Friday, April 11, 2008
you snitchin where i come from, you gonna get your shit blown:
On Monday, THFTNR goes out of business and Attackerman rises to take its place. That means I have a limited amount of time to take this blog back to its essence: the beef with TNR. And I have one score in particular that I badly need to settle. The story of Snitching Ryan Lizza.

For years, Ryan and I were cool. Lots of people at TNR are lazy -- The Plank got started because Frank, Crowley and Jason Zengerle figured it would be easier to collect their web-writing bonus by blogging instead of writing twice-monthly columns -- but Ryan never was. Remember that obnoxious intern in Shattered Glass who constantly pokes his nose into other people's business because he's desperate to be put on? That's based on Ryan. His specialty was always in schmoozing -- meeting powerful people, ingratiating himself to powerful people, trying to get something out of powerful people. He was the first person I ever met who showed off his BlackBerry. But I never had a problem with Ryan.

By 2006, Frank had instituted a policy of fucking me over. It was harder for me to place pieces in the magazine than it was under Beinart and Scoblic. Even my blog posts were put under a cumbersome series of edits that no other writer -- except, I believe, Lawrence -- had to endure. At editorial meetings I received no support for either pitches or suggestions for coverage. It was, to say the least, frustrating: Frank was one of the people I was closest with at the magazine when we were both writers, and I cheered his ascension to editor. I didn't understand why he was playing me like this.

So one day I was commiserating with Ryan. Just blowing off steam. Understand: the lives of journalists are built around complaining, striving and martyrdom. We're prima donnas. It's unattractive but true. TNR in particular had a kind of conspiratorial atmosphere -- lots of gossip; lots of complex alliances of personal, political and bureaucratic convenience; and an age/status division between the senior editors and up, who were all in their 30s and older; and the associate editor (me) and down, who were all in our 20s. In a moment of blowing off steam, I said to Ryan that maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if I got fired for TNR for being too left-wing. There were probably some editors who'd come to my aid if that happened, since people in The Game know what TNR is really like.

I thought nothing of it. Again, that kind of venting isn't unusual for TNR, and I heard other writers say much worse things about the place over the years. But a couple weeks later Frank asked me to have lunch with him. Great! I thought. Finally an audience with my friend-turned-editor, who seems not to have time for me anymore. We went to the sushi place on New York Avenue and 11th.

"Listen," Frank said, "I know you've been telling people that you welcome getting fired. I want to tell you how unprofessional and immature that is."

Stunning. Lizza had run to our boss and told him something I had said as a way of calming myself down. Now, here it was, ripped from context, and made into a problem between me and my editor. It was the first salvo of much fake outrage from Frank over the coming months. When I grumbled that I knew who snitched on me, Frank -- realizing he had fucked up -- urged me to let it go.

I tried. Lizza went on smiling at me in the hallways, shooting the breeze, acting friendly. And then things got a little weird. By the fall, I was openly getting in conflicts with Frank and Kate Marsh, one of TNR's deputy editors. Ryan IM'd me one day and told me that if ever I was feeling frustrated, I could always go to him to talk it out.

Now, I can't prove what I'm about to write. But I thought that was really weird on his part, since we were never what you'd call friends. The only time he took any interest in me was when I was involved in inter-TNR controversy. And I'm supposed to confide in him? After he snitched on me and gave Frank the pretext he needed to poison our relationship? My suspicion: he was funneling Frank whatever I told him. Like I said, I can't prove it. But I do know that Lizza, an inveterate gossip and kiss-ass, cannot help involving himself in these kinds of minor intrigues, and he has done that to other TNR writers as well. But those aren't stories for me to tell.

I admit to being blindsided by Lizza. Part of me -- the public part -- puffed up my chest and talked big about how I didn't care what happened to me at the magazine. But most of me -- the part I kept to myself -- was confused, frightened and deeply hurt at being cast out of favor at a magazine and social environment that meant everything to me. So I didn't say much to Lizza. But one thing I did say was that I didn't really mean what I said about not thinking it was so bad if I got fired. He told me I was "back-pedaling."

Two days before I ultimately got fired Ryan IM'd me. It was after I wrote two THFTNR posts: one about how the magazine's content-management-system was appropriately called Coma and the other about how the cool kids hate TNR. Jokey stuff. Ryan contacted me in a snit and told me how deeply I had offended my colleagues and how I was out of control -- but I could always talk to him about whatever I was going through. I told him, first, that I didn't realize I had offended anyone and would write an apology over email, which I did; and second, that what I really wanted was to see if the kind of magazine I believed in could still be saved -- something brave, honest, and penetrative. In other words: I didn't want to be fired, and I didn't want to quit. I didn't want to leave.

And then we took the conversation to a phone chat, and I said something else. How dare Lizza snitch on me? How dare he so casually toy with me? Lizza apologized. I remember this moment so vividly: I was standing on my porch, smoking a cigarette while it rained, my voice trembling, my hands trembling. I called Lizza a lot of colorful names. My friend Kate came up the stairs and looked vaguely frightened at how angry I was. Two days later I was fired.

What I learned from this is something every journalist, every editor, every potential source and every reader should know: Ryan Lizza is not to be trusted. He will betray you, and betray you casually. Whatever helps Lizza get what he want, Lizza will do. It doesn't matter if you and he have a warm relationship. He only -- only -- cares about himself. So congratulations, Ryan! You got what you wanted. You're the New Yorker's Washington correspondent. I hope it's worth it to you to have that job, since the path that you took to get it was to become a sniveling, obsequious, deceitful coward. Or maybe that's what you've always been, and always will be.
--Spencer Ackerman
OK, so he's a jerk, but is he a bad reporter?
Blogger Chris | 9:19 AM

its a bad sign that your boss automatically assumed that the rumor was true. When he took you aside to talk, what he should have said is "there is this story going around the office, what is the deal?" and got your side of the story. Instead he immediately gave you a lame talking to about proper/professional office behavior. (ironic!) whatevs, i think you are better off.
Blogger derya | 9:59 AM

6:54 AM. Why are you letting Ryan Lizza keep you awake?
Blogger Richard Byrne | 10:34 AM

I have always thought that Frank Foer was basically a coward. It is bad enough that he still lets Martin Peretz write and blog for the magazine but he has no excuse for James Kirchick. Any decent managager would have "engineered" their departure by now.
Blogger ndm | 11:38 AM

This comment has been removed by the author.
Blogger WackedEcon | 2:21 PM

Yeah, I remember an asshole who attended a college summer seminar I directed. I remember that person didn't identify himself as a reporter. I remember that that person wrote a particularly catty article with very out of context quotes and statements about what was said at this conference for the New York Press.

I remember what the professional shitstorm was like when that article came out.

Anyway, at least you write some good stuff on the war because you're a decent reporter. Not that I'd trust you in other respects.
Blogger WackedEcon | 2:23 PM

YOWZA. Too hot, indeed.

Godspeed, Attackerman.
Blogger Michelle | 7:17 PM

If you're willing to admit that there is that arbitrary 30s-something editor line cutting down the middle of the office floor, why are you getting bitter about the (older) Lizza getting this spot at The New Yorker?
Blogger Tyler S. Bass | 6:16 AM