News Fit and Unfit to Print
For more than a century, ever since Adolph Ochs purchased the New York Times in 1896, his newspaper has proudly proclaimed (on the front page) its commitment to providing “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Ochs declared his intention to make the Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to invite intelligent discussion “from all shades of opinion.”
That pledge was severely tested once Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Because Ochs was determined that the Times not be identified as a “Jewish” newspaper, it paid little attention to the Nazi leader. The Ochs legacy of evasion was embraced by his son-in-law Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who launched the multigenerational family dynasty that has guided the Times ever since.
Following his first trip to Palestine in 1937, Sulzberger expressed his concern lest Zionism compromise the loyalty of Jews to the United States. Editors were instructed not to refer to “the Jewish people,” but only to “people of the Jewish faith.” Reporters whose first name was Abraham received bylines with their initials only. Hitler identified Jews as a despised race, but Sulzberger insisted that they not be identified as a distinctive group.
In the summer of 1942, the Times barely noted (on page 5) the Nazi determination “to exterminate all Jews.” More important front page stories that day focused on tennis shoes and canned fruit. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising occupied four paragraphs. Its solitary editorial referred to 400,000 “persons” who were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp. There was no indication that they were Jews. Auschwitz horrors never made page one. Times editorial page editor Max Frankel (a German-born Jewish refugee) subsequently described the “staggering, stunning failure” of the Times to report the Holocaust as “a horror beyond all horrors.”
Contrast that with Times coverage of George Floyd’s death, beginning in April 2020. Four articles followed in May, focusing on the arrest of police officer Derek Chauvin, whose knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes had caused his death. There were four more articles in May, seven in June including an editorial, four in July, one in August, one in September, and another in December. The overriding theme was white racism and police brutality. On the front page on April 21, four reporters contributed articles spanning six columns that focused on the jury’s guilty verdict.
Compare overflowing Times coverage of the Chauvin trial with its reporting on Israel’s trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, captured in Argentina in May 1960. Since Eichmann’s crimes “were committed against humanity … not in Israel but in Europe,” editors claimed that Germany, not Israel, was the proper place for his trial. Eichmann, according to the Times foreign correspondent, was merely a “cautious, unglamorous civil servant … who headed the Gestapo’s Jewish department.” Times reporter Homer Bigart, who covered Eichmann’s trial, identified him as “a dull … witness” who displayed “the image of a petty bureaucrat,” not “a fiendish arch-killer of Jews.” Imagine the public outrage if the Times dismissed George Floyd as a drug addict who paid for purchases with counterfeit money.
Black lives matter to the Times (as they should), as its expansive coverage of the tragic George Floyd killing indicates. For the Times, the Floyd murder capped 400 years of “systemic racism” in the United States. Yet antisemitism, known as “the longest hatred” for stretching as far back as the third century BCE, has rarely gained Times attention. Indeed, when the newspaper owned by Jews confronted the most horrific human slaughter in history, six million Jewish lives lost in gas chambers did not matter.
Seventy-five years later the Times leads the chorus of journalistic criticism of the world’s only Jewish state. Relentlessly blaming Israel for Palestinian violence and intransigence, it remains reluctant to acknowledge that Jewish lives also matter.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of 12 books, including Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.