Frank Rich, Jr. was Associate Editor and Sunday Arts & Leisure columnist for The New York Times from 2003 to 2005. Since 2005, he has penned a weekly 1,500-word essay — “on the intersection of culture and news” — that appears in the Times’ Sunday Week in Review section.
Rich was born in June 1949 in Washington, D.C., the son of businessman Frank Hart Rich and education consultant Helene Aaronson Fisher. He attended Harvard University, became editorial chairman of its student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, and in 1971 graduated with a degree in American History and Literature.
In 1972 Rich became founding co-editor of the counter-cultural weekly Richmond Mercury in Richmond, Virginia. He later described the Mercury as “a muckraking political paper — kind of modeled on the old Village Voice — that I started with some friends.”
In 1973 Rich moved to New York City to be senior editor and film critic for the counter-cultural magazine New Times. In 1975 he became film critic of the New York Post newspaper. In 1977 he was made cinema and television critic of Time Magazine.
In 1980 Rich became chief drama critic for The New York Times. Victims of his sharp pen nicknamed him the “Butcher of Broadway” because of his often-brutal negative reviews. Among his critics were Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer David Merrick. A collection of Rich’s reviews appears in his book Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for the New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998).
In 1992 Rich teamed with New York Times Washington reporter (and fellow Democrat) Maureen Dowd to write a daily political column during the major Party conventions, as he and she did again during President Bill Clinton‘s Inauguration Week in January 1993.
In 1994 Rich became an Op-Ed columnist for the Times and five years later traded his twice-weekly 700-word column for a 1,400-word column that dealt more deeply with various topics. This longer Op-Ed Page column was published every other Saturday.
In January 2003 Times Executive Editor Howell Raines promoted Rich to the rank of Associate Editor to “assist in planning the journalistic undertakings of the paper.” Two months later Raines moved Rich’s column to the front page of the Times’ Sunday Arts & Leisure section. Rich also became “an adviser on the paper’s overall cultural news report.”
“It was Rich’s job,” writes Bob Kohn, “to grace the Arts & Leisure section with his unique political insights, wrapping them now in a thin cloak of cultural media references to justify their appearance among the movie and theatre reviews.” (Kohn is the author of Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted.)
After the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal forced Howell Raines to resign in 2003, Rich sought to succeed the latter as Times Executive Editor. But Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. instead chose Bill Keller, an Op-Ed columnist, Senior Writer and former Managing Editor who had been passed over when Raines was picked for this top job in 2001.
In Rich’s writings, those on the political left are almost always depicted as beleaguered heroes and those on the right as society’s villains.
“Certainly, in this century,” said Rich in a 1999 interview with the left-Jewish magazine Tikkun, “anti-Semitism has been a strain of the far Right in this country…. I grew up in Washington, D.C. My father was a victim of anti-Semitism when he applied to colleges just before World War II. My mother had anti-Semitic things happen to her that were a vivid part of my childhood. I think from the very beginning I saw these events in a political context. I remember George Lincoln Rockwell, and his sort of Nazi storm troopers, marching in Arlington, Virginia, in the Washington suburbs when I was a kid.” (Rich seems unaware that Adolf Hitler’s and Rockwell’s National Socialism was an ideology of the left.)
“In everything he writes, Rich combines an arrogant pretense of enlightened rationalism with a laughable indulgence in modern myths and irrational prejudices, an intellectual incoherence typical of most self-styled ‘progressives,'” wrote cultural historian Bruce Thornton, a professor at California State University Fresno.
In a 2004 column, Rich depicted the religious right as a haven for repressed lunatics carrying out a “plot against sex in America.” He described conservative criticism of the movie Kinsey, about sex researcher and free-love advocate Alfred Kinsey who Rich praised as a “pioneer,” as part of this right-wing plot.
Rich was a leading attacker of Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, which he denounced as “anti-Semitic” in advance of seeing it. This attempt to prevent an artistic work from gaining an audience contrasted sharply with Rich’s defense of anti-Christian artistic expressions like “Piss Christ” and the dung-painted portrait of the Virgin Mary that provoked much public protest when it was displayed at the Brooklyn Art Museum.
Rich authored the 2006 book The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina, a criticism of President George W. Bush’s post-9/11 policies.
In June 2009 Rich justified a Department of Homeland Security report that characterized all conservatives, libertarians, and returning war veterans as potential right-wing terrorists. He suggested that conservatives, because they had attacked what Rich called “a plausible (and, tragically, prescient) report,” were responsible for a deadly June 10, 2009 shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the May 31, 2009 murder of late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller.
Also in June 2009, Rich wrote that critics of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, were racists. The “venomous personal attacks” on the judge, Rich said, had little to do with her ideology, her judicial track record, or her membership in the National Council of La Raza, and instead signified “an aggrieved note of white victimization only a shade less explicit than that in [Holocaust Museum shooter James] von Brunn’s white supremacist screeds.”