Adolph Ochs, Good as Gold
Jude Wanniski
July 10, 2001


Memo To: Gail Collins, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Congratulations!!

Knowing Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., has been committed to diversifying power at the NYT from white males, I should not have been surprised when I read that he had named you to succeed Howell Raines next month as editorial-page editor, when Howell becomes executive editor. This makes you the first woman to hold the job in the long and illustrious history of the world’s most important newspaper. Still, this is a most unusual track for the paper, as you have not roamed the world as a reporter before becoming its primary opinion voice. My wild guess is that Sulzberger had you in mind all along for this spot when he gave you the “Public Interests” column on a regular basis in 1999 and that you may be groomed for the top spot, which also has been a male preserve. In announcing your appointment, he said: "As a reporter, a columnist and an editorial writer, Gail has delighted and enriched readers. Her witty and thoughtful writing style, strong grounding in the values of the paper, and extensive knowledge of politics and government policy ensure that the editorial pages will remain vibrant and compelling." When I saw you introduced last weekend on CNN’s Reliable Sources, I noticed you spoke of upholding the “traditions” of the Times. My personal hope is that you would restore one of the original traditions of the newspaper, especially under its ownership by Sulzberger’s great grandfather, Adolph Ochs. I append a reference to Ochs in the fascinating 1999 biography of J.P. Morgan, by Jean Strouse, Morgan: American Financier. You will find that Mr. Ochs was a dedicated supply-sider. There is no reason why you could not be one too. This is from pp. 356-57:

One Southern Democrat who believed in "the strong certain hands of the East” was a young German-Jewish newspaperman from Chattanooga, Tennessee, named Adolph Simon Ochs. His Chattanooga Times had come out squarely for gold, and in the summer of 1896, Ochs made a bid for the country's leading metropolitan newspaper, The NewYork Times. Founded in 1851, the Times had been staunchly Republican during and after the Civil War; when its "Mugwump" editors backed Cleveland against Blaine in 1884, however, Republican readers and advertisers defected in droves. Democrats took over the paper, but with poor management and lively competition --especially from the new, scandal-mongering "yellow" press such as Pulitzer's World and Hearst's JournaI – it had gone deeply into debt. By 1896 its paid circulation had fallen to nine thousand and it was losing $2,500 a week.

The combination of Ochs's success in Tennessee, his credible ambitions, his stalwart support of gold, and a letter of endorsement from Grover Cleveland persuaded the owners of the Times to sell him a controlling interest in the paper for a quarter of the stock's face value. Next, Ochs asked the principal bond holders, including Morgan, to exchange their securities for new ones paying lower interest. He later recalled his terror at the prospect of approaching the formidable financier. To his amazement, when he arrived at the inner sanctum at 23 Wall Street, Morgan – who specialized in refinancing debt – rose to greet him, shook his hand, and said warmly. "So you're the young man I have heard about. Now, where do I sign the papers?"

In his first issue as publisher of the Times on August 19, 1896, Ochs announced that he would publish the news "impartially, without fear or favor, regardless or party, sect, or interests involved," and would not depart from the policies that distinguished the Times as a "non-partisan newspaper -- unless it be, if possible, to intensify its devotion to the cause of sound money and tariff reform, opposition to wastefulness and peculation in administering public affairs, and in its advocacy of the lowest tax consistent with good government, and no more government than is absolutely necessary.” It was a measure of the moment's moral absolutism that an honest proponent of sound money and small government could call them nonpartisan issues.

Morgan, Belmont, and Jacob Schiff each held $25,000 worth of the Times's $600,000 debt, which the new owners eventually bought back and retired. That the men involved in the resuscitation of the paper shared a commitment to gold was taken for conspiracy. Rumors that Morgan owned The New York Times haunted the paper and the banker for years.