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Pinch Sulzberger's Legacy

By Thomas Lifson

The decline and fall of the New York Times accelerates, with today's anonymously-sourced hit piece on John McCain. I will leave to others like Rick Moran and Ed Morrissey the debunking of the story itself. What concerns me is the manner in which the CEO of the organization has jettisoned standards that once would have ruled out publication of such material.

"A fish rots from the head" goes an old Chinese saying. If it is true, as reported, that the story was controversial within the Times, and only ran because the paper feared that The New Republic would publicize the office politics at the Times over publication of the story, the Sulzberger's responsibility is all the greater. His inability to set clear guidelines, hire capable editors, and maintain newsroom harmony and discipline was about to be exposed to the public. To protect his hind quarters, he went with a disastrously bad story.

The proper response to TNR would be a statement that the Times does not rush into print with anonymously sourced accusations against the presumptive nominee of either party. And do it with a straight face.

Such an approach might have begun to undo the damage of Jayson Blair, a man promoted and retained despite obvious signs of trouble. Such an approach would be consistent with the Times' previous practice of seriously downplaying similar and much worse stories about Bill Clinton's sexual behavior. Such an approach might have begun to undo some of the damage to the institution of the Times inflicted by Pinch Sulzberger's management.

The corporation he heads is in the fight of its life, with the News Corporation-owned Wall Street Journal preparing to challenge it as a national general interest newspaper, while disgruntled shareholders search for a way to reform management, despite a dual class shareholder system which enables the Sulzberger family to elect a majority of shareholders despite owning only around 10% of the company's equity.

In the face of these challenges, The Times descends a full notch or two, resorting to partisan gossip that is inadequately sourced. This is not a way to enhance the value of the brand, nor to ensure the survival of the firm.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of American Thinker.

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