Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Mark Leibovich recently won a Pulitzer Prize. Leibovich won a National Magazine Award. We regret the error.
Talk about spin! The Washington Post is depicting the departure of Style section editor Ned Martel as a win for all.
News of Martel’s demotion broke Wednesday morning (reported earlier by Fishbowl DC) in gleeful emails by Style writers who have reviled his management style for the past two years. Actually, it seems, the scent of Martel’s demise started to fill the newsroom last week.
But in a memo Wednesday afternoon, Post editor Marcus Brauchli and deputy Liz Spayd were “pleased to announce that one of the newsroom’s great creative forces . . . will soon move to join our formidable political team in covering the 2012 presidential campaign.”
Read through the adjectives, and allow me to translate:
Brauchli and Spayd have been fielding complaints about Martel for months. He is widely blamed for the departure of Robin Givhan, the Post’s longtime fashion writer who won a Pulitzer but abandoned ship in December for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
Brauchli had paired Martel with Lynn Medford to co-edit Style. That proved to be a disaster, played out in public screaming matches. Medford went to edit Sunday sections, Martel stayed at Style, but the bad blood apparently continued to run through the Style section.
The memo says Martel will focus on “the personalities, the offbeat, the veiled dramas that enliven the narrative of our democracy.”
Translation: He will be a feature writer on the National desk, rather than in Style. That reminds Postologists that the paper has never filled the political feature writing void left when Mark Leibovich went to the New York Times years ago.
Maybe Martel will be able to compete with Leibo, who just won a
Pulitzer National Magazine Award for his profile of Politico’s Mike Allen.
Marcus Brauchli told me that Martel is “absolutely brilliant” when I covered the Style drama in our February issue. Today, I asked him if he still “loved” Martel.
“I do. He's a terrific journalist, one of the most creative and original idea machines in the building. Take a look at Style last week—the profile of the Maine senators, the breakdown of Pete Souza's iconic situation-room photo, the arts criticism. But Ned was interested in getting back to writing, there's an election coming up, and he'll bring a fresh dimension to it. We're lucky to have him.”
Let’s leave aside reports that Brauchli had criticized the Maine piece by Martha Sherrill in meetings with reporters. And no one believes Martel would take a writing job of his own volition, without anyone to take his place.
At the moment, Style is unedited.