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Arthur O. Sulzberger, Former 'New York Times' Publisher, Dies


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Former New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger has died today. He was 86 years old. Mr. Sulzberger took over the New York Times in 1963 after his brother-in-law and predecessor died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger was 37, the youngest publisher in the newspaper's history.


SIMON: For more on the legacy of Arthur Ochs Salzberger, we're joined now by NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And Arthur Salzberger took over this venerable institution in the 1960s. It had been a family-held operation since 1896. What were some of the different issues that he confronted?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you heard the nervousness there in Salsberger's voice. The Times had just emerged from a crippling strike affecting the newspaper industry in New York, and there were, as you suggest, changing times affecting the newspaper and The Times in particular; the civil rights movement, the question of Vietnam War.

One of his first tests was being asked by John F. Kennedy, just before Kennedy's death, to remove young David Halberstam from Vietnam for his critical coverage of the effort there. Salzberger stood firm in an early test of his journalistic integrity.

SIMON: And then, of course, he made the decision for The Times to go ahead and publish the Pentagon Papers under the Nixon administration. What happened, what was at stake?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, of course, the Pentagon Papers were a secret history of the origins and the missions of the war, what had really happened, as opposed to what the American public had been told. That was a history compiled by, you know, aides under President Lyndon Baines Johnson, but kept secret. It was published under President Nixon in June, 1971. Nixon, although wasn't really about his record in Vietnam, was adamant this could not be published. His administration went to federal court to prevent publication, sought prior restraint. That is the ability to prevent newspapers from publishing before something gets into print.

The New York Times went ahead and published, and here is Salzberger at a press conference after it publishes, explaining why.


FOLKENFLIK: President Nixon's administration went to war with newspapers, in effect, including the Washington Post and Boston Globe, which went and published the Pentagon Papers excerpts itself after The Times was enjoined. But the Supreme Court ultimately upheld Salzberger, The Times and the right of newspapers to publish things without being prevented by the government.

SIMON: David, did he change the financial footing of The Times?

FOLKENFLIK: Very much. He was part of the effort in the 1980s to make sure that the paper had a solidly national base, not simply focused on the greater New York area. And so, he connected with readers all over the country, and as a result, picked up advertisers seeking to reach them, helping The Times for the next couple of decades have a very strong financial base.

SIMON: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.