The ‘Times’ of Their Time

Are Max and Abe Still Spinning?

Whether or not Max and Abe had a hand in Oakes's obituary, the two have become gladiators at preserving their own legacy. With the publication of Max's autobiography in 1999, they feuded publicly, a practice heretofore frowned upon at the Times. In a 1999 Vanity Fair article, Abe called Max "contemptible" for using the status he derived from the Times to spout disrespect for Timesmen and sell books. Abe may have suffered the most, but according to the Vanity Fair piece by David Margolick, many insiders reading the book discovered Max to be angry, ruthless, and willing to target people who were "too old, too ill, too forgotten, or too dead to defend themselves."

In the book, Max took several cheap shots at John Oakes, calling him and his board "righteous and predictable liberals" while hyping his own brand of liberalism as "less predictable and more fun." If Oakes had "appeared comfortable" belonging to an all-male Century Club, the enlightened Max had quit to stand up for women. Max even faulted Oakes for not resigning after the Moynihan endorsement—conveniently omitting the fact that Punch had already forced Oakes into early retirement.

Interviewed before his death, Oakes told Vanity Fair that Frankel's version of events was "shabby" and "distorted." It would have been interesting to hear what he had to say about his own obituary.

Rosenthal did not respond to a request for comment. A Times spokeswoman said via e-mail, "The writer and editors of the John Oakes obit tried to be scrupulously impartial in view of the known differences that existed between esteemed and accomplished colleagues. The fact of our Editors' Note, we believe, underlined our determination to be totally fair and to complete the record."

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