One of the more damaging articles concerning the United Nations Oil for Food scandal appeared in a New York newspaper on November 26, 2004, under the byline of Claudia Rosett. In that article Rosett revealed that Kojo Annan, the son of the UN Secretary General, had remained on the payroll of the Swiss firm Cotecna, which had a UN contract in Iraq, for years after he had supposedly ended his relationship with the company. The piece had an instant ripple effect: Three days later William Safire devoted his New York Times column to Rosett’s revelations and demanded that Kofi Annan resign from his post. Senator Norm Coleman, whose subcommittee was then investigating the Oil for Food program, joined the chorus two days later in the Wall Street Journal with a piece titled “Kofi Annan Must Go,” a piece that also cited Rosett’s reporting.
Rosett’s article did not appear in the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal or the Daily News–all of which are routinely scathing about the UN–but in the New York Sun, a pugnacious conservative daily that sprang up in lower Manhattan a few months after the attacks of September 11.
When the Sun was born in 2002, media soothsayers predicted that it would never find a permanent place in New York’s brutally competitive newspaper market and that the hearse would arrive within two years. But the Sun is still here, and on April 16 it will mark its fifth anniversary. Although it is funded by a coterie of wealthy individuals, published on a shoestring and edited by a tenacious journalist, Seth Lipsky, the paper is not a financial success: Last year Lipsky told journalism students at Columbia that the Sun lost $1 million a month. But those losses amount to pocket change for the proprietors, whose investment and ongoing commitment have yielded something else: a broadsheet that injects conservative ideology into the country’s most influential philanthropic, intellectual and media hub; a paper whose day-to-day coverage of New York City emphasizes lower taxes, school vouchers and free-market solutions to urban problems; a paper whose elegant culture pages hold their own against the Times in quality and sophistication; a paper that breaks news and crusades on a single issue; a paper that functions as a journalistic SWAT team against individuals and institutions seen as hostile to Israel and Jews; and a paper that unapologetically displays the scalps of its victims.
Ten years ago I published a Nation cover story titled “Why America Needs a Labor Daily,” in which I attempted to revive an idea that A.J. Liebling had floated in the late 1940s: that the American labor movement should create a daily newspaper to counteract the probusiness–and antiunion–bias of the mainstream press. A month later, Seth Lipsky, whom I had never met, invited me to his office at the Forward newspaper, situated in the Workmen’s Circle Building on East 33rd Street in Manhattan. I found myself gazing at a bald, diminutive man who looked as though he had just stepped out of a Charles Dickens novel, a man whom Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker has described as “Pickwickian.”
Lipsky is an intriguing figure in New York journalism. As a high school student he kept the masthead of the New York Times tucked away in his wallet. After graduating from Harvard he went to Vietnam as a combat reporter. In 1971 he launched a nineteen-year career at the Wall Street Journal, during which time he served on the editorial page under the late Robert Bartley and assimilated much of Bartley’s ferocious intellectual and rhetorical manner. In 1990 Lipsky was hired by the Forward, once the bible for the Yiddish-speaking masses of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, to produce a weekly edition of the paper in English. A neoconservative admirer of Ronald Reagan, Lipsky immediately ran into political difficulties: Early on he received a letter from the late Arthur Hertzberg, who declared that the editors of the old Yiddish Forward “did not create and maintain a newspaper of socialists and social democrats for their inheritance to become now, in English, an echo of the Wall Street Journal.” Lipsky, whose heroes include Ze’ev Jabotinsky (the militant Zionist who admired Mussolini), Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, certainly did push the Forward rightward–a 1994 editorial called for the bombing of North Korea’s nuclear facilities–but he also won praise for his editorial finesse. “No matter how conservative Lipsky may be on certain subjects, especially foreign affairs,” David Remnick wrote thirteen years ago in The New Yorker, “his stewardship of the paper has been open and daring.”