THE TIMES AND THE HOLOCAUST. Media Log reader S.M.M. called my attention to this fine James Carroll column in yesterday's Globe on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Carroll writes about the New York Times' unseemly reluctance to describe the Holocaust for exactly what it was: genocide aimed primarily at Jews.
Carroll says he learned of this history while conducting a study at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, at Harvard's Kennedy School. The director of the Shorenstein Center, Alex Jones, is an expert on the subject: he and Susan Tifft are the authors of The Trust, the definitive biography of the Times' ruling family, the Sulzbergers.
The book is well worth reading. But this excerpt of an interview with Tifft and Jones, conducted in 1999, gets to the heart of the matter:
Equally interesting is the tale "The Trust" tells of the Ochs-Sulzbergers' conflicted dance around the question of the family's ethnicity. "The Jewishness of the family and how that has affected the news coverage of the Times is a very important aspect of our book," says Tifft.
"Adolph [Ochs, who founded the modern Times in the late 19th century] did everything he could not to call attention to the idea that this was a Jewish newspaper," adds Jones, "which meant sometimes turning a blind eye to terrible situations that involved Jews. He was afraid [that covering 'Jewish issues'] would attract the wrath of people who were enemies of The New York Times and would marginalize the Times' authority by saying they were just a bunch of Jews defending other Jews. He had it as a cardinal rule (which did not change until the 1960s) that the senior editor of The New York Times could not be a Jew."
Rarely observant, often not even self-identified as Jews, the Ochs-Sulzbergers nevertheless could not escape the often petty, sometimes catastrophic prejudice toward their ethnicity. The contradictions involved in trying to do so reached a crescendo during the Nazi era. "New York Times publisher Arthur Hayes Sulzberger (son-in-law of Tennessean Adolph Ochs) had encountered discrimination himself as a Jew," write Jones and Tifft. "He was very bitterly stung by the fact that he could not get into a fraternity at Columbia because he was Jewish. He was turned away at hotels because he was Jewish. But he very much wanted not to have The New York Times' authority compromised by being perceived as a Jewish newspaper. And you look back at the stories in those days, The New York Times did cover the rise of Hitler, it did cover what was happening in Europe, but when it came to the Holocaust, it buried the stories. Instead of putting them on Page One, they'd be on Page 12. They'd be short stories instead of long stories. The most telling example is when Dachau was liberated, the word 'Jew' was never mentioned, although the story itself appeared on the front page."
"This was a mistake, and The New York Times apologized on the centennial of the family's ownership explicitly for the way they handled the Holocaust," adds Jones. He believes that this and other examples of the newspaper's abdication of principle (suppression of information about the Bay of Pigs, editorial obtuseness during the Vietnam War) are a result of the publisher's desire to maintain the Times' influence on the political establishment.
The notion that the Times suppressed what it knew about the Bay of Pigs is a myth. In fact, the evidence shows that the paper published everything its reporters and editors had been able to confirm, on page one and above the fold. But that's a story for another day.
ALL KNOWN FACTS. Those of us who've been waiting for the Globe to weigh in on the Metro racism/sexism story in a significant way had to set aside some time this morning. I think it's safe to say that this effort, by Christopher Rowland and Charles Sennott, doesn't leave anything out.