Mortimer Benjamin Zuckerman
Mortimer Benjamin Zuckerman (born 4 June 1937) is a media mogul and real estate magnate who was listed in 2008 by Forbes as the 147th richest man in the US. Between 2001-2003, Zuckerman was the chairman of the Israel lobby group Presidents Conference. Born in Montreal, Canada, he became a US citizen in 1977.
Zuckerman supported Barack Obama in the 2008 elections, but has grown highly critical because of what he perceives the administration to be insufficiently supportive of Israel. However, he lauded the administration for its defense of Israel following the killing of nine humanitarian activists by Israeli commandos on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla:
- Fortunately, the Obama administration refused to participate in such moral hypocrisy, as it steered the United Nations Security Council into a neutral protest and then blocked demand for an international inquiry into Israel’s conduct.
- 1 Friends in High Places
- 2 Neoconservatism
- 3 The Media Empire
- 4 Cultivating Future Leaders
- 5 Personal Life
- 6 Affiliations
- 7 References
Friends in High Places
In a flattering profile for the New Yorker, Nick Paumgarten lists Zuckerman's various personal associations with high US and Israeli officials, including Bill Clinton and Ehud Olmert. He spoke to Paumgarten about Israel:
- "I met all the major players, and we basically talked. We reviewed both their strategic position and their tactical position, let's put it that way." He said that he'd gone as "an analyst," on authority he finds it difficult or indiscreet to specify. "I have been involved with these people for years and years and years," he said. "And so you have a certain history, where either they trust your judgement and confidentiality or they don't." He explains the nuances of American politics and policy to the Israelis and then comes home and explains the nuances of Israeli politics and policy to the Americans.
He had a less high opinion of former Israeli Defense Minister and Labor leader Amir Peretz who according to Zuckerman naively wanted to speak to the Palestinians from a position of empathy. Frequent visitors to his home also include such figures from the political and entertainment worlds as Ron Silver, Lori Singer, Judith Miller, Jason Epstein, and the lobbyist Liz Robbins. He has also played bit parts in the films of his friend Irwin Winkler.
In an interview with Fox News, Zuckerman claimed that he had helped write Obama's speech on the Israel-Palestine issue. However, Zuckerman has grown strongly critical of Obama for pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze the construction of illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. Like Netanyahu, Zuckerman has declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a position rejected by nearly every member of the UN General Assembly, including the United States.
William Casey's open fly
Zuckerman also regaled Paumgarten with stories that highlighted his close relations with other high officials. He told the journalist that after the arrest on espionage charges of Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for the U.S. News & World Report, in 1986 he went to Moscow to facilitate his release. He then met CIA director William Casey.
- "Casey came to my office," Zuckerman started in. "It was the end of the day, and he was wearing black tie...Now, Casey shared with me some of the most extraordinary things. I couldn't believe what he was willing to share with me. I don't know how else to put this, but it was very hard for me to concentrate on it, because he had his fly open. I didn't know what to expect. Would a microphone come out of the zipper?"
According to Zuckerman, the Daniloff affair also cemented his friendship with Ronald Reagan
- "Among the reasons we hit it off was that he loved to tell jokes," Zuckerman told me. "I would be invited to dinners with Reagan, even private dinners. I'd be sitting at his table, and we would tell jokes...The wonderful thing about Reagan," Zuckerman went on, "is that he would tell jokes that were apropos of the moment. And, by the way, as I spent more time with him he would tell some of these jokes over and over again."
Zuckerman claims that Reagan had confided in him about the Iran-Contra affair in a personal call.
- Reagan...was being criticized for doing more for Daniloff than for American hostages being held in Beirut, and he knew that Zuckerman was going to be on the David Brinkley show that weekend. Zuckerman told me, "On this telephone call, Reagan tells me of all the unbelievable--all the covert operations they did to try to get these guys out. And he said, 'You can't talk about this specifically, by the way--and we've been talking with Iran.'...So when I was on the Brinkley show I said, 'Look, I'm not in a position to describe it in detail. But I can tell you that I have been briefed on what the government is doing on behalf of the hostages in Beirut, and I can tell you if it were possible to describe it you would never say that they weren't doing enough.'
Sharansky and Netanyahu's back channel
Zuckerman is a close friend of Israeli right-wing politician Natan Sharansky. In the mid-80s the U.S. News & World Report serialized Sharansky's memoirs. Zuckerman also paid for a center Sharansky established for Russian immigrants in Jerusalem: it was named Zuckerman House, after his grandfather. In 1997, Zuckerman was used by Sharansky, Sandy Berger and Dennis Ross as an intermediary between Clinton and Netanyahu, whose relationship was strained at the time due to the latter's intransigence on the peace process. According to Paumgarten, Zuckerman 'clearly relishes' the role he had played: 'Among other things, it enhanced his standing in Israel.'
- It was not because he was my best friend...I thought he represented the complete tapestry--media mogul, Jewish leader, a man of great wit and influence. He was one of my closest allies, whose presence signalled 'I'm not alone here. I represent Israel, but also the Jewish people.
For Gillerman, Zuckerman is a "roving ambassador to and from the United States and Israel," who could make an effective Ambassador to the UN.
In 2006, when Ehud Olmert had his first meeting with President Bush, they spent six hours together, well beyond the scheduled time. According to Gillerman, this was "to a very great extent the result of Mort briefing him, coaching him, and telling him what would be accepted and welcomed."
Zuckerman claims he has 'phenomenal contacts in Russia' and was asked to serve as an economic adviser by Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in 1998. He also served as a backchannel between the Clinton administration, particularly Sandy Berger, and the Russian Prime Minister. According to the National Security Council's Russia hand Carlos Pascual
- He developed a pen-pal relationship with Primakov. He would comment on Russian policy proposals to Primakov and reflect what he thought U.S. government responses to policy positions might be. We would consult back and forth...It was definitely unusual. Occasionally, private citizens get named as envoys. But Mort wasn't an envoy.
According to Zuckerman, the relationship ended in March of 1999 after Nato started bombing Serbia at a time when Primakov was on his way to New York.
- Zuckerman had set up a meeting for him in New York with American business leaders and academics, including Paul O'Neill, then the C.E.O. of Alcoa (and later Bush's Treasury Secretary); Henry Kravis, the financier; and Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Zuckerman is registered a Democrat, but like other neoconservatives he has switched his loyalty to political candidates based on their stance toward Israel. He was a staunch supporter of George W. Bush, and according to a New Yorker profile he 'despises Jimmy Carter' and 'thinks little of' John Kerry.
- Ultimately, he believes in character and power. He speaks often of a trait that he has observed in men he admires most, such as Dick Cheney, Robert Rubin, George Shultz, and Ariel Sharon. "They share some quality which incentivizes people to give them power," Zuckerman told me.
Support for Iraq War
Zuckerman was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the invasion of Iraq, a position reflected in the editorial line of all his papers. Two days before the 2004 election, the New York Daily News published an endorsement of Bush with the headline "RIGHT WAR, RIGHT TIME, RIGHT MAN". He also supported the 2007 'surge.'
The Media Empire
Zuckerman's foray into media began in 1980. 'I didn't go into journalism to make money--a wise decision,' he told the New Yorker. He adds: 'Real estate allowed me to enter journalism at the right level.' The reasons for this move have been subject of much speculation. According to Paumgarten,
- [U.S. News & World Report] did provide a calling card, or a press pass, to help Zuckerman gain access to the Washington scene and to the halls of power in various capitals...Certainly, his journalistic credential got him a spot on television...And it provided him the opportunity to write a weekly column, which is a source of both pleasure and pride to him...
Likewise, according to Paumgarten, he bought the tabloid the New York Daily News
- because it gave him a voice in local affairs, as well as, occasionally, in national ones. It can be useful, also, for a real-estate developer to have a paper; it gives him leverage.
But according to Paumgarten, Zuckerman is touchy on the subject.
- Zuckerman told me, "You're going to get people who think, as someone said to me once, that I bought The Atlantic so that I could get invited to Wasp dinner parties on the North Shore. And I said, 'Before I bought The Atlantic I was invited to those dinner parties and they were so goddam boring I wouldn't go again if I was invited.' People can ascribe whatever motives they want. I can't help that." But the criticism still grates.
Zuckerman vs Journalism
Zuckerman is known for his heavy-handed influence on the editorial line, the high turnover of editors. U.S. News & World Report has changed eight editors in twenty-three years. the New York Daily News has changed seven in fifteen. Only William Whitworth of The Atlantic kept his seat until Zuckerman sold it in 1999. Few have spoken out: 'In some cases,' writes Paumgarten, 'his former employees have signed non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements.'
His ownership of media hasn't yet translated into respect for the profession. He said of journalists: 'They don't know how the world works...As observers, they don't do the work of the world. They believe they know how the world ought to work.' During the Gulf War of 1991, he dismissed media's complaints about military censorship. 'The press, in my judgment, is petulant, self-concerned, self-centered, and really downright silly,' he said in a speech after the end of the first Gulf War.
Veteran journalist David Halberstam reportedly called him 'a sad little man . . . who likes to think of himself as a journalist but doesn't have any earthly idea what a journalist really is.'
In 1980 Zuckerman began purchasing major American media institutions. His first purchase was the respected The Atlantic magazine. He immediately fired editor Robert Manning and replaced him with William Whitworth. Zuckerman's purchase also included The Atlantic's historic headquarters which he later sold for ten million dollars.
U.S. News & World Report
In 1984 Zuckerman purchase the U.S. News & World Report along with its real estate. He named himself the editor-in-chief and claimed that he wished to turn it into the US counterpart to The Economist. Instead he sold the paper's properties in Washington's West End for over a hundred million dollars and moved its offices to Georgetown, gutted the staff, and shuttered its investigative division. 'We have to come up with a business model that works,' he told the New Yorker. For the business side, he hired tax lawyer Fred Drasner who labelled the newsroom 'the cost center.'
New York Daily News
In 1993, Zuckerman bought the tabloid the New York Daily News which was once the largest-circulation newspaper in the country. The paper's former owner Robert Maxwell had just drowned to death. The paper has been in decline but its main competitor is Rupert Murdoch's money-losing New York Post (estimated annual losses of twenty million dollars). Despite their sensationalist content, according Paumgarten, the papers 'do tend to honor a tacit nonaggression pact regarding the owners' private lives.'
Zuckerman has many influential friends in the media, from talk show celebrity Barbara Walters to film producer Irwin Winkler. He has even guest hosted on the Charlie Rose show. He is a close friend of the neoconservative former New York Times executive editor A. M. Rosenthal. Rosenthal used the pages of New York Times to defend Zuckerman.
- "...I was always indebted to him." Another reason Zuckerman might feel indebted to Rosenthal was that in 1985, two days after the Times ran an unflattering story about him, the paper published an editor's note, apologizing for its tone: "The pejorative phrases and anonymous criticism created an unbalanced portrait. They should not have appeared." After Rosenthal was forced to retire from the Times, in 1999, Zuckerman hired him to be a columnist at the News.
Former Times (London) editor Harry Evans, Zuckerman told Paumgarten, is:
- a friend, consigliere, and proxy of Zuckerman's for three decades. Zuckerman is a godfather to Evans's daughter with his wife, Tina Brown. Evans has had various roles at Zuckerman publications--as a kind of wise man with a vague portfolio. For a while, he served as their editorial director, in one of Zuckerman's many mercurial attempts to address his restiveness about them.
Cultivating Future Leaders
Zuckerman has established the Zuckerman Fellows program to fund for the next five years the interdisciplinary postgraduate Harvard education of 25 outstanding students. The goal, according to the New Yorker, is 'the cultivation of leaders.' The fellowship covers the students' tuition and an annual $30,000 stipend. He has been assisted in the fundraising by Beth Dozoretz, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser,and her spouse Ronald Dozoretz, a health-care magnate. The program is overseen by former U.S. News & World Report editor David Gergen.
According to the New Yorker profile, Zuckerman has dated Arianna Huffington, Nora Ephron, Gloria Steinem, Diane von Furstenberg, Blair Brown, Marisa Berenson, and Betty Rollin. His relationship with feminist Steinem is odd considering that he has served as a judge for the Miss America pageant.
- US News & World Report - publisher and editor-in-chief since 1984
- New York Daily News - publisher
- MEMRI - Board of Advisors
- Washington Institute for Near East Policy - board of advisors
- Herzliya Conference - panelist
- The Atlantic - publisher (1980-1999)
- Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations - chairman (2001-2003)
- The 400 Richest Americans: Mortimer Zuckerman , Forbes, 17 September 17
- Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Quantcast Mort Zuckerman: Why No Outrage for Anti-Israel, Phony Flotilla?, U.S. News & World Report, 4 June 2010
- Paumgarten, Nick, "The Tycoon." The New Yorker, 23 July 2007
- Mortimer Zuckerman, Obama's Jerusalem Stonewall, Wall Street Journal, 28 April 2010