Speaking of the Gray Lady, I got my hopes up for a moment in Mark Bowden’s Vanity Fair essay regarding Pinch Sulzberger squandering his family’s legacy, when Bowden wrote:
“Mark? It’s Arthur Sulzberger.”
For weeks I had been trying to talk with Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the publisher and chairman of the New York Times Company. We had met once before, on friendly terms, and sometime after that I had informed him that I was hoping to write a story about him. I figured he was calling now to set something up. Instead he asked, “Have you seen the New Yorker piece?”
The article in question, just published, was bruising. It had surely been painful for him to read. Among other indignities, it featured a remark by the celebrated former Times man Gay Talese, the author of one of the most popular histories of the newspaper, The Kingdom and the Power. Speaking of Arthur, the fifth member of the Ochs-Sulzberger dynasty to preside over the paper, Talese had said, “You get a bad king every once in a while.”
Sulzberger, nicknamed “Pinch” (in comparison to his Times predecessor and father, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger), traveled a familiar path for the children of the Eastern elite in the 1960s and 1970s:
“He had been something of a political activist in high school — he had been suspended briefly from Browning for trying to organize a shutdown of the school following the National Guard’s shooting of students at Kent State — and at Tufts he eagerly embraced the antiwar movement. His first arrest for civil disobedience took place outside the Raytheon Comapny, a defense and space contractor; there, dressed in an old Marine jacket of Punch’s, he joined other demonstrators who were blocking the entrance to the company’s gates. He was soon arrested again, in an antiwar sit-in at the J.F.K. Federal Building in Boston.
“Punch had shown little reaction after the first arrest, but when he got word of the second one he flew to Boston. Over dinner, he asked his son why he was involved with the protests and what kind of behavior the family might expect of him in the future. Arthur assured his father he was not planning on a career of getting himself arrested. After dinner, as the two men walked in the Boston Common, Punch asked what his son later characterized as ‘the dumbest question I’ve ever heard in my life’: ‘If a young American soldier comes upon a young North Vietnamese soldier, which one do you want to see get shot?’ Arthur answered, ‘I would want to see the American get shot. It’s the other guy’s country; we shouldn’t be there.’ To the elder Sulzberger, this bordered on traitor’s talk. ‘How can you say that?’ he yelled.
You get a bad king every once in a while.