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September 23, 2007
What did Pinch know and when did he know it?
Once again, the Watergate maxim that "the cover-up is worse than the crime" is proving valid. And Clark Hoyt, "public editor" (ombudsman) of the New York Times is playing the part of John Dean in what could be titled "All the Publisher's Men."
The revelations about the MoveOn "betray us" ad contained in Hoyt's column today raise serious questions about the integrity of the company's management. Members of the Sulzberger/Ochs family who control the Times have even more reason to be gravely concerned the very survival of their patrimony is being jeopardized by incompetence or worse on the part of Pinch Sulzberger and the management team he has installed.
The New York Times made a severe error when it violated its own policies in allowing a scurrilous personal attack on General Petraeus to be published in a full page ad and in providing a deeply discounted rate to MoveOn.org. Hoyt properly describes the discount as a "mistake." But that term is inoperable (to use another Watergate era expression) when it comes to the cover-up. When the paper's management was challenged and the company learned of the errors, it continued to maintain otherwise for almost two weeks.
There is no pleasant way to state this, but Rick Moran put it very well in the American Thinker blog section when he wrote: "... all the lies told by spokesmen for the New York Times have all been shown to be an effort to hide the truth from the American people."
Newspapers and other media properties must be perceived as interested in conveying the truth. The handling of the aftermath of this affair demonstrates by actions that the management of the company is indifferent to the truth. The damage to the brand of the company is catastrophic.
The needs of the journalism business aside, any expert in the field of crisis management will advise any management of a company embroiled in a scandal or crisis to get the truth out first, to be the ones delivering the bad news. That way the public can at least have confidence that the company is doing its best to solve the problem, and management at least has the ability to be heard and maybe even believed. Leaving the job of truth-telling to others means that management will always be on the defensive, and not on top of the story.
Instead of following the common-sense textbook pattern of action, Punch Sulzberger and his management team have sat on the truth, and left it to an internal investigator, someone outside the usual chain of command, to tease it out. And even as Hoyt's article was in preparation, and Sulzberger knew the truth was coming out, he continued to hide important facts. Hoyt writes:
"Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of The Times and chairman of its parent company, declined to name the salesperson or to say whether disciplinary action would be taken."
So Pinch is in effect saying to the Federal Election Commission, which is in receipt of a formal complaint on the ad as an illegal campaign contribution, that he will need to be placed under oath if the truth is ever to be fully disclosed. Pinch's ballyhooed cost cutting plan might need to add a few million dollars in unanticipated legal fees related to a federal investigation.
The headline for Hoyt's piece recognizes that these larger issues are at stake. The title of his column is "Betraying Its Own Best Interests." While the obvious reference is to the MoveOn ad itself, the resonance of the first word for a family which reportedly considers itself guardians of a sacred public trust is unmistakable.
For quite some time I have been urging members of the Sulzberger/Ochs family to wake up and remove Pinch from his leadership role in the company before it is too late. The company is in a downward spiral financially, strategically, journalistically, and now for all to see, ethically.
There is no longer any reason for the family to assume that the company will always be there for one of the clan to steer. Christopher Alleva demonstrated in American Thinker a week ago that the company is in dangerous financial territory, and that it could in fact be forced into receivership if it is unable to change the adverse trend its business results have taken. Pinch Sulzberger's strategic blunders have put the company in this bind.
The MoveOn scandal harms the company deeply, making the task of whoever will try to save the company all the more onerous. When Richard M. Nixon persisted in holding onto his power despite a looming impeachment effort, two senior members of his own political party came to him and convinced him that it was time to go before even more damage was done to the party, the presidency, and to the country.
Where are the Sulzbergers?
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.