New York Times's masthead logo, "All The News That's Fit to Print," dates
back to 1896, the first year of Ochs-Sulzberger family control of the
paper, and both the family control and arrogant belief in the benevolence
and superior judgment of the dominant owners persist to this day.
The 1997 Proxy Statement of The New York Times Company explains the special
voting rights that assure family control in terms of the desire for "an
independent newspaper, entirely fearless, free of ulterior influence and
tinselfishly devoted to the public welfare." The paper's independence,
however, and the century-long accretion of influence and wealth by the
owners, has been contingent on their defining public welfare in a manner
acceptable to their elite audience and advertisers.
the 1993 debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),
for example, the Times was aggressively supportive of the agreement, and
solicited its advertisers to participate in advertorials with a letter
touting the "central importance...of this important cause" and the need
to educate the public on NAFTA's merits, which polls showed that most
citizens failed to appreciate.
As the paper regularly takes positions on domestic and foreign policy
issues within parameters acceptable to business and political elites,
it is evident that the owners have failed to escape class, if not selfish,
interests in defining public welfare and what's fit to print.
In debates within the range of elite opinion, moreover, the Times has
not been "fearless," even in the face of gross outrages against law, morality,
and the general interest. During the McCarthy era, for example, the management
buckled under to the Eastland Committee by firing former communist employees,
who spoke freely to management but would not inform on others, and more
generally it failed to oppose the witch hunt with vigor and on the basis
of principle. An editorial of August 6, 1948, attacking the use of the
Fifth Amendment before the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, was
written by the publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger.
Among other cases, the paper did not oppose the Vietnam War till late
in the game, and then on grounds of unwinnability and excessive cost to
us; it failed to oppose the U.S. sponsorship of a system of National Security
States in Latin America, or the Central America wars, and protected these
murderous enterprises by eye aversion and biased reporting. Even Reagan's
"supply side economics" was treated gently by the editors ("No one else
has yet offered an option half so grand for dealing with stagflation,"
ea., March 17, 1981), and the paper's top reporter, James Reston, stated,
falsely, that Reaganomics involved "a serious attempt...to spread the
sacrifices equally among all segments of society" (February 22, 1981).
The Times played a supportive propaganda role in the huge Carter-Reagan
era military buildup to contest the inflated Soviet Threat; and its highly
favorable review of The Bell Curve, and more recent extensive publicity
given the Thernstroms, have been notable contributions to the ongoing
assault on affirmative action.
dominant owners of The New York Times Company-a holding company-control
a large and complex business organization, which had 1997 revenues of
$2.9 billion and earnings of $262 million. Among its 50 or more subsidiaries,
the Times Company owns 21 newspapers in addition to the New York Times
and Boston Globe, 8 TV and 2 radio stations, various electronic and other
news and distribution services, a magazine group with a specialty in golf,
forest products companies, and 50 percent ownership of the International
Herald Tribune, with the Washington Post owning the balance.
The holding company's Class A stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange
and traded at about $65 per share in February 1998. The Sulzberger family
owns 17.5 million shares of the 97.6 million Class A shares outstanding,
or 18 percent; but it owns at least 87 percent of the 425,000 Class B
shares, which are entitled to elect a majority (nine) of the 14 directors.
The value of the Sulzberger family holdings in February 1998 amounted
to $1.2 billion. In 1997, family members Arthur Ochs Sulzberger and Arthur
Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. also drew compensation from the company in salaries,
bonuses, and options, totaling $1.5 million and $1 million, respectively.
These owners regularly associate with other rich and powerful people,
who are anxious to cultivate the acquaintance of those who control the
country's most influential newspaper. Such contacts occur on the board
of the holding company, which includes business leaders drawn from IBM,
First Boston (a major investment bank), the Mercantile Bank of Kansas
City, Bristol-Myers Squibb (drugs), Phelps Dodge (copper), Metropolitan
Life, and other corporations. The company also has a $200 million line
of credit with a group of commercial banks, and periodically uses investment
banks to underwrite its bonds and notes and help it buy and sell properties.
These financiers and business executives press for a focus on the bottom
line, and they would not be pleased if the Times took positions hostile
to the interests of the corporate community (which, contrary to right-wing
mythology, the paper does not do).
Hegemony of Advertisers
Back in the 1970s, the Times was stumbling economically, profits virtually
disappeared, and its stock price fell from $53 in 1968 to $15 in 1976.
In an article "Behind The Profit Squeeze At The New York Times" (August
30, 1976), Business Week assailed the management for lethargy, and because
it "has also slid precipitously to the left and has become stridently
anti-business in tone, ignoring the fact that the Times itself is a business-and
one with very serious problems." When this article appeared, measures
had already been taken to rectify the paper's business shortcomings and
its supposedly "left" tendency as well. A. M. Rosenthal, a close friend
of William Buckley, Jr. (who referred to Rosenthal as "a terrific anticommunist"),
and a self-described "bleeding-heart conservative" (the search for that
heart remains a challenge to independent investigators after 25 years),
was installed as executive editor. Editor John Oakes was ousted, the editorial
board was restructured, with the more conservative Roger Starr and Walter
Goodman replacing Herbert Mitgang and Fred Hechinger, and control over
all aspects of the paper was more centralized.
Times policy shifted to the right, the paper was reoriented toward softer
and more advertiser friendly news, and the common "policy" root of news,
editorials, and book reviews became more conspicuous. Rosenthal established
a Product Committee, and openly emulated Clay Felker's New York magazine's
pioneering of a news product featuring gossip on the shows, restaurants,
discos, attire, decor, and other cultural habits of the upwardly mobile,
attractive to fashion trade and other advertisers. More and more articles
were on the Beautiful People living well (e.g., "Living Well Is Still
The Best Revenge," celebrating the de La Rentas, December 21, 1980), and
fashion designers (e.g., "The Business of Being Ralph Lauren," NYT Magazine,
September 18, 1983), and entire sections of the paper were allocated to
Men's (or Women's) Clothing, House & Home, Food and Dining, and Style.
On February 26, 1998, the Times introduced a new section entitled "Circuits,"
which will cover "the personal side of digital technology," and hopefully
will attract some of the ad dollars going to Wired and Electronic Media.
the advertising recession of 1991, the pace of integration of advertising
and editorial was stepped up, with regular supplements to the magazine
on "Fashions of the Times," and with fashion news such as the shortening
of women's skirts beginning to make the front page. On March 23, 1993,
the Sunday Magazine featured the big names of fashion-Calvin Klein, Ralph
Lauren, Donna Karan, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, et al-with their photos
and sample product lines, in a purported news article.
Later in 1993, an entire issue of the magazine was devoted to fashion,
and in the paper's own Fall 1993 advertising supplement, an A&S department
store ad had printed on it "All the fashion news that's fit to print,"
with the A&S logo printed right below this. That is, the Times had loaned
its own advertising logo, supposedly signifying journalistic integrity,
to an ad purchaser.
Such attention to advertisers was paralleled by a shift of news interest
to the suburbs and other locales in the New York area with affluent householders,
and away from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. It also
meant lightening up on investigative reporting that would threaten local
real estate and developer interests, although this was not new.
Robert Caro, in his The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Downfall
of New York (1974), assailed the Times for its uncritical support
of this political czar, whose ruthless infrastructure development "very
nearly destroyed New York's physical fiber" (John Hess). Caro says that
the Times "fell down on its knees before him, and stayed there year after
year." Writing in 1985, Hess says that "Moses is long gone...yet the Times
enthusiastically supports billion dollar projects that will strangle its
The firing of Sidney Schanberg from his metropolitan column beat in 1986
was another clear signal that harsh criticism of local real estate developers
and associated political interests was no longer acceptable to the paper.
For advertisers, serious consumer reporting is "anti-business," and it
went into decline in the 1970s and after. Ralph Nader asserted in 1993
that Rosenthal "did more to damage consumer causes than any other person
in the United States," as the Times's lead in downgrading consumer issues
was followed by the Washington Post and then by the rest of the press.
Nader says that more than a dozen Times reporters complained to him that
they were pushed away from "hot-potato areas into soft consumer advice
or other non-consumer assignments."
The Times was late on many key business stories, like the S&L scandals,
the Bank of Credit and Commerce International case, the mid-1980s phony
liability crisis contrived by the insurance industry, the misrepresentations
of the Bush Task Force on Regulatory Relief, and others. Reporters told
Nader that "New York doesn't like these stories," or that they must get
company responses to charges against them-and as Nader notes, the companies
learned "simply not to return calls, knowing that that tactic would block
the story deadline. These companies know about Rosenthal too."
Other Elite Connections
officials and reporters have other (nonbusiness) ties to the elite that
make a class and establishment bias inevitable and natural.
In his gentle history of the Times, Without Fear or Favor, veteran
Times reporter Harrison Salisbury points out that the paper was dominated
in the post World War II era by men "of the same social and geographic
circle,..[who] had gone, by and large, to the same schools, Groton, again
and again, Groton; they had married into each others families; they were
Yale and Harvard and Princeton," etc. They were lawyers, bankers, businesspeople
and journalists; and many were notables in the CIA and other parts of
the government. These friends had "a common view of the world, the role
of the United States, the nature of the communist peril."
Salisbury devotes many pages to the CIA-Times connection, questioning
but not disproving the claim by Carl Bernstein in Rolling Stone in 1977
that Cyrus Sulzberger, the Times's long-time chief European correspondent,
was a knowing CIA "asset," and that the paper gave cover to some ten CIA
agents from 1950-1966. Salisbury supplies an impressive list of CIA people-Allen
Dulles, James Angleton, Frank Wisner, Kim Roosevelt, Richard Helms, and
others, who were good friends of, and wined, dined, and vacationed with,
a large array of Times officials and reporters. He acknowledges that in
the early years there had been a "relationship of cooperation between
The Times and the Agency, a relationship of trust betwen the CIA and Times
correspondents,.." (quoting CIA official Cord Meyer) and that friendly
connections persisted thereafter.
When the Times published a series on the CIA in 1966, it gave a draft
to former CIA chief John McCone for prior review, an action that Salisbury
felt entirely without significance, as McCone's reactions could be accepted
or ignored by the paper. But Salisbury misses the possibility that the
willingness to bring McCone into the editorial process might reflect the
limited framework and non-threatening character of the Times's effort.
The Times-CIA relationship, and its complexity, was displayed in 1954,
when CIA head Allen Dulles persuaded Arthur Hays Sulzberger to keep reporter
Sidney Gruson out of Guatemala, as the U.S. was organizing the overthrow
of the Arbenz government. Gruson, although a Cold Warrior and strongly
supportive of U.S. policy, was not a straight propagandist, so Dulles
claimed to possess derogatory information on him, and he was kept away.
But Sulzberger kept pressing Dulles for evidence supporting his charges
against Gruson, and was extremely annoyed when it was never provided,
and he realized he had been used by the CIA to fine-tune a propaganda
effort. (The Times was outrageously biased in its coverage of Guatemala
in 1953-1954-and later-but not quite enough to suit the CIA.)
The Times today remains protective of the CIA, but this is almost surely
a result of its broader support of U.S. foreign policy rather than any
specific links to the CIA, which it will, on occasion, slap on the wrist
for demonstrated misbehavior (e.g., ea., "The CIA's Men in Iraq," May
Information, Revolving Doors, and Cooptation
the precise nature of the Times link with the CIA and other govemment
agencies, the friendships and common understandings among these Cold Warriors
and members of an economic, social, and political elite have made for
a built-in lack of scepticism and critical and investigative zeal on the
part of the editors and leading reporters.
These press recipients of sometimes privileged information from friends
have not been inclined to treat the suppliers without favor. Max Frankel,
longtime editor and executive editor after Rosenthal, became extraordinarily
close to Henry Kissinger in the Nixon years, and Robert Anson notes that
Kissinger "put that intimacy to good use, employing Frankel's trust to
delay stories...; boost his boss...; and, on more than a few occasions-the
Administration's supposed unconcem about Marxist Salvadore Allende being
a prime example-spread flatout falsehoods. "
James Reston, the Times's most famous reporter, was on close terms with
a string of presidents and secretaries of state, but in the strange mores
of U.S. journalism, the resultant compromised character of his reporting
did not diminish his professional standing.
Bruce Cumings, writing about Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1950,
states that "Acheson vented his ideas through our newspaper of record,
James Reston's lips moving but Dean Acheson speaking." And Reston spoke
of his reliance on the "compulsory plagiarism" of "well-informed officials,"
and he even once titled one of his articles "By Henry Kissinger With James
As the Reston story suggests, the most common pattern of serving the political
establishment is not by directly telling lies, but rather by omission,
and by letting officials tell lies that remain uncorrected. Salisbury
describes the intemal debate over how far the paper should go in accommodating
propaganda, the upshot of which was that the Times would "leave things
out of the paper," or would publish statements known to be false if U.S.
officials "were willing to take responsibility for their statements."
What the Times would not do is publish unattributed lies. This is the
high principle underlying news fit to print.
The Times's close relationship with business and government has also been
reflected in a revolving door of personnel. Most notable were Leslie Gelb's
moves, from director of policy planning at the Pentagon (1965-68) to the
Times, then to policy planning at the U.S. State Department (1977-79),
and then back to the Times as diplomatic correspondent, Op Ed column editor,
and foreign affairs correspondent(1981-93), and then on to head the Council
on Foreign Relations, the most important U.S. private organization of
foreign policy elites, with ties to both business and the CIA and State
Another notable trip was of Richard Burt, the Times's Pentagon correspondent
during key Cold War years (1974-83), who moved into the Reagan State Department
in 1983, where he quickly displayed openly the ultraCold War bias that
was ill-concealed in his work as a Times reporter.
Roger Starr's move from the construction business to New York City Housing
Commissioner to the editorial board was an important reflection of the
Times's new look in the 1970s.
The Times has attracted many quality reporters over the years. But power
at the paper still flows down from the top, affecting hiring, firing,
promotion, assignments, and what reporters can do on particular assignments.
As noted regarding consumer reporting, if "New York" (the editors, reflecting
Times policy) doesn't like tough stories, reporters will learn to avoid
them, or leave the paper, and many good and principled ones have left.
If writers are too hard hitting in criticizing theatrical fiascos that
represent heavy investments, as Richard Eder was in the 1980s, or on local
developer abuses, as Schanberg was, they are eased out. In writing on
topics on which the Times has an ideological position and "policy," like
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or Russia and its "reform" process,
or health care refomm and the Social Security "crisis," the reporters
all toe a party line, which either comes naturally to them or to which
Just as Richard Burt was hired in the 1970s to provide the proper accelerated
Cold War thrust in Pentagon reporting, so during the Central American
wars of the 1980s, the Times deliberately hired and fired to achieve a
policy line that accommodated the Reagan-Bush support of contra terrorism
and the violent regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala.
The firing of Raymond Bonner and installation of Shirley Christian, James
LeMoyne, Mark Uhlig, Bernard Trainor, Lydia Chavez, and Warren Hoge assured
this apologetic service.
In short, reporters are underlings, and in an establishment paper like
the Times they will report within an establishment framework or leave.
Times is without question an establishment newspaper; as Salisbury says
of Max Frankel, "The last thing that would have entered his mind would
be to hassle the American Establishment of which he was so proud to be
What this means, however, is that the paper is not "without fear or favor"-rather,
it favors the establishment, and fears those who threaten it.
A footnoted version of this article is available from the author for $2:
2300 Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,
in Z Magazine
S. Herman is Professor Emeritus at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
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