Roger’s Rules

"The world's foremost evangelist for capitalism"?

Here’s a day-brightener. The New York Sun today reports on the surprising uptick of New York Times stock–up about 10% yesterday–which in recent years has behaved like a dead dog that’s been run over by a tractor-trailer before being shoved over a cliff at the edge of the Grand Canyon.

What accounts for the Lazarus routine? In brief, free-market pressure. News that a couple of hedge funds have nominated four directors to replace some who were loyal to the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls the newspaper has been making the rounds. Result: smiles and a rising stock price. Young(ish) Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. has been doing his damndest to transform the once-great paper into a politically correct laughing stock, destroying its financial prospects along the way (stock price in 2004: +/- $50; stock price yesterday: $16). From a business as well as from a journalistic point of view, diluting the baneful influence of Pinch is a no-brainer.

But the letter from Scott Galloway, chief investment officer of one of the hedge funds, to the Times management contained this hilarious sentence: “The New York Times is the world’s foremost evangelist for democracy, capitalism and culture.” Earth to Scott, earth to Scott: this is The New York Times you are talking about: you know, the Bush-bashing, America-hating, trash-culture-loving bastion of tattered left-liberal piety and advocate of shopworn top-down bureaucratic control of the economy. “What edition of the Times,” the Sun asked, “does Mr. Galloway read?”

There was the editorial that lamented, “The economy has been so hot in the past few years that there is a natural temptation to declare that America’s freewheeling ‘cowboy” capitalism has triumphed permanently over European or Japanese versions.” And the one that said, “the free market works best when not completely free” and warned against those who “idealized capitalism from a distance” while not being cognizant of “the dangers of underregulation.” The New York Times likes capitalism, except for in the housing, energy, computer, or health care sectors. As for democracy, the Times has mocked President Bush’s idea of expanding it to Iraq as “gauzy talk.”

It’ll be illuminating to see how the so-called world’s foremost evangelist for capitalism responds to a bid by shareholders to maximize value. . . . [S]omething tells us that by the end of this story Mr. Galloway isn’t going to be describing the paper as the world’s foremost evangelist for capitalism — or democracy, shareholder or otherwise.

No kidding.