Monday, February 2, 2009
Si Newhouse - Admirable in a Strange, Roundabout Way
David Carr's piece in today's Times about the troubles at Conde Nast underlines just how much things have changed for Si Newhouse & Co. since my 1994 biography 'Newhouse', during the hey-day of the Newhouse empire and its cultural impact on New York and the rest of the country. It's sort of a shame, especially for those who once revelled in his largesse.
Back when my bio came out no one wanted to talk about Si Newhouse, then the true King of All Media, whose ownership of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and especially Random House, the giant book publisher, made him off-limits for most writers in New York who were earning handsome checks from him. I, of course, became persona non grata with the Conde Nasties.
But I must say, I'm sorry for Si Newhouse on a personal level. When his dynamo father and namesake, Sam Newhouse, shuffled him off to Conde Nast, not many were expecting big things from Si. But over time, he showed a kind of ambition that would prove to be admirable in the re-creation of Vanity Fair. Regardless of its Hollywood obsessions and occasional excesses, it remains -- thanks to Tina Brown and then Graydon Carter -- one of the most remarkable magazines of our times. It still reminds me of the old Ed Sullivan Show, featuring each month the best acts it can find for a wide and devoted audience. And despite the horrible mishandling of the New Yorker in the late 1980s, David Remnick has proven to be an extraordinary editor who has attracted the best journalists.
At the heart of these successes has been Si Newhouse. Some of his personal decisions have been more than questionable -- notably the relationship of Roy Cohn and his involvement with Advance Publications while also an attorney for the mob. But in the final analysis, Si Newhouse, at age 80, exceeded all the expectations of his one-time doubters.