Arthur Sulzberger's Boston Nightmare


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“I don’t know where the rumors came from,” Mr. Atorino added. “Maybe an investment banker was seen walking out of the building.”



On Oct. 18, New Republic editor Franklin Foer fired associate editor Spencer Ackerman. It was Mr. Foer’s first firing since taking over in February; Mr. Ackerman, in fact, is only the second New Republic staffer to be fired since the Hollywood-worthy fall of fabulist Stephen Glass in 1998.
Before anyone calls up Hayden Christensen this time, the principals need to do some more work on the narrative line. Mr. Foer described the dismissal as a matter of serial “insubordination”; Mr. Ackerman, 26, wrote on a personal blog that it was the result of “irreconcilable ideological differences” with the magazine’s upper editors.
In what Mr. Foer called the “proximate cause,” Mr. Ackerman had been using that personal blog—titled “Too Hot for TNR”—to disparage the magazine.
Again with the Web logs: On Sept. 1, senior editor Lee Siegel was suspended and had his culture blog removed from the magazine’s Web site. Mr. Siegel had been caught posting flattering comments about his own wit and wisdom in the third person under the pseudonym “sprezzatura”—a “sock puppet,” in blog parlance.
Mr. Siegel is still suspended, but he remains on the masthead. Then again, Mr. Siegel hadn’t previously sent Mr. Foer an e-mail offering to “make a niche in your skull” with a baseball bat, as Mr. Ackerman did during a dispute about whether the magazine should have a blog about the Major League Baseball playoffs.
“The Siegel thing was a first-time offense,” Mr. Foer said. “Ackerman involved repeated offenses.”
Mr. Ackerman said he had clashed with Mr. Foer over various editorial matters. But he said that he had fallen from favor after growing disenchanted with the invasion of Iraq, which he and the magazine had both supported in the beginning.
“I definitely, for lack of a better term, drifted leftward,” Mr. Ackerman said. “The Iraq war will do that to you. The Bush administration will do that to you.”
Mr. Ackerman had been acting out, by his own account: telling a colleague it “wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world” to get fired “for being too left-wing”; declaring in an editorial meeting that he would “skullfuck” the corpse of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to establish his anti-terrorist bona fides. And there was the baseball-bat remark, which Mr. Ackerman said was meant as a joke. After chewing him out for that, Mr. Foer agreed to let him edit the baseball blog.
Both agreed that, whatever the politics, Mr. Ackerman’s taste in stories was wonkier and more bureaucratic than Mr. Foer’s.
Still, in 2003, Mr. Foer and Mr. Ackerman had teamed up to write a 6,900-word cover story about Dick Cheney. And in 2005, The New Republic published a cover story by Mr. Ackerman arguing for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, against the magazine’s editorial stance.
“Ideologically, I’m not far from Spencer,” Mr. Foer said. “I’m not a fan of Joe Lieberman. I think the Iraq war has been a monumental catastrophe. I hate George W. Bush. I have no ideological motive for firing the guy.”
Under previous editor Peter Beinart, Mr. Ackerman wrote a blog about the war, called Iraq’d, for the magazine’s Web site for 15 months, ending in the spring of 2005. After that, his blogging was absorbed into the newly launched overall blog, The Plank.
Mr. Ackerman said that his work was more heavily edited in the new blog. With Iraq’d, “I had total freedom,” he said. “With The Plank, I didn’t.”

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