‘‘Punch Sulzberger was a giant in the industry, a leader who fought to preserve the vital role of a free press in society and championed journalism executed at the highest level,’’ said Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt. ‘‘The Associated Press benefited from his wisdom, both during his years on the board of directors and his thoughtful engagement in the years that followed.’’
In 1971, the Times led the First Amendment fight to keep the government from suppressing the Pentagon Papers.
Sulzberger read more than 7,000 pages of the documents and presided over a dramatic internal debate before deciding to publish. Then, he resisted a demand by Attorney General John Mitchell that the paper halt the series after two installments.
A federal judge delayed publication of additional installments, but in a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually sided with the Times and The Washington Post, and allowed the series to continue.
‘‘There were those that thought some kind of deal or reconciliation with the government should have been sought,’’ said First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who represented the Times in the court case. ‘‘It was Punch Sulzberger who made the decision to resist the government’s effort. In making that decision he set in motion a litigation which not only preserved but protected the First Amendment for generations.’’
In their book ‘‘The Trust,’’ a history of the Ochs-Sulzberger family and its stewardship of the paper, Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones cited Sulzberger’s ‘‘common sense and unerring instincts.’’
In an interview in 1990 with New York magazine, Sulzberger was typically candid about the paper’s readership.
‘‘We’re not New York’s hometown newspaper,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re read on Park Avenue, but we don’t do well in Chinatown or the east Bronx. We have to approach journalism differently than, say, the Sarasota Herald Tribune, where you try to blanket the community.’’
Sulzberger was born in New York City on Feb. 5, 1926, the only son of Arthur Hays Sulzberger and his wife, Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger, Adolph’s only child. One of his three sisters was named Judy, and from early on he was known as ‘‘Punch,’’ from the puppet characters Punch and Judy.
Sulzberger’s grandfather led the paper until his death in 1935, when he was followed by Sulzberger’s father, who remained at the helm until he retired in 1961.
Except for a year at The Milwaukee Journal, 1953-54, the younger Sulzberger spent his entire career at the family paper after graduating from Columbia College in 1951. He worked in European bureaus for a time and was back in New York by 1955, but found he had little to do.
At various times, Sulzberger was a director or chairman of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, American Newspaper Publishers Association and American Press Institute. He was a director of The Associated Press from 1975 to 1984.
Sulzberger married Barbara Grant in 1948, and the couple had two children, Arthur Jr. and Karen. After a divorce in 1956, Sulzberger married Carol Fox. The couple had a daughter, Cynthia, and Sulzberger adopted Fox’s daughter from a previous marriage, Cathy.
Carol Sulzberger died in 1995. The following year, Sulzberger married Allison Cowles, the widow of William H. Cowles 3rd, who was the president and publisher of The Spokesman-Review and Spokane Chronicle of Spokane, Wash. She died in 2010.