‘Sun’ Rise, ‘Sun’ Set





The New York Sun is rising, but how long before it sets? Media writers have been hyping the April 16 launch of the conservative paper for weeks, and Tina Brown hosted a party for Editor in Chief Seth Lipsky, a respected newspaperman who miraculously raised $20 million from a dozen investors. Speculation abounds about the motives of backers including Conrad Black (now Lord Black), who previously tried to buy The Daily News and The New York Observer, and the team of Roger Hertog and Michael Steinhardt, who recently bought into The New Republic.

Even as the buzz turns to skepticism, Lipsky remains serenely confident. In an interview, he praised his investors for their “abiding commitment to New York and the idea of civic involvement.” As proof, he recalled that while investors’ money had been scheduled to come through on September 11, the deal still closed speedily on October 1, with the original group intact.

But deep pockets empty quickly in the news trade, and some wags already see the Sun on the western horizon. They say that given the economics of publishing, the paper cannot possibly achieve its initial target of 25,000-35,000 paid circulation or survive more than a few glorious years. The streets of Manhattan are littered with the remains of dead start-ups, and The New York Observer, while popular, has never turned a profit.

“This is the work of a group of well-to-do people who want to get their approach into the marketplace of ideas,” says Daily News editor in chief Ed Kosner. “It’s an intellectual vanity publication, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” But Kosner sees the Sun‘s audience as “a very small niche, the niche of weekly and monthly journals.”

According to one industry insider, the tone of the paper will make all the difference, and Lipsky’s best chance for success is “if he can make New Yorkers excited to pick it up… then usurp the Observer and become the 10021 paper.”

Jonathan Rosen, a writer and editor who worked with Lipsky at the Forward, praises the Sun editor as an astute political analyst and scrupulous journalist who “understands the entertainment value of news” and whose passion will carry the day.

“Bear in mind,” says Rosen, “The New York Review of Books has a circulation of over 100,000. Who would have thought a journal written and edited by a bunch of eggheads working out their deep intellectual questions would be so appealing to so many people? What made it work was the people who created it and wrote for it really cared.”

Sun chief operating officer William Kummel believes the paper’s potential audience includes not just conservative elites, but anyone with a propensity to read daily newspapers in New York.

In the first year, Kummel expects about 75 percent of paid circulation to come from newsstands and 25 percent from subscriptions. The Sun will deliver about 60,000 copies to 4000 newsstands in the metropolitan area, where they will sell for 50 cents a pop. In hopes of accelerating the circulation numbers, the company has contracted with distributors owned by the New York Times Company and the Tribune Company. For home delivery, the Sun has contracted with Mitchell’s Newspaper Delivery Service, which delivers the Times and other papers to Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and beyond, and with Newsday to provide home delivery in Queens and Long Island.

In response to skepticism about the Sun‘s ability to attract readers, Kummel boasts that the Sun‘s circulation director is Cathy Lane, a Newsday veteran who helped launch the Spanish-language newspaper Hoy. Hoy claimed a circulation of 60,000-plus after three years. But does New York have as many conservatives as Hispanics?

Coup? What Coup?

New York Times foreign editors never liked Hugo Chávez, having repeatedly painted the Venezuelan president as a dangerous would-be dictator. So they must have popped their last bottle of Pulitzer champagne last week when they heard that Chávez had been toppled by an alliance of business and military leaders.

Of course, the Times was too diplomatic to use the word “coup.” Instead, in an April 13 front-pager, Juan Forero reported that the “mercurial strongman” had been “forced to resign” by military men after his supporters killed 14 civilians during a strike.

When the White House called Chávez’s fall a victory for democracy, Times editors must have thought they had an excuse to downplay the unconstitutional moves of interim president Pedro Carmona. From Forero’s perspective, dissent was minimal, with only Cuba calling the resignation a coup. In the same edition, the Times ran a fluffy Carmona profile and an editorial saluting Venezuela for independently replacing a “ruinous demagogue” with a “respected business leader.” In a news analysis, Larry Rohter explained why the transition was not technically a coup.

Even as the Times was propping up Carmona, was posting a portrait of a blindfolded and gagged Simón Bolívar, the 19th-century hero who liberated Venezuela from Spain. Publisher Al Giordano (a friend of mine) reported that the coup had been condemned by the governments of Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and Paraguay, and that Chávez’s authoritarian tendencies paled before those of the new regime, which had not only dissolved the Supreme Court and Congress, but also fired the attorney general and raided the homes of Chávez supporters.

Giordano speculated that the civilian deaths had been falsely blamed on Chávez, and noted that the whole thing smacked of CIA efforts to destabilize Chile in the 1970s. His bottom line on Saturday: “A twice democratically elected government has been deposed by a military junta that has installed an illegitimate, unelected president.”

Giordano, a dogged critic of the Times, was vindicated the next day when an international outcry led to Chávez’s reinstatement and a virtual front-page correction in the Times. For the April 14 edition, Ginger Thompson joined Forero in Caracas, where they interviewed Venezuelans who rejected what they called the, um, coup. In a sidebar, Forero clung to the now-fading claim that Chávez cronies had fired on civilians.

In the same edition, Tim Weiner delivered a Week in Review piece placing the ouster as one in a long line of “Latin American coups tacitly encouraged or covertly supported by the United States.” Weiner named several reasons Bush might have wanted Chávez out, most notably the politics of oil. In Latin America, he wrote, the U.S. has long “supported authoritarian regimes… in defense of its economic and political interests.”

Enter The Washington Post‘s Scott Wilson, who reported on April 14 that the coup had not been spontaneous, but the work of dissident military officers who said they had been planning it for months and had solicited the approval of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.

On April 15, Times reporters used the word “coup” unapologetically for the first time. Better late than never, but too bad they couldn’t see it in the first place.

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