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The Gray Lady's Cassandra

Nearly ten years ago Joseph Epstein predicted that today's New York Times would be in a pinch.

12:00 AM, Jun 23, 2003 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
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THE TITLE of the May 1994 Commentary magazine essay was "The Degradation of the New York Times." Written by Joseph Epstein, the article was an uncanny forecast of the disaster that befell the Times almost a decade later. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. was publisher then and now.

If only Epstein could predict the Dow with the same accuracy as he did the course of the Times, we'd all be billionaires and one of us would surely be publishing our own newspaper.

Epstein quoted Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the pre-1994 publisher as saying about the paper's editorial policy: "I play a very active role in these things. They don't go the other way if I don't want them to." And, added Epstein: "His son appears determined to extend this activism, by taking a strong hand in hiring, newsroom management, and other day-to-day aspects of running the paper."

There is no question that Son Sulzberger did extend this activism, which means that, along with executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd, Son Sulzberger should also have resigned and handed over the reins to someone else.

Epstein said in 1994 that "the true politics of the new New York Times are to be found at work on the issues of feminism, racism, homosexuality, usually funneled through the totem of 'diversity,' which, reinforced by political correctness, I prefer to think of as totalitarian pluralism." He wrote:

In this respect, the Times has come more and more to resemble the contemporary university: out to achieve diversity, if need be, down the barrel of a gun. Enforced diversity creeps in everywhere. . . . None of this is very surprising, for Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. is himself committed to totalitarian pluralism.

Sulzberger was quoted in "Behind the Times," a book by Edwin Diamond, published in 1994, as saying: "We can no longer offer our readers a predominantly white, straight, male vision of events and say we're doing our job."

Adds Epstein: "The way Sulzberger has backed up his conviction is not only through the writing he publishes but also through hiring and promotion practices inside the paper." In other words, Jayson Blair was a disaster waiting to happen.

Epstein's conclusion in 1994:

There is, then, probably no hope of the Times's turning away from the campaign for an artificial--because enforced--diversity. . . . In the meantime, the cost in intellectual distinction, even in the appearance of distinction, has been staggering. Through the 20th century the New York Times, for all its shortcomings, has been this country's greatest journalistic institution. The continuing degradation of that institution in the era of cultural decline we are now living through is far from pleasing to contemplate.

That was written almost ten years ago. Quite clearly, there's one more resignation to go. Raines and Boyd were only following orders.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for the Washington Times.