September 12, 2017
After twenty-five years running Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter prepares for a third act
by Taylor Sperry
After twenty-five years at the top of the masthead, Graydon Carter has announced he will step down from his role as the editor of Vanity Fair in December.
The prevailing feeling, clearly, is that Carter is going out on a high note: In a fond post at the magazine’s vertical, Hive, longtime contributing editor David Kamp writes, “In terms of influence and longevity, there are few editors in the annals of magazine journalism to match Graydon.” Michael M. Grynbaum’s piece for the New York Times calls Carter “a ringmaster of the Hollywood, Washington, and Manhattan power elite.” And Lloyd Grove at the Daily Beast writes that under Carter’s stewardship, the magazine has fared better than its competitors in the upheaval of the print industry.
But Grove also notes, more pointedly than Kamp or Grynbaum, that “Wintour is coming.”
Perhaps one of the most mythologized and imposing figures in publishing, Anna Wintour “nominally supervises [Condé Nast’s] 15 glossy print magazines,” including Vanity Fair. She’s traditionally left Carter and the New Yorker’s David Remnick to their own devices, but Grove writes that Carter had to fight “tooth-and-nail against a corporate restructuring plan, promoted by Wintour and other Condé Nast execs, for Vanity Fair to lose its designated creative director and fact-checkers, along with those of the other magazines.”
“If Carter were to stay on past December,” Grove continues, “he would undoubtedly have been forced to preside over the sort of massive bloodletting that Vanity Fair had previously dodged under his leadership.” The implied squeamishness is consistent with Kamp’s observation that Carter inspires among his staff the kind of decade-straddling loyalty that doesn’t just come from “a good benefits package and the chance to interview, say, Bruce Springsteen or Kerry Washington.”
A successor has not yet been named, nor has Carter announced any plans for what’s next. But Carter did tell Grynbaum he wants “a third act.” One hopes that he might resume a preoccupying theme of his days at Spy magazine: the gleeful and merciless lampooning of Donald Trump—or, as Spy famously dubbed him, the “short-fingered vulgarian.”
It’s not unthinkable that there could be an interesting collaboration between Carter and his friend Michiko Kakutani, who recently left her post as chief book critic for the New York Times and whose piece “Donald Trump’s Chilling Language, and the Fearsome Power of Words” Carter published after the inauguration.
Either way, Carter’s departure marks the end of an era — for Vanity Fair, certainly, and possibly for the industry as well: “The romance of the magazine business will continue,” Carter said, “but it will be harder to maintain.”
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.