January 15, 2018

JACK SHAFER: Sell the New York Times. Now. And other unsolicited advice for A.G. Sulzberger:

The best thing A.G. has going for him is that he isn’t Arthur Jr., who inspired more sniggers than respect during his years as Times publisher. According to the various profiles written about him, Arthur Jr. was a well-meaning but goofy Star Trek fan, completely over his head in the job. An unsteady manager, he indelicately sacked two executive editors (Howell Raines and Jill Abramson), though admittedly in crises not completely of his making. One unnamed critic told Times chroniclers Alex S. Jones and Susan E. Tifft that Arthur Jr. needed to “go back in the oven and bake a little longer.” An anonymous Times Company executive dismissed him as no more than a business “figurehead” in a 2005 New Yorker Auletta feature. Mark Bowden shared more abuse in Vanity Fair in 2009, writing, “Even the mid-level talent around Arthur does not regard him as a peer, much less a suitable leader.” Behind his back, staffers ridiculed Arthur Jr. for instituting corporate sensitivity seminars at the paper. “I’ve been hugged by people I don’t even want to shake hands with,” one repulsed Times editor told the late Marjorie Williams for a 1994 Vanity Fair story. (Arthur Jr. does have his champions, though. See this recent Daniel Okrent piece for the counterpoint.)

Read the whole thing, which describes the Times as seeing the same destination coming into focus that Lee Smith described for glossy magazines in his excellent October article on Harvey Weinstein titled “The Human Stain:”

Look at Vanity Fair, basically the in-house Miramax organ that Tina failed to make Talk: Condé Nast demanded massive staff cuts from Graydon Carter and he quit. He knows they’re going to turn his aspirational bible into a blog, a fate likely shared by most (if not all) of the Condé Nast books.

Si Newhouse, magazine publishing’s last Medici, died last week, and who knows what will happen to Condé now. There are no more journalists; there are just bloggers scrounging for the crumbs Silicon Valley leaves them.

But only a fellow Democrat could describe Pinch Sulzberger as “well-meaning” after these incidents. Here’s young Pinch’s uber-hot take on American soldiers during the Vietnam War, as quoted by the aforementioned Alex S. Jones in a 1999 New Yorker article:

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 Company, 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 showed 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 in the protests and what kind of behavior the family might expect from him in the future. Arthur assured his father that 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. Years later, Arthur said of the incident, “It’s the closest he’s ever come to hitting me.

In November of 1991, New York magazine described Pinch racially insulting one of his core subscribers:

Not long ago, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the 41-year old publisher of the New York Times, was greeting people at a party in the Metropolitan Museum when a dignified older man confronted him. He told Sulzberger that he was unhappy about the jazzy, irreverent new “Styles of the Times” Sunday section. “It’s very”—the man—paused—“un-Times-ian”

“Thank you,” Sulzberger replied. He later told a crowd of people that alienating older white male readers means “we’re doing something right.”

It was during that era that former Timesman Peter Boyer described the atmosphere in Sulzberger’s newsroom as “moderate white men should die,” according to William McGowan in his exceptional 2010 book Gray Lady Down. The following decade, then-editor Howell Raines, who was responsible for serial fabulist Jayson Blair joining the paper’s staff, described his preference towards diversity over a quality product in a classic Kinsley-esque gaffe: “This [hiring] campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.” Shortly thereafter, in the aftermath of 9/11, Raines opened up a unique front in the Gray Lady’s early wartime coverage, running nearly 100 articles on the Augusta National Golf Course and its then-lack of women members between 2001 and mid-2003.

In 2006, Sulzberger “apologized” in a commencement speech to the students of SUNY New Paltz for the hellish American life they were about to experience:

I’ll start with an apology.

When I graduated from college in 1974, my fellow students and I had just ended the war in Vietnam and ousted President Nixon. Okay, that’s not quite true. Yes, the war did end and yes, Nixon did resign in disgrace – but maybe there were larger forces at play.

Either way, we entered the real world committed to making it a better, safer, cleaner, more equal place. We were determined not to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. We had seen the horrors and futility of war and smelled the stench of corruption in government.

Our children, we vowed, would never know that.

So, well, sorry. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

You weren’t supposed to be graduating into an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land.

You weren’t supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life; the rights of gays to marry; or the rights of women to choose.

You weren’t supposed to be graduating into a world where oil still drives policy and environmentalists have to relentlessly fight for every gain.

You weren’t. But you are. And for that I’m sorry.

To be fair, Sulzberger does have much he should be sorry for. As Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit noted at the time, just ask his shareholders.

Last year, humanities professor Mark Lilla explored how the obsession with identity politics is strangling his fellow Democrats ability to reach out to potential voters, in his book titled The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity PoliticsThose quotes from Sulzberger and Raines illustrate both how far back the left’s obsession with identity politics goes, and how those toxic memes was virally spread by the Times. And a comparison of McGowan’s 2010 book, and The Kingdom and the Power, Gay Talese’s 1969 history of the Times, illustrates how radically Sulzberger transformed his family’s newspaper, and not for the better.

Near the conclusion of his article, Shafer writes:

If Bloomberg has lost interest, the Times could surely find its own Bezos. Doing so would fulfill the mission Adolph Ochs set out for the paper in his will. Published in the Times over a headline that stated Ochs’ wish that the “Times Be Perpetuated as Public Servant,” Ochs’ final testament called for the Times to be maintained “as an independent newspaper, entirely fearless, free of ulterior influence, and unselfishly devoted to the public welfare.” As I read the will, Ochs was more interested in preserving his journalistic vision than he was in cementing eternal family control.

Pinch Sulzberger certainly failed in that objective, but his publication was ground zero for the American culture war for decades. I wonder if he considers that to have been a fair trade.

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