President George W. Bush and Treasury secretary Hank Paulson, the House voted down the bill, 228-205, a move which prompted the Dow Jones Industrial Average to fall nearly 800 points.
Grynbaum remembers reporters and editors gathering around TV screens scattered about the Times’ newsroom to watch the landmark vote, and as it became clear the proposal (which entailed using taxpayer money to buy and absorb troubled assets) would fail, “an eerie silence fell over the newsroom,”he says. And then, “The Bloomberg machines started flashing red: the market was plunging.” He soon realized on that late September day a decade ago that he had to write the “breaking story about a historic stock collapse.”
“Everyone was working on adrenaline, aware of how consequential this moment was,” he says of the coverage:
At 1:30 p.m. the House began to vote on the rescue package that Mr. Paulson and Congressional leaders negotiated over the weekend. About 10 minutes later, when it became clear that the legislation was in trouble, the stock market went into a free fall, with the Dow plunging about 400 points in five minutes.
At his home office in Great Neck, N.Y., Edward Yardeni, the investment strategist, received terse e-mail messages from clients and friends. “Is this the end of the world?” one asked. Another sent a simple plea: “Stop the world, I want to get off.”
At some point, Grynbaum thought to call his parents, suddenly aware of the affects a stock market free-fall would have on their 401(k)s and portfolios, which were “taking a massive hit.” Ten years later, and another Great Depression averted, and Grynbaum can recall those weeks with some necessary and illuminating perspective, adding, “It was a thrilling and slightly scary time to be covering Wall Street.”
To others intimately involved with the roller-coaster fall of 2008, like Gary Cohn, then the president of Goldman Sachs, that same sense of measured introspection is notably lacking.
Since resigning as the director of the National Economic Council, Cohn has emerged as arguably the lone sane voice operating within the current chaos—aka within the Trump administration. First there were reports of his near-resignation following President Trump’s comments on the violence in Charlottesville, VA, and Bob Woodward’s recently published Fear alleged Cohn removed letters from Trump’s desk, thus saving trade agreements with several countries. During a period in which many feel as if they are vainly screaming into a void, Cohn’s protests—real and alleged—have endeared him to those looking for any sort of official resistance.
But that aura shattered around the time of the collapse’s ten-year anniversary. During an interview with Reuters, Cohn outlined the primary cause of the financial crisis, and surprisingly, the former Goldman exec largely laid the blame on Main Street’s front porch, saying,
“Who broke the law? I just want to know who you think broke the law. Was the waitress in Las Vegas who had six houses leveraged at 100 percent with no income, was she reckless and stupid? Or was the banker reckless and stupid?”
Cohn’s comments echo a popular opinion for many of those in the financial industry, and yet, that doesn’t disqualify his statements as anything less than mind bogglingly obtuse. It’s easy to navel-gaze in an attempt to diagnose the financial near-collapse and subsequent recession: yes, Americans became entranced with debt—at the bubble’s peak, the average American owned 13 credit cards—and yes, people flagrantly spent, running up an average household debt of roughly $15,000. But to absolve Wall Street and its employees is negligent, and ignorant that Wall Street became just as cozy with risk. Lehman Brothers and its ilk posted leverages (or the debt to equity ratio) of $30-plus to $1, and the notion that these investment firms, which were in the midst of accumulating massive annual profits (and bonuses for its executives), heeded any attempt to self-regulate proved farcical.
So yes, while that waitress accumulated homes (a fictionalized anecdote that borrows heavily from Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, which recounts a similar—but not exact—instance), Wall Street was creating—and profiting spectacularly off of—the vehicles that allowed people to gamble so recklessly. The events of 2008 were the result of one massive feedback loop: the embrace of a free market economy led to lax oversight of financial firms, which enabled banks to pursue strategies that would lead to tumescent payouts. As the housing market was seen as the bedrock of the American economy, those strategies sought to commercialize that stability, and thus complex and complicated securities and derivatives like CDOs, MBSs, and CDSs were born; everyone wanted to get rich now, and those catchy acronyms allowed both the American people and banking execs to plunge ahead. Greed on Wall Street fueled greed on Main Street (and vice versa), until the very thing that inflated the bubble—debt—was so overextended that it had no other option but to fail. The illusion couldn’t hide anymore.
Cohn may have been the sanest person in the White House, but that he would lay the blame squarely on Main Street is utterly preposterous, and suggests a lack of nuance and perspective that—ten years after the nation’s economy nearly collapsed—is frightening. In Margin Call, a 2011 film which is arguably the best depiction of the financial crisis, Jeremy Irons plays the CEO of an investment bank that, thanks to the levels of risk it carries on its books, is threatened with extinction. After a 24 hour period in which the firm survives by unloading its risk onto Wall Street (thus eliminating its own exposure but contributing to the toxicity that soon engulfs the financial world), Irons justifies the bank’s actions:
It’s just money. It’s made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don’t have to kill each other to get something to eat. It’s not wrong. And it’s certainly no different today than its ever been. 1637, 1797, 1819, ’37, ’57, ’84, 1901, ’07, ’29, 1937, 1974, 1987—Jesus didn’t that fuck me up good!—’92, ’97, 2000, and whatever we want to call this. It’s all just the same thing over and over. We can’t help ourselves. You and I can’t control it, or stop it, or even slow it, or even so slightly alter it. We just react, and we make a lot of money if we get it right, and we get left by the side of the road if we get it wrong. And there have always been, and there always will be, the same percentage of winners and losers. Happy fucks and sad sacks, fat cats and starving dogs in this world.
That speech is a perfect encapsulation of what happened in 2008. There is none of this equivocation of whoever deserves a greater share of blame, and Irons’ monologue contains more truth and accuracy than anything Cohn is peddling on his rehabilitation tour.
When I was growing up, our refrigerator was stocked with a variety of condiments. From sriracha to sambal and lizano to tahini, the shelves were packed with options to accessorize any meal. We even had a corner devoted to mustards, each picked out on weekly trips to Brooklyn’s beloved Eagle Provisions (RIP) and each capable of tickling the tongue’s various flavor geographies (a favorite was a brand of German honey mustard, which possessed a soft smoothness coupled with a fiery after-taste).
One condiment we never stocked, though, was ranch dressing. Perhaps it was my father’s aversion to all things perceived bourgeois, perhaps he didn’t particularly like the taste of ranch (the only creamy condiment we habitually used was blue cheese dressing), or perhaps he never could quite figure out what exactly was ranch’s purpose — I didn’t fully appreciate the dressing until well after college, when I began to date my future wife, who grew up in western Pennsylvania, an epicenter of the dressing.
As I visited her friends and relatives in her hometown of Erie, PA, I came to appreciate the vitality of ranch on a daily basis. My wife used to sell pepperoni balls to raise money for her Girl Scout troop, and each frozen ball of bread and meat was accompanied by a tin of ranch. Restaurants are chosen based on the quality of their ranch dressing (each spot obviously has its own recipe); grocery stores carry a wide swath of options, ranging from the generic buttermilk-based, to ones flavored with cucumber, chipotle, and avocado. Ranch was inescapable, and with good reason: it’s delicious. Ranch has a beguiling and complex profile; not quite dominated by its spice blend, with enough fat and unctuousness to complement nearly every type of food. Ranch doesn’t just go well with salad — it stands up to fried foods and pizza, gives steamed and raw vegetables a flavorful boost, and complements a wide variety of proteins.
Ranch is as American as apple pie or barbecue (in Europe, the dressing is known as “the American dressing“). Created in the 1950s by a plumber from California, the dried spice mix (born of necessity as its creator, Steve Henson, concocted the blend while working construction in Anchorage, Alaska, lacking a consistent source of fresh vegetables and spices) and the subsequent application of buttermilk to make the dressing quickly attained cult status on the west coast, slowly moving eastward one application — from steakhouses to pizza and wings — at a time.
But for decades, ranch was still very much misunderstood, losing favor in the 1970s during a period in which the dressing was banned from diets because it was considered too fatty — our salads were always topped with the “healthier” option containing some form of vinaigrette. Yet there has been an uptick in recent years, which coincides with when I started to fall in love with the condiment. Ranch isn’t a condiment just for gluttonous hangovers or finicky eaters; as Henson likely envisioned when he began mixing, its range is limitless. Ranch has been the nation’s most popular salad dressing since 1990, and Hidden Valley, the Heinz of ranch, even began to market the condiment as “the new ketchup.”
Grub Street’s Chris Crowley documented how ranch has begun to influence not only the palette of mainstream America but also that of chefs, writing in 2016,
Now, ranch is front and center at some of the country’s favorite restaurants. Popular southern-food specialist Bobwhite Lunch Counter opts for ranch in its buffalo-chicken sandwich, while the sandwich artists at Court Street Grocers serve ranch-topped kale salad. Meanwhile, the trendy Mr. Donahue’s serves it with fried onions. At Chicago’s hugely popular neo-diner Au Cheval, ranch dresses a chopped salad with bacon and eggs. In St. Louis, there’s an all-things-ranch-dressing restaurant called twisted RAnCh.
And that popularity hasn’t abated, as restaurants have since begun to tinker with Henson’s recipe and push the bounds of what constitutes ranch. Take Charter Oak in Napa Valley, which now features a fermented soy dip: ““It’s very different from ranch in the way that it’s made. But it’s creamy and tangy, and it has salt and umami, and it definitely reminds people of ranch,” chef Katianna Hong told the New York Times.
When our son began to transition from formula to solid foods, ranch was one of the first condiments dipped on his tongue. He wasn’t a fan, immediately wiping out his mouth, but he’ll learn. It took me 22 years to finally appreciate the American dressing.
In the ‘Notes and Sources’ section of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s bestseller, Too Big To Fail, the New York Times financial writer and columnist details the extraordinary access he was given about the events of the Lehman Weekend—that is, the two days in mid-September 2008 in which the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch was sold to Bank of America, and insurance giant AIG nearly collapsed.
“One CEO, whom I have known for several years, arrived at our first meeting with meticulous handwritten notes,” writes Sorkin. “‘I’m giving you them for the same reason I took them,’ he explained. ‘This was history in the making.'” While Sorkin’s gripping narrative not only illuminates the minute-by-minute details of the weekend, but also the lead-up to the events that nearly cratered the U.S. economy, his book wasn’t the first account to highlight the minute particulars and nuances of how close the nation came to another Great Depression—that would be James B. Stewart’s ‘Eight Days,’ which was published in the New Yorker about a month before Sorkin’s book debuted.
While Stewart’s reporting isn’t as encompassing as Sorkin’s, which is understandable given the level of access that Sorkin possessed — sources provided videotaped recordings of internal meetings as well as illustrations documenting the seating arrangement of fateful meetings — Stewart deftly navigated the topsy-turvy nature of a 72 hour period that has since afflicted multiple generations. The genius of ‘Eight Days’ is how seamlessly Stewart weaves weighty material into a feature of how Wall Street nearly broke America.
Referring to a Lehman failure, the Treasury official said, “We knew it would be awful.” At the same time, after months of turmoil, anyone still owning Lehman stock or commercial paper had to be considered a speculator. Perhaps investors would stop assuming that the government would bail out every wayward financial institution and adjust their risk-taking accordingly. “Everybody in some part of their brain thought it was a good thing for Lehman Brothers to go under,” the Treasury official said. “Was this ten per cent of the brain? I don’t know. . . . But the thought was there somewhere.”
At noon, Steven Shafran, a senior adviser at the Treasury, text-messaged his colleagues, “We lost the patient.”
For the past four decades, Jonathan Gold tirelessly catalogued the ebb and flow of cuisine in Los Angeles, and in the process, became known as the “food writing poet” of the city. That poet, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this past month, died last week at the age of 57. In his New York Times obituary Ruth Reichl, who published Gold in Gourmet magazine, said of the writer-critic,
Before Tony Bourdain, before reality TV and ‘Parts Unknown’ and people really being into ethnic food in a serious way, it was Jonathan who got it, completely. He really got that food was a gateway into the people, and that food could really define a community. He was really writing about the people more than the food.
According to David Chang, no one knew more about Korean cuisine than Gold, and the critic, whose career began as a music journalist, became the foremost expert on the various regions of the world. Some opine his speciality was Mexican and Central American cooking, having eaten at every pupuseria, taco stand, and restaurant along the 15.5 mile stretch of Pico Boulevard. But really, Gold’s expertise wasn’t limited by borders. Read more…
In October 1977, Carl Bernstein — then still basking in the post-Watergate glow (though, at the time, he had recently left the Washington Post) — wrote a 25,000 word feature titled “The CIA and the Media” for Rolling Stone detailing the chummy relationship between the press in the United States and the CIA. According to Bernstein’s reporting, reporters for the Post and the New York Times, among other publications, had advanced the agenda of the CIA for years. As he wrote,
…[More] than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested in the derring‑do of the spy business as in filing articles; and, the smallest category, full‑time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad. In many instances, CIA documents show, journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.
The feature should have been scathing, but its publication was instead somewhat of a dud. For starters, the story accompanied the first-ever punk cover in Rolling Stone‘s history — a feature on the Sex Pistols by Charles M. Young — and America did not react kindly to a snarling Sid Vicious and a sneering Johnny Rotten on newsstands: The magazine only sold 108,000 copies, one of the worst-selling issues in Rolling Stone‘s history. Secondly, for all of Bernstein’s revelations — one such bombshell was that the New York Times, under the direction of the late publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, knowingly secured media credentials for CIA operatives — the piece was jejune. As Joe Hagan writes in Sticky Fingers, his 2017 biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner,
…’The CIA and the Media’ was a dud (and no revelation to Wenner, who appointed a former CIA agent, Putney Westerfield, a retired publisher of Fortune, to his board of directors in 1977).
Wenner called the article his “one mistake” in publishing, and features editor Harriet Fier (who, following her tight edit of Bernstein’s draft, later became the magazine’s managing editor) told Robert Draper in the classic Rolling Stone Magazine that the piece was “really terrible.”
Still, in light Robert Mueller’s independent investigation and strained relations between President Donald Trump and the United States’ intelligence communities, Bernstein’s exposé is in the midst of a renaissance. Notably, the decades-old feature was given a boost in mid-July when Jack Shafer included it in Don Van Natta’s weekly “Sunday Long Read” newsletter as a “Classic Read.” But what’s interesting about the article viewed through today’s prism are not those connections — rather, it’s the stark contrasts between the two media climates.
Bernstein had always wanted to write for Rolling Stone, telling a Playboy interviewer that before Watergate, he felt that he had reached his ceiling at the Washington Post. He had grown bored of “covering Virginia” and editor Ben Bradlee refused to send him to Vietnam, so he thought his next move would be to join the ranks of music criticism and become a “rock critic.” Bernstein had heard whispers that Hunter S. Thompson was about to leave Rolling Stone, so he wrote to Wenner, asking (as he recounted to Playboy), “Hey, I’d really like to take Hunter’s job.” Bernstein sent the letter weeks before the Watergate break-in, but even so, “Wenner being Wenner, he took forever to make up his mind about what the hell he was doing” and Bernstein ultimately “stayed at the Washington Post, and that was the end of that.”
But, following his departure from the paper, the two reconnected, at a time in which Wenner was flush with cash: The magazine, which was about to shed San Francisco and move to New York City, was in the midst of a publishing boom, launching Outside (for $1 million) and helping reinvigorate Look magazine; its fat revenues were helping to finance prestige journalism. The year before, Wenner had paid photographer Richard Avedon $25,000 for “The Family” issue, a multi-page spread of Washington’s most influential figures. The issue had won a National Magazine Award, and Wenner believed an investigative feature by Bernstein could help snag another Ellie, so he commissioned “The CIA and the Media.” The price Bernstein quoted? An astounding $28,000 (which, accounting for inflation, would be $116,430.16 today). True, it was a little more than $1 per word, but the fee was an exorbitant boondoggle and as such, it was breathlessly reported throughout the publishing industry, which only helped to hype Rolling Stone‘s success and acclaim.
It’s challenging to imagine a media climate in which a reporter — even one as celebrated as Bernstein at that point — could earn that much for one article. Wenner’s employees certainly couldn’t understand it: Draper reported that the fee was more than what the magazine’s associate editors made in a year, and it even dwarfed Young’s salary. When compared with publishing in 2018, the halcyon fee is almost perverse. According to the Washington Post, 200,000 jobs in journalism have been eliminated since 2000, not to mention cuts to the editorial staff of the New York Daily News, half of which were let go this week in an attempt to trim $14.8 million from its coffers (a debt that was created when Tronc, the paper’s publishing company, shelled out $15 million to jettison its chairman Michael Ferro following sexual harassment allegations made against him).
There are serious conversations being had about whether journalists should write for free, and if exposure counts as payment, all the while chants of “fake news” are continuously being hurled against those in the profession. Dark times, indeed, and it is frankly astonishing to think back to a moment in publishing history in which five-figure payments were — while not the norm — at least not gobsmacking.
According to Bernstein, the CIA began to work in tandem with the Gray Lady during the Cold War:
Arthur Hays Sulzberger signed a secrecy agreement with the CIA in the 1950s, according to CIA officials—a fact confirmed by his nephew, C.L. Sulzberger. However, there are varying interpretations of the purpose of the agreement: C.L. Sulzberger says it represented nothing more than a pledge not to disclose classified information made available to the publisher. That contention is supported by some Agency officials. Others in the Agency maintain that the agreement represented a pledge never to reveal any of the Times’ dealings with the CIA, especially those involving cover. And there are those who note that, because all cover arrangements are classified, a secrecy agreement would automatically apply to them.
Attempts to find out which individuals in the Times organization made the actual arrangements for providing credentials to CIA personnel have been unsuccessful. In a letter to reporter Stuart Loory in 1974, Turner Cadedge, managing editor of the Times from 1951 to 1964, wrote that approaches by the CIA had been rebuffed by the newspaper. “I knew nothing about any involvement with the CIA… of any of our foreign correspondents on the New York Times. I heard many times of overtures to our men by the CIA, seeking to use their privileges, contacts, immunities and, shall we say, superior intelligence in the sordid business of spying and informing. If any one of them succumbed to the blandishments or cash offers, I was not aware of it. Repeatedly, the CIA and other hush‑hush agencies sought to make arrangements for ‘cooperation’ even with Times management, especially during or soon after World War II, but we always resisted. Our motive was to protect our credibility.”