Joseph Lelyveld, former top editor of the New York Times, dies at 86


Lelyveld retired a week before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and coverage of the biggest story of the new century fell to his successor, Howell Raines, a diligent former political reporter and editorial page editor. Raines’ team won a record seven Pulitzers in 2002, six for his work on 9/11. But a year later, The Times was hit by a scandal that led to an interim encore by Lelyveld.

In June 2003, after weeks of anguish over revelations of journalistic fraud and plagiarism by a journalist, Jayson Blair, and the resignations of Mr. Raines as executive editor and Gerald M. Boyd as editor-in-chief, Mr. Lelyveld, at the behest of the editor Arthur Sulzberger Jr., returned to work to restore calm and credibility to the newspaper’s damaged reputation until a new leader could be appointed.

Traumatized by the scandal and exhausted by Raines’ demands for greater production, the staff welcomed the return of Lelyveld, who expressed some reluctance, having embarked on a new career writing independent books and articles. Six weeks later, Bill Keller, a columnist and former Times correspondent who had been Lelyveld’s editor-in-chief and his chosen successor, was named executive editor.

“Joe ran a terrific newsroom, and under his direction we produced a terrific newspaper,” Sulzberger told Stephen J. Dubner for a 2005 profile of Lelyveld in New York magazine. “With it we entered the digital era, we broke circulation and advertising barriers and we won numerous awards. It was Joe who brought together the talent that now powers the newspaper. He was an excellent editor.”

Mr. Lelyveld’s reputation as a journalist was secured long before he wrote “Move Your Shadow” (1985). The book, which explores the ordeals and absurdities of South Africa’s apartheid system of racial separation, was based on his two reporting trips to Johannesburg, the first in 1965-66, when he was expelled after 11 months by a disgruntled government. with his work, and the second from 1980 to 1983.

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