Who Is The New York Times’ New Editorial Page Editor Kathleen Kingsbury?
The abrupt resignation of New York Times editorial page editor James Bennet put one of the world’s most influential newspaper opinion platforms in the hands of Kathleen Kingsbury. Who is she, and what is she likely to do with her new power?
Kingsbury attracted attention in January when, as deputy editorial page editor, she spearheaded the Times presidential endorsement process in the Democratic primary. Bennet had recused himself because his brother, a senator from Colorado, was seeking the nomination.
Kingsbury grilled presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar, a senator from Minnesota, about whether she would move the American embassy in Israel to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem.
“President Trump has made several unilateral moves in relations to Israel. Things like moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. If you took over would you reverse them as president?” Kingsbury asked in the endorsement interview, which the Times released on video.
Klobuchar answered in part, “I would not reverse the embassy change.”
Kingsbury wouldn’t let it go: “I do actually want to go back to something you just said, to follow up. Why wouldn’t you move the embassy back?”
While Kingsbury pressed the question with gusto in the video, the end result indicated that this particular issue wasn’t a make-or-break one for the editor. Klobuchar, who said she’d always supported having the embassy in Jerusalem, wound up winning the Times endorsement — or, actually, splitting it with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who also won the endorsement.
The entire episode was characteristic for Kingsbury. By putting the videos online in partnership with HBO, she succeeded at creating new digital buzz and excitement, turning the traditional newspaper endorsement process into what a Variety column compared to an episode of the reality-tv show “The Apprentice.”
It sent no clear ideological signal — endorsing both Warren, a left-leaning candidate, and Klobuchar, a more centrist one, left some readers scratching their heads. Israel, the Middle East or Jewish issues didn’t end up being a dominant concern. And the endorsement had no lasting impact on the race. In the end, both Warren and Klobuchar suspended their campaigns, leaving the field to Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.
Jeff Jacoby, a pro-Israel conservative-leaning columnist who worked with Kingsbury at The Boston Globe, said he got along fine with her and did not recall her expressing any strong views on Israel or Jewish issues.
The Algemeiner reached out to four other former colleagues of Kingsbury and a similar picture emerged. Her main foreign policy interest seems not to be Israel or Iran, but rather East Asia, particularly China. She studied Mandarin at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service and at Fudan University, worked for BusinessWeek in Shanghai, and covered East Asia as a foreign correspondent for Time. She won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 2015 for Boston Globe articles about working conditions in Boston-area restaurants, including one called the Grand China Buffet.
In 2016 at the Globe, she led an effort to publish a front-page editorial about gun control. In a speech about it, she discussed how the newspaper used social media to directly enlist newspaper readers as lobbyists, using tactics more often deployed by advocacy groups, not journalists.
“We pushed past convention. We created pre-populated tweets and emails for our readers to send to the senators directly, asking for change,” she said of the campaign.
Bennet, Kingsbury’s predecessor, resigned under pressure following a controversy over a Times opinion piece by a Republican senator from Arkansas, Tom Cotton. Headlined “Send in the Troops,” the article called for the deployment of the US military to quell what the article called an “orgy of violence,” and “rioters and looters” in American cities following the death in police custody of George Floyd.
Kingsbury is a 1997 graduate of Mount Alvernia High School, an all-girls private Catholic school in Newton, Massachusetts. In some respects, she has a similar profile to that of Bennet, her predecessor. Bennet went to St. Albans, a Washington, DC all-boys private school with ties to the Episcopal Church. Bennet also worked as a foreign correspondent, as the Times Jerusalem bureau chief.
And both Kingsbury and Bennet have prominent fathers. Bennet’s father was president of National Public Radio and of Wesleyan University and also served as assistant secretary of state and administrator of the US Agency for International Development. Kingsbury’s father, Thomas A. Kingsbury, is a longtime retail industry executive who retired in February 2020 after 12 years leading Burlington Stores. Burlington’s 2020 proxy statement indicates that as of February 1, 2020, he controlled 536,566 shares of Burlington stock, which at the January 31, 2020 closing price of $217.47 were worth $166,687,008. That’s more than the value of New York Times Company stock held by Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger’s father, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who also served as Times publisher.
A.G. Sulzberger named Kingsbury “acting Editorial Page Editor through the November election.” A Times company press release quoted him as saying, “Katie has been instrumental in reimagining Opinion since she joined The Times from The Boston Globe, where she served as managing editor for digital and won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. I look forward to working with her as she steps into this role at this important moment.”
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.