New York Sunset

A lament for a young journalistic institution.

As usual when we arose this morning, in front of our door lay two copies of the New York Sun: one addressed to us, and one to the previous owner of our apartment, from whom we bought the place more than a year ago. Tomorrow the number of copies of the Sun we receive will decline by two. Today the paper published its last issue–or, its last “number,” as editor Seth Lipsky put it, in a farewell letter, using the Sun’s style.

The Sun began publishing 6½ years ago, picking up the name and logo of a newspaper published from 1833 through 1950. Sun columnist Hillel Halkin recalls a long conversation that occurred “late one afternoon in the mid-1990s,” in which Lipsky–then editor of the Forward, a Jewish weekly–outlined for Halkin his idea of “a high-quality, intellectual, daily New York newspaper with conservative views that would compete successfully with the New York Times.” Halkin was skeptical, but Lipsky convinced him.

Lipsky also managed to convince enough investors to fund the paper’s start. Sun obituarist Stephen Miller recalls the day the deal came together:

Flash-forward to September 11, 2001, when Mr. Lipsky, who together with Mr. Stoll had spent the last year raising capital to launch a new daily, was setting out from breakfast in Midtown to a meeting at a law firm where the final papers would be signed. As he left breakfast, his secretary called from the New Jersey Turnpike to say that if he was thinking of going later to his office at the Wall Street Journal, he shouldn’t, for a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.

Mr. Lipsky later said that he was humbled and inspired by the fact that, for all the horror of the day and the chaos that followed, not one of the investors who had committed capital to the Sun asked to pull out.

Lipsky at the time was writing a column called Dispatch for; Ira Stoll, his partner and managing editor, was a contributor to Best of the Web Today. Both departed to start the Sun, which published its first issue on April 16, 2002.

Journalistically speaking, the Sun lived up to Lipsky’s conception. It was consistently lively and thought-provoking, often covering stories other papers missed or emphasizing unconventional angles. It was well known for excellent cultural coverage; more than once at cocktail parties, we heard people praise the Sun’s arts coverage to the skies while disavowing its conservative politics. (We should also note that for a time the Sun published daily excerpts of this column.)

As a writer with an eye for linguistic detail, we always got a kick out of the Sun’s idiosyncratic style rules. Some of these were a bit old-fashioned, like calling an issue of the paper a “number” or referring to the regime in Beijing as “Red China.” Come to think of it, shouldn’t that have been the regime in Peking?

The paper referred to all U.S. senators and state governors without first names, sometimes excepting Senator Nelson of Nebraska and Senator Nelson of Florida. As near as we can tell, it used the preposition at whenever referring to a location, so that the Sun’s masthead said the paper was published “at New York City” rather than the more idiomatic in.

Another rule we’d been unaware of until we read the Miller obit:

Governor Cuomo, whom the Sun’s editor had met in the living room of conservative columnist William F. Buckley Jr., was an early guest, as was C. Virginia Fields, then the president of Manhattan. (Sun style outlawed the phrase “borough president.”)

For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of New York City government, this is amusing because the “president of Manhattan” presides over nothing. The position used to have real power, but it was essentially legislative power, owing to the borough president’s membership in the Board of Estimate–which was abolished, by order of 9, in Board of Estimate v. Morris.

That “9” was our favorite oddity of Sun style. This was how the paper referred to the U.S. Supreme Court, at least in headlines. It was an ingeniously economical use of column width, though it occasionally led to some confusion: “9 Strike Down Death Penalty for Juveniles” read a 2005 headline, but in fact it should have been “5,” since the decision was by a bare majority (or maybe even “1,” since, as usual, Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote). A 2006 headline read “9 Hospitals Proposed for Closing,” leading one to wonder where the elderly justices would go for medical care.

Sadly, the Sun did not succeed as a business proposition. It was not an auspicious time for daily newspapers in general, and Lipsky’s 11th-hour efforts to raise capital ran up against the crisis on Wall Street. As the New York Times noted, paid circulation was only about 14,000, and the Sun gave away 66,000 copies a day. Even though one of the 66,000 came to our apartment each day, we continued paying for one of the 14,000 too. We’ll miss the Sun tomorrow when the sun goes up.

Victims Wanted
This report from Politico’s Jonathan Martin seems a bit creepy:

Barack Obama’s campaign earlier this month sought to find a rape victim to appear in a campaign commercial, according to an e-mail obtained by Politico.

Kiersten Steward, director of public policy at the Family Violence Prevention Fund, served as a conduit between the campaign and victims and women’s advocates.

“Obviously, this is a big ask and I haven’t seen a script but presumably it will be a brief ‘this is what happened to me, we need someone who will fight for women like me, these are the guys to do it,'” Steward wrote in a Sept. 15 e-mail. “Again, that’s just my assumption, given how these things usually go.”

Steward didn’t comment, and the Obama campaign wouldn’t disclose the topic of the prospective ad, but “did suggest the ad may be aimed at underscoring their candidate’s support for abortion rights.” This seems rather silly, since the chances of abortion ever being outlawed in cases of rape are somewhere between slim and none, and slim left the room after someone called him racist.

Mikele Shelton-Knight, a rape victim and “full-time victims advocate” from Virginia who declined to appear in the Obama ad, has another theory as to its content:

Shelton-Knight said she thought that the focus of the ad may be about the practice in Wasilla, Alaska, to charge rape victims to pay for their own exams.

The law was on the books when Sarah Palin became mayor of the small city, and it’s unclear whether she supported it or opposed it during her tenure.

But Shelton-Knight said Palin should not be criticized for having governed a city with such a law as they were quite common until recent years.

Alaska didn’t pass a bill until 2000 requiring state and local law endorcement [sic] to pay for the exams. And Shelton-Knight said it wasn’t until lobbying by her and others that Virginia last year put the financial burden on localities. Many states still charge victims for the cost of the exam.

In an interview with Wasilla’s Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Palin says, “The entire notion of making a victim of a crime pay for anything is crazy. I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test.”

All the Nudes That’s Fit to Print
A bar in Barack Obama’s hometown is displaying a painting of a naked Sarah Palin, the Chicago Tribune reports. Bruce Elliott hung his painting behind the bar at the Old Town Ale House, which his wife owns:

“I’ve been following her religiously,” he said Monday at the bar. “I had never heard of her before, like everyone else. I find her bizarrely fascinating, even though I pretty much despise everything she stands for.”

Despite their political differences, Elliott admits to a bit of a crush on the Alaska governor. He began painting her smile and trademark glasses, he said, before filling in the details: a gun, red high heels, polar bear rug, rugged Alaska landscape and a scared moose. His daughter, who looks a little like Palin and does a great impression of her, served as model for the governor’s body.

His daughter modeled for a nude painting? Presumably she’s an adult, but that seems rather creepy all the same.

Also, how come it’s OK to paint Palin in the nude, but an actual photo of Barack Obama in Kenyan garb was considered invidious?

Let Nixon Be Nixon

  • “Democrats See the Pros and Cons of Letting Biden Be Biden”–headline, Washington Post, Sept. 30
  • “Conservatives to McCain Camp: Let Palin Be Palin”–headline,, Sept. 30

Review of Journalism Reviews
The other day the New York Times published what Clint Hendler of the Columbia Journalism Review calls “a 4,500 word investigation into John McCain’s relationship with gambling and the gambling industry.” We haven’t read it, and we probably won’t bother, as Hendler reports “the story lacks a dramatic smoking gun.” But according to Hendler, “what makes the article particularly interesting from a journalism standpoint” is this paragraph:

Mr. McCain’s spokesman, Tucker Bounds, would not discuss the senator’s night of gambling at Foxwoods, saying: “Your paper has repeatedly attempted to insinuate impropriety on the part of Senator McCain where none exists–and it reveals that your publication is desperately willing to gamble away what little credibility it still has.”

Last week we noted that the McCain campaign has been openly treating the media, and especially the Times, as an adversary–which makes a certain amount of sense, since the media have treated political leaders, and especially Republicans, as adversaries for decades.

Here, though, it seems to us that the Times deserves credit for playing it straight and reporting the quote that shows the McCain campaign is treating the Times as an adversary. But Hendler seems troubled by this:

The quote’s inclusion reads like the Times is happy to give space to Bounds in a way that makes him and McCain’s campaign look like bullies to the paper’s readers, and victims to his campaign’s partisans. Yes, again, it’s Bounds decision to respond however he likes—if he wants to stoke the base’s anti-Times fire, fine.

But by quoting his response in full, it looks like the Times is happy to help him pour the gas. There’s something admirable in retrenching under pressure. But there’s something disappointing in giving your sparring partner exactly what they [sic] want.

If you can make sense out of this metaphorical jumble, please email us. We think Hendler is trying to say that the Times should not deign to acknowledge that its own perceived anti-McCain bias has made it part of the story. Hendler, that is, is criticizing the Times for acknowledging that the Times is subject to criticism. We guess he wants the Times to pay attention to his criticism and ignore his criticism.

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