WASHINGTON - Former New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who led the company for 34 years in a period of growth that made it a multibillion-dollar media enterprise, died on Saturday at the age of 86, the newspaper said.
Sulzberger, whose family bought the Times in 1896, died at his home in Southampton, New York, after a lengthy illness, his family said.
Sulzberger, known by his childhood nickname Punch, became publisher of the Times in 1963 and turned over that job to his son, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., in 1992. He handed the chairman’s position to his son in 1997.
“Punch, beloved by his colleagues, was one of our industry’s most admired executives,” Sulzberger Jr.said in a statement.
The elder Sulzberger helped the company achieve financial stability and nationwide distribution, as well as add other newspapers, magazines, television, radio and online operations.
The Times won 31 Pulitzer Prizes during Sulzberger’s tenure as well as two important freedom-of-the-press fights.
In 1971, the Times published the Pentagon Papers, a highly classified government history on the Vietnam War that embarrassed the administration of President Richard Nixon, which demanded the Times stop publication of the series on grounds of national security. The Times, citing the First Amendment, refused and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the newspaper’s favor.
The high court also had sided with the newspaper in the Times v. Sullivan, a case that began before Sulzberger took over but was settled in 1964 when he was publisher. The ruling established standards for malice that must be proved in libel cases.
“Punch, the old Marine captain who never backed down from a fight, was an absolutely fierce defender of the freedom of the press,” Sulzberger Jr. said. “His inspired leadership in landmark cases such asNew York Times v. Sullivan and the Pentagon Papers helped to expand access to critical information and to prevent government censorship and intimidation.”