If this week’s book party for Adam Nagourney began with a question as to why a New York Times writer is chronicling the history of his own paper—long regarded as a bastion of journalistic excellence and secrecy—it ended with a clear answer: the paper is just too damn big for any outsider to fully grasp. In writing about the people who write about the Times, the word that seems to be used most often is “Kremlinologist.” But perhaps a more apt designation (especially at this point in history) would be “savant,” because to know all the personalities responsible for the newspaper is to be a certified genius. And that’s to say nothing of the other media barnacles the leviathan attracts.
Both species were in fine form at the Waverly Inn, in New York’s West Village, on Tuesday night, at a book party celebrating Nagourney, a 27-year veteran of the paper, and his well-regarded new history of it, The Times: How the Newspaper of Record Survived Scandal, Scorn, and the Transformation of Journalism. The book covers the last four decades of news reporting and palace intrigue in vivid, unsparing detail. In an excerpt published in AIR MAIL last month, Nagourney recounts the newspaper’s response to the attacks of September 11, and how they not only defined the careers of a generation of Times journalists, but helped the broadsheet transition to publishing online as well as in print.
The evening was hosted by AIR MAIL Co-Editors Graydon Carter and Alessandra Stanley, the latter of whom formerly held various roles at the Times, from Moscow-bureau co-chief and Rome-bureau chief to chief television critic. By the time they’d arrived, Carter and Stanley had to station themselves in the outdoor dining annex because the door to get inside was barred by a riptide of current and former Times writers, editors, and photographers: Maggie Haberman, Jill Abramson, Pamela Paul, Jim Rutenberg, Jeremy Peters, Sam Sifton, Michael Barbaro and Lisa Tobin, Michael Grynbaum (with his wife, Juli Weiner), and Lisa Lerer. As one staffer pointed out, “more people are at this party than went to the office today.”
Hopefully that wasn’t overheard by the paper’s management, who had relocated to a nearby sidewalk for some fresh air. Executive editor Joe Kahn and his wife, Shannon Wu, took in the scene near New York Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein, while managing editor Carolyn Ryan dipped in and out of the Waverly garden. It’s unclear whether she was ducking New York magazine reporter Shawn McCreesh, who is profiling her for the next installment in his unofficial series on the paper’s top brass (Kahn was the subject of a previous chapter), but she stood out in her pink pantsuit.
As one staffer pointed out, “more people are at this party than went to the office today.”
Apparently, though, McCreesh wasn’t in a stalking mood—or, if he was eyeing any game, it was his former boss Maureen Dowd’s leopard-skin shoes, which had made the trip from Washington with the formidable columnist. They added a welcome dash of panache in a crew that, otherwise, isn’t known for its sartorial choices. Speaking of which, ex-CNN president Jeff Zucker’s vest held up surprisingly well in the unseasonable heat—perhaps because he and his girlfriend, CNN’s former chief marketing officer Allison Gollust, jetted off after 30 minutes or so. Thankfully, iHeartMedia executive John Sykes held down the sidewalk executive suite with Emerson Collective’s Peter Lattman.
Members of the Vanity Fair diaspora were also there, including writer Dana Brown, Simon & Schuster editor Aimée Bell, Standard Industries communications executive Beth Kseniak, and Puck co-founder Jon Kelly.
And lest anyone forget that guests were there to celebrate a book about the Times, Gay Talese, who laid the genre’s cornerstone with the 1969 book The Kingdom and the Power, showed up in the last quarter with his cousin, Goodfellas screenwriter Nick Pileggi. Although he had a decidedly different air than just two weeks before in that same spot—last time, the book party was in his honor.
But on Tuesday, with Pileggi at his side, he drifted through like a chaperone at a high-school dance, reflexively soaking in everything, wise to the fact that some other book would have to pick up where Nagourney’s left off. The unspoken question, which could be heard fluttering in the passing early-autumn breeze, was, Who will the next savant be?
Nathan King is a Deputy Editor at Air Mail