If you’re not filled with contempt for your boss, there’s either something wrong with you or you’re a working journalist.
Reporters and editors like to think they don’t have bosses, believing almost to a one that they answer to a higher authority, namely “Journalism.” The guy who signs their checks? A paper-pusher. The people who try to give them orders in the newsroom? Subhuman obstructions to ignore.
Only when a journalist is fired or quits does the complete fury he feels for those quacking mallards who have made his life miserable begin to surface. Instead of verbally venting after getting sacked, the smart journalist takes a road trip and works through his anger by killing chipmunks and other small game. Only greedy, slightly stupid journalists accept severance packages. They almost always come with do-not-disparage clauses, which are known to cause cancer in journalists.
Some journalists settle the score with their “bosses” immediately. But my favorites are those who take weeks, months, or even years to settle the score with the institution or individual that they think tormented them. In honor of every journalist who flipped the boss off on the way out the door, I’ve collected a few of their best kiss-off notes and gestures from the recent past. If, after reading, you don’t turn in your badge and burn every bridge and causeway behind you and fill with sewage every tunnel and viaduct that connects you to your former place of employment, I’ve failed in my mission.
“It’s been a rough few years here, mainly because of the jackasses in Chicago who own us. To them I say, with as much gusto as I can muster in an email, fuck you.”
—Dan Neil, upon leaving the Los Angeles Times for the Wall Street Journal, February 2010.
“Jesus spent three days in Hell. … I could only handle one.”
—Richard Morgan, who quit Gawker.com after one day, January 2008.
“My ill-starred tenure at New York magazine was, among other things, a crash course in the staggering unselfawareness of Manhattan class privilege. … [T]here was the sashaying mood of preppy smugness that permeated nearly every interaction among the magazine’s editorial directorate—as when one majordomo tried to make awkward small talk with me by asking what it was like attending an urban public high school, or when another scion of the power elite would blithely take the credit for other people’s work and comically strategize to be seated prominently at the National Magazine Awards luncheon.”
“Go ahead and talk amongst yourselves, masters of the universe—and let your therapists-manqué at New York transcribe your every mawkishly aggrieved word. Every phony social revolution needs its Joe the Plumber, after all—and Messrs. Moss, Sherman et al fit the bill nicely. Watch the decibel level, though—it turns out that a lot of people went to public high school, and they’re pretty fucking sick of the sound of your voices.”
—Chris Lehmann, four years after leaving New York magazine, April 2009.
“It is just sort of a pathology on Mort’s part. … He just couldn’t stand Fallows making the magazine his own magazine. … The bottom line is that Mort has been sabotaging his own magazine, and it’s been sickening to watch.”
—Timothy Noah, while still (temporarily) on the payroll after U.S. News & World Report owner Mortimer Zuckerman sacked the magazine’s editor, James Fallows, June 1998.
“The last time I was up in front of this group was 27 years ago, when we won General Excellence for Harper’s. I was fired the next day. And as the chairman of the board was escorting me to the guillotine, he said, ‘Didn’t I hear you won some sort of prize?’ “
—Michael Kinsley, upon accepting the Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors, March 2010.
“I knew that newspapers were dying daily, that the future of long-form journalism was at risk. And I knew how lucky I was to still have my job. But as my recent story on Raoul Wallenberg was cut from the three parts we’d agreed upon to two to one, I also knew that it was time for me to leave the paper, particularly once I learned that some in management had expressed the same opinion.”
—Josh Prager, upon leaving the Murdoch-ized Wall Street Journal, April 2009.
In the summer of 1998, Si Newhouse offered Michael Kinsley the editorship of The New Yorker. Kinsley said he wanted 48 hours to think about it. During that interval, he had dinner with Newhouse and members of his family, and when he returned to his hotel there was a message for him to call Newhouse.
“[Newhouse] asks me to say that I had withdrawn my name [from the running]. I say I’m not going to lie about it, but I’ll decline to discuss it. He mumbles something and I mumble something and we hang up.
“On reflection (about two minutes’ reflection), I decided I was not inclined to do him the favor of not discussing it.”
—Michael Kinsley, in a widely distributed email, July 1998.
“I know the difference between journalism and a slogan. ‘Keeping them honest’is a slogan.”
—Aaron Brown, formerly of CNN, knocking the catch-phrase of his successor, Anderson Cooper, March 2011
“How do you expect the dedicated and loyal reporters at the [Akron] Beacon Journal to keep putting out a quality paper when you’re eliminating nearly a quarter of the reporting staff? You faceless corporate hacks take a break from your golf game long enough to scream that circulation must stay up, but then you order arbitrary budget cuts that force the elimination of entire sections of the Sunday paper. And when that’s not enough, you order layoffs that eliminate the very employees who have helped keep circulation from falling. Seriously, the kid who changes the oil in my car could run Knight Ridder with more foresight than you.”
“Don’t worry about me; I’ll land on my feet. I don’t regret coming here, even though I’ve been laid off now. In fact, my only regret is that you haven’t come to visit the Beacon Journal. I would have loved to piss on your shoes.”
—Mark Schlueb *, in a letter to Knight Ridder CEO Tony Ridder, April 2001.
“Ever since the Chandler Family plucked Mark Willes from General Foods, placing him at the helm of Times Mirror with a mandate to destroy the institutions in ways that would boost dividends, journalism has suffered at Newsday.”
—Laurie Garrett, upon making her leave of absence from Newsday permanent, February 2005.
After New York magazine editor Clay Felker took over the Village Voice in 1974, “star writer Ron Rosenbaum ripped up his (meager) paycheck in the New York editor’s face, saying there was ‘no amount of money’ that could make him work for ‘the piece of shit’ the Voice was certain to become. Rosenbaum then stormed out, a dramatic gesture, topped only by Felker’s puzzled reaction: ‘Who was that?’ “
—From “The Voice Beyond the Grave,” by Mark Jacobson, New Yorkmagazine, Nov. 6, 2005.
“After extensive study of history, I believe ‘Latino’—as used in the Los Angeles Times—is the most recent attempt at genocide perpetrated against the native people of the Americas. I also posit this new genocide is far more dangerous than the old fashioned murder and relocation efforts.”
—Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, in her 3,400-word letter of resignation to her editors at the Los Angeles Times, early 2001
“Blogging at Newsweek was sort of like setting up your tent in a bombed out building. First the editor who hired me left. Then the editor above him left. Then the executive above that guy left. Then the editor who didn’t really like me but tolerated me left. As a result I was left alone, which was fine. I kept writing; the checks kept coming. It was only a matter of time before the occupying army moved in.”
“The people at the Daily Beast seem to be having a desperate sort of faux-fun as they try to madly generate paying hits before Barry Diller’s money runs out subsidizing Ms. Brown’s big bucks staff.”
—Mickey Kaus, shortly after his Newsweek blog was canceled by incoming editor Tina Brown, who was merging Newsweek into the Daily Beast, February 2011.
“If some ditzy American editor went to London, took over the Spectator and turned it into, say, In Your Face: A Magazine of Mucus, there would be a big uproar, but here in America, we expect turnover. Here, a great American magazine falls into the clutches of a Staten Island newspaper mogul who goes out and hires a British editor who seems to know this country mainly from television and movies, and nobody says much about it.”
—Garrison Keillor, after Tina Brown replaced Robert Gottlieb as editor of The New Yorker, April 1995.
“Hi there. My name is James Renner and up until this morning, I was a staff writer for Cleveland Scene. I was fired this morning because I wrote an email to the CEO of the media conglomerate that now owns Scene, Matt Haggerty, in which I warned him that spiking stories because they are afraid of being sued is a good way to destroy a newspaper.”
“I am attaching the story on Coughlin which Scene spiked.”
—James Renner, March 2009
“I must say, though the [New Yorker]office itself is a little creepy. I didn’t work there. I live in Colorado. But I’d visit 3-4X a year.
“Everybody whispers. It’s not exactly like being in a library; it’s more like being in a hospital room where somebody is dying.
“Like someone’s dying, and everybody feels a little guilty about it.
“There’s a weird tension to the place. If you raise your voice to normal level, heads pop up from cubicles.
“And from around the stacks of review copies that lie everywhere like a graveyard of writers’ aspirations.”
“I’d get back on the Times Square sidewalk after a visit and feel I needed to flap my arms.”
“Turns out, though, magazines have personalities—especially a magazine like The New Yorker, with such a long history.
“Had I been working in the New York office, I might have picked up on this, and adapted to it.”
“[T]he real reason [David] Remnick fired me was that he took a personal dislike to me after our conversations.
“I was pretty bitter for a while.”
“Maybe The New Yorker can’t run like a collective.
“Maybe it has to run like an aircraft carrier, with one captain in absolute control and everybody else on bended knee.”
“The biggest disappointment was learning that, after all, it’s not only about the work on the page.
“That the writing life is not a pure meritocracy, or a refuge from office politics. All that crap still matters.
“Even at the top of the heap. Perhaps especially at the top of the heap.
—Dan Baum, in a May 2009 marathon of tweets, about two years after his New Yorker contract was not renewed.Had enough? Didn’t think so. See Part 2 of “I Would Have Loved To Piss on Your Shoes.”
Thanks to Jeff Bercovici, Matt Haber, Jason Zaragoza, Michael Calderone, Glenn Garvin, Slate intern Christina Gossman, and the Fort Worth Sports Literacy Association for their help in finding these kiss-off stories. If you’ve got a good one that I missed, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I intend to fire all of you from my Twitter feed before you quit. (Email may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
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