Why New York Times praises ‘cancel culture’ but skips over its own racist history: Goodwin
In a recent article about Mount Rushmore, The New York Times said of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt that “each of these titans of American history has a complicated legacy.”
Reporters Bryan Pietsch and Jacey Fortin casually summarized the woke herd’s litany of grievances: Washington and Jefferson owned slaves, Lincoln was “reluctant and late” to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and Roosevelt “actively sought to Christianize and uproot Native Americans.”
Rushmore’s sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, didn’t escape unscathed. “Borglum had been involved with another project: an enormous bas-relief at Stone Mountain in Georgia that memorialized Confederate leaders,” the reporters wrote.
There was little in the story that was remarkable, and that was the point. The Times, as the chief media cheerleader for the chaos unfolding across the nation, routinely eviscerates America’s heroes, its culture and, through the paper’s 1619 Project, its founding.
Four years after it abandoned its traditional standards of fairness to try to defeat Donald Trump, the paper is now fixated on rewriting the story of America. The drive-by attack on the Rushmore presidents was part of its cancel-culture agenda.
Yet the Times has never applied to its own history the standards it uses to demonize others. If it did, reporters there would learn that the Ochs-Sulzberger family that has owned and run the paper for 125 years has a “complicated legacy” of its own.
That legacy includes Confederates in the closet — men and at least one woman who supported the South and slavery during the Civil War. In fact, Times patriarch Adolph S. Ochs contributed money to the very Stone Mountain project and other Confederate memorials the Times now finds so objectionable.
To be clear, I detest the Times’ determination to judge and revise history using criteria conceived 20 minutes ago. The paper’s Marxist-inspired activism and race-based fetish have taken it so far off course that it no longer functions as an actual newspaper.
Having spent my formative journalistic years at the Gray Lady, I came away with immense respect for the editors’ commitment to fair and impartial news coverage. That commitment started with Ochs, who, from the day he took control of the Times in 1896, insisted on a strict separation of news and opinion, a tradition that lasted more than a century. It was those traditions — fairness and safeguards against reporters’ bias — that gave the paper its credibility and made it the flagship of American journalism.
But those days are gone, with the standards eroded slowly at first and then abolished under current Executive Editor Dean Baquet. Every story these days is an editorial as the paper demands that every institution and individual conform to the Times’ views, or be denounced as racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and misogynistic. Because of the Times’ exceptional influence, its demagoguery is playing a major role in shredding the fabric of our country.
At the very least, the paper ought to be honorable enough to apply its freshly minted standards to its own past. If it did, I believe the owners, editors, reporters and stockholders would be shocked by what they discover.
Perhaps then they would understand that their company was built and run by people who, while great in some respects, shared many of the views and flaws they now self-righteously condemn in others.
The legacy complications begin with Ochs, a Tennessee businessman who took control of the struggling New York Times when he was just 38 years old. He already owned the Chattanooga Times, which he called a conservative Democratic newspaper — at a time when nearly all black citizens in the South were Republicans. As Ochs put it when he took control in 1879, the Chattanooga paper would “move in line with the conservative democracy of the South.”
He and his descendants continued to own the paper until 1999, including during the enforced segregation of the Jim Crow era. An example of the Chattanooga Times’ tenor involves the infamous Scottsboro Nine case of 1931, which involved false allegations of rape against nine black teens by two white women.
An editorial was headlined “Death Penalty Properly Demanded in Fiendish Crime of Nine Burly Negroes,” and the paper’s trial reporter called the defendants “beasts unfit to be called human,” according to “Racial Spectacles,” a 2011 book on race, justice and the media.
When Ochs came to New York, he brought his Southern sympathies with him. Ten years after he took over The New York Times, it ran a glowing profile of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The 1906 article was billed as a “Celebration of the Davis Centenary” and was published on “the anniversary of the great Southern leader’s death.”
Ochs’ parents, Julius and Bertha Levy, were German Jewish immigrants who met in the American South, yet had very different views on slavery.
While living with an uncle in Natchez, Miss., Bertha developed a fondness for it, a fact noted in family histories.
In “The Trust,” a 1999 authorized biography of the Ochs-Sulzberger families, authors Susan Tifft and Alex Jones write that Julius had witnessed slave auctions and described them as a “villainous relic of barbarism,” but Bertha “embraced a contemptuous antebellum view of blacks, and for the rest of her life was dogmatically conservative, even reactionary.” She was, they said, determined to preserve “the South’s peculiar institution.”
One of her descendants referred to her as “that Confederate lady.”
I am aware of no evidence or claims that any members of Bertha’s family owned slaves or participated in the slave trade.
During the Civil War, Bertha had at least one brother who joined the rebel army, and she herself was suspected of being a spy. On one occasion, she was caught smuggling medical supplies from Ohio into rebel-held Kentucky.
At the time, the family was living in Cincinnati, where Adolph was born in 1858, and a river separated the border states. Gay Talese, in his 1969 book on the Times, “The Kingdom and the Power,” recounts that Bertha had been threatened with arrest after she was caught taking quinine and other supplies over a bridge into Kentucky.
According to Talese and others, Bertha hid the contraband in a baby carriage.
In later years, Adolph Ochs and his younger brother, George Washington Ochs, each claimed to be the baby in whose carriage their mother hid the contraband. In 1928, The Confederate Veteran magazine admired Bertha’s boldness, writing that “for a Mother of Israel to defy her husband and an entire army was no mean assertion of militant feminism in those days.”
Her husband, however, was rattled by the smuggling, and Julius, who had served in the Union army, moved the family to Tennessee in 1864, an unusual migration to a Confederate state while the war still raged.
After Adolph took over the Chattanooga Times, brother George became active in local and national Democratic politics. He was appointed police commissioner, was twice elected mayor, then ran the library and school system. During all those years, Chattanooga was strictly segregated and was the scene of several notorious lynchings of black men.
In the last several years before his 1931 death, George, who had changed his name to Ochs-Oakes, simultaneously served as an officer of both The New York Times Company and the New York Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Meanwhile, Julius Ochs had died in 1888, and Union army vets who attended the funeral draped an American flag over his coffin.
But as Robert Rosen noted in his 2000 book, “The Jewish Confederates,” Bertha’s 1908 funeral was different. “She was a charter member of the A.P. Stewart Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and members of her chapter attended the funeral,” Rosen wrote, adding: “Her coffin was, at her request, draped with the Confederate flag.”
Adolph, the family star and breadwinner, is said to have been especially close to his mother. In 1924, 16 years after her death, he donated $1,000 so her name would be engraved on the founders’ roll of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial in Georgia, which features enormous carvings of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on horseback.
According to Civil War Times magazine, Ochs enclosed a letter with his donation in which he said of his mother: “Robert E. Lee was her idol.”
The magazine says Ochs helped to fund Confederate cemeteries in Tennessee, Confederate Veterans’ reunions and the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. It also says his newspapers published numerous editorials “and commemorative editions dedicated to Confederate veterans’ activities.”
Ochs was a generous philanthropist in Chattanooga and in 1928 donated land and a reported $100,000 to build a new temple there. The building still stands and the Julius and Bertha Ochs Memorial Temple serves about 200 Jewish families.
Seven years later, Ochs died suddenly on a visit to Chattanooga. For his funeral, the United Daughters of the Confederacy “sent a pillow embroidered with the Confederate flag to be placed in his coffin,” Civil War Times reported in 2012.
The same article, by Dr. David J. Jackowe, sparked an uproar when it claimed that certain ceramic tile patterns in the Times Square subway station were meant to echo the Confederate flag and were put there to honor Adolph Ochs and his Southern sympathies. The station was built in the basement of the Times’ first Midtown tower, which led the city, at Ochs’ request, to rename what had been Long Acre to Times Square. The station was reportedly remodeled in 1998, but numerous examples of the pattern — a blue “X” against a red and white background — remained.
After The Post reported on the controversy in 2015, the MTA denied any Confederate connection, with a spokesman saying, “It is a geometric pattern, not a flag design.”
Yet in 2017, after violence broke out in Charlottesville, Va., over the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, the MTA switched signals. Now it promised to change the subway tile design so that it is “absolutely crystal clear” that it has nothing to do with the rebel flag.
New Yorkers can make up their own minds because the MTA, per usual, never finished the job, as a Post photographer proved last week.
In a long, flowery tribute after his death, the congressional record of the House said, “The story of Mr. Adolph S. Ochs . . . was the story of The New York Times. They are inseparably woven.”
Indeed they are, largely because Ochs was determined to keep the paper in his family well beyond his life. He and his wife, Effie Miriam Wise, the daughter of a prominent Cincinnati rabbi regarded as the founder of Reform Judaism, had one child, daughter Iphigenia. But Ochs rarely hired female reporters, and there was little chance Iphigenia would become the next publisher. The job went to her husband, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, and then to their son-in-law, Orvil Dryfoos.
Upon his death, Iphigenia’s son, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, became publisher. The men-only pattern continues to this day, with Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. following his father. His son, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, now holds the job. That makes five generations of white male heirs running the Times, all chosen under the protection of an unusual trust that allows family members to retain majority control of the board of directors.
It’s hard to think of any other important American company — a public one at that — with such a long line of family succession, but it’s easy to imagine how the Times’ social-justice warriors would treat any other firm that even tried.
Moreover, with the exception of the last two top editors, all others were white men. Before Baquet, who is black, there was Jill Abramson, who was fired after three years. The paper’s last public editor, Liz Spayd, said she was struck by the “blinding whiteness” of the staff when she first entered the newsroom. The Times, like many other corporations of all kinds, has been sued by black employees charging racial discrimination.
In any other company, and with so much wealth accumulated by one family, that record would be fair game for the paper’s journalists, especially given the Confederate connections. In that spirit, it’s time for the Times to clean out its closet and live by the standards of purity it demands of others. For a thorough, honest examination of its checkered past, the paper should assign a team of its top investigative reporters to the project.
They would get total access to corporate leaders and documents and be free to interview their colleagues. Their marching orders would be to examine the Times in the same way they would examine any other institution, which means they are free to use anonymous quotes. In effect, the paper would be taking a big dose of its own medicine.
Whatever the results, they should be published on the front page, under the motto that Adolph Ochs put there in 1897: “All the news that’s fit to print.”
Then, hopefully humbled and cured of its supremacy delusion, the Times could get back to being a real newspaper and report the news instead of fomenting chaos and division.