Are New York Times publishers born stupid?

Media criticism.
March 31 2009 6:58 PM

Are Times Publishers Born Stupid?

Let's check the historical record.

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From the day [Sulzberger] walked into the building, he had to contend with the impression that he was an intellectual lightweight, and undeserving of his position at the paper. This early judgment, based as much on hearsay as any firsthand evidence, was never wholly erased.

It should be noted that during Punch's tenure as publisher (1963-92), the Times became a bigger, more important journalistic institution. Or maybe that should be "in spite of Punch, the Times became a bigger, more important journalistic institution." Perhaps he had the Forrest Gump thing working!

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If Punch was stupid, he was stupid enough to treat Arthur Jr. stupidly. In 1976, after getting Arthur Jr. a reporting job at the Associated Press' London bureau to season him for future employment at the Times, Punch arranged a job for his son's wife, Gail, at the United Press International's London bureau. From Tifft and Jones' book:

The first draft of his letter recommending Gail to the head of UPI betrayed doubts about his son's maturity and intelligence. "We think she is smarter than he is," Punch had dictated, but when his secretary, Nancy Finn, sat down to type the letter, she blanched. "You can't write that!" she told him. Chastened, Punch excised the offending sentence. To Finn, the incident was reminiscent of what Punch had suffered at the hands of his own father.

As best as I can determine, nobody—inside or outside the family—has insulted the intelligence of Arthur Jr.'s son, A.G. Sulzberger, who now reports for the Times and is considered an heir to the throne.

But it's early yet.

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Bowden unfairly dumps blame for the disastrous purchase of the Boston Globe on Arthur Jr. That deal went down in October 1993, and Punch didn't retire as chairman and chief executive until 1997. Send e-mail to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. Also, the stupid and the intelligent are invited to follow my Twitter. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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