So Long, Sun

"I subscribed to The Sun, I loved The Sun"

I couldn’t abide its right-wing politics, its one-sided support for the war in Iraq, its gratuitous attacks on some of my favorite institutions—the UN, Columbia University, and the Ford Foundation among them—and while I didn’t mind its obsession with Israel and the Jews, I would have preferred, that like the weekly Forward, editor Seth Lipsky’s last paper, it not pretend to be merely another “general interest, national” daily.

Having said that, let me quickly add that I subscribed to The Sun, I loved The Sun, and although it published its last issue today, I already miss it.

What was unique about this paper, whose first issue was published April 16, 2002, was not so much its political ambition, which was to provide a counterforce to The New York Times. (Lipsky once told Scott Sherman, writing for The Nation,”If one drew a quadrant of New York newspapers, there was a center-left broadsheet, The Times. There was a center-left tabloid, the News, and a center-right tabloid, the Post. But there was not a center-right broadsheet.”)

Rather, it was The Sun’s unique mix of opinion political journalism presented in the guise of objective reporting, its elegant cultural coverage, and its ambition—frequently successful—to make news in the guise of reporting it. For example, its scores of articles and editorials, commencing in October of 2004, alleging systematic harassment of Columbia University’s Jewish students by anti-Zionist and anti-semitic professors. (Although in the opinion of most of Columbia’s Jewish faculty, including yours truly, these allegations had little or no basis in fact, The Sun’s front page barrage soon led to stories in the Daily News, New York, and even the Times.)

Here is what I will miss most:

~Otto Penzler’s Wednesday columns telling me which mysteries to buy and why (although he had an odd weakness for the late James Crumley’s “The Last Good Kiss”, which he kept insisting was the best detective story ever written, his general batting average was well over .500).

~Mark Steyn’s over-the-top, but nevertheless sometimes hilarious Monday columns, like the one on June 9, 2008 regarding Chris Mathews’s famous remark that, when he listened to Obama, he “felt a thrill going up my leg, and I don’t have that too often.” Steyn wrote, “Au contraire, Chris and the rest of the gang seem to be getting that old tingle on a nightly basis. If Obama is political viagra, the media are at that stage in the ad where the announcer warns that if the leg tingles persist for six months, see your doctor.”

~Steven Miller’s obituaries—in the Sun’s final issue, Miller, who was celebrated in CJR in 2005, writes an elegant obituary on the paper itself, including its history. The original New York Sun, founded in 1833 by Benjamin Day, was “built to greatness from the 1860s by Charles Dana, an editor who was fired by Horace Greeley’s Tribune for being not only willing but eager to fight a war against slavery….” The paper was merged into what became the World-Telegram and Sun and eventually died in the 1960s. In the first issue of Lipsky’s Sun, Miller reminds us, was the solution to the previous Sun’s crossword puzzle, from January 4, 1950.

In 2006, Lipsky told told journalism students at Columbia that his paper was losing $1 million a month. In his final remarks to his staff Lipsky said that “among the other problems we faced was the fact that this month, not to mention this week, has been one of the worst in a century in which to be trying to raise capital…” It is sad but ironic that this interesting paper, dedicated to free market economics, went under, as The Sun’s closing editorial notes, “on the day of the largest one-day point drop in the history of the Dow-Jones Industrial average.”

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Victor Navasky , publisher emeritus of The Nation, is the chairman of the Columbia Journalism Review.