At the very least, the paper ought to be honorable enough to apply its freshly minted standards to its own past. If it did, I believe the owners, editors, reporters and stockholders would be shocked by what they discover.
The legacy complications begin with Ochs, a Tennessee businessman who took control of the struggling New York Times when he was just 38 years old. He already owned the Chattanooga Times, which he called a conservative Democratic newspaper — at a time when nearly all black citizens in the South were Republicans. As Ochs put it when he took control in 1879, the Chattanooga paper would “move in line with the conservative democracy of the South.”
He and his descendants continued to own the paper until 1999, including during the enforced segregation of the Jim Crow era. An example of the Chattanooga Times’ tenor involves the infamous Scottsboro Nine case of 1931, which involved false allegations of rape against nine black teens by two white women.
An editorial was headlined “Death Penalty Properly Demanded in Fiendish Crime of Nine Burly Negroes,” and the paper’s trial reporter called the defendants “beasts unfit to be called human,” according to “Racial Spectacles,” a 2011 book on race, justice and the media.
When Ochs came to New York, he brought his Southern sympathies with him. Ten years after he took over The New York Times, it ran a glowing profile of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The 1906 article was billed as a “Celebration of the Davis Centenary” and was published on “the anniversary of the great Southern leader’s death.”
Ochs’ parents, Julius and Bertha Levy, were German Jewish immigrants who met in the American South, yet had very different views on slavery.
While living with an uncle in Natchez, Miss., Bertha developed a fondness for it, a fact noted in family histories.
Top photo: New York Times newsroom, circa 1942.