No American newspaper has been so examined, dissected, psychoanalyzed (literally), so voluminously written about, so appraised and criticized as the New York Times.
That Johnny-come-lately to national prominence, the washington Post, may be have achieved more overnight glamour as a result of its superb Watergate coverage and its immortalization on film by Robert Redford.
But it is the Times that, month after month, creates the itch in the typewriter fingers of writers from bearded journalism students to columinists for glossy magazines.
Some of the writing, like GAy Talese's book ("The Kingdom and the Power"), has been gossipy. Harvard Prof. Chris Argyris did a psychoanalytical book ("Behind the Front Page").
But one of the questions all writers most frequently ask is: How is is the Times actually run, and how are decisions actually made? It is relief to have confirmed by Harrison Salisbury that decisionmaking at the times, as at many great newspapers and institutions, defies coherent description. The shifting sands of power, and the way monumental decisions are made five minutes before press time, supply do not parallel the neat blocks on the table-of-organization charts drawn up by the management experts.
Not too surprisingly, what goes into these decisions at the Times is an amalgam of wisdom and experience and emotions and concerns on a given day. Fortunately, the Times attracts some of the wisest and most experienced journalists in the country, and is in good hands.
The dust jacket of Mr. Salisbury's book says he provides the "definitive story" of the Times from its "unpromising beginning." That is dust-jacket hyperbole, for the book is by no means the "definitive story" of the Times. Actually, it concentrates heavily on the most important chapters in Times history during the past 25 years: the pentagon papers, coverage of race relations and the South, Watergate, and the relationship of the Times with the Central Intellegence Agency. (It is, in fact, only after the first 350 pages or so that we are through with the Pentagon papers.)
Nonetheless, this comprehensive coverage of the valiant Times role in the Pentagon papers case, along with Times anguish over its second-best role in Watergate coverage, is fascinating reading.
There is a good piece on A. M. rosenthal, the brilliant, emotional-to-the-point-of-tears editorial boss of the Times, and his awesome love affair with his newspaper. And there is an intriguing chapter on how these immensely experienced journalists wrestle with decency, love of country, love of profession, love of paper, in the process of making deadlines decisions on ethics, and taste, and invasion of privacy, and the preservation of legitimate security.
Not the ultimate of the Times. But an important addition to the long list of literature about that remarkable newspaper.