Thursday, September 3, 2015
If you watch the TV show Game of Thrones (or have even read the books its based on) then you know all about Lord Tywin Lannister. He's the richest man in the "Seven Kingdoms", has served as "Hand" to two insane kings (one of them his own grandson), has won many battles and crushed many rivals, and who also controls the most feared family in the fantastical realm of Westeros.
In season one of the show, King Robert Baratheon, supposedly the most powerful man in Westeros, constantly moans about how much in debt (both literally and otherwise) he is to Lord Tywin. Tywin helped make Robert king and Robert is married to Tywin's daughter, Cersei, creating what has become a miserable alliance between Houses Lannister and Baratheon. At one point, a drunk and resentful King Robert calls his menacing father-in-law "the mighty Tywin."
Tywin is the ultimate "power behind the thrown", someone who supposedly does not wield the real power in the land but who controls the kings that do. He is in fact more powerful than the kings he's supposed to serve. He can make kings -- and destroy them -- like Tywin did to Robert's predecessor. Power brokers like Tywin do not get any glory but are deeply, deeply feared by those who do. And, as Machiavelli said, "'tis better to be feared than loved."
In New York City & State, and in the country at large, we elect governments to represent and rule us. Democracy is supposedly about the people controlling those who have power over them, but, as we know, a political system awash with money means that those with money really control our government. There are also "bosses" who can throw the weight of a political party apparatus behind selected candidates -- thereby choosing who gets elected and who gets shafted. But there is one thing more powerful than money and bosses -- the media. The people who "buy ink by the barrel", who broadcast and broadband to hundred of millions of eyeballs and ears around the country, who are the ones who really control the leaders we supposedly elect to rule us. They can make and break reputations and thereby empower or destroy the careers of our rulers. And in this town and country, no media outlet wields more power and influence over our governments than The New York Times.
Oh, the mighty New York Times. The "newspaper of record" is easily the most feared news outlet in NYC and one of the most feared in the country. It wields enormous power and influence.
Just some examples: In 2003, it published story after story saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The result? It gave mainstream, respectable legitimacy to the Iraq War which, of course, turned out to be one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in American history. (The stories turned out to be bogus, the Times later acknowledged, but the damage was done). Another example: the Times' power can directly affect the fortunes of politicians, especially in NYC. It can endorse candidates for office and make (or unmake) political careers. I recall seeing a TV interview with Scott Stringer in 2005 when he was running for Manhattan Borough President. He had just gotten the Times endorsement for his run that year and he looked like a guy who had just lost his virginity to a supermodel while being spoon-fed Beluga caviar from a crystal goblet. He won the borough presidency that year, he is now the Comptroller of NYC, and he very well may become mayor one day. Such is the power of the "mighty" New York Times.
So who controls the newspaper that controls NYC?
For over a century, the Times has been ruled by the Sulzberger family. Sons and grandsons of its founder, Adolph Ochs, have been running it for 119 years. The position of Executive Editor at the paper is the ultimate designation for the Power Behind the Throne of New York and American power. The current "mighty" Sulzberger is Executive Editor Arthur Sulzberger Jr. who is now in his 60s and is beginning to think about who might replace him when he retires. As this article points out, there are currently three leading candidates, all members of House Sulzberger, who might very well one day become the next Executive Editor. Currently, America is in the madness of a yet another protracted presidential election which will culminate in November 2016. However, something that will be less noticed by the populi but is no less in important is who will become the Times' next EE. Whoever that is will have tremendous power over our city and country for years to come -- as many mayors, governors, and presidents come and go.
Right now the Times is using its power and influence to unmake one potential president -- former US Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They have been writing creepy, oddly-sourced stories about how she "might" be a criminal, about her complex marriage to former president Bill Clinton, about any controversy, real or imagined, concerning her life and presidential campaign. Anyone reading the Times' nasty coverage of Hillary Clinton can only reasonably conclude that "the paper of record" wants to prevent a potential Hillary Clinton presidency and destroy her and her family's reputation. The paper tried and, uncharacteristically, failed to destroy Bill Clinton's presidency. When he was in office, in the 1990s, as this article points out, the paper issued story after story, editorial after editorial, slamming the Clintons and their administration. Of course, Bill Clinton wound up becoming an incredibly popular two-term president still much admired to this day. But the Times' tried to stop that and they are trying to prevent what might become yet another incredibly popular two-term Clinton presidency. Many quoted in this article believe, quite rightly, that the paper has had a twenty-year plus vendetta against the Clintons, that they are the Times' White Whale, that to destroy the Clintons will be the ultimate demonstration of the Times' power. Of course, those currently leading the paper protest, way to much, that this is not so. But anyone rational person knows that it is.
So as we look forward to a change in leadership both in America and at the "paper of record", the question is simply put: will The New York Times remain mighty or has it, like American power itself, started a slow, long decline?