New York Times chairman Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, Jr. is hurt. It is a bite-your-lower-lip-until-your-eyes-tear hurt, a wrists-at-your-hips-well-I-never kind of hurt. He has publically been called "a girly man" by FOX impresario Rupert Murdoch.
Why, it's enough to make a grown man cry, especially one as sensitive as Pinch as he closes in on 60 years. He's complained to the FOX chief many times about the unflattering gossip regularly floated by one of the Murdoch holdings, the New York Post. But Murdoch, a bare-knuckles Australian expatriate called a "raging septuagenarian" by New York magazine, just chuckles...and lets it fly. After all, he thinks of "young Arthur" as "a sort of poofter." That's outback, mates, for weak-kneed, weak-willed, and sissified. In Murdoch's view, there are no Bloomin' Onions on Pinch's menu. Murdoch gets to Pinch as no one can. Of course, Pinch makes it easy, combining insufferable arrogance and dim-witted entitlement in a way that makes even reliably liberal media watchers groan. Witness the doubling of his compensation to $6 million last year while layoffs and salary cuts were the orders of the day for those at the company who traveled the wrong birth canal. However, leave it to Murdoch and his executives, who view media competition as just another form of rugby, to keep the pressure on Pinch. They take pleasure in letting the pampered New York Times heir know that he has shown himself to be especially ill-suited for that scrum called life. The FOX News hit "Red Eye," for example, regularly uses a nitwit mascot named Pinch to lampoon the jaw-dropping stupidity on display in elite media outlets, especially the New York Times.
Murdoch is betting that his "special understanding of how to get under Sulzberger's skin," as Vanity Fair put it, will rattle the man-child who leads a clan at least two generations removed from dimwitted. This is a key tactic in the attack launched by Murdoch's Wall Street Journal on the advertising and readership base of the New York Times.
Even before the missteps of this decade, Pinch had already established himself as the leader of, as The Weekly Standard colorfully described it, a "self-worshipping clan and [its] surly and talentless children." Pinch "has steered his inheritance into a ditch" and continues to prove true the verdict of Times-watcher Thomas Lifson, who three years ago saw at best "slowly accelerating decline." And so Young Arthur's considerable weaknesses are fair game for Murdoch. The rugged Aussie loves a good fight -- especially against someone he regards as a weak, easily angered child of privilege who "is a symbol of the Times' hypocrisy, its smugness, and its shortcomings." Hence the Wall Street Journal, under the rough-and-tumble direction of former Australian-rules footballer and longtime Murdoch executive Robert Thomson, featured Pinch's face in a collage illustrating "more feminine-looking men." Feminine!? And Pinch calls again: How dare Murdoch feature his face in an article about the decline of "manly men"! Doesn't Murdoch read the articles about him, the ones that describe his passion for rock-climbing, a rugged man engaging in rugged sport at his rugged weekend retreat? Hey, we're talking Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger here, rippling muscles and dizzying cliffs and all. And so Pinch whines. And Murdoch laughs, because Pinch is Sylvester Stallone only if Rocky plays with Barbie dolls. That rugged retreat features two John Edwards-scale homes, complete with swimming pool, maids, and gardeners...and hiking trails with, admittedly, rather steep hills. And his manly-man weekends begin with an 80-mile limo ride, well-stocked with bottled water (only prudent, stay hydrated), up the New York State Thruway. Then a stop at Jack's Deli, where he engages in the usual pursuits of manly men: as one companion described it, swapping stories "about making quenelles de brochet" (a gourmet French dish and staple of such rugged eateries as Le Cirque). And so it goes for Young Arthur, who is Clint Eastwood riding into town on My Little Pony.
Pinch can feel the contempt floating up from the Wall Street Journal offices in the financial district, picking up steam as it absorbs the derision emanating from Murdoch's lair over his FOX News operation on Avenue of the Americas, and finally landing two blocks over and six down in his Times building office next to the electronic billboard with the dazzling message, "The Ultimate Luxury: BMW."
Luxury. Entitlement. Living the Pinch life, leading the Times into losing more than 80% of its value at the same time Murdoch has built a $30-billion international media empire. Why, only this month the New York Post gossip page again questioned his business acumen. Hey, just because he "wrested" in 2003 from the Washington Post a declining International Herald Tribune, sank a cool $100 million into the property, and put a cousin in charge -- only to see its value decline to nearly nothing this year in competition with Murdoch's European edition of the Wall Street Journal. But Pinch, he's going to show him. He's going to lead the Times into digital glory and show the world -- and Murdoch -- that when the tough get going, the quenelles de brochet get tough...or something like that. The old news is that his first online play ended in ignominy three years ago; but the new news is that he's now put together a surefire formula for victory in the age of internet. This time, he's going to do it right, putting in charge a nephew, David Perpich, 33. With five generations of Sulzberger blood trickling through his veins, Perpich will give Murdoch and company a run for their money. You see, Young Arthur knows men, and David Perpich is a man...the man, in fact, to lead the charge against the Wall Street Journal. Arthur views Perpich as "the most accomplished of the new generation of Sulzbergers" who, as Gawker sarcastically put it, "is a digital wizard who's thoroughly mastered Twitter " and devoted most of his post-college years to mastering the art of digital "scratching and beat juggling" from Jam Master Jay of Run DMC.
Think about it -- a Sulzberger who tweets and scratches! Blood will out.
Over on Sixth Avenue, Rupert Murdoch is grinning a rather savage grin, the same grin he wore while breaking the backs of the labor unions in Britain, while battling the established wisdom of the media elites who knew that FOX News would not work. It is a grin that says he knows something that Young Arthur does not, that the media business is rugby, and -- as the bumper sticker says -- "it takes leather balls to play rugby." And Young Arthur? Well, Young Arthur's game is powderpuff football. You may read about it in the Wall Street Journal.
h/t Thomas Lifson
Stuart Schwartz is on the faculty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.