The Gray Lady’s Old Man
Here is one of the longest obituaries you will ever read. The newspaper of record lost one of its own. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger served as chairman of the family-owned New York Times from 1963 to 1997. He was at the helm when the Times established its free speech heroics by publishing the Daniel Ellsberg-smuggled Pentagon Papers. Sulzberger’s grandfather, Adolph S. Ochs, bought the New York Times in 1896 in order to prove that newspapers could be decent and earn money. This was during the time of sensationalistic coverage and competition between William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. The Hearst/Pulitzer style was sex and violence on the front page, moralizing and common man crusading on the editorial page. The Grey Lady style is summed up in this newspaper policy published by Adolph Ochs in the Times:
It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society, and give it as early, if not earlier than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect or interest involved; to make the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to than end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.
Thus the seven-word motto we still see today on the front page: All the news that’s fit to print.
The Gray Lady is showing her age, but at least she has a certain civility missing in so much of our news coverage. Grandfather Ochs liked to say of his newspaper, “It does not soil the breakfast cloth.”