Paul Rudnick wrote this answer for a New York City mother played by Bette Middler in Coastal Elites on HBO this year:
“I love the Times. I feel like it’s my child, or my parent. Do you know what the Times means to a liberal Jewish woman like me? On the census, when it asks for religion, I don’t put Jewish. I put the New York Times. Which I have delivered. The real Times. The newsprint Times. I know I’m old-fashioned, but reading the Times online is like having sex with a robot. I mean, it’s cleaner and it’s faster but you can tell the difference. OK, I’ll just say it. The New York Times online is the New York Times for the gentiles.”
The former New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb put it slightly differently to me, long ago: “The Times is in the same position as the Jews: it’s expected to behave better than everybody else.”
For a hundred years, for better or worse, no institution has played a larger role in American culture and politics. And no corporation with comparable clout has been continuously controlled by a single family since 1896.
This month, at 69, Arthur Sulzberger Jr will retire as company chairman, after decades of speculation that he would be the last Sulzberger to run the business.
In 2005, a vicious profile in the New Yorker asked: “Can Arthur Sulzberger Jr save the Times – and himself?” A couple of years later, Vanity Fair declared that he had “steered his inheritance into a ditch”.
As the New Yorker editor, David Remnick, put it to the Guardian this week: “As recently as five years ago, the biggest question was: “Is [Mike] Bloomberg going to own the Times or [Mexican billionaire] Carlos Slim?”
And yet, 11 days from now, Sulzberger will defy almost every expectation except his own and hand over a healthy, thriving enterprise to his son AG Sulzberger, giving the fifth generation of the Ochs-Sulzbergers the rudder of the enterprise.
“It’s a rare thing and a wonderful thing to see someone exit the stage on a note of real triumph,” Remnick observed.