- Political commentator for The Guardian
- Former Executive Editor of The New York Times
Howell Raines is currently a political commentator for the leftwing British newspaper The Guardian. From 2001 to June 2003, he had been Executive Editor of The New York Times.
Raines was born in February 1943 in Birmingham, Alabama, the son of a successful lumber and woodworking businessman. In 1964 he earned a degree from Birmingham-Southern College, then went to work as a reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald (1964-65), local television station WBRC (1965-67), and the Tuscaloosa News (1968-69). In 1970 he became film critic for the Birmingham News.
In 1971 Raines moved to Georgia as political editor for the Atlanta Constitution, where he worked for the next three years. In 1976 he became political editor of the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. That same year he was a contributor to the book Campaign Money, edited by Herbert Alexander. He also commenced study at the University of Alabama and later earned a Master’s Degree in English Literature.
In 1977 Raines wrote the novel Whiskey Man and an oral history of the civil rights movement, My Soul Is Rested. In 1978 he returned to Atlanta as a national correspondent for The New York Times and served as its bureau chief there from 1979-81.
In 1981 Raines moved to Washington, DC as a New York Times White House correspondent. Three years later he was promoted to National Correspondent, and then served as the Times’ Deputy Washington Editor from 1985-87.
In January 1987 Raines accepted an assignment as Times bureau chief in London. In November 1988 he returned to Washington as Times bureau chief. In 1992 he won the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for a personal piece titled “Grady’s Gift” that appeared in The New York Times Magazine.
In January 1993 Raines moved to New York City to become the newspaper’s editorial page editor, a job he would hold for eight years. That same year, his book Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis was published.
In September 2001 Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. passed over the newspaper’s Managing Editor Bill Keller and instead chose Raines to become the new Executive Editor to lead the newspaper.
According to a variety of colleagues and observers, Raines’ left-liberal political views were similar to Sulzberger’s. Both men favored “advocacy journalism,” the outright partisan use of the press via its selection and slant of stories, columns and editorials to promote and advance political candidates, parties, legislation, policies, and ideology.
When he was hired as Executive Editor, Raines described himself as a “change agent” in a newspaper that needed his “competitive metabolism,” a publication whose front page he called “calcified.” He shared Sulzberger’s vision of building the Times into a worldwide news empire that ruled from “multiple platforms,” including print, global cable television and the Internet.
During his tenure as Executive Editor, Raines demanded that the newspaper reflect his ideology from its front page to its editorial page and beyond. According to Pat Buchanan, Raines was “fast converting the paper into a battering ram of the Left.” In his 2004 book Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, Seth Mnookin would note that some staffers had referred to Raines as “Mullah Omar” — a reference to the eponymous Taliban leader in Afghanistan.
As part of the Times‘ expansion into cultural coverage, Raines promoted the newspaper’s former theater critic and then-political columnist Frank Rich to the rank of Associate Editor, and to the position of Sunday columnist for the paper’s widely read Arts & Leisure Section. Raines also promoted Maureen Dowd to the status of twice-weekly columnist.
Raines, like Sulzberger, believed it was essential to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the Times workforce. Raines’ diversity policies led to the hiring and promotion of a young African-American reporter named Jayson Blair. In a speech before the National Association of Black Journalists in 2001, Raines specifically cited Blair as his star example of a hiring campaign that “has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.” But in May 2003, Blair was forced to resign amid discovery that he had repeatedly plagiarized and fabricated news stories.
A panel headed by Times Assistant Managing Editor Allan Siegal studied the Blair controversy and concluded that Blair’s promotions may have been the result of a “star system” that favored him because of his closeness to Raines. Jonathan Landman, Deputy Managing Editor of the Times, told the Siegal committee that in his opinion, the fact that Blair was African-American “was the decisive factor in his promotion” to full-time staffer.
Landman’s assertion was confirmed by Raines, who on May 14, 2003 (while he was still the Executive Editor) told a meeting of Times news staffers, managers, and its publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., that Blair had received preferential treatment because of his race. “You have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama, with those convictions, gave [Blair] one chance too many, ” wrote Raines of the scandal. “When I look into my heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.” On June 4, 2003, Raines resigned from his job with the Times, largely in response to the enormous controversy that had been generated by the Blair affair.
In the May 2004 issue of Atlantic Monthly, Raines in a 21,000-word article titled “My Times” blamed everyone but himself for his failed reign as Times Executive Editor. Nowadays I think of Jayson Blair as an accident,” wrote Raines, “that ended my newspaper career in the same unpredictable way that a heart attack or a plane crash might have.”
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Raines wrote commentary in the British socialist newspaper The Guardian. “George W. [Bush] represents the conservative, greedy wing of the Privilege party,” wrote Raines in one column. “… The incumbent looks like Goofy when he smirks.” In the same piece, Raines offered the following advice for Democratic candidate John Kerry: “He must appeal to the same emotions that attract voters to Republicans; i.e., greed and the desire to fix the crap-shoot in their favor. That means that instead of talking about ‘fixing’ social security, you talk about building a retirement system that makes middle-class voters believe they will be semi-rich someday.”