Kinsley--for a Day

Has Michael Kinsley gone nuts? That was the prevailing sentiment in New York media circles late Monday morning. The Slate editor was evidently a top choice to edit The New Yorker. He then committed the unforgivable sin of disqualifying himself, publicly and forever--or, as Kinsley said to the Voice Monday, "as long as Newhouse owns it."

A quirky e-mail from Kinsley whizzed its way into electronic mailboxes nationwide all day Monday. The e-mail--released at just the right moment to undermine one of the happiest days of new editor David Remnick's life--is a breezy account of how Kinsley flew from Seattle to New York for the weekend, and almost got the New Yorker prize. According to Kinsley, Newhouse offered him the post on Saturday.

"I liked him in our dealings," Kinsley told the Voice. "The money was fine, and I was ready to take the job." Kinsley says Newhouse had told him the only difficulty was going to be convincing Remnick to stay on as a writer. Newhouse scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Monday--with Kinsley, Brown, and Remnick--at which, Kinsley expected, "we were going to beg [Remnick] not to leave."

Kinsley told the Voice Newhouse gave him the impression that he and Remnick were the only candidates considered for the job (which isn't true: the Voice has confirmed that Newhouse discussed the position with two other well-known editors).

A day later, however, Newhouse apparently rescinded the offer, leaving Kinsley more than a little miffed.

The question is: why would Kinsley--whose name frequently comes up to head the nation's premiere magazines--burn his Condé Nast bridge so publicly? Another editor who interviewed for The New Yorker job was dumbstruck by Kinsley's letter, telling the Voice: "It's fucking unbelievable. Was it jet lag?"

Kinsley, however, has no regrets. "It was an amusing story, and I thought I was going to have to tell it to a lot of friends," Kinsley said. "So I decided to put it in an e-mail." Then, through the miracle of electronic forwarding, the e-mail went everywhere, and "I discovered I had a lot of friends," Kinsley cracked.

For those who didn't get it, here is the letter in its entirety:

"Friday about 11:00 am pdt. We are about to have a SLATE staff meeting and 'morale lunch.' I get a message to call Si Newhouse. I call him. He wants to see me the next day. I race home and to the airport for a 12:45 plane to NY. So much for the morale lunch. Also for the weekend hike I was dressed for.

"Saturday 11 am edt. I meet Si at his apartment. We talk there for a couple hours and at lunch at a nearby restaurant for another hour or so, and then he says, 'How would you react if I offered you X?' I say, Are you offering me the job? He says yes. I say I will tell him yes or no w/in 48 hours. He is unhappy with that, so I say we'll settle this by first thing Monday morning. (He wants to announce something Monday.) He then invites me to dinner with his brother and family. I say I would make a counterproposal at that time.

"Sunday. We talk by phone and I send him a fax about various things. He says come by the apartment before dinner at 6:30. I come by, present my counterproposal, he counters back, I say that sounds fine, I probably accept, but I promised Pete Higgins (Microsoft VP) I'd check with him before definitely accepting and I needed a night to sleep it over. He says fine.

"We go to dinner with his wife, son, brother, brother's wife and son. Talk virtually no business. Parting at the restaurant door, I say, I'll call you first thing tomorrow morning. What time do you get in? He says, I'm in by 6:00. I say, I'll call you at 7:30. He says, fine.

"Maybe 15 minutes later I get back to the hotel room and there's a message: Call Si Newhouse. I call and he says, You seem reluctant. I say, It's a big decision, but if I do it I assure you I'll be energetic and enthusiastic. He says, I'm starting to feel reluctant too. I think it would be better to call it off. No apology.

"After some stunned mumbling, I say, This is going to be embarrassing to both of us. He asks me to say that I had withdrawn my name. 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."

A publicist for The New Yorker said the magazine was aware of Kinsley's e-mail and confirmed that Newhouse talked to Kinsley over the weekend, but declined to offer any comment.(For more on The New Yorker, see She, Tina by Tom Carson.)

Fortnightly? Yes, Fortnightly

New Yorker publisher David Carey denies it. Last Thursday, Si Newhouse told The New Yorker staff he wouldn't let it happen.

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