At Large

Hard-Line Celebrations

The liberal orthodox wedding of Howell Raines and A.O. Sulzberger, Jr., a.k.a. Young Arthur.

By 8.27.02

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The "Weddings" section of the New York Times is about to be renamed. It will be called "Weddings/Celebrations," and it will announce the happy unions not only of boy and girl, but of boy and boy, and girl and girl, too. Traditionalists will be alarmed, but apparently they should not be. According to executive editor Howell Raines, the new Times policy has a sound journalistic reason: "the newsworthiness of a growing and visible trend in society toward public celebrations of commitment by gay and lesbian couples."

Well, perhaps, but the more likely reason is that the new policy keeps publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. happy. As assistant publisher he promised the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association that the Times would one day offer health insurance and other benefits to same-sex couples. In 1994, two years later, he fulfilled his promise. He negotiated a contract with the Newspaper Guild that provided "domestic partner" benefits to Times employees. Arthur Jr., however, did not tell his father, Punch Sulzberger, about this and when Punch heard about it he was highly displeased.

But then Arthur Jr. became publisher, and time marched on. An Arnold and Lisa must now compete with a Brian and Tad for space on the weddings page. Meanwhile, when Raines announced the change he also said, "We recognize that the society remains divided about the legal and religious definition of marriage, and our news columns will remain impartial in that debate."

Yes, Raines really did say that, and for all you know he believed it, even though the Times has not been impartial in debates like that for years. Liberal orthodoxy is mandatory almost everywhere at the Times now. Editors have to stay on their toes.

When the Bush administration announced trade sanctions against a North Korean manufacturer last week, for example, the Times story about it ran at the top of page one under a two column headline: "North Korea Incurs U.S. Penalty/For Missile Parts Sales to Yemen."

But underneath that was another two-column headline: "Setback to Ties is Favored by Bush Hard-Liners."

There was nothing in the story, however, that showed a "setback to ties." The editors were simply writing in their own analysis, while also warning readers about those dreaded "Bush Hard-Liners." The evidence against the hard-liners was provided by one Leon V. Sigal, who had said in an interview: "The Bush administration keeps putting new impediments in the way of negotiating a missile deal with the North. Hard-liners seem to be running the show."

Sigal was identified as the director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. He is also, in fact, a former Times editorial writer who, in books and articles, has suggested that the best way to deal with North Korea is to appease it. Dealing with it any other way, it seems, makes you a hard-liner.

Meanwhile the Times stayed on guard. The day after the story about the sanctions, it had a story about the meeting between North Korea's dear leader, Kim Jong Il, and Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok. The story, by James Brooke, was knowledgeable and well done, although the third paragraph made you pause. It said: "In Washington, Mr. Putin's meeting here today was seen by some conservatives as capping a month-long series of contacts with the countries of President Bush's 'axis of evil.'"

But Vladivostok is half a world and at least a dozen Times zones away from Washington, so how could Brooke know that? And why would he care anyway? And the likely answer, of course, is that Brooke neither knew nor cared, but some editor in New York, who, in truth, did not know much about it either, wrote it into the story. Staying on your toes means you keep an eye on those damned conservatives. Deep in their hearts, the editors know, they are really all hard-liners.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.