WASHINGTON -- Let us put an end to the dark murmurings over why The New York Times did not renew its contract with its lone conservative columnist, Bill Kristol. Some say it was a matter of politics. Kristol is a Republican. The Times is Obamist. For a certitude, the political disagreement was there, but politics were not the ultimate cause of Kristol's departure.
I can report on copper-bottom authority that The New York Times let Kristol go owing to public health concerns. As the Times' financial condition has grown fragile, the publisher of the Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., has become apprehensive that Kristol's conservative views could endanger the health of some of the newspaper's neurotic liberal readers. During the past year, readers unexpectedly encountering Kristol in the otherwise lenitive company of Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert have complained on the correspondence page of various discomforts. None appeared life-threatening, but what if an aged environmentalist or an infirm McGovernite lost in reveries of 1972 actually suffered a coronary? The trial lawyers would move upon the Times in an instant. Sulzberger might not survive.
Of course, the Times might not survive anyway. It labors under $1.1 billion of debt. So precarious are its finances that it recently had to accept a $250 million loan from a Mexican with the unlikely name of Carlos Slim. Whether he really is a Mexican is not clear, and the Times' team of investigative reporters is now so tiny that Executive Editor Bill Keller has not been able to spare even one reporter to inquire. As far as I have been able to ascertain, no reporter even has Googled to verify Slim's nationality. He might be Portuguese. He could be dangerously overweight. Actually, I am told that investigative reporters at the Times now, in an effort to economize, rarely leave their offices and conduct many of their investigations on the telephone. Sulzberger likes them to call collect.