The Organization Man
How Joseph Kahn spent nearly a quarter-century navigating the politics and pitfalls of the New York Times newsroom to rise from foreign correspondent to executive editor
On the morning of April 19, the day his appointment as the next executive editor of The New York Times was announced, Joe Kahn was running behind. “I left before 7:30 and, normally, it only takes me less than 15 minutes to get in,” he told The Fine Print, but because of a signal malfunction, he was stuck on the 2 train for 15 minutes on his way to the office from his Greenwich Village home. When he finally got to the next station, he ran out and caught a cab. He started the first call of the day in the back seat, just as current executive editor Dean Baquet and publisher A.G. Sulzberger were talking. “We saw him paying the cab and he was just like, ‘Oh my God,’ but he was laughing about it,” said deputy managing editor Rebecca Blumenstein. “We were joking that it’s a quintessential — it was almost like it was scripted in a sense — New York moment.” He walked into the building about five minutes after 8 a.m. It wasn’t a major meeting, Kahn said, just a check-in with department heads. “Also,” he added, “it was a meeting about me.”
It was a day many had been anticipating for quite a while — for some, as early as 1998, when Kahn first joined The Times from The Wall Street Journal. “I knew at the time that Joe could someday run the paper, so I was particularly interested in him even a quarter-century ago,” said Glenn Kramon, who was the paper’s business editor when he hired Kahn. “While he was not the most extroverted guy in the world, we knew he had leadership potential.”
The Times started him off covering Wall Street, a beat he’d never been on before, and away from Hong Kong and Asia, where he had spent most of his early career after graduating from Harvard. “He knew he’d come back from China because that’s what we do,” Kramon said. “We give you experience in the mothership.” It was a change to which Kahn looked forward. “I had spent quite a few years in mainland China and then some time in Hong Kong as well, and I didn’t really see myself quickly touching base in the U.S. and going right back,” he said. “I wanted to live in the U.S. again, for a little while. I enjoyed being back here, trying some different kinds of reporting, developing another side of my journalistic skills.” Not only was he flexing new muscles as a reporter, but he was also taking an initial institutional lay of the land. “He knew how the game was played,” said Kramon. “I think he wanted to know people in the newsroom and how the newsroom works.”
Over the next 24 years of his ascent to the top of the newsroom, Kahn not only mastered its intricacies but imbibed both its ideals and flaws, becoming an avatar of what the institution stands for today. When he takes over on June 14, most people who spoke with The Fine Print believe little will change. He has a different management style from Baquet, and he wields a hard-won focus on the business aspects of running a newspaper today, but the core of what they’ve tried to achieve will remain the same. “From the outside, they’re going to say, ‘A Black guy who grew up humbly in New Orleans is being replaced by a Harvard-educated, older white guy.’ And that’s baloney because they’re so similar. The world needs to understand that,” Kramon said. “They inform each other’s sensibilities for sure, but you’re not going to get radically different decisions.” After all, how much change can you expect when The Times has enacted the ultimate synecdoche by putting the quintessential organization man in charge of the organization?
Kahn made an impression on the upper reaches of the masthead early on when his aggressive coverage of Goldman Sachs elicited a response from an executive at the bank. “They were like, ‘We’ve got to improve our relationship with The New York Times,’” Kahn recalled. “There was nothing wrong with their relationship. It wasn’t a relationship issue. It was just a good story. But I think they reached out to Joe Lelyveld at that time, as a way of seeing if we could be less adversarial,” he said of the executive editor of The Times from 1994 to 2001. “I think he took the meeting, but he also just got a kick out of it.” Kramon had a similar recollection. “Lelyveld was quite amused,” he said. “We were all amused that Goldman expected what they perceived as better coverage.”
Though Kahn was happy to get his start at The Times from New York, he also knew he hadn’t exhausted his obsession with China. “I always had in mind, when I came to The Times, that I would like at some point to go back to China,” he said. “I did think about maintaining ties to the foreign desk.” His editors also knew they wanted to take advantage of his experience there. He got his chance to go back to Beijing for The Times in 2002 and was named the bureau chief the following year. There was a moment when it seemed like he would be joined by fellow rising star James Bennet, who was then Jerusalem bureau chief and would later be seen as one of Kahn’s primary rivals for the executive editorship before being pushed to resign in the wake of publishing an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for the use of military force against Black Lives Matter protesters. “He reached out at some point,” Kahn recalled. “I think he started even studying Chinese and was eager to come to China, but he never did.” In early 2006, Bennet was offered the editorship of The Atlanticand left The Times.
Kahn’s primary reporting partner in China was Jim Yardley, now Europe editor for The Times. Together they would write a series on miscarriages of justice endemic to the Chinese legal system that’s stunning in its execution. The opening of the first story gives a sense of their vivid reporting: “For three days and three nights, the police wrenched Qin Yanhong’s arms high above his back, jammed his knees into a sharp metal frame, and kicked his gut whenever he fell asleep. The pain was so intense that he watched sweat pour off his face and form puddles on the floor.” The work would win a Pulitzer Prize in 2006.
Their series was published around the same time that Blumenstein arrived in Beijing as The Wall Street Journal’s China bureau chief. “I was not a China expert, the way that Joe was, but I think I had a bit of a sense of what people in the United States wanted to know about, and the rest of the world wanted to know about China,” she said. Despite Kahn’s head start, Blumenstein quickly got very competitive. “She was unrelenting in pushing her team hard to beat us,” Kahn would later remark after he recruited Blumenstein to The Times in 2017. “Jim actually lived across the street from me, outside of Beijing. And so sometimes when I would go to bed at night, he would have his light on, and I knew that they were going to have a big story the next day,” Blumenstein said. “It was definitely an in-the-face, all-out competitive battle, as far as I was concerned.” The competition was also highly productive: Blumenstein’s team won a Pulitzer for a series on the environmental costs of China’s economic boom the year after Kahn and Yardley won theirs.
Marcus Brauchli, who had been The Journal’s China bureau chief when Kahn was part of the bureau and had by then returned to the states as the paper’s deputy managing editor, kept track of the rivalry from afar. “They’re both brilliant journalists, but in some ways quite different. Rebecca was a first-rate reporter who excelled as a manager and team leader at The Journal,” he said. “Joe was a rather more solitary figure, a foreign correspondent who spent much of his career in the field, on his own, having to define and craft stories with at most one or two other people. When they were in Beijing, they were very competitive. But, as is now plain, they clearly respected each other.”
The competition took a backseat at social events in the small community of Beijing foreign correspondents. “I learned a lot there, quite frankly, about competition, because I was always a very in-your-face competitor and took it took it very seriously,” Blumenstein said. “Being abroad, you learn that you certainly are competitors, but you’re also kind of in it together. There were issues related to covering China that we were all experiencing and so there’s no doubt that there’s a certain camaraderie that develops, and respect, over time, and support that people give to colleagues, even if they’ve beaten them on a story. It’s a dynamic that I think is much stronger when you’re posted overseas 6,000 miles away than it is, say, in New York.”
Kahn had concerns other than professional rivalries. He’d fallen in love with Shannon Wu, who was born and raised in Beijing before going to America to work at the World Bank in H.R. They shared two languages, but their relationship started in English. “I met her in China, but she was already highly proficient in English,” Kahn said, “more proficient in English than I was in Chinese at that time.” They were married in 2007 and had their first son the following year. Around the same time, Kahn was offered a chance to come back to New York as deputy foreign editor, working under Susan Chira.
Lydia Polgreen, then a correspondent in West Africa and now head of content at Gimlet, who will return to The Times as an opinion columnist in September, remembered the figure Kahn cut when he took the job. “He had this extraordinary reputation as a correspondent, and he had a really smart and incisive way of blending ideas with really aggressive and rigorous reporting,” she said. “He came into being deputy foreign editor with that pedigree, which was really exciting. He was somebody who thought deeply about how to make stories feel differentiated and original.”
The transition didn’t feel so simple for Kahn. “I think a lot of reporters who become editors initially are very happy to work with a piece of copy. So someone writes something, ‘Ah, got it.’ This is either really, really good, or, here’s what I can do, I can make it better. You might see some structural thing in it, you might see some little bits of writing, and the tempting thing is just to, you know, ‘I got this. I know what to do when I have words on a screen.’ But to be a good editor, there are times when you want to do that, but there are also times when you want not to do that. So developing a real partnership with people and being able to channel ideas more constructively into the reporting and then the writing process at an earlier stage and making sure that the reporter or reporters on that story really feel full ownership of it,” he said. “There was a process there that I went through of learning the right relationship that you would have guiding coverage, shaping coverage, but really in partnership with the reporter, rather than downstream of what the reporter does.”
In September 2011, Kahn was promoted to international editor, taking over for Chira. One of his first challenges was handling the aftermath of the death of Pulitzer-winning reporter Anthony Shadid in February 2012. Shadid had been working in Syria with photojournalist Tyler Hicks, with whom Shadid had been held captive while reporting in Libya the previous year. Shadid had made arrangements with smugglers to enter the country in order to report on resistance efforts in the civil war and, the night before they were to return, suffered a fatal asthma attack. But, according to an interview Shadid’s cousin Ed gave to Gawker, the reporter had been nervous about the trip and the physical pressures it would put on him, and Kahn had responded to those concerns by saying, “It sounds like you’re going to get a lot of exercise on this assignment.” The Times rebutted the cousin’s account in a statement: “Anthony was an experienced, motivated correspondent. He decided whether, how, and when to enter Syria and was told by his editors, including on the day of the trip, that he should not make the trip if he felt it was not advisable for any reason.”
Kahn immediately flew out to Beirut with then-executive editor Jill Abramson, and they left a complicated impression when they attended Shadid’s funeral in Beirut. Some attendees perceived a lack of warmth and an out-of-place concern with the coming legal battles. “We could tell there was tension over why Anthony had been sent to Syria when we met with his family, especially a first cousin who fired angry questions at Hicks the night we arrived. Hicks was exhausted and stammering. He’d done his best; he’d tried and failed to resuscitate him. I tried to comfort Shadid’s parents and other family, who had traveled from Oklahoma. I talked to Hicks about getting counseling and tried to calm the other reporters in Beirut,” Abramson wrote in her 2019 book Merchants of Truth. “But it was clear a lawsuit was inevitable. The family had an attorney at Williams & Connolly, the Washington firm, which tried to negotiate a settlement. There were protracted and tense negotiations over the monetary terms.”
For Kahn, it was a trial by fire. “That was a really difficult moment for me, for the organization, obviously for his family,” he said. In the years that followed Shadid’s death, The Times began to scrutinize the decisions to send people into conflict zones more carefully. “I won’t say it was mainly or exclusively because of Anthony, because, unfortunately, he died of a medical condition — he wasn’t killed in a conflict — but, inevitably, when a tragedy like that happens, you take a really hard look at the full range of decision making and authorization.” Some made unfavorable comparisons of Kahn’s handling of the tragedy to his predecessor as foreign editor, Susan Chira, who was regarded for her warmer personality style. Chira, who left The Times to become the editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project in 2019, declined The Fine Print’s interview request, noting that she’d turned down all interviews on the subject of Kahn. “For a number of reasons, it’s best for me to sit this one out,” she wrote.
The first strong memory Jodi Rudoren, now editor-in-chief of The Forward, has of Kahn is a dinner they had together in New York shortly after she was appointed Jerusalem bureau chief in 2012. “He was intimidating, and I was nervous about this dinner. What were we going to be talking about?” she recalled thinking. “This was my boss and a very important person in my life.” Rudoren was surprised when Kahn’s assistant emailed to schedule the dinner at a downtown restaurant rather than one close to The Times office in Midtown. “Most people went to dinner at all these overpriced and mediocre places in the neighborhood,” she said. “I wrote a note that was like, ‘Should we leave together and go down there or meet there?’ It was confusing to me, what we were supposed to do. And I think he said, ‘Let’s meet there.’ I was very nervous that we would then be walking out of the building at the same time, and it’d be awkward. I made up this whole scenario in my head.”
Part of what contributed to Rudoren’s overall nervousness was that she was facing the prospect of moving to Israel with a pair of four-year-old twins. “It was kind of a big deal to think about going and becoming an international correspondent with a young family — still relatively new at the time, honestly, still relatively rare, right? Women correspondents with kids in a hard news conflict zone, it’s a thing.” The first thing Rudoren recalled Kahn telling her at the dinner was, “Thanks so much for meeting down here. I really like to go home and tuck my kids in before if I have a dinner.” That has stuck with her for a decade, in part because he didn’t say it earlier. “It was both lovely and not necessarily what you expect of your high-powered male editor leaders of The Times or anywhere else, very human and familial and all that. It also struck me as, why didn’t he just tell me that?” she said. “It was like, duh, Joe, actually make a point to tell me about that to both clarify and make me not feel awkward about this thing, but also you get major points with me as a young mom for going home and kissing your kids good night before meeting me.”
Difficulty lining up empathetic intentions with the expressions of those intentions has been a recurring theme of Kahn’s interactions with colleagues. “He’s quiet and understated, and I think a lot of people interpret that personality as perhaps being aloof, and given his journalistic achievements and his background, you might think that he’s a little bit distant, but I actually always found him to be a quite warm and generous person, on a person-to-person level,” Polgreen said. “When I was in South Africa, one of the big jobs of any South Africa correspondents at the time, of course, was the Mandela deathwatch and my then partner, now wife, and I were planning to come back to the U.S. to get married and there were all of these scares that were happening at the time. He was going in and out of the hospital, and it looked like it could happen at any moment. In that crazy way that when you’re a reporter and you feel a sense of obligation to the story, I was seriously considering postponing our wedding. And Joe got on the phone with me and was like, ‘Lydia, come on. If he dies, there are other people who can cover the story. Don’t cancel your wedding for this.’ He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, but he does care very deeply about people and has a personal kindness that might not be immediately obvious.”
But other colleagues who saw that personal kindness and warmth noted that it could be fleeting, leaving them feeling whiplashed when it was gone the next day. “I’ve had any number of dinners, either one-on-one, or with a small group or a couple of different times with a larger group, with international correspondents. He is very warm and very funny and very personal in those settings and not that way the next day in the newsroom,” Rudoren said. “He definitely can and does develop warm, comfortable, chatty, jokey conversations with people, but it’s always a little bit of a surprise. And then there is a kind of seriousness and reservedness back in the newsroom.”
Kahn’s reserve could drop away when he returned to the mode of his younger footloose days while visiting correspondents around the world. “Joe would try to get out to visit different parts of the world as much as humanly possible,” said Polgreen, who joined Yardley in the India bureau at the end of 2008. “As a foreign correspondent, you’re just kind of out there on your own, and I think having the international editor come to your patch and invest time in and spend time thinking through with you and other correspondents coverage and ideas and things like that is really, really meaningful. He definitely seemed to understand that and relish getting out into the world.”
Once when Kahn came to India, he, Polgreen, and Times reporter Hari Kumar traveled to a lodge on the Chambal River. On the way back, they got stuck waiting for the train to Delhi at a remote station. “We had a bunch of time to kill and were trying to find a place to have something to eat or have something to drink in this very conservative part of rural India. We found a bar that was full of Indian men, and I, of course, was the only woman there,” Polgreen recalled. “We walked in, and everyone just turned around, stared at us, and was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ This was a real working men’s bar in northern India, just not a place where you would see a woman. We all kind of looked at each other, and Hari, our Indian colleague, said, ‘I think we should go.’” They ended up kicking around the dusty railroad platform for hours. “He could hang with it, despite being the big boss from New York,” said Polgreen. “He was always up for adventure.”
Kahn’s tenure as international editor also came at a time when China had become, in some ways, a more challenging place to report than when he was a correspondent there. As international editor, he helped lead the launch of The Times’s Chinese language site on June 28, 2012. Soon after, on October 25, The Timespublished an article by David Barboza about the wealth spreading through the family of then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. The Chinese government responded by blocking internet access to The Times and making it harder for Times journalists to get visas. “For Joe, I think that was a difficult situation. He covered China, and then The New York Times was banned in China. But for him and for The New York Times, the principle is more important,” said Kahn’s graduate school roommate Yasheng Huang, who is now a professor at MIT and leads the university’s China Lab. “You need to report on facts. If the ban is the price you pay, then you pay that price. Joe would never sacrifice that principle for an opportunity to expand into China.”
Speaking at a reunion of China hands at the Overseas Press Club in September 2014, Kahn framedpublishing the story and not capitulating to the Chinese government as not just a matter of principle but a business imperative. “We’ve gotten a very specific roadmap from the Chinese side as to what it would take to unblock our website and resume issuance of pieces as usual, and it comes down to don’t publish stories that we think are offensive, and you have to agree to do that in writing. Which we’re not going to do,” he said. “The New York Times is not a very big company anymore. It’s dependent pretty much entirely on the journalism that we do. We don’t have any other source of revenue, and the moment that we even wink and nod that we’re going to avoid a certain category of coverage or type of reporting in a place like China, I’m not sure what value our brand has. So that’s not an option for us.”
Even though China was not as central to Kahn’s work as it had been before, The Times being shut out from China remained personal for him. His two sons are half-Chinese. “I would like them to understand the Chinese side of their heritage and learn something about the country and the language,” he said. “I think they’re pretty thoroughly New York kids at the moment, and the frequency with which they use Chinese is steadily diminishing, as they have fewer and fewer occasions to use it. So we kind of have to think about that a bit.” When they were little, the family had a Chinese-speaking nanny. “But then, she moved on,” Kahn said. “Since then, we haven’t had that same regular presence of Chinese in their lives. They get it partly through their grandparents, and then partly through study. But otherwise, they’re regular American kids.”
There have only been ten people to hold the title of executive editor of The New York Times, and like the first one — Turner Catledge in 1964 — seven of them were promoted from managing editor. But when former managing editor Baquet was named executive editor in 2014, he broke with the tradition and instead created the title of “deputy executive editor” to be shared among four people: Chira, Janet Elder, Matt Purdy, and Ian Fisher. The move created some consternation because it left the newsroom without a clear heir-apparent for the top job after Baquet turned 65, The Times’s traditional retirement age, partly because the deputy executive editors were close in age to the executive editor. Rudoren recalled the question of future leadership coming up when she and the so-called “2020 committee” started work with Baquet in 2016 on preparing a vision of the future for The Times. “Some of the conversations we had were like, ‘You need a managing editor,’” said Rudoren, who was on the committee. “It was very clear to me that we were talking about Joe. And here’s why, honestly, Susan, Matt, and Janet were the same generation as Dean.”
So when Kahn was named managing editor in 2016, he skipped over a number of senior newsroom leaders to become the best positioned for the highest-ranking editorial position. When he stepped into the bigger job, Kahn recognized that his reputation for aloofness was not an asset. “Management is partly about developing deeper relationships with the people you work with and the people who work for you,” he said. “It’s important to develop fuller, deeper relationships with a wide variety of people when you’re a manager than when you’re an individual contributor.” He adjusted his outlook to think of the collective and took measures to get to know people in the newsroom that wouldn’t otherwise have known him.
“Early in his time as managing editor, he had a regular series of lunches and dinners where he would take out small groups of people to get to know people better and have them get to know him better,” recalled Rudoren. But he didn’t go too far in that direction, maintaining a strategic reserve. “It’s always true that when the boss says something, it can have such great huge weight as a mandate,” said Rudoren, “and so I think he’s careful about not just shooting the shit or brainstorming.” People who had risen to the masthead before him also saw value in his quietness. “He’s not a hail fellow well met. He doesn’t go around slapping five or making jokes. He has a gentle, sly sense of humor and a warm smile,” said Kramon. “He’s more understated than some of his predecessors, and that’s probably a good thing these days.”
Within five months of Kahn being named managing editor, he was instrumental in bringing Blumenstein, who had risen to be deputy editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, to The Times as a deputy managing editor. They had stayed in touch since their days competing in Beijing. “He had a sense of the fact that it would be a big leap for me, but also outlined how ambitious The Times was being in terms of business coverage,” she said. “So, he was very, very thoughtful and persistent.” When she arrived at the paper, she started to get a sense of his management style. “His appetite for change, almost in a mischievous way sometimes, is just a total north star of our digital transformation. He has a way — in a quiet, but reserved way and a forceful way — of bringing many people along with him,” she said. “If there’s a difficult decision to be made, or you’ve had a meeting with two sides and you have to make a choice, he’ll just kind of say, ‘Or we can do something else.’ He’ll just make a joke. He has a way of capturing the intensity of the moment and the difficulty, but often making you laugh and realize life goes on and he does have a pretty wicked sense of humor.”
Though some who worked under Kahn found him to be a supportive, thoughtful editor, others noticed that an intense focus on aspects he cared about could be accompanied by blind spots in other areas. As a Columbia Journalism Review investigation into the 2021 departure of international photo editor David Furst found, Furst was well known among freelance photographers and Times staffers for screaming at people he worked with, demanding exclusivity from freelancers, and punishing those who worked for other publications, and favoring male photographers for plumb assignments. Furst had worked at the paper since 2010, principally working with an international desk led by Kahn, and left his position after two newsroom investigations and Kahn had moved on from the desk.
The biggest journalism failure under Kahn’s watch was the podcast series Caliphate. It was the one subject that he seemed to be impatient to get past in his interview with The Fine Print. “That’s been incredibly thoroughly hashed over and reported on,” he said. “I don’t have a huge amount to add.” Still, it’s worth rehashing. Rukmini Callimachi’s reporting in the podcast, which followed a young Canadian who claimed to have gone to Syria to join ISIS, was discredited after Canadian police arrested the man on a terrorism hoax charge. Foreign correspondents at The Times had challenged Callimachi’s reporting since she joined the paper in 2014, but Kahn and Michael Slackman, his successor as international editor, had brushed aside their warnings.
After the paper investigated the podcast and found serious flaws, according to Erik Wemple’s reporting in The Washington Post, Kahn “held private and apologetic chats with staffers.” On a video call Kahn organized with assistant managing editor Sam Dolnick, who has overseen The Times’s efforts in video and audio production, to talk about what went wrong with between 15 and 20 reporters, according to a Harper’s story, “one journalist invoked the spirit of Anthony Shadid. Kahn seemed chastened.” When The Fine Print asked whether there were faults in how he handled Caliphate, Kahn took a middle-of-the-road approach. “It’s very important for us to be able to champion risk-taking correspondents and, at the same time, we really have to have an open door to members of the staff who obviously care about the report and make sure that they feel like they can voice concerns,” he said. “It’s just making sure that we balance those things.”
Despite this episode, which many thought might derail his ascent to the top of the masthead, Kahn was able to maintain his trajectory. Part of that involved overcoming a reluctance to engage with the business aspects of the news industry, which had previously pushed him to temper his ambitions at The Harvard Crimsonand contributed to his three-month flame out as editor and publisher of The Far Eastern Economic Review. “He’s a sensible, level-headed manager who has the respect, not just to the newsroom, but the business side and the publisher and the publisher’s family. And that is essential to survive in the long term at The New York Times, especially now,” said Kramon. “Twenty years ago, you could have made fun of the business side, but not for at least the last ten years. Everyone in the newsroom recognizes the importance of the business side and vice versa. So if the business side doesn’t like him, that’s a big problem for him. They like him.”
On that front, one of Kahn’s more recent projects has been the development of the Live team, which creates live blogs and briefings for major news events as they’re happening. “Joe is probably more digital than Dean,” said Blumenstein, “and has been a particular champion of Live and, basically, making The Times a destination for news in breaking news moments because we’re trusted and a lot of what’s on cable and social media shouldn’t be trusted.” It’s not just a matter of trust but of making sure that The Times, not giant tech companies, profits from their reporters’ work and expertise. “We had our best journalists all day long gathering information, thinking about their stories, and meanwhile, they were also tweeting some very intelligent insights on information as it was coming in,” Kahn noted in an interview with The Fine Print’s Gabriel Snyder in July 2020. The thinking behind Live, he said, was that “it would be great if we had a way of capturing some of that intelligent journalistic input as it was occurring, as opposed to letting somebody else aggregate that.”
When Kahn was announced as executive editor, it didn’t come as a surprise in the building. The Timessuccession plans had been a fairly open secret, even in The Times diaspora. When Ian Urbina, who left the paper in 2019, bumped into Marc Lacey at the Overseas Press Club Awards a day after Lacey and Carolyn Ryan were named Kahn’s managing editors, Urbina didn’t pick up on a lot of excitement about the new job. “A lot of the massive changes have been known pretty broadly for quite some time, even by folks like me who are not even at the paper anymore,” said Urbina, “so I don’t think there was any sudden excitement because this has been a long transition.”
When A.G. Sulzberger’s father Arthur, then just two years into his reign as publisher, appointed Lelyveld as his first executive editor in 1994, it came as a surprise. The two men were taking a walk through the snow in the woods around New Paltz, where they both owned weekend homes, when Sulzberger sprung the offer on Lelyveld, who accepted immediately. “He was more shaken than elated,” reported Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones in The Trust, their authoritative history of the Ochs-Sulzberger family’s stewardship of The Times. “I was happy [about the promotion] but I didn’t have any sense of triumph,” Lelyveld told Tifft and Jones. “It was never my dream.”
There wasn’t a single moment where Kahn was surprised by his job offer. “A.G. and Dean have been thinking about this transition for many months, several years, really, and being somewhat open with the people who were in contention for the job about what they were looking for and providing opportunities for feedback and stretch assignments. And so I don’t think it was a mystery,” he said. “There was a point at which I was reasonably certain that I was going to end up getting it, but it was more about what we were doing together, how we were thinking about the challenges and the opportunity, the team that I’d want to put in place.” It was an anti-climatic transition to preface what some might be hoping will be a drama-free executive editorship. “It was more like a process,” Kahn said, “rather than, ‘Here’s a bouquet of flowers, you’ve got the job, congratulations.’”