< Start Your Engines


Friday, May 26, 2006

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eighteen months before the 2008 election, the ducks are lining up and the front-runners, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, are provisionally anointed. But how do the media know who to pay attention to when hardly anyone has actually announced a candidacy? Gerald Marzorati is the editor of The New York Times Magazine, which has already put two potential candidates on the cover, Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Chuck Hagel. But what about Bill Richardson and Barack Obama and Evan Bayh and Russ Feingold and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney and John Sununu? When do they get theirs? Well, Marzorati says that the Mark Warner cover story wasn't as much about a run for president as it was a position paper on democratic centrism. Warner was just the hook.

GERALD MARZORATI: If we wrote an 8,000 word abstract piece about what Democratic centrism has been, stands for, will be in the 2008 election, no one would show up to read it. You hang some of those ideas on a flesh and blood candidate, and you get readers. And so he's the representative of that idea. It really was meant to be a piece about ideas. Where the Democrats are, who the Democrats are is a really, really interesting subject now.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: A perennial, I'd say.

GERALD MARZORATI: Yeah, I guess it is. And I think as far as the magazine goes, that's what we're interested in. If we were a parliamentary democracy, maybe we could discuss these ideas outside of presidential politics, and we try, Lord knows. But the thing is, presidential politics is sort of where we focus our attention as a nation. It's how we sort of build the national politics. And it has huge shortcomings, of course, because it means that we're not very good at, either as citizens, or, I think, as journalists, when it comes around to issues of governing. We like the politics part more than we like the governing part.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Getting back to the Mark Warner story, though, you can't really talk about Democratic centrism around a particular potential candidate without talking about the chances for that candidate, and hence the controversy over the cover, which evidently made him look like a used car salesman from the '70s, or, as The New York Observer said, bearing a very strong resemblance to Mr. Ed.

GERALD MARZORATI: [LAUGHS] Well, look. The cover picture, as it turned out, was a mistake, and I apologize for it. The photographer, apparently, used some sort of color filter that turned a blue shirt pink and a blue tie purple. I don't know what went on. And we didn't know about it, and when we knew about it, we went to correct it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let's talk about the Republican side. In February, you dedicated a cover to Nebraska's senior senator, Chuck Hagel. Was there an idea behind that? If Warner was the anti-Hillary, is Chuck Hagel the alternate McCain?

GERALD MARZORATI: Well, I think the idea really came out of a conversation that Joe Lelyveld and I had -- was here's this Republican who is criticizing the war, who is concerned about the religious cast that his party has begun to have. Could this kind of Republican become president today? That's what we were thinking then. The story wasn't an early gambit to say here's a dark horse presidential candidate.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But presenting him as you did, you certainly had to have in the back of your mind that he would be seen as a dark horse candidate, or at least that The New York Times would like him to be seen as a dark horse candidate.

GERALD MARZORATI: Yeah. I would disagree that – and certainly with the idea that we would like him to be seen as that. He is someone who's talked about considering a run for the presidency. That's what got us there.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But by giving him a cover and presenting him so forcefully, conservative critics said that you were rewarding him for his anti-Bush views.

GERALD MARZORATI: Well, anyone who doesn't like what we do is always going to be convinced that the doing of it was based on a secret meeting, held in some bunker somewhere, where a strategy was arrived at to do it. And, of course, if you put out 52 issues of a magazine, you know that that's not how things come about. The cover's not an advertisement for what The New York Times believes about anything. The New York Times doesn't decide who to put on the cover. A small group of editors receive a number of pieces [CHUCKLING] at a given time, and they pick among those pieces. These things aren't ordered up, though it is very difficult to convince some people otherwise. We don't make candidates. That idea that we have that kind of power, either in the country or among the readers or anything, is one of the great myths, a myth that serves a lot of people's interests. But we don't make candidates. We don't make presidents. We don't do any of that.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: There's this candidate, a former legislator from Alaska, named Mike Gravel, who announced.


BROOKE GLADSTONE: And, you know, The New York Times completely ignored him.

GERALD MARZORATI: Oh, we're sorry about that.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But on a serious note, how come he doesn't make it into your pages? GERALD MARZORATI: Well, again, you know, if one of our contributing writers came to us and said, “A certain candidate deserves the piece because he or she is articulating an idea that is important to the party in a way that no one else is articulating,” I think that would happen.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Gerry, thank you very much.

GERALD MARZORATI: It was fun talking with you.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Gerry Marzorati is the editor of The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, a TV channel for the coveted zero-to-two demographic.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media from NPR.