Meeting David Granger
Reflecting on the sudden dismissal of one of magazine media's most uncompromising editors.
Last June I received an email from David Granger, Esquire’s editor. “Granger here” it said in the subject line. For a magazine writer, that’s something akin to a parish priest finding “Pontiff checking in” in his morning inbox. You pause before opening such a message. There is a momentary sense of awe. And fear.
What could David Granger possibly have to say to me?
Well, he was asking me to meet him for drinks, maybe lunch. It turns out he’d just read my “Modern Magazinist” piece about his extraordinary run as the editorial genius behind one of America’s great print magazines.
I had written this:
In an industry with no shortage of superstar editors-in-chief, Granger stands apart. Somehow—instinct, maybe corporate research—he’s paved a highway to his readers’ brains, groins, hearts, and bank accounts. Probably not in that order. At every level, Esquire connects.
This is how I imagine David Granger’s inner monologue as he arises in his manly loft every weekday morning: “FU, all you lesser editors-in-chief! FU and your teams of feckless toadies. Watch how it’s done, you … amateurs.”
A smidge over the top, I grant you that. Still, I stand by what I said at the time.
So, when David Granger’s email popped up on my screen, I initially figured it was just to toss me a pro forma “Thanks, man.” Alternatively, maybe, “Hey, fella, you got it all wrong.”
Instead, Granger wrote: “I have to tell you that my wife’s reaction was, ‘If only he knew what motivates you is raw fear….’”
He specifically asked that I not share that quote. Well, that was then. This is now—and now what we have, amazingly, is an out-of-work David Granger. An almost impossible-to-imagine reality as 2016 dawned, so abstract did that prospect seem then.
Granger’s sudden dismissal after an unparalleled 19-year career at Esquire—there’s been no explanation yet for his departure, but no one is reporting it was voluntary—has, in a sense, shifted notions of truth and honesty and trust, if not the rotation of the earth itself.
When Granger was replaced last week by Hearst’s management, it set off a tide of social-media tributes the likes of which I have never seen for a living editor. Esquire’s roster of heavy-hitter talent weighed in within days, each remarking that Granger had not only made them better writers but had, in the process, made their careers. Tom Junod, Tom Chiarella, that whole Holy-Grail-of-Magazine-Writers bunch.
“I was, and am, one of the lucky ones who got to do what I wanted to do because I met someone who asked me to do more than I ever thought I could,” Tom Junod wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. “I owe [David] a debt beyond reckoning….”
Based on everything I’ve ever heard—including from Esquire contributors, of whom I was ever jealous—Granger’s style was to reflexively stand up for his crew and for his magazine. Even with financial pressures being what they are in the mag biz today, Granger did not allow so much as a semi-colon in his book to be cheaply monetized. The integrity of his print book was everything.
Readers seemed to understand and appreciate that. They—we—respected the amazing quality and inventiveness of Granger, his constant willingness to fuss with Esquire without ever actually screwing it up (no easy feat). He was the chef who not only knew how to make our favorite dish, but how to make it perfectly every time.
Which gets me to our lunch. Granger and I met at a restaurant in the Time Warner Center in Manhattan. We sat at the corner of a long bar. Had a few drinks, ate light. I don’t recall anything about my meal. Not a single memory. I was lunching with David Granger. Who cares what the hell I ordered?
We discussed the magic of print magazines, the shortage of talent to make them, marriage, cars, and the improvement of some big U.S. monthlies (I think I actually mentioned Town & Country, which, in hindsight, is ironic because Jay Fielden, its editor, will be taking over at Esquire). Granger barely raised his voice; I occasionally needed to lean in to hear him speak.
In my “Modern Magazinist” post last June, I had written something that triggered in Granger a recollection of some exchanges he’d had with Jerry Seinfeld. There were “great stories” to tell, he said in his email to me— “especially two different interactions.” He promised to share those when we got together. But, on the day of our lunch, I forgot to ask. Totally blanked. And it doesn’t matter, really.
Thing is, I like Jerry Seinfeld. I’ve chatted with Jerry Seinfeld. But Jerry Seinfeld is no David Granger.