Steve Hayes and Sarah Isgur sat down last week with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger at the paper’s headquarters. Sulzberger recently wrote an essay in the Columbia Journalism Review detailing his approach to independent journalism, the alleged institutional hostility towards conservatives, and the path to rebuilding trust in news. The three discussed the difference between independent journalism and objective journalism, the public’s lack of trust in the mainstream media, and how to rebuild that trust in our polarized times. A transcript of their conversation follows.
Sarah Isgur: Let’s dive right in. Thank you so much for being with us. Today we are at the New York Times headquarters in New York City. An incredible building, beautiful. You’ll have been here 15 years or so?
A.G. Sulzberger: I think that’s about right. We already moved before I joined the Times.
Isgur: You’re sort of in the heart of the tourism area here in New York City as well. At the end of the T.G.I. Fridays and Red Lobster.
Sulzberger: It is a lot that doesn’t make the commute any easier.
Isgur: I wanted to start by asking, what is your metric of success?
Sulzberger: For the institution or for my role?
Isgur: I was actually curious how you’d answer it if I didn’t specify, is the truth.
Sulzberger: Okay. All right. Let me start with my role. I am the sixth member of my family that served as publisher of the New York Times. And as you can imagine, stepping in after 125 years of stewardship of the institution, I thought a lot about what success would look like, particularly in such a dramatically complicated environment. When I was named, it was not entirely clear whether we’d be able to find a sustainable business model to keep the lights on. Just a few weeks after I was named, Donald Trump is elected. And we fully start to process how polarized this country has become. And then three years later, you have the pandemic, adding a whole other set of challenges. So anyways it’s been a really challenging and complicated period. The way I think about success is pretty simple. Which is, can I hand off this institution in a stronger shape than it was handed to me? And, you know, one of the things that makes the New York Times special is that we do think over long time periods, and that we think over the course of a generation. And, I actually find that a really exciting, animating thought, because it really gives you and helps you frame: what are the challenges my generation is going to have? I’m happy to talk about those. One of the main ones is the thing I’ve been writing and talking about, which is ensuring the commitment, you know, this institution’s continued commitment to its model of independent journalism without fear or favor.
Isgur: We’ll get into so much of that, I think we want to talk a lot about that. But before we do, your metric of success, that makes a lot of sense. Another pretty open-ended question, what do you do all day? What is your job?
Sulzberger: Yeah, it’s not a self-explanatory title, publisher, right? Especially in an institution that has an executive editor, who has broad autonomy to run the news reporting, also an institution that has a CEO who has broad autonomy to run the business. So, but I suspect my days aren’t entirely unfamiliar to either of you, a lot of it’s on strategy. A lot of it is on the challenge of the moment, right? So in a moment, like now, you can imagine, I’m thinking a lot about AI, among many other things. And then, at the end of the day, a lot of it’s about people, making sure that the leadership team is strong and united, making sure that we have the right people at all levels of the organization. The advantage of my role, as I see it, is no matter how good and forward-looking your editor is, it’s really hard for them not to fixate on today’s news. And no matter how good and forward-looking your CEO is, it’s really hard for them not to fixate on this year’s budget and this quarter’s earnings. And one of the things that I can add is just a longer view, you know, someone staring deeper into the horizon. And that’s where a lot of my energy goes.
Isgur: Are you in the office every day? Are these mostly meetings or is there a meditation period where he gets to sit and think his big thoughts about what the next five years look like? Like literally what is your day?
Steve Hayes: Are you looking at me when you do that, like I have meditation periods? Just to be clear, I don’t have those.
Isgur: You’re all the things, you’re all three jobs.
Sulzberger: Yeah. So I’m in the office most days in meetings more often than I would care to be, like most executives. I do try to take time to think. Honestly, it’s something I learned as a reporter. I spent most of my career as a reporter. I should say a superpower of every reporter is the ability to ask questions of people who know more than you. And so, for me, a big part of my job is making sure that I’m constantly reporting on the industry, the broader landscape that the industry sits inside, and even reporting on the Times itself: what’s working, what isn’t, what am I not hearing in the place, and I do try to carve out some time every year to really make sure I’m stepping back, because otherwise, we all know, email is not our jobs, but email can easily become our jobs. Slack is not our jobs. But Slack can easily become our jobs.
Isgur: I was gonna ask if you’re on the New York Times Slack channels. And …
Sulzberger: So I spent some time there, but I really pulled back from Slack, basically, because I think it is to the advantage of the institution to have someone operating at a slower pace.
Hayes: All right, I’m getting off Slack, no more participation in The Dispatch Slack channels for me.
Isgur: You’re rarely on it to begin with. And it’s mostly to say, I don’t know what that word means.
Hayes: It’s true. You recently wrote an exhaustive piece. I mean that in the most positive way, in the Columbia Journalism Review …
Sulzberger: Is exhausting the word you were looking for?
Hayes: Exhaustive. Chose my words for a reason. And I really thought it was terrific. Did it run at about 12,000 words? Something like that?
Sulzberger: A little more than that. The longest thing I’ve ever written.
Hayes: Two questions about that. You make a distinction between independence and objectivity. And I’d like for you to explain what you see as that distinction and why it’s important. And the second question is maybe even simpler. Why did you write it?
Sulzberger: Can I take the second question first? Maybe? You know that the essay is basically making a case for a vision of independent journalism that I believe in. And that has a long history at this institution. My great-great-grandfather writes the phrase in his first day as publisher: to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, or sect, or interests involved. And that vision, which then was quite radical, in the era of the partisan press, then became quite mainstream. Right? Sort of, through most of the 20th century and into this century, is more fiercely contested at any point in my lifetime. It’s also harder than at any point in my lifetime. Just the act and process of independent journalism is harder than any point in my lifetime. And I talk to reporters every day who feel like, if they’re going to cover controversial topics, or write things that certain groups don’t want to hear, that they basically feel like they have to wake up and put on a suit of battle armor, to prepare themselves for the harassment and trolling and threatening, and, you know, efforts to, you know, damage or destroy their reputations. Which I know you at The Dispatch are aware of, right, a lot of your folks have been really serious recipients of those campaigns. So it’s more contested than ever, it’s harder than ever, I also really believe it’s more important than ever. It’s become clear to me that it’s not intuitive to the public why. And I felt someone should make a case for it. And make a case that doesn’t just assume why independent journalism is a good fit for any moment, but particularly this moment of misinformation and polarization and tribalism, and in my view, is actually the antidote to this moment. So that’s why I wrote the essay. As for why I talked about independence, this is sort of an academic, esoteric topic that us journalists think a lot about.
Hayes: But a pretty important one.
Sulzberger: Exactly, I think central to democracy, but maybe not one that the average voter feels grounded to then. So why not choose the word that most of the debate has sort of historically revolved around—this word “objectivity”? So for one, independence has more of a history at the New York Times, right? It’s actually the word my great-great grandfather gravitated towards in describing his vision for the Times, and it’s actually the only word he uses twice in his direction to the family about how the Times should be led into the future. But I actually think there’s also just a more practical reason why, which is “objectivity” is, for better or worse, one of those words that just inspires people to pull out the dictionary. And it inspires these very academic debates over: Can a person be objective? Or is it the process that’s objective? And beyond even that, I think it’s incomplete. Right? I think independence, you know, captures objectivity, captures neutrality, it captures impartiality and fairness, right? I think there’s a lot of words that feel core to me about the journalistic posture that we want to see that ladder up into independence. And independence is a colloquial word. It’s a word that when you say it to a person, they know what you’re promising them. So that’s why I use that word.
Hayes: You had some in recent months, some sort of old bulls of the profession make something of the opposite argument saying: no, no, now it’s time to take sides, we have to be explicitly and aggressively pro-democracy.The argument takes many forms. Was part of what you were doing responding to those claims, to those cases?
Sulzberger: So, I mean, the thing I’m slightly ashamed to admit is just how long it took me to write that essay on the side. it would have been …
Hayes: It could have been a mini-book.
Sulzberger: Yeah. So, it was nights and weekends for longer than I’d care to admit, as you can imagine, real life of running the Times kept intervening. So it took me a long time. So it wasn’t a response to any single argument. What it was was a response to is that general phenomenon that you just described. I felt like all the intellectual firepower was going towards dismantling the case for independence. And I felt that the folks on the other side of this debate felt their position was just sort of intuitively right—and didn’t need to make the argument. And as a result, I felt like our industry and the people who believe in the vision of independent journalism that I believe in, I felt like we were losing the argument, largely because we were sitting it out. And so I really wanted to try to reckon with, to forcefully and assertively make the case for why I think independence is suited, you know, not, again, not just for any moment, but for this moment when we know the stakes, right? You guys at The Dispatch are writing about the stakes constantly. And in some ways, it’s probably the animating thought of many of your careers, right? You know, in the career pivots that you all have made. And so I wanted to anchor it to a moment. And then I really wanted to reckon with the criticism, with the steel man version of what we’ve heard, rather than the straw man version.
Isgur: Arthur Brooks, a couple years ago, wrote a piece in The Atlantic. The headline was “Reading too much political news is bad for your well-being,” and his overall point was …
Sulzberger: His overall point is—so play Wordle?
Isgur: Yeah, exactly. I do every day. I’m very dedicated to it.
Sulzberger: Bless you.
Isgur: I’m on a 128-day streak, and the problem with that is that I now take it so seriously. Every day, you build up this problem. Yeah.
Sulzberger: I know, my streak is not as impressive as that. But I know the feeling.
Isgur: Well, when you’re at 20 days, you’re like, whatever, I’ll just guess. But like, as it gets higher and higher, all of a sudden, the cost just It’s overwhelming now.
Hayes: Nice humblebrag to sneak in there, isn’t it?
Isgur: You don’t know how short some of the streaks were before. All right, so he writes this. And he has, you know, a very Arthur Brooksian line and basically says, “reading all this political news, sharing it with your friends on social media, all of this might make you less happy, less well-liked, less accurate, and less informed.” Contradictory, right? This idea that you’re reading more news, but in fact, you will be less accurate. And there’s lots of academic studies about this. They’re really fascinating. And I wonder how you think then of the role of journalism, that can be this double-edged sword. Obviously, it’s an important role in any self-governing democracy and public to inform people about what’s going on with their government. To ask questions to the powerful and yet at the same time, it will make you less happy and less well-liked, less accurate, and less informed to consume too much of it. Are you selling the french fries and cheeseburgers of this generation?
Sulzberger: I’ve never heard someone describe the Old Gray Lady as the empty calories of the diet. I’ve tended to hear that reserved more for the entertainment products. But it’s an interesting take. Look, I don’t think any of us really believe the broader interpretation of that. I think there’s clearly some studies that suggest that news consumption can take unhealthy directions, or in particular that you can get locked into filter bubbles, right? That end up sort of locking you into a worldview more than having that worldview challenged. So I think that there are certainly risks that everyone should be aware of, and in how we provide journalism. But I think journalism is, it’s a pretty nutritious part of your diet, right? I mean, at its core, I think of facts. So journalists unearth facts, right? And, we’re one of the main sources of new facts and very specifically in journalism, we’re reporting on unearthed facts and reporting on unearthed new facts. And I think of facts as the essential lifeblood of a democracy. You go back and you read the writings of the founders, and all of them understood so plainly that the democratic experiment depended on an informed electorate. So, no, I believe that what institutions like the Times is selling, but also the Post, the Journal, you know, smaller places, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Dispatch, right? You know, we’re trying to give fact-based information to the public. I think it’s essential. And quite frankly, my critique of what’s gone wrong in this moment, it’s pretty much the opposite, right? Which is: 65 million Americans used to pay for a newspaper at the peak of print. I think the average was something like 1.8, 1.9, may have even been over two. Right? So that’s 130 million newspaper subscriptions. No newspapers were as big as the magazines, right? It’s Time, Newsweek, US News and World Report, Reader’s Digest, Consumer Reports. All these were much, much—many, many—factors larger than the newspapers. So, so, we had a public, a citizenry that was really steeped in their communities and their nations. And this has been particularly lost at the local level but, but also, to some extent, loss at the national level. That shared evening, broadcast ritual is something that has disappeared, right? That the modeling of engaging as a citizen by spreading the newspaper over the kitchen table, and having your kids watching you in the morning. To understand what it looks like to be engaged like that to some extent has disappeared. So I feel like news organizations like ours are trying to build back up that civic expectation that you need to be informed, that you need to be engaged.
Hayes: There are plenty of news organizations, well, maybe not news organizations, plenty of media outlets that aren’t doing that. What you’re describing is a certain, I would argue, slice of the media, as we, as we understand it now. There’s a large group of people who are dedicated to uncovering facts, new facts, if you can, and the truth in a broad sense. But there are also an increasing number of media outlets that are either dedicated to making people angry, monetizing clickbait, outrage—criticizing the people who are trying to find the truth. And there was a very interesting moment, in your recent interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker, where you’re talking about the importance of on-the-ground reporting and good journalism, and he says, “Are you saying that’s changed? That’s not happening anymore? That reporters are just sitting in rooms in front of a screen? I don’t think that’s the case.” And you jumped in and said, “Of course, it’s the case. It’s the least talked about, and most insidious result of the collapse of the business model that historically supported quality journalism.” I’m on your side on that. I think you’re right. And I can, there are news organizations in Washington, D.C., that require their young journalists to crank out as many as 10 “stories,” quote, unquote, that are nothing more than stealing reporting from the New York Times, slapping an outrage headline and trying to get a Drudge link, basically. Let’s talk about that, what is happening? Why is that happening? And how does it relate to the collapse of the model that you’re describing?
Sulzberger: Yeah, well, as you could tell, from my response, I find this profoundly worrying. So what happened is that the business model that supports it is, reporting is really expensive, right? It’s expensive work and it’s uncertain work. You can spend a lot of time on a story and then find out that your hunch was wrong. And then, your work product is a disproved hunch. Not one story, let alone five. So reporting is expensive work. And as the business model that supported journalism collapsed, I don’t think we tracked how much the time was spent of the jobs that remained. So the industry hemorrhaged tens of thousands of reporter jobs. And again, tens of thousands. You know, every community in the country had a reporter. When I was covering the tiny little town of Narragansett, Rhode Island, I went to every town council meeting, and every school board meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I sat at a table. I was working for the big paper, the Providence Journal, which is basically the state paper. And I was sitting next to two other reporters, one from the Narragansett Times and one from the South County Independent, right? So, this tiny little town was, you know, if 8,000 people, 10,000 people, was still big enough to support three full-time journalists, that’s remarkable. That has disappeared. And so, what’s replaced it? What’s replaced it is a digital model that is, much as you describe, people sitting at their desks—those desks are increasingly located in four American cities: New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and L.A. And when I say increasingly, I think it’s basically the percentage of journalists in America in those four cities has basically doubled over the last decade or so. And they sit at their desks and they have, they have to produce. The surprising upside is—that next generation, they’re very good writers. Why are they good writers? Because they have to be fast. And they’re writing about the same thing everyone else is writing about. So they have to have takes, right? And they have to make those takes interesting. So it produced very good writers but it’s also produced a generation that’s just not being exposed to the breadth of the country. What I said to David Remnick when we chatted is, you literally went from a model in which reporters are spending their days out in the world being confronted by the complexity of the human experience, right? Like literally back-to-back, you will interview someone who has been evicted from an apartment, and you will interview someone who’s evicted someone from an apartment. You will go to a court case, and you’ll listen to the prosecution and to the defense. You’ll talk to the accused and to the victim, right? And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a few jurors to talk to you at the end of this. So it’s impossible not to be confronted by the complexity of this incredible diverse society we live in. Now you’re going to a model in which you’re sitting at a desk with people who live in the same city and work in the same industry, indeed, work for the same employer. And instead of having your views challenged all day, you’re having your views basically hardened all day. And, I think that that has contributed in a meaningful way to this moment.
Isgur: Do you know the percentage of your New York Times staff that are people of color?
Sulzberger: Off the top of my head, we publish these stats publicly, so that’s easily available. Rather than say the wrong number, I think it’s about 35 percent.
Isgur: Women? That’s increased, I know.
Sulzberger: Women, I think it’s about 54 percent.
Isgur: What other types of diversity statistics are you all keeping track of? Do you know what percentage of your staff came from community colleges, or go to church every week, or own a gun?
Sulzberger: I think there’s a question implicit in there that I very much agree with, which is: There’s all sorts of kinds of diversity in this country that matter and if the goal of diversity in a news organization is to better cover the world, right? And the reason to care about diversity, aside from the moral reasons, is that you will better cover the world if you better reflect it, right? You know the example that I always use is that you could never imagine having a parenting blog without any parents, right? You know, expertise matters and background and experience matters and we benefit from that. Race and gender. That matters. And if we’re being honest as an industry, as a society, women and people of color were systematically excluded from the workforce for far too long, right? Even when I was named publisher, I think we had a dozen columnists, I think two were women. One was a person of color. I think there’s a really good reason to track those things. But they’re also not the only forms of diversity, right?
Isgur: And you talked a lot about this, and I want to give you credit for that, because you talk a lot about what you just said, right? There’s this hardening, there’s a lack of diversity of other types of diversity. But I find it interesting that in your organization, you sort of measure what matters. Why not measure those other types of diversity that I think you do care about?
Sulzberger: Yeah. So, you know, I once had a U.S. senator sort of grill me. Say, “I want you to ask every single person who you voted for in the last election!” And actually, a leader of a conservative news organization jumped in and said, “Senator, we would never do that. I have no idea who’s done that.” And I’m guessing you guys have been asked if you guys asked how many of your staff own guns and, and whether they’re, you know, attending services every Sunday. You know, to me, that feels like an inappropriate intrusion into people’s personal lives. Now, that said, I also think it’s really important to recognize that a huge number of this country is gun owners, a huge percentage of this country is going to church every Sunday. And you know, I’ll give you one example I’ve pointed to. David French, I think I mentioned this, in a recent interview, but, David French, your former colleague, who is doing such an astonishingly good job for us.
Hayes: Yeah, we know he’s good. Thanks.
Sulzberger: But look, you could point to something obvious, like, say he’s the only evangelical Christian on the page. And that’s true. You could also say, I think he’s the only lawyer among our columnists. And I actually think we benefit just as much from that law degree as anything. Especially in this remarkable stretch of Supreme Court cases. And you may have noticed, there have been some indictments of some prominent individuals. So he’s really applied that background. So I think it’s really important to look at diversity in a number of ways.
Isgur: Do you think that … I actually, for instance, think that you probably have more pro-life or gun-owning or religious attending staff, than people would otherwise think about the New York Times?
Sulzberger: I’m sure that’s true.
Hayes: Color me skeptical.
Isgur: But what’s interesting to me, is that I know they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that out loud, right? This idea that there are still favored and disfavored, there’s cultural aspects to any workplace, not just the New York Times, God knows. And that it comes with a certain credibility judgment I think in reporting. I think there’s this idea that if you are a gun owner, you’re going to write more gun-friendly pieces. That is not my point on diversity, I don’t even think that’s true. I grew up in a gun-toting part of the country. And I think it makes me both more sympathetic and more skeptical of certain arguments. But it’s a credibility issue. When someone who agrees with you walks in and says a fact, you sort of assume that’s true if it fits with everything you’ve ever known living in San Francisco or whatever. And that if someone walks in and says the opposite, you’re fact-checking it six ways to Sunday. That seems like the bigger problem. And if folks don’t know that 20 percent of the people that they work with are pro-life, it can create more of a monolithic culture than there even actually is.
Sulzberger: So you, you’ve said a few things there. One is, would people be comfortable talking about this stuff? And I’ll push back on you on that. And, you know, I’d encourage you to ask David French, or some of our other conservative colleagues—why am I pointing to the opinion page? It’s because opinion columnists wear their politics on their sleeves—about whether they felt welcomed and treated collegially here. But let me also agree with your underlying premise, and I talked about this in my piece, which is: Journalism is disproportionately pulling from two populations, right? And actually, almost exclusively pulling from two populations: college-educated people and people who live in big cities, going back to the statistics I shared earlier. Pretty much everyone at the Times is college educated. Not everyone – our executive editor didn’t have a college degree, Dean Baquet ran the paper for almost a decade and stepped down last year. So not everyone, but disproportionately. And everyone does work in a big city, right, most here in New York, but we have big offices elsewhere around the country and, and in the world, but mostly in cities. So if you just look at polling, those populations are less likely than the general public to own guns, less likely than the general public to be pro-life, and less likely than the general public to register as a Republican, right? That’s just objectively true. So then the question is, are you a prisoner to those blind spots—whatever blind spots may emerge? Or can you actually create a culture that is built around constant interrogation of one’s own blind spots? And that’s what independence is to me, right? Independence isn’t like a spirit that lies deep within us that only the strongest have. It’s a continual commitment to journalistic humility, right? It’s a willingness to have an open mind on the things that people say you should not think and have a skeptical mind on the things that people say you should think, right? It’s a willingness and a genuine curiosity to talk to people who are different, and to really engage with their ideas and a willingness to be surprised. And so just to go to the abortion example, because I think it’s one of the easiest to point to because it’s such a polarized issue. And I think you’d be absolutely right to say that most American journalists are probably on one side of that issue. But if you really look at our coverage—we’re sitting in a podcast studio used by the Daily; go back and listen to the, I think we did five-ish podcasts after the Roe v. Wade leak, and then the ultimate decision. And the first one was entirely an episode entirely from the view of the pro-life movement, that was celebrating this victory and what it meant and what they plan to do next. Then the next episode was the exact opposite, from the pro-choice movement, and what it meant. And then a number of other episodes that explored the various complexities of the decision, about the consequences, where the battle lines are going to be redrawn. And if you look at our opinion pages, you know, we had guest essays from all those points of view. We have Ross Douthat as a columnist fiercely making the case for life—- against abortion. And then you have columnists like Michelle Goldberg fiercely making the case for choice and for abortion rights. To me, a lot of what I’m pushing for is … these aren’t intrinsic qualities necessarily, that we have? It’s a process that we commit ourselves to—and when we really commit ourselves to it I think we produce better work.
Hayes: I think it’s important for you to articulate that. I mean, I like the phrase “journalistic humility,” and the fact that you’re saying that, I think probably will be. … it sends a message to the newsroom, I think. Let me, if I can, go a little bit further on this question. Sort of ideology, philosophy, partisanship, covering politics. You pointed out, in your Columbia Journalism Review essay, that journalism faces this pretty massive credibility problem right now. And I’m tempted to go through all the numbers. I won’t, but suffice it to say that the latest Gallup polling bears that out. 34 percent of Americans trust the media to report the news fully, fairly, and accurately. Seven percent of Americans say they have a great deal of trust and only 27 percent say they have a fair amount of trust. It’s a big gap. And I think people are, we’re right to talk about it in terms of a broad credibility gap.
Sulzberger: And it’s worth saying that those numbers are the lowest in American—in recorded polling.
Hayes: Yes. When Gallup was first asking these questions, 72 percent of Americans had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence, compared to just 26 percent, who didn’t, and that was in the mid-1970s. So I think it’s important to look at that in sort of a broad perspective. But there’s a bigger problem. And I think a better discussion of this involves the partisan gap between—it really isn’t just that Americans of all stripes don’t buy what they’re getting from journalism, it’s Republicans and conservatives.
Sulzberger: Yeah. And if you go back and you look at that partisan gap, it’s really striking. Starting around Eisenhower, which is basically the beginning of consistent polling in the country. So around Eisenhower, you see, basically a 5 percent gap between Democrats and Republicans. That 5 percent gap basically holds to early mid-2000s. So to G.W. Bush in office. And then it starts to spread. I would describe it as gently, mildly, it starts to spread. And then with Trump, it widens into a chasm. And I haven’t looked at the latest numbers, but at one point, it was something like 80/20. It was 60, a 60-point gap, right, 5-point gap, most of modern American history. 60-point gap. You know, as recently as a few years ago, maybe even still today.
Hayes: Yeah, let me recast those numbers a little bit by relying on Gallup for consistency’s sake. And because I think, I think the break comes earlier. If you’re looking at the mid-1970s, when Gallup began asking these questions, 75 to 63, Democrats trusted the media more. Republicans a little bit less. And then you saw it sort of gradually widen, until you get to the point where you’re in 2014, 2015—a little bit before the Trump era—and you have a much more significant gap. You have Republicans saying that they, it’s, I think, a 25-point gap. I don’t have it right here in front of me. And then the Trump era comes and you have Donald Trump weighing in and calling the media “the enemy of the people,” and the gap widened significantly to the point where it’s a crisis. I think it is a crisis. I guess my question – or starting point for the question is: It seems to me there’s a reason that Republicans were so open to the argument that Donald Trump made, that they shouldn’t trust the media. And that there were sort of pretty significant differences in the way that the mainstream media, and I would include the New York Times as sort of a driver of this as, you know, the leading media company in the United States, covered Republicans versus covered Democrats. Do you buy that? Do you understand why conservatives and Republicans brought that skepticism and were open to the arguments that Donald Trump was making?
Sulzberger: Look, I certainly understand it. And I hope you you saw in the piece and are hearing me today point to the grains of truth—I also think there’s grains of truth in some of the critiques on the left, you know, such as our coverage of minority communities that weren’t represented in our newsroom or other newsrooms as well. I think there are definitely grains of truth. I also think, on the other side, we have to reckon with the reality that there has been a systematic campaign to discredit what you just called the mainstream media. And I think there was a really interesting episode that is worth pointing back to. So if you could think of someone who is like a classic American political figure, who sort of, core to their identity, was sort of riding above partisanship, and not participating in sort of broad campaigns, calling the journalists the enemies of the people, or they’re fake news, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone better than John McCain. Right? So if you’re someone who believes in John McCain, you know, for the last 15 years since he ran for election as the Republican nominee for president, you would have had good reason to believe that the New York Times tried to sink John McCain unfairly and his candidacy unfairly because we wrote this scandalous and untrue thing that John McCain, an honest man, said was a lie. And that the Times was pressured into, you know, I can’t remember if we corrected or sort of amended it, but basically walked away from and that was an article we wrote about a relationship that the article said he had …
Hayes: An extramarital affair.
Sulzberger: An extramarital affair with a lobbyist, a prominent lobbyist. And, you know, I think there was, it’s been a while since I read the article, so I won’t characterize it. So, for 15 years that had been used against the New York Times by conservatives, as yet another example of how we’re just trying to knock people out and we were trying to help Obama win or whatever. Last year his, either chief of staff or campaign manager, I can’t remember, wrote a remarkable document coming clean, that he had been asked to lie about it, by McCain directly, and he called it an unforgivable thing that he had been asked to do and unforgivable that he had done it. And so for the last decade or longer, three of my colleagues have had this stain on their reputations, not because they wrote something that was wrong. This chief of staff or campaign strategist acknowledged it was correct. They had a stain because someone was trying to avoid a political hit. And it was really easy to blame the media. And so anyway, so I am not saying that there’s never any legitimacy to this, I’m certainly not saying we don’t ever get things wrong, right? We publish more words than Shakespeare published his entire career every single week here at the New York Times. Like we basically publish a number of words that is in the Encyclopedia Britannica, every six to seven months. So it’s a huge amount of output. So, we get things wrong, but we really move heaven and earth to get it right. You know, you may have heard that we’ve been attacked for our work exposing Hillary Clinton’s email server. Right? We were the first to report on the existence of that email server and continued to report on it aggressively because it was a noteworthy news story through the campaign. Something that a huge swath of Democrats believe I contributed to her loss and Trump’s win. So I think one of the realities of this hyper-polarized moment, and particularly one of the realities of this hyper-polarized moment when trust in media is very, very low, is that you know, when, when the media’s attention turns to you in an unflattering way, it is pretty darn easy just to blame the media.
Hayes: Yeah. Can I push a little bit further on that? I think the McCain example is interesting. There’s one from four years earlier, that I wasn’t gonna bring up, but I think it fits the moment in this conversation. There was reporting from the Times, I think it was about three weeks before the 2004 presidential election, on a weapons depot that was insufficiently guarded by U.S. troops. And that was the report: that basically this weapons depot was left alone, bad guys came and got the weapons.
Sulzberger: You’re gonna have me at a disadvantage because I know nothing about this. I’m sorry.
Hayes: Okay. You’ll have to just trust that I’m describing it accurately. I’m just trying to give you a sense of why there is some of the skepticism. It was called the al Qaqaa weapons depot. The Times wrote a piece that was, “Hey, this is what happened. This was unguarded, this is bad.” And there was a follow-up piece. This is the Kerry campaign’s response to what the al Qaqaa weapons depot was. And as the Times does, it ledwide media coverage of this, right? CBS was doing stories.
Sulzberger: What do you mean it led it?
Hayes: Because the Times did it. It was on everybody’s radar. And there were follow-ups all the time. In total, I think the Times wrote three dozen, maybe more, stories about this in the lead-up to the 2004 election. It was sort of one of the big discussions in the lead-up to the election, and if I’m remembering this correctly, after the election, the story basically vanished from the Times’ pages. I think it was mentioned twice in subsequent years. And certainly, you have Bush administration figures and Bush campaign figures who will say, “this was just this campaign to get George W. Bush by hyping this thing that they then just – it was newsworthy as long as it was part of the presidential debate, and then it wasn’t newsworthy anymore.”
Sulzberger: So I really, I’m sorry, I can’t talk to the specifics. I mean, I think I’m still in college, probably at that point. So I really can’t.
Hayes: This is why I wasn’t going to bring it up. But I do think it helps explain some of the skepticism.
Sulzberger: The thing that I want to convey as much as anything is that no matter who is sitting in your chair right now, we’re sitting right next to each other in a podcast studio, no matter who is in that chair they feel this way about something. So, the Clintons felt that way about the New York Times coverage of Whitewater. Then they ended up feeling that way about our coverage of the email server. Biden, literally just, at the White House Correspondents Dinner, said, “The only person who cares about my age is my doctor and the New York Times,” right? Because we’ve been reporting really aggressively on Biden’s age and his capacity, right? Because it’s a noteworthy and important story. If you were a supporter of Israel in that chair, you would have a half-dozen examples like this. And if you’re a supporter of the Palestinians, you would have a half-dozen examples like this. One of the defining truths of this polarized era is in-group narratives are as sharply baked in, as they’ve ever been, right? Again, not to say we don’t get things wrong, it’s possible. Again, I don’t know that story, that we got something wrong in that story. You know, there’s the question of volume.
Hayes: It’s just more a matter of emphasis.
Sulzberger: Emphasis is always a tricky question, right? You know, that’s, that’s the big critique we’ve had of the Clinton coverage. It’s the big critique we’ve had of our recent coverage of trans, of medical care for transgender minors. These are always tricky questions. This is why again, I go back and back to process like: Do we have a process to hear those critiques? Do we have a process that’s fairly reckoning with the critiques?
Hayes: Just to be clear, I don’t bring this up because we should relitigate this story in 2004.
Sulzberger: No, I really understand that.
Hayes: But because we were talking about this credibility crisis among Republicans and conservatives. It is the case, I’m certain that you hear this all the time, that if anybody representing any of these groups was in the chair I’m sitting in, they would have their grievances, they would come to you. But I wonder if when you see this result …
Sulzberger: I recently had a university president ask about our anti-university agenda. It’s ridiculous.
Hayes: I agree with you that that’s ridiculous. But given the results of this polling, given the fact that the New York Times is, I would argue, the most powerful media institution in the world, certainly within in the United States. And you have all of these Republicans and conservatives saying we don’t buy it. I mean, it’s like 57 percent say they have zero trust in the media broadly.
Sulzberger: I’m really not blind to those numbers. There’s something I reckon with all the time. And I take it very seriously and I think about but like I said, I don’t think we’re perfect. Like I said, I’m sure, you know, we have certain blind spots, you know, and there are stories we miss, I’m sure there’s the stories that we cover too much. I also know that, you know, that we’re trying to get the story, these stories right. At the same time, I don’t think it should be lost on us, right, that the former president of the United States, the current leader of the Republican Party, just spent six years, seven years now calling the New York Times by name “fake news,” calling our journalists “enemy of the people”, accusing specific journalists of treason, by name.
If you are someone who supports Donald Trump and believes in Donald Trump, what are you supposed to think about an institution that the president of the United States says is fake, your enemy, and committing treason? Of course there’s going to be skyrocketing numbers of people who doubt what we do.
Isgur: What if the causal arrow goes the other way? If we broke down those conservative Republican numbers, I don’t think they’re that much different. If you look at the Never Trump Republicans and conservatives. What if the causal arrow isn’t that Trump made people believe in the media less, but their lack of faith in the media made Trump very attractive?
Sulzberger: So just going back, lo the McCain example, right? If you’re someone who believes in John McCain, and John McCain has just said that we tried to sabotage his campaign at the last minute by lying about extramarital affairs, what are you supposed to think about this institution? I just, I think we need to be clear-eyed that the Times is used often as a proxy in larger fights. And that’s true from the right and the left. If someone from the left is here, they’d be talking not about how against the Bush administration we were. They would be talking about how complicit in the Iraq War we were, by our credulous coverage of the intelligence as they were asserting it at that time. Again, I’m not saying we’re flawless, but I guess one of the questions I’d ask to you is, you guys know the media landscape pretty well. How many institutions—and beyond that, I think you guys are classic institutionalists, right? You believe that institutions matter in our society, whether they’re academic institutions or the military or the church, or media organizations like this one—how many institutions are you aware of that are more explicitly trying to bring different people together, trying to actually go to every part of the country? When you know when 15 Republicans refused to return our calls, we’re calling the next 15 to make sure that we’re fairly representing the views. Again, not saying we do it perfectly, but we really believe in this.
Isgur: I’ll ask a philosophical question about the independent journalism thing that touches on this as well, because you talk about it in your CJR piece, and I know, you’ve talked about it publicly. This internal tension between independent journalism, and there are things that we all agree are off limits. We’re not really going to have a debate anymore about whether Nazism had some good points. Or whatever that thing may be. And it’d be so much easier if we could say, there’s no red line. There’s nothing out of bounds. But there are, in terms of what we’re going to debate. And it’d be much easier if we could say, it’s all red lines, and we have red lines on every single thing. We know how we can debate and what we can’t, but that’s not true, either. And so you’re constantly having to agenda-set. And that’s what people are complaining about from the New York Times, and in particular, and this is what you’ve talked about, is this idea that the New York Times is unabashedly pro-democracy, for instance, is something that I think David Remnick brought up probably, and this idea of like, well, maybe that’s not independent enough. Maybe you should be, you know, contemplating that question more. And how that could affect one’s coverage of say, a former president running on potentially a really explicitly anti-democracy agenda or saying that the last election was stolen.
Sulzberger: I love this question. Can I jump in? Because this is the heart of what I want to talk about as much as anything. So there’s basically two ways that society decides something is settled, right, is beyond reasonable debate. There’s fact, so it’s factually settled. And then there’s morally settled, right? So there’s no fact that one can point to say that women deserve equal pay, right? It’s not like a factual matter. It’s a moral matter. We just know that to be true. And society is no longer litigating that. Or interracial marriage should be allowed. That’s not a factual thing. That’s a moral truth in this country at this point. Now, on facts, you will always find fringe people who say, you know, that the facts aren’t the facts, right? You will even find some people say that the last election was won by Donald Trump. So, it being factually settled, you know, doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t find …
Hayes: It’s not really much of a fringe anymore, I’m afraid.
Sulzberger: And you’ll find that on the stuff that’s, that’s morally settled. Here’s my view on those two categories. On the first one, you cannot ever pretend the facts aren’t the facts in order to try to signal fairness, right, because that’s actually not what fairness is, right? Fairness is, you know, a full and complete and accurate representation of the world as it is, and so our job there is to unapologetically follow the facts. And look, I’m like, I’m keenly aware of this. If more than two-thirds of Republicans still believe, as many polls show them, that Donald Trump was the legitimate winner of the last election. And we are treating that as factually inaccurate, in just very plain, unapologetic language. I’m aware that’s gonna make it harder for us to reach this giant audience that I would love to be able to reach, because I think what we’re doing here is valuable to everyone. But you’ve got to follow the facts. So that’s one. Then the second one, I think you need to have a lot of humility in what is settled. So again, we can’t, we can’t be chasing fringe views to your point about Nazism, or whether women have a role in society to try to pretend that there’s two sides of these arguments. Or whether democracy maybe isn’t that important after all right? These are things that society has regarded as settled questions, and I think journalism should legitimately treat them as settled questions. So I’ll say two other things. One, right now, there is such a pull on both the right and the left to expand the realm of settled questions, right? Everyone wants their question to be settled, right? So for example, my guess is something like 80 percent or 60 percent of America wants abortion to be treated as settled, regardless of which way it is. But it’s a profoundly unsettled question. America is working through it and will probably always continue to work and they will never stumble upon the fact that says “this is the moment in which abortion becomes okay or doesn’t become okay.” So I think we need to have a lot of humility on that. And I think to the degree to which we err, I think that we need to err on the side of inclusivity because erring on the side of inclusivity actually means erring on the side of fully representing the messy debates our pluralistic democracy is having, right, so that’s one. So I think we need to resist the journalistic urge to treat more and more as settled. And honestly, going back to one of the things we talked about earlier, the more we’re out in the country, the more intuitive it is that you can’t treat everything as settled, right? Because you’re just dealing with all sorts of different people from different backgrounds, and you can just see plainly that society is working through questions that you might have strong views on. So that’s one. The other tricky thing is even if something is factually settled, or even if something is morally settled, it doesn’t mean everything underneath it is settled. And the other form of pressure that gets put on independent media organizations like ours is—so, we treat climate change as settled. It is real, it is happening, it is human-caused and if unaddressed, it will continue to have worsening and devastating consequences. Right? We treat that as a settled fact pattern. You won’t see debate on that. But how fast it’s going to happen, whether human innovation will remedy any of it, or be able to mitigate any of it, whether specific remedies like wind farms or solar power, or nuclear power, are the right answer? We can’t treat any of those as settled. Society is working through those questions, science is working through those questions. But we regularly get protested by anti-climate change activists who come to our building once every few months and have a huge protest about how backwards our coverage of climate change is. And what they’re doing is a standard thing that other activists do as well, which is they’re trying to get us to treat more and more things as off-limits. And on the moral side, right, I can point to another one, which is: transgender people exist in this country. And, you know, I think everyone in this country deserves basic human rights. The science of care for transgender minors is still developing, right? So at no point have we ever written in a story saying transgender people don’t exist or shouldn’t exist, something that we have been accused of many, many times. That’s just not true. But we will write stories about debates within the medical community about the appropriate time and methods of intervention, for children who identify as transgender, and that’s gotten a lot of blowback by people who want to say that’s settled, that the science is now settled there. And it’s not. And I’ll say one last thing, sometimes we get this wrong. I think we treated the lab leak story as more settled than it ended up being. And we ended up reporting a ton on it, and very aggressively on it. But at the beginning, it was treated throughout mainstream media as a bit of a fringe theory and it probably too tidily fit some of the president’s natural biases. And he had a history of misrepresenting intelligence. So there was good reason to be skeptical. But skepticism can go too far as well. And now it certainly hasn’t been confirmed. But it’s one of two legitimate theories that lots of smart people are arguing about.
Isgur: Quick follow-up on that. So if you say democracy is one of those settled moral questions, for instance, to take that one, and a candidate is running as against democracy or your reporters think that he is a threat to democracy, what responsibility then do they have to say, “You know, here’s this story—we shouldn’t publish it because it could help him”?
Sulzberger: See, that’s where I think people get themselves into real danger. You know, this essay, I start this essay with this really remarkable moment. Um, do you mind if I share it with your listeners?
Isgur: You know it involves me?
Sulzberger: Oh, I didn’t know that it involves you, I’m sorry about that.
Hayes: Agree to disagree on some aspects of it.
Isgur: And actually, some of this comes from that. So, okay, the transgender story or the story about Rod Rosenstein saying that the 25th Amendment should be invoked. Those stories are treated much more carefully. I mean, I’ve spent 20 years being on the other side of your reporters, it’s actually kind of a fun thing to get to talk to you and explain what it feels like to be on the other side. This idea that “We have to be really careful with this story because it could help Donald Trump. It doesn’t mean we won’t report it and it doesn’t mean we won’t follow down the facts.” All of that is true. But they’re more careful. And on the care for transgender minors, what you’ll hear is that they’re gonna run all this by people within that community to make sure that it was written sensitively enough—that it’s accurate, all of those things are good. But that sensitivity then doesn’t carry over to the other side, there’s no, “This could help Joe Biden, let’s make sure it’s really, really accurate.”
Sulzberger: Look, I don’t buy it. And I get that’s how it’s felt on one side as you’ve been a partisan player. And, candidly, one of the things I often say to people is “Even I—I work at the New York Times, even I, the New York Times drives me crazy on the things I care most about, right?” I’ll sometimes read media coverage in the Times, and as you can imagine, I have strong feelings about media coverage. And I’ll be like, “Why didn’t they get this nuance? Why didn’t they, you know, this is too tough. This is too hard.’”
Hayes: Do you have a specific story in mind? Just kidding, just kidding.
Sulzberger: I mean, there are plenty, because we report really aggressively on ourselves, too. And that’s, that’s part of, literally, just to give you a sense of what independence looks like in practice. We hired a new CEO, the New York Times at this point is really on the brink.We’ve got this huge amount of debt, a really unsustainable amount of debt. The financial crisis has made the ad market just absolutely fall out. We don’t yet see a path in digital. So it’s a really dark moment for the institution. And we hire a new CEO. The old CEO leaves in a sort of a noisy way. It’s a tough moment for the institution. We hire a new CEO. Something within days or weeks of the announcement, it may have even been within days, news breaks of a scandal at his previous employer, the BBC. And there are questions about whether he knew about it. And it’s a bad, ugly scandal. And so what does this institution do? The executive editor at the time decides that it’s going to be too hard for a reporter to … this is big and hard. And she wants the most independent person she can find. So she takes the investigations editor, so one of our most experienced journalists, one of our most senior journalists, and says, “I’m detaching you for two months. You’re gonna get to the bottom of the story, whatever, wherever it leads.” And for two months, we’re trying to onboard this new CEO, while the institution is also reporting on him incredibly aggressively. Now. Was that fun for him? It was not. But, you know, my point is, everyone feels a version of this. Now, to go to the Rosenstein story, because I want to explain why your previous question about do you have an obligation to make sure that your reporting doesn’t allow bad things to happen. I think that’s really insidious, because I think that once you start doing that, then the conspiracy theories are right. Then the public does have a reason to believe that you have an agenda. Right.
So, the Rosenstein story, basically, we find out that Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 official in the Justice Department has raised—secretly recorded—President Trump early in his administration. Out of concern for Trump’s fitness for office, and …
Isgur: Again, something that Rod, and the Department of Justice through his spokesperson, disputes.
Sulzberger: We feel really solid in our sourcing on the story. So anyway, as you can imagine, you know, the right was extremely unhappy about this story, extremely unhappy about this story. Because it painted President Trump in an unflattering light, raised questions about his fitness, and raised questions about his own team’s loyalty to him. The left really lost its mind over the story and went very aggressively at us. And the reason was that Rod Rosenstein at that point—you call him Rod, I shouldn’t call him Rod. I’ve never met the guy. But Rod Rosenstein, at that point was overseeing the Mueller investigation. And people on the left thought that the Mueller investigation was going to save America from someone that they regarded as temperamentally unfit for the office of presidency.
Hayes: And the reporting could lead to the firing of …
Sulzberger: So the left believed that we had offered the pretext to fire Rosenstein, thereby, Trump could directly meddle into the investigation. And the thing I kept saying to folks who raise concerns is, “Do you really want to live in a country in which one of the country’s leading news organizations finds out that one of the highest-ranking law enforcement officials in the nation has profound concerns about the fitness of the President of the United States, his ability, his very ability to serve, and that we hide that information from the public?” I mean, to me, it’s just a disastrously bad idea. And when you look at some of the other criticism we get from time to time, so much of it comes back to these two questions. Volume? And can it be misused? But the “can it be misused” argument is often dangerous. Let’s just imagine us covering the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the reasons behind it. And one of the reasons, as we know, was government corruption. Like, you know, the Afghan people really believed that there was this corrupt and somewhat incompetent government there, right? You can make a case that every time we report on government corruption that we’re actually making the Taliban stronger. I would argue that it’s a dangerous, dangerous argument to make, because I would argue that in a democratic society—we still have troops on the ground, they’re still officially at war in that nation—we need to know if the people we’ve put into power are corrupt, are incompetent. And so that argument—it’s not that we never consider arguments like that. Sometimes we’ll be told by the CIA or the military that reporting certain information, at a certain moment will lead to direct loss of life, and in very rare cases we’ll hold. But I think we should be incredibly skeptical of arguments like that.
Hayes: Everything you say leads me down a different path with a different question that I have. And I know we don’t have endless time. But I would love to push you on the decision to run the op-ed by Siraj Haqqani or the reporting that the Times did on the Tom Cotton op-ed. But I’ll table those in order to ask you a question about something that was in the paper today, which I think is interesting. And I’m just eager to get your thoughts on this. A story today in the Times written by Glenn Thrush, Michael Schmidt—two, I think, reporters with terrific reputations—about the Hunter Biden stuff. And I will say that covering Hunter Biden is one of the most difficult things that we wrestle with at The Dispatch. How do you cover it? How do you treat the laptop story? How much should we trust the people who are telling us stories who are involved in the oversight when some of the other things that we’ve listened to them on haven’t checked out? There’s a volume question, a “what’s news” question.
Today, there’s a story about some documents that were provided by whistleblowers that allegedly show Hunter Biden sending text messages to a Chinese businessman, with his father present, in effect threatening this businessman. “Hey, my dad is sitting here, he really wants to know why you’re not being responsive,” is sort of the close paraphrase. The story goes on. And the Times piece sort of says on the one hand, this is what these people are saying, on the other hand, this is what these people are saying. These two whistleblowers, one of them by name, one of them not by name, are cited throughout the piece. And then there’s this extraordinary statement in the 21st paragraph of the piece, and I want to read it so that I get it exactly right. There’s a discussion of this request that the U.S. attorney has made to prosecute, potentially prosecute, Hunter Biden on these things to bring charges. And one of those requests takes place in California and the Times reports “that episode was confirmed independently to the New York Times by a person with knowledge of the situation.” So I’m reading this and I think you’ve got two whistleblowers, one of them by name saying on the record that this thing happened, and the Times independently verifying that the Department of Justice may have blocked this investigation into the son of the president of the United States. That felt to me, like a “holy s–t” moment, like a top-of-the-fold bold letters. “Oh, my gosh. It wasn’t played that way.” And there are all sorts of reasons you can imagine that it wouldn’t have been played that way. Maybe that was, that verification came in at the last minute, and I’m not asking you to comment on that. But given all of that, what do you, what do you, what do you make of the Hunter Biden story generally? And what do you make of this story, specifically?
Sulzberger: So I should be honest, I really don’t get deeply involved in the day-to-day of editorial decision-making. And I think there’s good reason for that. I do get involved at the level of standards, at the level of big questions.I was involved in a decision to beef up certain desks. But at the story level, like, I literally know nothing about the specific decision-making of that story. So I really can’t comment on it. But I will say, sort of going back to the broader theme about what seems to be one of the main themes of this conversation, how the Times covers the American right, or, you know, or conservative issues. You know, the question we often hear is, is one of volume and one of play, right? I would point out that, according to your version of the story, we’re reporting this, and we’re putting it on the front page. And to me, that’s what independent journalism looks like. Crucially, we would rather be right than fast. And I think that stands really counter to this moment as well.
Hayes: I think that’s one of the reasons this hit so hard for me was because it was in the Times. I’ve read similar claims, anonymously sourced in some conservative outlets that I don’t find credible. And I didn’t have the “holy s–t” moment. It was because it was in the Times that I thought, “This strikes me as a huge deal.” If the Times believes that they’re independently verifying that the DOJ blocked this investigation, that strikes me as a major deal.
Sulzberger: Well, can I say, like that’s the dream, this is why independence is so important, right? This is why society needs neutral actors. Because when you actually have neutral actors, independent actors, it means something different when they say something, and it’s why the desire of everyone to make us partisans in their often quite worthy campaign, the campaign against global warming, campaign for democracy. I think the way we are contributing to democracy is to be an independent actor that is covering the challenges to it. And I don’t think if we dialed our level of volume up to Fox News and MSNBC levels, we would somehow have more impact on the world. I don’t think that if we hid the stories that were inconvenient, or could yield damaging outcomes, we would have more impact—-we would contribute to greater goods in the world. I have a fundamental optimism in people and in democracy. And I believe that if we commit ourselves as much as humanly possible, with all our human flaws and failings, to try to arm the public with the information that they deserve, as fully, fairly, and independently as possible that it’ll just bring some more trust into the system.
Isgur: You’ve given us so much of your time and we’re so appreciative. I do have one last question for you.
Sulzberger: Okay. I’m guessing from your expression that it’s going to be a doozy.
Isgur: It is. No, it’s actually just something that I’m just curious about. You’re a dad. You’re sixth generation in this business. Not this business, this job. You think you parent differently knowing that your kid may take your job someday? Are you inculcating them in independent journalism from the get? Do you make sure that they feel like they can go do anything they want? Or, you know, God, in my household we’re two lawyers, and every day, you know, anytime he’s like, “What do you do for work?’ We’re like, “Don’t worry about it, be a doctor.”
Sulzberger: Is this your first?
Isgur: This will be my second.
Sulzberger: Second, okay, well, congratulations. So I just had my second actually. So we have a 5-year-old and a 9-month-old. So if I seem a beat slower than you expected I should seem, you’re probably correct. So, I love that question. Actually, I haven’t gotten that question before. There’s so little that it’s early. I feel very lucky, actually. And I haven’t said this publicly, but I feel very lucky that I had kids late. So the one thing I can be damn sure of is that, that my child will not be a successor. Which allows me to focus on the broader family. And this is a family enterprise, the family is now quite large, we’re almost 100 people. And there are so many brilliant people in this family who have been steeped in the values of independence. Again, do you mind if I do something corny? So, the phrase I taped above my desk when I was named as publisher, was the phrase from my great-great grandfather, Adolph Ochs, who was a working-class Jew from Tennessee, who started in the printing presses and worked his way up to running the paper in Chattanooga, and then leveraged that to buy what was then actually “the failing New York Times.” And, and, and to basically start in American journalism on this path towards independence, right? And the phrase he left in his will, which is the charge to his family, and he had put the New York Times in trust, and, he wrote this phrase, that, “the mission of the family is to maintain the editorial independence and integrity of the New York Times. And to ensure it remains an independent newspaper, entirely fearless, free of ulterior influence, and unselfishly devoted to the public welfare.” And if you open up the proxy statement, we’re now a public company with a controlling shareholder base. And if you open up the proxy statement that we have to put out every year, you will find that same statement is the core of our family mission. So what am I excited about? I’m excited about being able to put that energy a beat farther from home, to the next generation of people in my family, who are steeped in those values and, and continue to believe so, so deeply in that mission.
Isgur: So you’re not reading him the front page?
Sulzberger: Her, her. She is aware that I have an unusually deep relationship with the newspaper. But the thing I tell myself is it reads as less neglectful than just staring at your phone and reading the digital version. Right? I think there’s something about modeling, that this is what it means to be a citizen. Right? Like engaging news about the communities you live in, in the world you live in. So I hope it’s not just paternal neglect. I hope there’s some modeling in there too.
Isgur: Thank you so much for your time today.
Sulzberger: Oh, it’s a real pleasure.
Hayes: Thank you.
Sulzberger: Thank you and good luck with everything you’re building. I really admire it.
Hayes: Thank you very much.