Message to Chairman of New York Times Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr: Don’t Jump!

How dare Vanity Fair print such a cruel and heartless article about Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the publisher and chairman of The New York Times? How can a man possibly summon the energy and enthusiasm to get out of bed, get dressed and face the problems the Times is facing with a nasty journalist like Mark Bowden gleefully and gratuitously tearing chunks off him?

Note how Sulzberger is characterized in attributed and unattributed descriptions in Bowden’s article called “The Inheritance” in the May issue of Vanity Fair:

His buck teeth give the impression of puerility. He listens impatiently and impulsively interrupts. He makes stabs at humor. He is long winded, affected, fussily articulate, eager to impress, insubstantial and slightly glib. He exaggerates. He has hit-and-miss witticism. He’s arrogant, not especially intellectual and a Star Trek Fan. His mind wanders. He’s a prince-in-waiting. He has the personality of a 24-year old geek. He’s provincial, sarcastic, uses poor judgment and lacks conviction. He’s condemned to stand apart from others. His career has progressed in prodigious and unearned ways. He’s timid. His efforts are half-hearted. He’s a light-weight. He’s out of his depth, fails to impress and elicits pity. He doesn’t always wear shoes in the office. He promotes people based on how “fun” they are. As a reporter, he was competent if unspectacular. He hides behind barbs. No weight seems to adhere to him. He has no radiance (power). He’s not deeply respected. He’s a lightweight cheerleader. He has a high-pitched and zany laugh. He’s overmatched. He looks dismayingly small. He’s shrinking. He’s childish. He’s goofy. He’s steered his inheritance into the ditch. He’s squandered billions. He’s the wrong person at the helm. He’s an unappealing and stereotypical figure. He’s weak and pampered. He’s a diluted strain of the hardy founding stock. He’s a man who sees himself as both journalist and business manager, but who, in fact, is fully neither.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Backstabs AND frontstabs.

And Mark Bowden presumes to call the target of his castigating article, “Arthur.” I’ll bet that’s “Mr. Sulzberger” to you from now on, Mark Bowden.

Bowden’s article is long-winded and full of poorly weighted contradictions. (Whoever edited his article at Vanity Fair: You’re FIRED!) On the one hand, he portrays Sulzberger as a failure-in-waiting for making bad decisions, even though, according to Bowden, everyone felt those decisions seemed smart at the time. On the other hand Bowden reluctantly agrees that poor, dumb bastard Sulzberger had the foresight to create what is now “the best newspaper Web site in the country.”

Look, I am assuming that it is just a matter of time until we all become weaned from our coffee-and-newspaper-to-go mornings and check in with increasing frequency to The New York Times online. Bowden, who is 58-years-old, must be stuck in his own personal time warp and typing away on his old Smith Corona if he doesn’t “get” this. As Peter Osnos, former Washington Post reporter said to Bowden, “Arthur has . . . re-invented the newspaper on several levels and positioned it for the future.”

Say What? It’s a Myth that Good Journalism Sells?

Bowden also accuses Arthur Sulzberger Jr. of buying into the “myth” that great journalism sells. Myth? If the Chairman of The New York Times is wrong about a newspaper’s quality of journalism being of value to attract readers, then Mark Bowden, former Philadelphia Inquirer staff reporter for over 20 years, should not have been taking a paycheck. If Mark Bowden doesn’t think a newspaper’s reputation has value, he should stop boasting in his online bio about his book, Black Hawk Down, being on The New York Times Best-Seller list for over a year.

At Last, A Little Credit for “Young Arthur”

Bowden agrees there are “crushing forces at work in the newspaper industry that are certainly not Sulzberger’s fault and that are affecting every other decent paper.” Bowden also says that Sulzberger had “presided over a decade of unprecedented prosperity.” Bowden even uses the word “visionary” with regard to Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

So why humiliate Arthur? (I don’t think he’d mind ME calling him Arthur! I’ve got his back; I’m not driving him to the window ledge.)

Although Bowden disparagingly describes Arthur as having a strongly held belief that excellence in journalism will prevail and that the money will follow, Bowden also states that Sulzberger is “the best defender of quality journalism” and a man “whose convictions regarding journalism are beyond reproach,” and a man who is “clearly smart,” and “eager to defend reporters’ freedoms . . . ”

Hey, Arthur Sulzberger sounds like a guy for whom Mark Bowden, aging journalist, might like to work.

Good luck with that now, Mark!

Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Am I one of just a few Times’ readers who would miss the print edition terribly? One of my favorite quotations seems apt here: “You’ll remember not the words of your enemies, but the silence of your friends.” — Martin Luther King

18 Responses to “Message to Chairman of New York Times Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr: Don’t Jump!”

  1. Sarah N. Says:

    Harsh words from Bowden . . . and you. Go get ‘em, girl.

  2. Cherie Says:

    Oh, how I wish you were on my side during some of the tougher things I’ve fought! You are a champion among champions and worthy of praise on this one. I’d have never gotten through that article had I picked up that issue of “Vanity Fair” but had to see where you were going with it. Free speech? In my opinion this is a gross misuse of this freedom.

  3. Bonnie Calhoun Says:

    Whoa! That was pretty nasty. I hope they are not friends because with friends like that who needs enemies.
    Bonnie Calhoun
    I dunno…I think Arthur Sulzberger has been around publishing a lot longer than Bowden, and with this Bowdenesque rant we may be getting a glint of an example as to why this low-class Mark Bowden won’t survive in the industry as long!

  4. The Curmudgeon Says:

    Bowden is very kind to Pinch. He could have compared him to Alec Baldwin. The NYT has degenerated under the rule of Pinch to a comprehensive left-wing rag. Bowden does not even go near the rabble that are called columnists- the sophmoric MoDo, L’il Tommy, the monumentally uninformed Bob Herbert, and the lying Kristoff, and the other borderline retards. Yet the non-political coverage is still about as wide as it gets. So I still read it for its selective variety. Lynne, you wasted my time.

  5. Dave Newton Says:

    I’ve started to read the offending article, and I should probably wait until I finish before commenting, but, obviously, I’m not. The latest Mr. Sulzburger has been a whipping person of the media pundits for some time. His father’s nickname was “Punch.” Wags have dubbed the current scion “Pinch.” Some of the scorn is no doubt deserved. In this age of snark, in New York, given Jason Blair, et al, this Arthur would have to be a big target. You may be overreacting to this latest VF circulation play, WW — packaging a list of every pejorative the article contains and beating us over the head with them isn’t exactly a fair and balanced precis.

    Mr. Bowden has tried to produce a penetrating, somewhat balanced piece of journalism here, I think, being careful to be tart and snarky; I don’t think I’ll feel that it’s all libel when I’m done reading. But, what if it is? The New York Times is fair game.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Dave, you’ve got to finish reading the article. I don’t think Bowden’s article is balanced at all. I also think the writing is just a little too gleefully mean-spirited to be called good journalism.

  6. Bridget Says:

    What a champion of fair journalism you are WW. Think you should forward the article to Sulzberger immediately; I’ll bet he’d like to have a loyal and brilliant journalist like yourself on his team at the NYT. The VF article sounds as though it was written by someone with a personal agenda. Well done for a thoroughly riveting article WW and for drawing our attention to it.

  7. Tom Clavin Says:

    WW:
    There was also an article in the January issue of The Atlantic speculating on a world without The New York Times, and it wasn’t pretty. Obviously, Bowden’s harangue went to press before the Times earned five Pulitzers last month. This paper is an easy target because it is the best newspaper in the world — maybe not 365 days a year, but most of them. Bowden has been good to me and I haven’t read the article, but I do think beating up on the Times when it is at the forefront of newspapers struggling to exist does not help the just cause of journalism . . . which pays people like Bowden and me.
    Tom Clavin

    Fox Company Bk

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Tom is the author of 11 books, including Halsey’s Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue (published in 2007 and hit #22 on The New York Times Best-Seller List) and The Last Stand of Fox Company: A True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat (published in 2008 to rave reviews).

  8. ivan Prokopchuk Says:

    It used to be a rule with journalists in Canada not to attack another writer.

    Hey, this is kamikaze!

    Ivan

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Perhaps that accounts for the eerie silence that accompanied the Vanity Fair article by Mark Bowden. (Ivan Prokopchuk is a Canadian writer. He has written for all three Toronto dailies and many weeklies. He is the author of four novels.)

  9. Dave Newton Says:

    OK, I’ve read the whole, endless article. You pays your money (or not — read it online for free), you takes your choice: (1) blow your top over the unflattering portrait of Mr. Sulzburger — never mind that (a) this is not a novel thing to do, and (b) the facts are unflattering — or (2) see this article as a comprehensive commentary on the dreadful state of all newspapers, and the price to be paid for sleeping through fundamental, universal change in information technology.

    Dave Newton

    Sorry. I love the Times, but it’s going to have to reinvent its management process, or die. The truth hurts.

  10. Lynne Says:

    I forgot to mention that Mark Bowden also says that while Sulzberger Jr is a “careful steward, what the Times needs today is some wild-eyed genious of an entrepreneur.”

    I agree. In fact, I believe “Young Arthur’s” Round Table — which might be the Board — should comprise a mix of business people with legacy knowledge about the publishing industry AND some young Turks with derring-do. Take a look at the Board of Directors of The New York Times Company.

    What do you think about their credentials and accomplishments given that the Times is down on one knee?

  11. Lynne Says:

    Check out Frank Wilson’s comment about this posting over at the blog, Books, Inq. — The Epilogue.Frank Wilson

    Frank is the retired book review editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Defending Pinch…

  12. Anon Says:

    I think a bit of pique over Pinch’s refusal to talk and his insistence that others not talk either is, I think, evident.

  13. Mark Says:

    June 1st, the daily NYT goes to $2.00 and Sunday’s to $5.00.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): The $2.00/day will push me to the Internet site, but I’ll still spring for the Sunday New York Times, a cup of coffee and a bagel at the local deli!

  14. Russell Bittner Says:

    Lynne,

    “Whoever edited his article at Vanity Fair: You’re FIRED!”

    Yup. I couldn’t agree more — though one would think a self-respecting journalist would know how to edit his/her own work beyond the pale (or pail).

    “Am I one of just a few Times’ readers who would miss the print edition terribly?”

    No, you’re not. But, I assume, you’re also not just one of many travelers who’d miss trains, boats and planes if they suddenly disappeared. We live in turbulent times. Newspapers, trains, boats and planes are luxuries. Let’s try to be content with food and a roof. Most of the world does just that — and sometimes, with much less.

    Russell

    No, Lynne, you’re not.

  15. Mike Savage Says:

    Interesting to read this stuff from the hinterlands. Bowden’s writing reminded me of what Stephen King’s said of his own work in his “On Writing.” King said that for much of his career he was too, too wasted to even remember what he had written. Maybe Mark’s misstep is symptomatic of some other needs not getting met. It’ll be interesting to see if any negative aftershocks in the publishing world reverberate back to Bowden causing tectonic harm to his career. Sort of a “No good deed goes unpunished,” potential here.

    And Lynn, about the per copy price. Last February in Ireland it was 2.25 to 3 Euros a day for the Irish Times and it’s brethren with no evidence of slumping retail sales that I could see. I’m thinking U.S. readers have had it so good for so long, pricewise, that the stress of paying as much for the paper as for the coffee is bordering on trauma.

    As I’ve long said: “Content is King.” For the Times? (Irish or otherwise?) I’ll pay.

  16. Peter L. Winkler Says:

    Most of the characterisation you quoted is a matter of opinion, not fact. Only frequent observers of Sulzberger can say whether there’s truth in Bowden’s portrayal of his subject.

    That being said, it’s sad but true that publishers and many readers have an insatiable appetite for mean-spirited gossip, and writers soon learn that this is expected of them. Someone once described Vanity Fair as People magazine wihout an inferiority complex.

  17. Lisanne! Says:

    Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wants to be dynamic, and that, I believe, is both his greatest strength and most troubling weakness. He’s taken the Times into the 21st century and has engaged the company in projects that have either succeeded beyond expectation or accumulated significant losses. Overall, however, he has been a positive force in journalism. The publication of a smear article right now is tasteless, the Times is having serious financial problems, and it’s no fault of Mr. Sulzberger’s. The article is rather childish, and really an unnecessary exercise in slash journalism.

    Maybe someone could write a similar piece about Mr. Bowden. Then again, who would care enough about the subject to read that article.

  18. Marian Schembari Says:

    Agreed. Yuck is all I can say to that. People (unfortunately) like scapegoats, especially if they’re the ones being affected.
    http://www.marianlibrarian.com
    @marianschembari

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