Ken Auletta has a long piece in this week's New Yorker on New York Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. "Young Arthur," as Auletta tells us he is often called, had had a bad few past yearsthe Jayson Blair scandal and the firing of top editor Howell Raines, the backing and then abandonment of reporter Judith Miller, the ham-handed and financially unrewarding takeover of the International Herald Tribune. The company's stock price fell 33 percent between December 2004 and October 2005. Not a very good performance for a man who has the job because his family owns a controlling share of the company. Perhaps the best summary of Auletta's piece comes in a quote. "Gay Talese, who, in the '60s, wrote the definitive history of the Times, 'The Kingdom and the Power,' says, 'You get a bad king every once in a while.'"
One issue Auletta does not address here is whether the increasing (in my view) left-wing bias of the Times is a problem. Young Arthur has made no secret of his own ideological leanings and, Auletta tells us, started off with a determination that no one would exert the control over the newsroom that longtime top editor A.M. Rosenthal did. Rosenthal also worked hard to keep the newsroom's left-wing bias from getting into the paper, with at least some success. Raines certainly did not do so, and the current top editor, Bill Keller, for whose reporting and writing I have the highest regard, doesn't seem to be turning things around. What I think we're seeing at the Times is the self-destruction of a great national institution.