On September 18, 1851, Speaker of the New York State Assembly Henry J. Raymond and Albany banker George Jones began publishing The New York Daily Times, whose name they permanently changed to The New York Times on September 14, 1857. The founders’ original intent was to publish the paper every morning except on Sundays, but during the Civil War they, like their competitors in the industry, began printing Sunday issues as well.
In a bold move in 1884, the Times decided to become a politically independent paper -- discontinuing its tradition of supporting only Republican candidates for elected office (and backing Democrat Grover Cleveland in that year's presidential election). As a result of this shift in policy, the Times initially experienced a decline in both income and circulation, but within a few years the paper had regained most of its lost readership.
In 1896, Chattanooga Times publisher Adolph Ochs acquired The New York Times and the following year he coined the paper's well-known slogan, "All The News That's Fit To Print." This motto was designed to distinguish the Times from such competing publications as the New York World and the New York Journal American, which were known for their sensationalist, scandal-mongering reporting, or yellow journalism. Under Ochs’ leadership, The New York Times grew both in stature and circulation, establishing itself as a publication of international reach.
In 1904 the newspaper moved its headquarters to the Longacre Square section of 42nd Street in Manhattan, renaming the area "Times Square"; this location would become famous for its New Year’s Eve tradition (begun in 1907) of lowering a lighted ball from the top of the Times building at the stroke of midnight. In 1913 the Times relocated to its current headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street. A new skyscraper that will serve as the paper’s future base of operations is currently under construction at West 41st Street and 8th Avenue.
Today The New York Times is America’s largest metropolitan newspaper and one of the most widely read dailies in the world, with a circulation (as of 2006) of approximately 1,142,464 copies on weekdays and 1,683,855 copies on Sundays. Owned by The New York Times Company, which also owns the Boston Globe and 14 other newspapers, the Times is published in New York City by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. and is distributed internationally. It has 16 news bureaus in the New York region, 11 national news bureaus, and 26 foreign news bureaus. As of December 2005, the Times staff consisted of more than 350 full-time reporters and approximately 40 photographers, in addition to hundreds of free-lance contributors.
During the course of its history the Times has won 94 Pulitzer Prizes (including a record seven in 2002), far more than any other newspaper. These awards have sometimes been fraught with controversy, however. For example, Walter Duranty was a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Moscow correspondent in the 1930s who concealed his knowledge of Joseph Stalin's mass murders and other atrocities in the Soviet Union. In 1933, at the height of the Russian famine during which millions starved to death, Duranty wrote that "village makets [were] flowing with eggs, fruit, poultry, vegetables, milk and butter. … A child can see this is not famine but abundance." According to historians, reports such as these were crucial factors influencing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to grant the Soviet Union diplomatic recognition in 1933. Writes historian Ronald Radosh, "Duranty was a propagandist for Stalin and everything he wrote was a lie."
The Times was likewise dishonest in its reporting about the atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust. Journalism professor Laura Leff, author of Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper, explains:
What did The New York Times report about the Holocaust and how did its coverage affect America’s response to the Nazi genocide?
Throughout World War II, the American media published and broadcast timely, detailed, and accurate accounts of what was happening to the Jews in Europe. The New York Times alone printed nearly 1,200 articles about what we have now come to call the Holocaust, about one every other day.
The articles in the Times and elsewhere described the propagation of anti-Semitic laws in German allied countries; death from disease and starvation of hundreds of thousands in ghettos and labor camps; mass executions in Nazi-occupied Russia; and mass gassings in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek. The articles also indicated that these were not isolated incidents, but part of a systematic campaign to kill all the Jews in Europe.
And yet, at the end of the war and for decades afterward, Americans claimed they did not know about the Holocaust as it was happening. How was it possible for so much information to be available in the mass media and yet simultaneously for the public to be ignorant?
The reason is that the American media in general and the New York Times in particular never treated the Holocaust as an important news story. From the start of the war in Europe to its end nearly six years later, the story of the Holocaust made the Times front page only 26 times out of 24,000 front-page stories, and most of those stories referred to the victims as “refugees” or “persecuted minorities.” In only six of those stories were Jews identified on page one as the primary victims.
Nor did the story lead the paper, appearing in the right-hand column reserved for the day’s most important news – not even when the concentration camps were liberated at the end of the war. In addition, the Times intermittently and timidly editorialized about the extermination of the Jews, and the paper rarely highlighted it in either the Week in Review or the magazine section.
What kept American journalists from recognizing the significance of the systematic murder of six million people? Worldwide carnage on an unprecedented scale helped obscure the Jews’ plight. There was also skepticism bred by fake atrocity reports during the previous world war. The Roosevelt Administration’s determination to downplay the news also contributed to the subdued coverage. But the media had enough credible information to treat the news of the extermination of the Jews as important. And the New York Times played a critical role in why it didn’t.
For no American news organization was better positioned to highlight the Holocaust than the Times, and no American news organization so influenced public discourse by its failure to do so.
Because of its longtime commitment to international affairs, its willingness to sacrifice advertising rather than articles in the face of a newsprint crunch, and its substantial Jewish readership, the Times was able to obtain and publish more news about what was happening to the Jews than other mainstream newspapers. In addition, Jews of German descent owned the Times and thus knew the fate of family members, some of whom they sponsored to immigrate to the States, some of whom they didn’t. The family’s deep, if not always amicable involvement with the American Jewish community also led the Times to learn much about the Jews’ situation.
So the New York Times was less likely than other news organizations to miss what was happening to the Jews. But it was also more likely to dismiss its significance. Fearful of accusations of special pleading or dual loyalties, the newspaper hesitated to highlight the news. In addition, the newspaper’s Jewish publisher believed that Jews were neither a racial nor ethnic group, and therefore should not be identified as Jews for any other than religious reasons. He also believed that Americans would only want to help Jews if their cause was melded with that of other persecuted people. He therefore ensured that his paper universalized the Nazis’ victims in editorials and on the front page.
The result: The New York Times was in touch with European Jews’ suffering, which accounts for its 1,000-plus stories on the Final Solution’s steady progress. Yet, it deliberately de-emphasized the Holocaust news, reporting it in isolated, inside stories. The few hundred words about the Nazi genocide the Times published every couple days were hard to find amidst a million other words in the newspaper. Times readers could legitimately have claimed not to have known, or at least not to have understood, what was happening to the Jews.
The Times’s judgment that the murder of millions of Jews was a relatively unimportant story also reverberated among other journalists trying to assess the news, among Jewish groups trying to arouse public opinion, and among government leaders trying to decide on an American response. It partly explains the general apathy and inaction that greeted the news of the Holocaust....
Controversy also surrounded a December 16, 2005 Times article revealing leaked information that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps of certain international telephone conversations between suspected terrorists in the U.S. and others abroad without first obtaining court warrants for the surveillance. Critics of the policy charged that such wiretapping was unconstitutional and in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Supporters of the measure held that it was both a crucial and legally permissible counter-intelligence tool, and that the Times’ disclosure of the secret program amounted to treason. The reporters who brought the story to light, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, were awarded Pulitzer Prizes in 2006.
Another controversy of recent times involved Jayson Blair, who was fired from his job as a New York Times reporter in May 2003 when it was learned that he had committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud. Blair had concocted, in part or whole, many of the 600-plus stories he had worked on at the Times -- fabricating quotes and events, and lifting material from other newspapers and wire services. The paper's top two editors -- Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd -- resigned their posts following the revelations about Blair.
On August 25, 2012, Arthur Brisbane, who was stepping down from his post as the Times' public editor, wrote a final column in which he acknowledged the paper's leftwing bias:
"[The Times] is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within. When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times. As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.... [A] kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper’s political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space. It’s a huge success story — it is hard to argue with the enormous size of Times Nation — but one that carries risk as well. A just-released Pew Research Center survey found that The Times’s 'believability rating' had dropped drastically among Republicans compared with Democrats, and was an almost-perfect mirror opposite of Fox News’s rating. Can that be good?"