Michael Kinsley, L.A. Times Part on 'Unfortunate Note'

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Michael Kinsley left the Los Angeles Times yesterday with a swipe at the paper's publisher, saying he was told he wasn't wanted and insisting that his dismissal could have been handled "more gracefully."

Kinsley, who had been the paper's editorial page and opinion editor for a little more than a year, said he will start writing his column directly for The Washington Post and will do some consulting work for The Post's Web site.

In an interview, Kinsley, a former editor of Slate, the New Republic and Harper's, said of his brief employment by the Times: "I'm disappointed that it ended on this unfortunate note, and I'm disappointed that it's ended at all."

Kinsley had signaled in July that he would give up his editorial-page duties after John Carroll, who hired him, stepped down as the paper's editor. Kinsley, who lives in Seattle, said he "wasn't enjoying" his unusual arrangement of commuting to Los Angeles for several days a week, "and it wasn't a good fit for the paper."

In an e-mail to his staff, Kinsley said he wanted to continue in some capacity at the Times but that Jeffrey Johnson, who became publisher in June, would not commit to continuing his column or to retaining him in an advisory role. "Jeff isn't merely uninterested in any future contribution I might make, but actively wants me gone," Kinsley wrote.

After that conversation last week, Kinsley said in the interview, he got in touch with The Post.

In a statement, Johnson pointedly omitted the usual praise heaped upon a departing journalist. After talking to Kinsley, Johnson said, "I concluded that it was best to make a clean break and I wish him well." He named Andres Martinez, who now oversees the editorial page, as Kinsley's successor, calling Martinez "a great writer and journalist who has done an outstanding job."

Kinsley, 54, had been writing a weekly op-ed piece off and on since the 1980s for The Post, which continued to run him when the column's ownership shifted last year to the Times, with which the paper shares a news service. Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said he is "delighted" to keep Kinsley as a columnist, calling him "one of the smartest and funniest guys" in journalism. Slate, the online magazine that The Post bought from Microsoft earlier this year, will run Kinsley's column the same day.

Donald Graham, the Post Co.'s chief executive, said that "Mike Kinsley knows a lot about presenting news on the Web" and that Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg "and Slate's people are very happy to have him associated with Slate once again."

Jim Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com, said he welcomed Kinsley's expertise as Slate's founding editor and that he would be concentrating -- Kinsley called it "kibitzing" -- on the newspaper site's opinion offerings.

A nationally known liberal from his days on CNN's "Crossfire," Kinsley tried to give the Times's opinion pages a greater online presence. He did this in part by launching the concept of "wikitorials," in which readers could go to the Web site and edit the editorials as they saw fit. (This was inspired by Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia by contributors.) The Times quickly pulled the plug when the site was flooded with pornographic posts.

Kinsley also got into a public spat with political commentator Susan Estrich, who threatened in a flood of e-mails to retaliate if he didn't start running more female columnists, prompting Kinsley to accuse her of "blackmail."

Kinsley has sold his apartment in the District, and he and his wife have no plans to move back here.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company