Conservatives Ask New York Times and Gannett CEOs About Bias Issues

Warning New York Times Shareholders: Management Puts Liberalism Over Shareholder Value

At Gannett, CEO Addresses Lingering Questions from Local Paper’s Decision to Print an Interactive Map of Home Addresses of Registered Gun Owners in New York State

National Center Asks New York Times to Add “Genuinely Conservative” Writers to Opinion Page

Tells Gannett CEO that Local Paper’s Decision to Publish Gun Map “No Doubt” Was Political, Describes Recent Tweet of Local Publisher Denigrating NRA Head Wayne LaPierre as Evidence

New York, NY / McLean, VA – National Center personnel went one-on-one with the CEOs of two major media companies this week, asking them pointed questions about specific elements of liberal bias in their organizations.

On Wednesday, April 30, in Manhattan, Senior Fellow Jeff Stier asked New York Times Chairman and Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. about statements by the paper’s own public editors that the Times has a liberal bias and also asked why the Times does not add several genuinely conservative editorial writers to its opinion page. Stier noted that this move could improve profits and enhance shareholder value by making the paper more attractive to the 40% of the public that, according to Gallup, is conservative.

On Thursday, May 1, in McLean, Virginia, Chairman Amy Ridenour asked Gannett Corporation President and CEO Gracia Matore about last year’s controversy in which a Gannett newspaper in New York published the names and addresses of all registered handgun owners in two well-populated New York counties in an interactive map, upsetting the community and exposing Gannett personnel to threats. She also said the decision to run the interactive map almost certainly was political, given that the president and publisher of the local paper just this week tweeted to her Twitter followers a picture of the head of the National Rifle Association with the words “STARK RAVING MAD” across the top.

Stier asked Mr. Sulzberger, in part:

Gallup polls for the last 22 years show that nearly twice as many Americans — on average, 40 percent to 20 percent — identify as conservative than identify as liberal. So about 40 percent of our potential customer base looks at us as out-of-touch with the values that are important to them.

It seems that liberal ideology is being placed ahead of shareholder value.

My question is this: why does the New York Times continue to intentionally alienate so many potential readers? Can you explain the business rationale for rejecting 40 percent of potential subscribers? What, if anything, has been done to address the bias concerns from your own public editors? And why do we not add several truly conservative writers to our opinion pages to enhance our appeal to 40 percent of the market?

Stier received what he called “a cordial non-answer answer.”

“I felt his answer was a little bit of a shell game,” Stier said. “He kind of acknowledged they are perceived as liberal, but said the news is completely separate from the opinion section, and in the news, he said, we do the best we can. He agreed that the paper’s editorial perspective is liberal, but our criticism – and that of the paper’s own ombudsmen — was about liberal bias in the news division. Our criticism was more substantive than his answer; his answer was more spin than substance. And when it came to the point of why the paper does not put more conservatives on the op-ed pages in order to appeal to a larger customer base, he avoided giving me a direct answer. My impression is that they see themselves as liberals and are comfortable with that; that they aren’t really concerned with making more money at the expense of offering opinions the majority owners disagree with.”

The full text of Stier’s question to Mr. Sulzberger of the New York Times, as prepared for delivery, is here.

Ridenour asked Gannett’s Ms. Matore about a Gannett newspaper, the Journal News, publishing the names and addresses of legally-registered handgun owners in two New York counties a year ago. The action frightened many people, who feared criminals could target them as a result. Some angry people threatened the local newspaper staff and Gannett management, including Ms. Matore herself.

Ridenour asked, in part, and as prepared for delivery:

That the [decision to publish the map] was political there can be no doubt. I note that the paper’s president and publisher just six days ago tweeted out a picture of the head of the National Rifle Association under the words “stark raving mad.” This was on an account identifying her as president and publisher of a Gannett newspaper, and not noting in any way that her tweets were personal opinion only.

If reporting is correct, no one in upper management here at Gannett was consulted before the Journal News outed legally-registered handgun owners. If there was no policy at that time that management should be consulted before such a controversial, and even dangerous action — for Gannett employees as well as law-abiding members of the general public — is there one in place now? Or are publishers of local Gannett papers empowered to publish anything they see fit, even if controversial, potentially-dangerous and on topics on which they have intense personal views?

“I received a decent, if careful, answer from Ms. Matore,” said Ridenour. “Bottom line: the local papers are encouraged – this was said twice – to check with the appropriate executive at Gannett when making future decisions about such things as publishing interactive gun registry maps. I note this falls short of a pledge not to print any more such maps, or to place a mandate on local publishers that executives be contacted, but we can’t expect Gannett to be micromanaging the day-to-day publishing decisions of all of its publications. It needs to be able to trust its local publishers to make the correct decisions and to know when an issue is of such a magnitude as to make it wise to consult upper management. It appears the Journal News publisher wasn’t as wise as she might have been when she decided to publish the interactive map.”

“Ms. Matore did not comment on my description of the Journal News publisher, using a Twitter account identifying her position with the Journal News, tweeting a picture of the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre with the words ‘stark raving mad’ over it, but she was attentive,” added Ridenour. “In her place I would not comment publicly on a personnel matter either, but in private I’d ask for a resignation. Here’s why: After it published the interactive gun registry map, the Journal News repeatedly claimed its motive was journalistic, yet with one little tweet, the publisher has revealed strong personal feelings against the NRA. It’s clear she was not objective in the matter of the maps. Given her strong personal views, she should have recused herself and consulted upper management. I doubt they would have been published if she had; at least, not in that controversial way. Instead, she scared a lot of people and cost her employer ad and subscriber revenue. Then, having done that, she failed to support the premise that her goal all along was journalistic by revealing her animus in public. Instead, she revealed to anyone who cared to see that her decisionmaking on behalf of the Journal News on the matter of the maps was a low-minded attack on the Second Amendment rather than a high-minded exercise of the First.”

“Although I believe the local publisher should resign, on the whole I was encouraged by what I heard at Gannett,” Ridenour concluded. “The reaction I received was very positive. To my great surprise, individual Gannett executives came up to me afterwards, on their own initiative, to praise my question and thank me for asking it. 100 percent of the feedback I received was positive, when I expected the reverse. Strongly positive, even.”

The full text of Ridenour’s question to Ms. Matore of Gannett, as prepared for delivery, is here.

Amy Ridenour is a shareholder of both Gannett and the New York Times.

The National Center’s Free Enterprise Project is a leading free-market corporate activist program. In 2013, Free Enterprise Project representatives attended 33 shareholder meetings advancing conservative and free-market principles in the areas of health care, energy, taxes, subsidies, regulations, religious freedom, media bias, gun rights and many more important public policy issues. The National Center has participated in 20 shareholder meetings so far in 2014.

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