Hell of a Times
Through all these disturbing incidents, Times president Joo has stood by Pruden and Coombs. In June, according to a source close to senior management, Joo received a memo detailing specific charges of sexual harassment and racism against Coombs. According to the source, Joo dismissed the memo, telling Times owners from News World Communications, including Preston Moon, "I don't fucking care."
Insiders say Joo's desire to inject himself into US negotiations with North Korea has been Pruden's ace card. Joo's interest in détente with North Korea is so profound that Times employees have nicknamed him "Kim Jong Il." According to a source close to Times senior management, Joo has taken numerous trips to the Hermit Kingdom to meet with the dictator Kim. He fancies himself a potential interlocutor between North Korea and the Bush White House. "What Wes does," Archibald explained, "any time any crisis happens, he just goes marching into Joo's office and he says, 'I can call George W. Bush up any time I want. You need me. I'm running this ship.' It isn't true that he can get Bush on the phone, but that's what he says."
One source close to senior management claimed Pruden has guaranteed Joo that he will deliver an appearance from President Bush at the Times's twenty-fifth anniversary in 2007, and the source says Joo is bedazzled by Pruden's promise.
Pruden, for his part, sees Coombs's promotion as an extension of his legacy and a guarantee of his golden parachute. "Pruden will defend Coombs at any cost so he can walk out with a quarter-mil-plus comp package. He doesn't want anything to interfere with that, so he's defending his boy Fran," Archibald said, explaining that Coombs and Joo have promised Pruden a position as "editor emeritus" that will allow him to maintain his biweekly column and hefty paycheck.
Pruden, Coombs and Joo are now operating like a troika to eliminate threats, real and perceived, to their continued control over the Times. "This is everything to them," a senior staffer said. "And they will do anything they have to in order to survive. It's slash and burn." Pruden has enlisted the PR firm Hill and Knowlton to attempt to discredit media reports alleging racist and sexist behavior by him or Coombs.
Like cornered animals, Pruden and Coombs are growing increasingly aggressive in their tactics. Archibald said that the conservative magazine Human Events had planned to publish an article by him this September detailing instances of racism and sexism at the Times but that, under pressure from Pruden and Coombs, Human Events editor in chief Thomas Winter spiked the piece.
On September 6, the day before the story was killed, Marian Coombs sent Archibald an e-mail warning, "I've just seen what you're writing about the Times, my husband, Wes Pruden, and others.... Have you no shame? If you possess any residual genuine belief in God, you must also realize that such shameless, hate-filled behavior will harm your own soul terribly." Just how Marian Coombs obtained a copy of Archibald's draft from Human Events remains unclear. (Reached by phone, Winter immediately hung up when questioned about Archibald's piece.)
Coombs, according to a staffer, has called numerous Times reporters during the past few weeks to warn them that his departure could result in a new "left wing" editorship that will fire them en masse. But the sentiment may have already turned against them. "If Fran and Wes were to be replaced," the staffer said, "the newsroom would be like Rio if Brazil won the World Cup. The champagne would be popping like crazy." Many inside the newspaper already refer to Pruden's and Coombs's possible departure as "liberation day."