New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal recently spoke to Stephen Dubner for his Freakonomics “How Biased Is Your Media?” podcast. Here’s what he said about his late father, Abe Rosenthal, who was Times executive editor from 1977 to 1986.
For him, the New York Times was the beginning and the middle and the end of his existence and he was dedicated to it entirely. You know what it says on his gravestone — “He kept the paper straight.” I have a thing on my desk, which most people don’t know what it is, but it’s that reverse lead type, and he hired a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer and discovered after he hired her that she was sleeping with one of her sources at the Philadelphia Inquirer and fired her, even though it had nothing to do with the New York Times.
Someone said to him, “Why do you care who she sleeps with?” and rather memorably — and it’s there on my [desk] — he said, “I don’t care if you fuck an elephant, just so long as you don’t cover the circus.” And that was my dad; I really truly believe that you could do that to an elephant and he’d be OK with it, but no circus coverage. It sounds goofy, but it’s the core of journalistic principle.