New York Times Tightens Ties With Foundation Known for Anti-Israel Grants
by Ira Stoll
Behold the coverage that the New York Times has lavished on the president of the Ford Foundation, Darren Walker.
An April 2020 column by Thomas Friedman proposed Walker as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in a Biden “national unity cabinet.”
A September 2020 “corner office” interview gushed that he “has the ear of the business world’s elite … a magnetic personality … even with such success, Mr. Walker says he has not lost sight of his mission.”
A July 2019 profile, headlined, “The Man With the $13 Billion Checkbook,” described Walker as “one of the best-connected people in New York, a city that runs on connections … a serious man and demanding chief executive who can whip up blender drinks and gumbo for 50…. He was intersectional before his time.”
In November 2018, Times critic Michael Kimmelman wrote a glowing New York Times review of the Ford Foundation’s headquarters as newly renovated by Walker at a cost of $205 million.
“By opening up the building,” the review said, “Ford’s renovation serves the foundation’s social justice mandate. It also recognizes the architecture’s original public-spirited, civilizing mission. A half-century old, the new Ford remains a singular gift to the city.”
A 2014 joint interview of Walker featured softball questions from the Times reporter like, “How did you cope when reality began to exceed your dreams?” and “Do you ever stop noticing that you’re the only person of color, the only gay person sitting in the powerful conference room?”
In recent months, the Ford Foundation has opened that “$13 billion checkbook” — which has swelled in the meantime to nearly $16 billion — for the Times.
In December 2020, the New York Times Company announced it had raised $1.5 million from the Ford Foundation “to launch Headway, a journalism initiative to investigate global and national challenges.”
The Times press release announcing Headway declared that “Michael Kimmelman, founder of the Headway project, will serve as editor at large.” That’s the same Michael Kimmelman who wrote the Times article praising the Ford Foundation’s headquarters renovation.
In July 2021, the paper announced that the Ford Foundation “is providing a $150,000 grant” to pay a Times journalist to “produce stories that illuminate and explain issues that are relevant to the 19 percent of the US population who currently live with a disability — and to countless others who care about them and these matters.”
The Times Company is telling shareholders that business is booming. Its CEO, Meredith Kopit Levien, said in an August press release that the company’s “more than 8 million paid subscriptions” are “a testament to the success of our strategy” and that the company had seen a quarter of “strong revenue and profit growth.” Not exactly a profile for the Times Neediest Cases Fund.
If business is so good, why does the company — controlled by heirs of the Ochs-Sulzberger family like publisher A.G. Sulzberger, whose New York Times Company stock is worth more than $100 million — need charity? Why doesn’t the Ford Foundation send the charitable money to poor people in Africa or Appalachia rather than subsidizing the Sulzberger heirs and their fellow New York Times Company shareholders?
Some readers or Times journalists might think the proper role of the Times with respect to powerful institutions like the Ford Foundation is skeptically investigating them, rather than buttering them up or soliciting them for charitable funding.
An example of such skeptical coverage was a Jewish Telegraphic Agency series, “Funding Hate,” that documented “how Ford grantees were using the prestigious foundation’s money to foment virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation in the Middle East and worldwide.”
That series followed a dispatch I wrote in 1999. It was headlined, “Latest Ford Foundation Grantees Would Sure Make Henry I Proud,” a reference to Henry Ford’s notorious antisemitism. That headline and the JTA series predated Walker’s arrival at the Ford Foundation.
The Ford Foundation, whose employees have included Kamala Harris’s sister and Barack Obama’s mother, is certainly a formidable cultural and political force — “the Exchequer and Command Post for the entire American Left,” as a Nixon administration memo once described it.
The Times press columnist, Ben Smith, has shown signs of curiosity about the Ford Foundation’s financial backing of Ozy Media. Smith reported Monday that Walker had first praised the company as “so successful,” but “didn’t respond to an inquiry on the company’s implosion.”
If the Times decides to really dig on the Ozy-Ford Foundation story, maybe it could push past Walker and interview Gabrielle Sulzberger, a Ford Foundation trustee since 2016. “Her life experience gives her an understanding of the foundation’s deep commitment to reducing inequality and promoting social mobility,” Walker said in announcing her appointment.
At the time she joined the Ford Foundation board, she was married to then-chairman and publisher of the Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. The two have since separated, according to the paper.
It’s not my purpose here to suggest that any of this is illegal or even improper. The New York Times-Ford Foundation relationship, though, does strike me as newsworthy. The Ford Foundation didn’t respond to my emailed inquiry about whether Gabrielle Sulzberger had been involved in the grants supporting the New York Times Company or in the grants to Ozy Media.
In any event, let’s hope the Ford Foundation philanthropic partnership with the New York Times works out better than the Ford Foundation’s deal with Ozy Media. Darren Walker, at least, has already garnered plenty of positive coverage.
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.