Dean Baquet is now the New York Times’ executive editor, after his predecessor Jill Abramson was pushed out of the company earlier this week.
There’s a whole bunch of theories flying around as to why Abramson – a talented editor and manager, no less – was fired, ranging anything from unequal pay to her aggressively “brusque” and “pushy” personality. If you missed out on the story, here are a couple great links to get you covered.
But let’s talk about Dean Baquet for a moment.
He’s the first ever African American executive editor at the New York Times.
He’s well-liked in the newsroom, where people see him as the warmer and more approachable alternative to Abramson’s cold and sometimes uninterested persona.
He’s also passionate about his job: he once smashed his hand against a wall in Abramson’s office and stormed out of the newsroom when he didn’t get what he wanted.
Because of all these characteristics, people whom I’ve talked to within the New York Times thinks he’s going to be a great editor and manager – as great, if not better than Abramson.
But there’s a dark side to Baquet’s history… one that he probably wants all of us to forget now that he holds the highest editorial position (and therefore wields the most power) in the New York Times.
Before coming to the New York Times, he was a managing editor at the Los Angeles Times… where he used his position and power to kill a story which would’ve shed light on the NSA’s power abuses.
In 2007, Mark Klein, then an AT&T technician, approached a Los Angeles Times reporter named Joe Menn with a jaw-dropping story: NSA is/was secretly collaborating with AT&T on a dragnet spy program that collected the calls of millions of unsuspecting American citizens. Menn and Klein both worked on the story for two months and just as the story was about to get published, Baquet stepped in with one word: no.
Something else, however, happened in between the time Menn sent the story in for review and Baquet stepping in to freeze the publication of the story.
It is reported that the decision to not pursue the story was made only after Baquet and a few Los Angeles Times editor met with NSA officials to discuss the story, at which point one can reasonably assume that the NSA freaked out and told Baquet to kill the story… and he did just that.
Back at the Los Angeles Times, Baquet told his editorial team that the story was spiked on grounds of “technicalities” and that the Los Angeles Times, even with its very smart reporters, “could not figure out what was going on.”
Something smells fishy here: if the story was already at a state ready for publication, it means that Menn must’ve already understood the documents… and was able to translate the technicalities into something that’s understandable for the average Joe. That basic fact alone blows a hole right through Baquet’s excuse that the paper couldn’t understand the secret documents handed over by Klein.
In other words, what Baquet did over at the Los Angeles Times was nothing short of kowtowing to the needs of the NSA, an organization that papers Baquet worked for is supposed to hold accountable and exercise a healthy amount of oversight over.
So here’s the question that Baquet will hopefully answer in the close future, either verbally or through his actions: is the Baquet who managed the Los Angeles Times and spiked a story critical to the privacy of the citizens because he didn’t want to offend the higher-ups in the NSA the same Baquet who is going to be managing the New York Times?
Or is he going to dare to go against their wishes in order to fulfill what the New York Times is historically known for: to publish the truth, and nothing but the truth, for the benefit of its readers?