New York Times Declaration of Principles

A Declaration of Principle

August 19, 1896

( The New York Times, May 10, 1977 )

When Adolph S. Ochs became publisher of The New York Times in 1896, he wrote what
he called a “business announcement.” It appeared on the Editorial Page over his signature. It
read, in part:

“To undertake the management of The New York Times, with its great history for right
doing… is an extraordinary task. But if a sincere desire to conduct a high-standard newspaper,
clean, dignified and trustworthy, requires honesty, watchfulness, earnestness, industry and
practical knowledge applied with common sense, I entertain the hope that I can succeed in
maintaining the high estimate that thoughtful, pure-mined people have ever had of The New
York Times.

“It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times give the news, all the news, in
concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society, and give it as
early, if not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news
impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interests involved; to make of the
columns of The New York Times, a forum for the consideration of all questions of public
importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”

The world has changed since 1896. The New York Times has changed with it. But the
principles that guided The Times in those days still guide the day-to-day coverage you expect
from The New York Times.(
Cognisant of this, I engaged the New York Times in corespondence in 1956-57,
culminating in receipt of a letter from Turner Catledge, the Managing Editor March
14, 1957.

In this he says “It is my conviction that careful, objective, and continue to be,
thoroughly and accurately informed of the pros and cons of the situation. At least,
that is the judgment of most readers from whom we have heard and with whom we
have talked. We can only regret it does not seem to be your own.

It seems to me that you are translating your knowledge of The Times’ editorial
position on this matter from the editorial page, where it is rightly expressed, to the
news columns, where it has no place. The purpose and effort of the News Department
have been to present the facts in relation to events as they occur, as accurately and as
objectively as possible. We do not think it proper in the news columns to argue with
those facts, although we do think it proper and necessary often to set the facts in
context with other facts in order to present the full meaning of the events as they
have transpired.

Knowing as I do our purposes and our endeavors, I cannot agree at all with the
implications of your letter so far as they apply to the Times’ news coverage. You, of
course, are entitled to your own opinion, and you also merit our thanks for passing it
on to us.”

Subsequent to receiving this letter, I telephoned Mr. Catledge to continue our
discussion, at which time he stated that “Yes, the Times has colored its coverage of
the news to conform to its editorial positions any number of times, which is our
privilege, and will continue to do so as we wish”.

At this point, as we were in agreement that this was the case, I closed the matter.

Years later, in 1979, again questioning their biased treatment of the news, I told them
that I would sue them for false advertising if they were to again publish their
“Declaration of Principles.”

Apparently they agreed that it was false, because they have never published it since.


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