By Howard Kurtz
Now he's changed his tune. Taylor has apologized to his editor and publisher at National Journal, among others, for his mistakes.
"I recognize now that I blew it," Taylor said yesterday. "Why did it take me so long to realize I'd done something wrong? I was angry and defiant because I didn't think I'd done anything wrong.
"In short, the whole mess is my fault. My best defense is that it was an honest mistake I made in good faith at the time. It was a bad mistake in judgment."
Stephen Smith, National Journal's editor, is also taking some of the blame. He said he had erred in "not disclosing to our readers that Stuart had talked to Starr about possibly going to work for him. . . . I should have been more alert to the kind of appearance problem we were facing. I just blew it."
Taylor says he told Smith in early March of the initial feeler from independent counsel Starr about becoming a top-level adviser, which he quickly rejected. But he says he did not tell Smith when a second approach led to serious negotiations that brought him to the brink of joining Starr's staff. Days after turning Starr down on March 30, Taylor wrote a column praising the prosecutor: "He is everything that Clinton is not: honest, principled and utterly inept at spin."
"It hadn't crossed my mind that we needed to make a disclosure," Taylor said. He said he had "rationalized" and "compartmentalized" his early discussions with Starr as mere off-the-record reporting, "but appearance-wise, it was all bad."
Taylor was initially defiant, saying that "to anyone in journalism who thinks I'm not acceptable because of this, I don't want anything to do with them anyway." What changed his mind, Taylor says, was "Steve pounding the desk and saying, 'Dammit, you kept me in the dark for 18 days, that's what you did wrong!' "
"He felt we didn't need to know," Smith said yesterday. Had he known the Starr talks were continuing, Smith said he would have insisted that Taylor either break them off or take a vacation or a leave of absence.
"He has very forthrightly apologized to me for keeping me in the dark about this," Smith said. "Our main concern now is figuring out the best way for Stuart and the magazine to reaffirm his bond with our readers."
Taylor has also written a letter of apology to Eric Effron, editor and publisher of Legal Times, who runs Taylor's column and criticized the lack of disclosure. Taylor wrote that he was "blind" to the appearance problem and recognizes that he is "sometimes bullheaded."
Said Effron: "I was not able to run his column until I had assurances he understood why I was upset about the lack of disclosure."
In writing two "very angry" letters to his longtime colleague, Taylor said, "I really blew my top at Eric. Now I'm apologizing all over the place."
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