Last month, Dean Baquet turned 65, the age when the executive editor of The New York Times traditionally relinquishes his title. Given the challenges of Covid, Baquet graciously opted to extend his stay, but handicapping his successor has returned to the fore as one of media’s favorite parlour games.
And in many ways, it’s an overdue one. Baquet, after all, seized the top job via some shrewd political engineering that led to the largely bloodless coup, in 2014, in which he ascended from managing editor to executive editor and Jill Abramson exited with what is believed to be a generous severance. There were some recriminations, a few weird New York Post covers, including one with Abramson in boxing gloves, and the threat of a tell-all book that morphed into a different project. But in the end, it didn’t amount to much. Baquet went on a listening tour throughout the building, and then went back to work.
During the intervening years, Baquet has had an enormously successful tenure at the Times, perhaps the most storied since Joe Lelyveld—he’ll be able to hang his hat on the Weinstein investigation, The Daily, the paper’s remarkable Trump coverage (including its historic tax series), its odyssey from Carlos Slim’s predatory loan to a $9 billion market cap behemoth, and the expansion of the brand’s enormously successful lifestyle division. Underappreciated is that he did it all while keeping his ambitious potential successors at bay. In some way, that might have been the most difficult trick to pull off, especially at a place like the Times, which is notorious for its infighting.