Terry McDermott on Dean Baquet: The First Editor I’ve Ever Liked


Journalist Terry McDermott has a long letter in Romenesko, praising Dean Baquet as the first editor he ever liked. Baquet had assigned him to do the definitive piece on Mohammed Atta, and 3 years later, he turned his LA Times writings into a book, Perfect Soldiers, about all the 9/11 hi-jackers.

McDermott throws in some unnamed businessmen who, after hearing his account of his travels and investigations, asked about the cost of same. McDermott takes the high road:

The stories cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. They lacked the drama of sleeper cells revealed or the kick of high conspiracies alleged. They built a far different and less dramatic narrative than those that had come before. They portrayed the hijackers as more or less ordinary, if woefully misguided, young men. They did not produce any evident economic gain for the Los Angeles Times. They didn’t win many prizes, either.

Didn’t Baquet and others at the top hope for a prize or two? Did his fellow reporters feel slighted that their resources were curtailed so that so much could be spent on this story? Were any less-juicy local issues ignored so that the LA Times would have a big, sexy series on a hot topic? FBLA always has questions.

McDermott believes that the benefits of chasing this story clearly outweigh any criticism by beancounters and he’s probably right. On the other hand, he got a book out of it.

McDermott’s correct to defend his series, but his anointing Baquet “one of the best newsmen of his generation” seems a little circular –“He likes me, he’s a genius”.