Winners and Losers at the ‘Times’

Without Fear or Favor: The New York Times and Its Times

by Harrison E. Salisbury
Times Books, 630 pp., $17.50

Harrison Salisbury’s study of The New York Times is like the Times itself, painstaking but not often pain-inflicting. Burdened with the duty to be reverent, both are raised now and then to revelation—usually, in the case of the Times, toward the third paragraph from the bottom of the story.

Salisbury does not quite convince us—and who could?—that reading even the best newspaper helps us far toward understanding the way the world works. But thinking about the Times is a useful employment for anyone seeking to know how the world works; and Salisbury has done us signal service in fortifying that view.

His Times seems to have developed rather as the nation has—from a structure of innocence based on a sound foundation of commercial calculation, into a structure of commercial calculation on a foundation of estimable but enfeebling innocence. That progression is illuminated in the sermons of its founder and in the philosophy and practices of his two successor publishers:

To give the news impartially without fear or favor regardless of any party, sect or interest involved.

—Publisher Adolph S. Ochs, 1896

The Times, was prepared to print any statement made by the government if they permitted themselves to be quoted “whether we believe them or not.” However, if the government wanted something run without attribution “then we must impose our own judgment as to whether or not it is true and use the story only if we believe it is true.” [italics mine]

—Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, 1954

The Director of the CIA: “I hate to bug you on this.” The Publisher of the Times: “You do not bug me ever.”

—Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, 1974

Adolph S. Ochs, the Times‘s maker, conscientiously exempted government from an otherwise universal roster of parties, sects, or interests that could never hope to gain from his fear or favor. This singular concession to the whip of fear lost its writ long ago. The Times established such institutional permanence that our transitory federal administrations had better reason to be scared of it than it of them.

But the lure of favor continued, a never entirely resistible temptation to accommodate the partisan, sectarian interest we call government. When the Brothers Dulles were preparing their attentat against President Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954, Sydney Gruson, the Times‘s correspondent in Central America, manifested a curiosity so persistently vexatious that CIA Director Allen Dulles employed the stratagem of telling his friend and Princeton classmate, Times Business Manager-Julius Ochs Adler, that the agency’s file cast so much suspicion on Gruson’s political leanings that the nation would be better served if he were kept out of Guatemala.

The Times took respectful heed and bound Gruson to Mexico City while Dulles’s business in Guatemala was consummated without impediment by inconvenient inquiries. Arthur Hays Sulzberger had assumed that, in due course, Dulles would weigh in with material evidence to sustain his dark intimations against Gruson. None was forthcoming because none existed; Dulles …

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Letters

Not Heaven March 19, 1981

Not Heaven March 19, 1981