The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are locked in an old-fashioned newspaper war that will likely cost them both millions. But NYT publisher Pinch Sulzberger is still worried about being called a girly-man. UPDATE: The NYT responds!
John Koblin has a wonderful piece on the newspaper war today, filled mostly with ridiculous bravado declarations by WSJ editor Robert Thomson about how he will kill and eat the Times and make money doing it (we're paraphrasing). But the hottest part of the piece highlights the disagreement between Sulzberger and Thomson over what was said when they met each other at a dinner party last week. Of course they discussed the time last month when the WSJ apparently ran a photo of Sulzberger's face to illustrate a story about feminine faces! Thomson says the two "had a good giggle about it"—and besides, he says, Sulzberger's jaw is actually masculine, okay?
But Sulzberger trots out NYT spokesman Bob Christie to tell a very different story:
While it is true that Mr. Sulzberger greeted Mr. Thomson and the two men exchanged pleasantries, Mr. Thomson left the conversation for a few minutes, before returning. Upon his return, he said that the image that looked like Mr. Sulzberger's face in that graphic on the Weekend Journal front wasn't his at all. Mr. Thomson, according to Mr. Christie, told the Times publisher he wasn't even aware of the image until he read blog posts about it. When Mr. Sulzberger asked Mr. Thomson to run a clarification, the Journal editor declined and said he didn't want to escalate the issue.
Here is what Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, is saying here:
1. Robert Thomson lied in his account of their conversation.
2. The thing that Pinch Sulzberger most wanted to talk about with the editor of his biggest rival newspaper is the possibility that the bottom half of his face was used in a mildly insulting photo illustration that everyone has forgotten about by now.
3. This photo illustration issue is so important that the possibility that it wasn't his face requires a public printed clarification in the WSJ.
The problem here is that, while half of the bold statements Thomson makes on the topic of the NYT are clearly bullshit, he still appears strong and confident; while Sulzberger, even though he commands the world's best paper, appears weak and vulnerable. If you're going to call Robert Thomson a liar, you have to really kick him in the balls while you do it (so we hope the email we sent to the NYT's PR department comes back with growling statements of rage; we'll update). Jesus, Sulzberger, what are you going to do when the New York Post's Photoshop people get ahold of you? Man up. This is war.
UPDATE: We just got off the phone with NYT spokesman Bob Christie, who gave us the following bold statement:
A certain Mr. Robert Thomson, an editor of a newspaper, told a reporter a version of events that did not marry with reality. Clearly, principle is a bystander at the house of Thomson. He owes his employees and readers an apology.
Two details here work in Sulzberger's favor. One, the photo in the WSJ almost certainly is him; and two, according to Christie, Thomson is the one who brought up the photo with Sulzberger—not vice versa. The ball is in your court, WSJ.
UPDATE 2: Dow Jones spokesperson Ashley Huston tells us "We are not responding to this."