Families, Fiefdoms, and Feuds

In this installment of our series on media nepotism, we examine the children of the media beat (Wolffs, Aulettas, Carrs), multigenerational sagas (Hedermans, Cockburns, Roiphes, Marantz Henigs), family enterprises (Carters, Wenners, McCormacks), old intellectual dynasties (Podhoretzes, Kristols, Buckleys), and throw in one totally gratuitous mention of Olivia Wilde

Part 1: A Compendium of Media Nepotism
Part 2: It Takes a Village to Raise a Nepo Baby

Part 3: Midcentury Modern Media Nepotism

Part 4


The best media reporting depends on the bold, accurate, and graceful delivery of friendly fire. The craft’s most prominent practitioners develop a reputation for doggedness and irascibility that sits atop a much-remarked-upon core of Solomonic wisdom, which their more annoying disciples are ever eager to regurgitate. Though they’ve all written about nepotism — sometimes even using the word — focusing mostly on families that own media empires (the Sulzbergers, Bancrofts, and Murdochs seem widely acknowledged as worthy targets), nuggets of wisdom about its consequences are rare. Media reporting also often depends on mutually beneficial relationships with the industry’s power players. So when the kids of the best-known media reporters try to figure out what to do with their lives, what, apart from the obvious ethical misgivings, is to stop the proud parents from pulling a few strings? Of course the titans of the beat have oaklings.

Typically, former New York media columnist Michael Wolff is the most brazen, elevating his paternal corruption into something almost impressive via rampant disclosures. Perhaps that’s why two of his daughters, Elizabeth Wolff and Susanna Wolff, followed him into media. “Murdoch and I have the same bias in this regard: We believe our children should work for newspapers — that to be a newspaper reporter, as long as it is still possible to be one, is the world’s best job,” he wrote in his 2008 biography of Rupert Murdoch, who inherited his first newspaper, an Adelaide-based tabloid called The News, when he was 21. Wolff’s not shy about the mechanics either. “While all of my fellow liberals believed [former Fox News chairman Roger] Ailes to be a brute and a bully, I knew him to be whip-smart, witty, flirtatious, companionable, and, as it happens, generous, too. When my college-age daughter needed an internship, all it took was a call to Ailes,” he wrote in his 2021 collection Too Famous, about the late creator of the “fair and balanced” news network who resigned in 2016 after a wave of sexual harassment allegations and died the following year.

Wolff’s efforts have extended beyond internships. “When my daughter Elizabeth graduated from college in 2006, Vicky Ward, a colleague of mine at Vanity Fair and a former editor at the New York Post, walked her résumé into the Post, where she was hired as a junior reporter,” he wrote in the Murdoch book. Elizabeth later ventured onto the media beat on her father’s old turf, writing an amusing story for New York about reporters covering the super-rich in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. (“They think you’re an heiress,” a Rolls-Royce flack tells her as Times Square tourists gawk at the borrowed car she’s driving.) His other daughter Susanna interned at CollegeHumor while an undergrad at Columbia and became an articles editor after graduating, eventually rising to be editor-in-chief. Today, she’s a steady contributor to The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” column; she began writing for them in 2012 at age 24.

The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, who started the magazine’s Annals of Communications column, tends to be more guarded about Kate Auletta — now editor-in-chief of the BDG site Scary Mommy — an oakling he shares with literary agent Amanda “Binky” Urban. In a 2009 interview with C-SPAN’s Brian Lamb, he noted that his daughter was an assistant features editor at WSJ. magazine. “Where did she get this?” Lamb, the son of an Indiana beer distributor, asked. “Oh, I have no idea,” Auletta replied. “Just kidding. She worked for House & Garden, and it closed. And it was one of the shocks of her young life. She just turned 27. She — the editor of House & Garden [who] recommended her — was a consultant for the new magazine the Wall Street Journal was setting up, recommended her, and so she works there.” He’d spelled out his philosophy to Lamb five years earlier: “What you do as a parent is you try not to tell them what to do or make suggestions because they’re becoming a grown-up and they decide.” Perhaps this was a reflection of concerns raised in his reporting. In a 1994 New Yorker profile of Seagram spirits heir Edgar Bronfman Jr., he wrote, “There will, undoubtedly, be sneers that Bronfman Jr. inherited his position.”

The late New York Times media columnist David Carr may well have been the most revered media reporter of his generation. He was perfectly capable of pouring acid on nepotistic spawn, as in a 2000 Inside.com profile of a relaunched Details which noted the prevalence of “subjects in the magazine who found the limelight because they are a product of famous loins.” But Carr also had a complex relationship with his kids.

“I don’t see myself when I see my children — I see the opposite, really. How could the likes of me have anything to do with the likes of them?” he wrote in his memoir The Night of the Gun. “But I learned to love them, even if they seemed more like remarkable beings on loan to me than my progeny.” His twin daughters are central characters in his accounts of his junkie life in 1980s Minneapolis, including the night when he left his eight-month-old girls alone in the car on a frozen night while he went into a drug den to score.

After arriving on New York’s media scene, Carr’s moves on behalf of his children behind closed doors were no more restrained than Wolff’s. His daughter Erin Lee Carr followed him into the profession, starting out at Vice (whose founders her father famously ethered) and now directing documentaries. She maintained her proximity to the beat when she announced her engagement to Washington Post media reporter Jeremy Barr in 2022.

The younger Carr’s memoir of her father, All That You Leave Behind, is at times touching and often mournful, but it’s also the most transparent document on the leg up that the children of prominent media reporters get and the psychic hopscotch they play. When Erin was getting ready to look for an internship, her father offered to help get the word out. “I drafted personalized emails for The Colbert Report, America’s Test Kitchen, various production companies, and Fox Searchlight. Oh, and Judd Apatow. My dad forwarded my emails from his account with the subject heading ‘My kid, your world,’ knowing that his addy would get better play than ecarr@wisc.edu,” she wrote. That resulted in an internship at Fox Searchlight.

Later when she was looking for work again, Carr stepped up again. “My dad shot off an email to Shane Smith, one of the Vice partners, whom he had met and developed a sort of professional and personal regard for, and introduced me, and I took over the reins from there,” she wrote. This resulted in another internship, with a further built-in leg up. “I was the only paid intern amid four of the unpaid variety, which did not enhance my popularity,” she wrote. “The company did not make it their custom to pay interns, but a special exception was made for me after I told them I couldn’t intern for free as I was not a trustfundarian (what they liked to call the young ones). They agreed to bend the rules.”

On the first day of her first internship, Carr made clear to his daughter that the boost she’d received came with a set of expectations. “He informed me that I was about to act as his representative in New York’s small media fishbowl, and the least I could do was put in a modicum of effort,” she wrote. “His mentorship yielded important results but his expectations of me, his kid, were far too high to be fair or even attainable,” she added later. “He wanted to change media, and he expected that if he put enough time into me I would be able to do the same. When I couldn’t reach those goals, he yelled at me or, worse, ignored me. It wouldn’t last for long, but it stung.”

Early on, Carr seems to have been routinely afflicted by acute spikes of paranoia over her father’s influence. “His kind words failed to make their intended impact. Instead, I found myself once again swimming in self-doubt,” she writes after quoting a note about her sent to her father by an executive. “Was I a star? Or was he just saying that because he was talking to my father, the New York Times media reporter?”

She writes that she left Vice in part because she “would always be viewed as ‘David Carr’s daughter’ there,” but she doesn’t seem as self-conscious about launching her feature documentary directing career with the help of a documentarian named Andrew Rossi, who she emailed without an introduction from her father. “I needed to start the dialogue on my own,” she writes. Rossi responded within a couple of hours. “I was surprised by his quick response, and I wondered if it was because of his relationship with my dad,” Carr writes, with a surface naivete that turns grating after the first couple of supposedly surprising kind responses. Rossi, it turns out, directed Page One: Inside The New York Times — the documentary starring her father.


The media beat doesn’t just produce oaklings; it can also absorb them. Nieman Journalism Lab editor Laura Hazard Owen is the daughter of former Spy and Eating Well food columnist Ann Hodgman and New Yorker staff writer David Owen, whose own forays onto the media beat include a brilliant 1982 Esquireprofile of the legendary New York Post columnist Murray Kempton (whose family we’ll get to in the next installment of this series). “For almost all of my childhood I was basically oblivious to any specific thing my parents wrote about and would have found it super boring and not wanted to know anything more. Like, I knew my dad wrote about golf and about house repair and I knew my mom wrote cookbooks but that was about it,” she told The Fine Print. “I drew this picture for my dad when I was eight or nine of him working — it’s of him sitting typing at a computer with a box next to it that says ‘CD-ROM’ because that was a very new thing at the time. So I guess that’s mostly what I thought he did.”

Most of Owen’s exposure to her parents’ world, she said, was less direct. “They read and read to us constantly and got a million print magazines. I have a very distinct weird memory of my mom tearing off the barcode of an Eating Well magazine cover — like the little one in the corner, under the price — and putting it in an envelope and I asked her why and she said she was saving it for taxes,” she said. “Being exposed to all kinds of things to read probably made a huge difference for me, career-wise, even though I can’t quantify it exactly.” Looking back, there’s at least one aspect of their professional lives that might have discouraged her from following in their paths if she’d been more aware of it. “My parents had, like, pre-Obamacare catastrophic emergency health insurance but I think nothing below that because The New Yorker didn’t (maybe still doesn’t?) give staff writers health insurance,” she said. “They did not talk about this at all and must have just done self-paid for all of our health stuff. I have three kids now, and the idea of not having real health insurance is so scary. I was extremely relieved when Obamacare passed, but oh man, that should have happened sooner!”

Tarpley Hitt, who put an aggressive spin on media coverage at BDG’s late, lamented Gawker revival, is the daughter of prolific New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, and This American Life contributor Jack Hittand New York Times columnist Lisa Sanders. The profession goes back generations in their family. Jack’s father Robert Hitt Jr. was the editor of The Charleston Evening Post, married to columnist Ann Hitt, and his father in turn, Robert Sr., was editor of The Bamberg Herald. After Jack Hitt graduated from Sewanee, rather than enter the family business, he got a job at Freddie Mac in San Francisco, but soon decided newspapering might be more fun. So he cold-pitched himself in letters sent to newspaper editors across the Northwest. “All I wanted to say was, ‘I don’t want to work in banks,’” he explained on the Longform Podcast. “I remember my brother-in-law gave me this key phrase: He said tell them that while you have no experience, comma, printers ink courses through the family veins. So I stole that line.” What effect has that legacy had on Tarpley and her career? “I’ve been trying to figure that out myself and still don’t have a good answer,” she said, declining further comment.

As in most forms of media complicity, The Fine Print has been no exception. The Information reporter (and former reporter for this newsletter) Julia Black is the daughter of former Committee to Protect Journalists executive director Anne Nelson and former Nation foreign editor George Black, and her uncle is New Yorkerstaff writer Burkhard Bilger. “When the nepo baby piece came out in New York magazine, I thought it was so obnoxious when all the actors and models were like, ‘This is so mean. It’s not true. I did it myself.’ That’s obviously bullshit,” she said. “My parents certainly never got me a job directly, but did it help to grow up around this stuff and have that cultural capital? Of course.”

Black’s parents met while covering Central America during the Cold War. “As the story goes, my mom was talking to an ABC producer who was looking for an expert on Guatemalan death squads,” she said. “My mom was like, ‘I’m not the person, but I’ve heard of this guy.’ Then she had them both over for dinner and the rest is history.” By the time their daughter was born, they’d moved away from that more dangerous work to institutions that support other journalists doing it. That kept meta-narratives about media near the surface in their Upper West Side home. “I was raised to believe that journalism is really important and one of the more honorable things you could do with your life,” Black said. “My mom taught at Columbia, at the J-school, when I was growing up and I remember I had this Joseph Pulitzer tote bag that I would carry around.”

Despite that shared reverence, Black thinks of herself as wildly different from her family. “I obviously adore my parents, but my friends always joke about how intimidating it is to have dinner with them. My mom has been described as ‘a tough broad’ by more than one of my friends. It’s just impossible to sit down and have a conversation with them without it turning to some discussion about the etymology of the word tuba or something,” she said. “They’re always talking about history or politics or topics of more gravitas than what I’m interested in all the time.” Her interests tended to run more to pop culture. “Growing up, I was always super into Entertainment Weekly. We had this neighbor who would throw out their Entertainment Weeklystacks and I would collect them from the hallway,” she said. “I think they look at me with amusement, that I’m the goofy one.”

When Black went off to Wesleyan, she thought she’d get into theater. That wasn’t totally outside her parents’ world. Her mother had written a play, The Guys, in the wake of 9/11, about the aftershocks of the attacks, which premiered with Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver. “Bill Murray drove me to school once,” she recalled. “It ran for a long time and it ran in a lot of different states and then there was the movie. It was kind of ridiculous.” But at least it wasn’t journalism. “I would get really pissed off when people would be like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna go into the family business, you’re gonna become a writer too.’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not,’” she said. “Then I realized it’s the only thing I know how to do.” In senior year of college, she took a creative nonfiction class with a professor who helped her get an internship at Esquire. “I feel like I had to come to it in my own way,” she said.

As Black’s reporting has inspired more combative reactions — most prominently from the army of trolls that began harassing her after Insider published her investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy — her parents have been able to draw on their reporting experiences for advice, though, she noted, “I’d rather get tweeted at than shot at.” “When all the Portnoy stuff was going down, my mom sent me a really sweet email where she was coaching me through how the adrenaline spike would feel and then there’d be a crash afterwards,” she said. “In a funny way, the thing I was most worried about was my family and so I really tried to protect them from everything, but they just did not give a fuck. They definitely felt for me and understood that it was hard, but in terms of themselves, they were like, ‘Julia, don’t worry about it. We’ve embedded with guerrillas.’”


Perhaps it’s convenient that oaklings gravitate to the media beat. Often, the people they cover are in the family business, too, though in those cases, it’s often literally the family business. Many of the oaklings we’ve covered in this series are highly accomplished in their own right; that’s untrue of most in this section. Air Mail co-editor Graydon Carter’s son Ash Carter, deputy editor at Air Mail, demonstrated that last February when he edited a disgraceful story that claimed to exonerate alleged rapist Armie Hammer based on interviews with Hammer and his friends, while, according to our reporting, making minimal efforts to contact Hammer’s alleged victims. Graydon and Ash aren’t the only Carters doing work for Air Mail. “Actually, I’ve got five kids and two of the other ones write for Air Mail on a regular basis — one on spirits and one’s a book critic,” Graydon told WWD in 2021. Those two are Max Carter and Spike Carter. He didn’t mention that his daughter Bronwen Carter, who has worked in comedy development for HBO, has a sole byline for the publication — a product recommendation list reflecting her “easy yet sophisticated fashion palate — which has earned her an editor-at-large title. Air Mail’s other co-editor, Alessandra Stanley, has an oakling with New Yorker staff writer Michael Specter, but their daughter Emma Specter doesn’t work for either of her parents. She’s a culture writer and sometime union steward at Vogue.

Gus Wenner, who we profiled at length in 2022, joined Rolling Stone when his father, the magazine’s co-founder Jann Wenner, still owned it. Employees marveled at his dullness, but nepotistic advancement seemed to be in the cards from his first days at the company. “When Gus started as an intern,” former managing editor Will Dana told The Fine Print, “let’s just say people all knew that there was a better chance they’d end up working for Jann’s kid than Bruce Springsteen’s son or Kurt Cobain’s daughter, other interns from around that time.” He was made head of the magazine’s website at 22 and eventually promoted to chief operating officer. In 2017, he helped sell the magazine to fellow scion Jay Penske and, unusually, stayed on. Penske promoted him to CEO of Rolling Stone in 2022. “Now, he’s basically an employee, versus ‘my dad owns the company.’ Now he’s like, ‘Well, my buddy owns the company,’” a former Wenner employee mused. “I wonder what that is like for him.”

Noah McCormack’s eagerness to inherit The New Republic from its current owner, his father Win McCormack, seems to have amused the older generation. The elder McCormack inherited a banking fortune and devoted himself to launching West Coast magazines. In the ’70s, he helped start Mother Jones and published Oregon Magazine. In 1999, he started Tin House. He bought The New Republic in 2016 with Noah’s urging. (Disclosure: The Fine Print’s publisher and editor-in-chief, Gabriel Snyder, was editor-in-chief of The New Republic at the time, and McCormack replaced him soon after.) His son made the initial announcement of the acquisition on Twitter, adding that he’d be moving to New York to start working on it. That job seems not to have materialized, and Noah stuck with The Baffler, the smaller publication the family funds, where he had served as publisher since 2015. His father, who took on the editor-in-chief title at TNR, shifted The Baffler’s top editor, Chris Lehmann, over to run The New Republic in 2019 but dismissed him about two years later in one of his periodic assertions of control of the magazine. Not long before that editorial shuffle, McCormack was asked by a profile writer whether he’d ever convert the magazine to a non-profit like The Baffler. “I had some conversations about that, but my son is opposed to that,” he said with a laugh. “He wants to inherit it.”


New York Review of Books owner and publisher Rea Hederman had good reason to run from his family’s business. His cousin-twice-removed, Col. Robert H. Henry — listed among the “Notable Men Present” at Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s funeral in 1889 — had dominated the news business in Jackson, Mississippi, after he took over a paper in 1871 that would become known as The Clarion-Ledger. The paper’s shockingly racist editorial outlook survived into a new century under the stewardship of the Colonel’s cousins, Tom and Robert Hederman (the latter of whom was Rea’s grandfather), who bought the paper in 1921  and would later subsume others around Mississippi.

“They were journalistically the worst major-city newspapers in the South, not because the owners, top editors, and columnists were fervently segregationist — which they were — but because they allowed their zealotry to dictate the scope, depth, tone, and tilt of their coverage. The newspapers were vindictive, poorly written, and error-ridden,” Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff wrote in The Race Beat, their Pulitzer Prize-winning history of coverage of the civil rights movement. “Their management of the news helped explain why Mississippi remained the most reactionary state in the South.” That reputation followed the family’s black sheep liberal scion. “Everywhere I went outside the South, people knew the story of the papers and knew my last name. Not everyone, but enough to be embarrassing to me,” Rea Hederman told an interviewer in 2016. “So I made a decision to go back to Mississippi and try and change these papers. And if I couldn’t change it, I would at least have tried, and I would feel much better about myself for having tried.”

Hederman joined The Clarion-Ledger in 1973 and rose to its executive editorship in 1980. In his time at the paper, a new generation of reporters joined the staff and introduced a more rigorous and aggressive approach, producing, among much else, a series on police brutality against Black people. “Rea really took a terrible paper and, practically overnight, turned it into something terrific,” assistant managing editor David Kubissa told a young David Remnick of The Washington Post in 1984. The Clarion-Ledger won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1983. But the new direction didn’t sit well with much of the rest of the family. It wasn’t only the about-face on civil rights but the fact that their paper was now writing stories that affected their other business interests around Jackson. The final straw seems to have been Rea’s decision to divorce his wife and marry a style editor at the paper. This was too much for Hederman’s Baptist uncles. In 1982, they fired him and, on April Fools’ Day, sold their nine Mississippi papers to Gannett.

Rea moved to New York with his new wife Angela and, in 1984, bought The New York Review of Books for about $5 million. “I couldn’t imagine — at that time — anything more improbable and daunting than Rea buying The New York Review of Books and setting up as its publisher,” reflected the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford, who has known Hederman since first grade at their all-white elementary school. “I mean, he wasn’t a New Yorker; he wasn’t a member of the literati. He came from a family of conservative, nondancing, Baptist teetotalers. He had run a newspaper — in Jackson, Mississippi. But he’d never run a magazine. Of the arts. Where Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag and Saul Bellow were contributors. The most plausible outcome of this story was — and still is — that it simply didn’t happen. Only it did.”

Hederman has talked about the continuities he sees between his work righting The Clarion-Ledger’s political and journalistic stance and his support for continuing The Review’s tradition of writing in defense of human rights. He seems not to have talked publicly about the other major parallel. The New York Review of Books was so famously insular in its first flourishing that the debate over who coined the diss “The New York Review of Each Others’ Books” remains partially unresolved. Hederman embellished that tradition of insularity, importing his family’s hereditary slant. Rea’s wife Angela is listed as overseeing “Special Projects.” A Patrick Hederman, who, according to a staffer, is Rea’s son, appears on The Review’s masthead as the staffer in charge of “Rights.” Last fall, it was Patrick who signed a lease as the “lessor,” giving The Review use of a $7.5 million Kips Bay townhouse until 2072, while Rea signed as the “lessee” for the literary magazine. He also chose an oakling as The Review’s current editor, Emily Greenhouse, daughter of former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse.


Notable oaklings were vanishingly rare in the mid-century New York intellectual world that grew up around little magazines like Partisan Review, Dissent, and Commentary. Poet and New York Review of Books co-founder Robert Lowell had James Russell Lowell, the first editor of The Atlantic, among his ancestors, but his father was a Navy commander. Partisan Review and Dissent contributor Lionel Abel was the son of poet and rabbi Alter Abelson, but he wasn’t really an oak. More common were the kids of Eastern European Jewish immigrants (Disclosure: This reporter dislocates a shoulder throwing out an identifying arm) whose parents’ English was broken at best. The intellectual world they made ran on an idealized version of the language, a forbidding twist of the tongue for unacculturated native speakers.

In the absence of actual blood ties, family metaphors became critical for New York intellectuals of the era. In his bridge-burning 1967 memoir Making It, longtime Commentary editor-in-chief Norman Podhoretz adopted the characterization of the intellectual set as a family that Murray Kempton had made in a 1966 New Republic review of a reissue of Tess Slesinger’s 1934 novel The Unpossessed. Podhoretz located himself as the firstborn son of the third generation. It was a family, he wrote, in that “these were people who by virtue of their tastes, ideas, and general concerns found themselves stuck with one another against the rest of the world whether they liked it or not (and most did not), preoccupied with one another to the point of obsession, and intense in their attachments and hostilities as only a family is capable of being.” That memoir, and the social consequences of its publication, propelled Podhoretz’s rightward drift, and, as he later wrote, confirmed his “excommunication” from the family. “Before the late 1960s, I was much better at making friends of strangers than at making enemies of friends,” he observed in his 1999 follow-up Ex-Friends.

In his later years, after converting Commentary from an organ of the anti-Stalinist left into a neocon flagship, Podhoretz manifested the metaphor of the intellectual family, if only in farcical form. In 2007, John Podhoretz, Norman’s oakling with former Harper’s executive editor Midge Decter, was named the 4th editor-in-chief in Commentary’s history. It was a title he’d been gunning for since he was seven years old when he first asked his father if he’d succeed him as editor. At the time, the answer was no. Of course, the younger Podhoretz had some experience away from his father’s magazine. He founded The Weekly Standardwith fellow neocon oakling Bill Kristol, whose father Irving Kristol had followed the same Left-Right trajectory away from the family as Norman. At the time of his appointment, John was lead political columnist at the New York Post. “I have millions of words that you can read on Nexis,” he protested when The New York Times asked about the appearance of favoritism in the appointment.

Those protestations failed to convince Commentary chronicler Nathan Abrams. “Nepotism replaced critical selection and Commentary increasingly took on the look of an inbred and incestuous family enterprise — the connections were everywhere,” he wrote in his history of the magazine. Adding later: “Unable to find, or even willing to look for new blood (there was no search process as there was when Norman Podhoretz was appointed in 1959), the magazine, like the now-defunct neocon movement of which it was a part, resorted to nepotism and bestowed a position upon an individual whom, even among conservatives, is not regarded as an intellectual heavyweight.” It didn’t help John Podhoretz’s case that Norman’s grandson Sam Munsonwas Commentary’s web editor at the time.

While Commentary kept its oaklings close, its Catholic conservative counterpart, National Review, spawned a more diffuse diaspora. Its founder, William F. Buckley, Jr., watched as his successors strayed to other publications and away from his right-wing orthodoxy. His son Christopher Buckley took a job reading slush after meeting an Esquire editor at a party shortly after his Yale graduation in 1976. By age 24, he was the magazine’s managing editor. In the ’80s, one of his Esquire articles caught the attention of Vice President George H. W. Bush’s press secretary, and he got a gig in the Reagan White House as a speechwriter for Bush, much closer to the core of his father’s conservative movement. The Buckley family ties won him special treatment. At one point, Reagan held up a White House film screening to wait for him, despite Christopher’s efforts to quietly slip away from the event, and insisted the young speechwriter sit next to him. “I experienced many such acts of grace and favor during my time at the White House,” Christopher reflected in his 2009 memoir Losing Mum and Pup. “Looking back on it, I realize — not that I didn’t at the time — that these were reciprocations for the kindnesses Pup had shown to the Reagan children.”

Through some strange internet quirk, the Little, Brown author page for Christopher is accessible through the domain “leagueofunexceptionalchildren.com,” the National Review scion established himself as an oak in his own right with novels like the lobbyist satire Thank You For Smoking. Half a year after his father’s death in 2008, he publicly broke with his politics when he published “Sorry, Dad, I’m Voting for Obama” on The Daily Beast. “The only reason my vote would be of any interest to anyone is that my last name happens to be Buckley — a name I inherited. So in the event anyone notices or cares, the headline will be: ‘William F. Buckley’s Son Says He Is Pro-Obama,’” he wrote in that endorsement. “I know, I know: It lacks the throw-weight of ‘Ron Reagan Jr. to Address Democratic Convention,’ but it’ll have to do.” Somebody did notice and cared enough that Christopher lost his gig writing the back-page column at National Review.

But the Buckley publishing patrimony didn’t stop with Christopher. His daughter Cat Buckley’s speech at her paternal grandmother’s memorial service in front of the Temple of Dendur at the Met managed to elicit a job offer. “Cat’s eulogy ended up being the high point of the entire show. She ended it with blowing an air kiss to her Nan. It was a total home run. I did little after the service other than kvell and accept compliments on behalf of my dazzling daughter,” Christopher wrote in Losing Mum and Pup. “Anna Wintour of Voguewas so impressed, she offered Cat a job. This was very generous of Ms. Wintour and presented Cat with an interesting dilemma inasmuch as The Devil Wears Prada had just opened.” (He didn’t mention that that film’s director, David Frankel, son of former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel, is also an oakling.) Cat went to work instead for Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair, another Condé publication, initially as an editorial assistant before getting a master’s degree in early childhood education. She has professed to diverge from her grandfather’s racist politics as well. “I loved my grandfather deeply, and I’m so proud to be his granddaughter. He was a brilliant mind, God-fearing Catholic, sailor, multisyllabic speaker, and mentor to many,” she said in a 2020 interview for her friend’s blog. “However, do I personally believe the American Dream is at the expense of the American negro? Absolutely. It’s a fact.”

You don’t have to be a right-wing ideologue to spawn an ideologically-fueled media dynasty. Claud Cockburn, a card-carrying Communist until the end of the Second World War, founder of The Week (a newsletter documenting the rise of fascism in the 1930s; not the news summary magazine), and a reporter for The Times of London and The Daily Worker who helped start Private Eye, demonstrated this with greater thoroughness than he’d hoped. Each of his three sons became a journalist, to his chagrin. “He didn’t want us to be journalists. I mean, he didn’t discourage us, he certainly didn’t try and stop us, but he thought it was time some Cockburn did something else,” recalled the middle son, Andrew Cockburn, now Harper’s Washington editor, in a C-SPAN interview. “My mother hoped that I would be the executive of an oil company and make lots of money,” said the oldest son, Alexander Cockburn, the late co-editor of CounterPunch and a longtime columnist at The Nation and The Village Voice — where he refined modern media criticism in his Press Clips column — in another C-SPAN interview. (Both Andrew and Alexander fit the trend of oaklings writing on the media beat. Alexander was also married for a time to Kathryn Kilgore, daughter of Wall Street Journal managing editor and president of Dow Jones, Barney Kilgore.) The youngest brother, Patrick Cockburn, is a longtime Middle East correspondent primarily associated with the Financial Times and The Independent. Alexander credited his father for the uniformity of his sons’ pursuits. “He put the best cast on journalism. He said it’s a crusading activity: You can try and promote your ideals and put forward your ideals in journalism,” he said in that interview. “We naturally admired him, and none of us became oil company executives.”

The Cockburn brothers have yet to produce prominent journalist oaklings, though Andrew Cockburn’s daughter with wife Leslie Cockburn, an Emmy-winning documentarian for PBS, CBS, and NBC, is actor and director Olivia Wilde, who has drummed up a different sort of notoriety in gossip pages in recent years. (“Be sure to mention Olivia Wilde and Harry Styles for the clickbait potential!” urged the Harper’s publicist.) However, the family has survived into a third generation in journalism through the children of Claud’s daughter Claudia Cockburn Flanders, a disability activist. Her daughter, Stephanie Flanders, is head of economics and politics at Bloomberg Economics, and her other daughter, Laura Flanders, hosts The Laura Flanders Show, which airs on PBS. “I’m certainly less ideological than most of my family,” Stephanie told the British Observer in 2011. “I’m the black sheep because I have been very establishment, working for the FT, the BBC, and the U.S. Treasury. But I also like to think that part of the Cockburn tradition is about trying to inform people about the world.”


Tablet critic-at-large and n+1 co-founder Marco Roth isn’t exactly an oakling, but he was born into a writing family. His aunt is the prolific novelist and memoirist Anne Roiphe. Her daughter is Harper’s and Atlantic contributing contrarian Katie Roiphe. For the most part, his aunt’s influence manifested in his childhood in the form of an inverted ideal. Roth’s father, a doctor at Mount Sinai, despised his sister’s disclosure of family secrets in her writing and discouraged his son from following in her footsteps. “My father really believed that the only honorable professions were research, medicine, and science. And then, if you were going to go into the arts, it was music because music was abstract and it was not representational. You couldn’t betray anybody in music; you could only betray yourself with your lack of musicality,” Roth told The Fine Print. “That was very much a position that was designed to counter and annoy his sister, my aunt, although I think he also firmly believed this.”

Nevertheless, the ethos and imperatives of the Roiphe wing of the family rang clear: Publish. “My ex-wife once said this very funny thing when she met my aunt, which was after my book came out. She said, ‘Oh, now I understand that in your family, you have to have published a book to be considered a human being,’ which is only a slight exaggeration,” Roth recalled.

Roth’s cousin Katie, six years older, beat him out the gate, publishing her first book in 1993 at age 25, The Morning After, which questioned the alarm over rape on American college campuses. Being her mother’s daughter didn’t exactly hurt the book’s promotion. She participated in a joint profile with her mother in The New York Times, which featured the laughable-in-context description, “Mrs. Roiphe kvells discreetly over Katie.” In a 1994 Baffler essay titled “The Selling of Katie Roiphe,” Jennifer Gonnerman argued that Roiphe’s alignment with older generations’ perspectives meant that “she received more media attention than most writers get in a lifetime.”

Though Roth was furtively writing at the time, he claimed not to have felt jealous. “I don’t think that I ever felt that she and I were in any kind of direct competition,” he said. “I definitely get away with being the baby in the family and also a boy in a world of women writers, which means that I’ve been exempted from some of the intensity of the rivalry.” In theory, Roth had everything that would have allowed him to make a similarly, if not equally, spectacular start. The family had significant generational wealth, which Roth characterized as a mixed blessing. “It gave me a lot of room to make mistakes. It also meant that I was blind to things like the MFA and residency industrial complex, so I was sheltered as a writer for longer than many of my peers who had to fight for visibility in order to get grants. I didn’t really understand that that’s how the game worked until later on,” he said. “I was less hungry, which was nice, but it meant that it took me a while to learn how to hunt.”

And Katie wasn’t the only one who benefited from family connections. “They got me a fact-checking interview with The New Yorker that I completely bombed,” Roth recalled, summoning the particulars of his meeting with former fact-checking chief Peter Canby. “He asked me what I knew, and I said, ‘What do you want to know?’ And we kind of went back and forth. I retain information, but it’s not in an organized way, and it always comes out in involuntary manners. So I just completely froze up, and I looked like a person with no interests. Mostly, I was interested in getting out of the room. So, I had my chance, and I blew it.”

What really slowed him down, though, was that the story he most needed to tell, which would become his first book, the 2012 family memoir The Scientists, was in direct opposition to his aunt. “This began as a revenge memoir against my aunt,” he told The New York Observer around the time of its publication. That wish for revenge was inspired by a memoir Anne Roiphe published in 1999 called 1185 Park Avenue, in which she covered the death of her brother, Marco’s father, from AIDS. He claimed to have contracted the virus in a freak lab accident, but Anne’s book suggested that clinging to that story was a posthumous way of keeping her brother in the closet. “If his AIDS was in fact contracted in the more usual way, I would have been heartbroken,” she wrote, “heartbroken because he would have lived so long bending beneath the deceptions forged in other ignorant and cruel times.”

This claim came as a shock to the young Roth and turned him against his aunt. “My nephew did hate me. He did not speak to me or his cousins after the publication of that memoir. Now, ten years later, he speaks to one of my daughters,” Anne wrote in her 2008 memoir Epilogue. “When my daughter speaks of my brother’s son, my nephew (she’s seen him at this party, she had dinner with him here or there, he is doing this or that), I feel guilt like slivers of glass in my spine. I betrayed my brother. I hurt his child. When I imagine how much he would have hated me for that, I grow afraid as if his hate could reach out from the grave and pull me in.”

That rift made Roth trepidatious about seeking career help. “You contract debts of obligation if you accept patronage that you have to be conscious of, and I think I was mostly conscious of not wanting that, so I kind of stayed away. The New Yorker interview I accepted because I thought, ‘Hey, if this works out, great. I won’t have to go back to grad school.’ But then I was like, ‘I don’t know. I think I should go back to grad school,’” he said. “[Anne] was always, in my case, remarkably open to helping me, but it was going to be on her terms. If I was trying to square her world and my father’s world and make a synthesis out of it, that was a project that she was not, I think, interested in at that time in supporting.”

It worked out, anyway. Roth made his way as a writer, his mother told him there was something in what his aunt had written, he published his riposte, and the rift healed. “I don’t think, at this point, she has anything against what I wrote in the book or against me,” Roth said, “and I don’t have anything against her.” He’s watched from the sidelines in moments when his cousin Katie courted controversy, such as when her Harper’s article on the Shitty Media Men List resulted in the outing of the list’s creator. “I love my cousin. I love her as a writer and how her mind works, so I feel like I will defend her in public if asked, although nobody really asks me to defend her in public because I’m her cousin,” he said. “I might send her a note, but she has her supporters, and she has her fans, and she certainly has her enemies.”

As for the next generation, Roth hadn’t noticed any pronounced inclination toward writing on his 19-year-old daughter’s part, but if it arises, he knows his duty. “I think she probably does have things to say and will have things to say. I don’t know if writing is her medium, but it might be,” he said. “If it is, I will set her up with a New Yorker fact-checking job.”


For different reasons, the Longform Podcast and C-SPAN are two of the best archives of discussions about media nepotism and journalistic heritability — Longform’s hosts have displayed a particular interest in the topic from early on, while C-SPAN interviews drag on so long that eventually, almost inevitably, the interviewer falls back on asking about the interviewee’s kids or parents. Longform is particularly useful for learning about the extended Marantz Henig clan because co-host Evan Ratliff is a member. “I think it’s a brave thing that you’ve done, having so many members of your family on this podcast,” his co-host Max Linsky teased in an episode intro. “Well, dedicated listeners to the show will know that some years after the show started, I married into a family of successful writers, all of whom would be on the show in some sort of alternate universe anyway, so I don’t let these familiar connections stand in the way,” Ratliff responded.

Longtime New York Times Magazine contributor Robin Marantz Henig, the journalism matriarch of the family, was the first to come on the podcast in 2016. Ratliff asked how she felt about both her daughters — Samantha Henig, who started the audio division at The New York Times and is married to Ratliff, and Jess Zimmerman, formerly the editor-in-chief of Electric Literature — following her into journalism. “I’m actually a little surprised because our dinner table conversations were always about me complaining,” she said. “But actually, I love that they’re both journalists. I love that Sam married a journalist. I love that my nephew also is a journalist. He’s a writer for The New Yorker. I love having this little family industry.” She added, “A lot of families go into the family business because it’s what they see as possible out there. And I made this look possible. I’m surprised that I made it look appealing.”

But Ratliff hasn’t always seemed to have been comfortable with this dynamic. When his cousin by marriage, Andrew Marantz, a New Yorker staff writer, came on the show, Ratliff expressed some diffidence: “I have resisted having you on the podcast because that seems like nepotism.”

As Marantz Henig tells it, her daughters had a chance to start on a pathway into writing when she asked both of them to co-write their first book with her, and only one agreed. After her 2010 Times Magazine article“What Is It About 20-Somethings?” went viral, she was approached by a publisher to turn it into a book. “At that point, I had written a whole bunch of books, and they’d been really fun to write but kind of disappointing results — they didn’t sell. And so I’d always said I only want to write another book if I really just love the process of writing and really don’t give a shit about who buys it or what happens after that. So I knew that the only way I could do that was to write it with — I thought both my daughters, but of course, only one of them really wanted to. And actually, I don’t even know if Sam really wanted to or was just being nice to me because she is, as you know, very nice,” she recalled in the interview with Ratliff. The publisher agreed to let them write it together, with the mother contributing science reporting and the daughter primarily pitching in her perspective as a 20-something. “It was really fun — for me. I don’t know if it was really fun for Sam,” Marantz Henig said. “I did achieve that state of really only caring about getting to write that book, and the fact that almost nobody bought it really didn’t bother me because I had had this great time writing a book with her.”

Zimmerman resisted her mother’s entreaties to become involved in that project. She’d never liked being written about and actively resisted writing about herself. “I did not like being kind of pinned down in text in a way that was filtered through someone else’s perspective. My reaction to that was not really, ‘Oh, I’m going to write about myself through my own perspective.’ It was, ‘Oh, it sucks to be written about, and I’m not going to do it either,’” she said in her Longform interview. She instead entered media sideways, starting out blogging on LiveJournal before being invited to write for publications. Her cousin Marantz grew up with doctor parents in Connecticut. He got a job as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker through J-school at NYU and has been there ever since.

As members of the family pointed out in declining interview requests for this series, neither of Robin Marantz Henig’s daughters is currently a journalist. Henig was the executive editor for strategy for BuzzFeed News — Ben Smith, briefly her boss at BuzzFeed, lives across her backyard — and its interim editor-in-chief before leaving in 2022 to become chief operating officer of the Brooklyn ice cream company Ample Hills. “In a twist of fate befitting a rom-com, I recently ended up landing my dream job, and it felt like an opportunity I just had to take,” she wrote in her exit email, published by Tarpley Hitt on Gawker. She also recalled her 2019 departure as editorial director for audio at The New York Times. “When I had parting coffee with A.G. Sulzberger in 2019 just before leaving The New York Times, and he asked me what was next for me, I posited that perhaps I would try to get a job at Ample Hills because it brings me so much joy. (He seemed confused.)” Unfortunately, four months after she started at the ice creamery, she and all of the company’s employees were put on indefinite furlough. Zimmerman is now an editor at Pride and Prejudice and Zombies publisher Quirk Books, having left Electric Literature in 2021.


It could seem like former Salon staff writer Andrew Leonard’s father, John Leonard, had read everything. As the editor of The New York Times Book Review in the ’70s, an era when the section’s leader was expected to be a bona fide intellectual, he had the authority to pull off the pose of total erudition. He was arguably the supreme critic of his time but hardly a reporter. He moved through arguments with a critic’s confidence, testing his assumptions against inert texts rather than spikey circumstances or disagreeable sources and subjects. “My father had a very strong sense of this is right, this is wrong, this is the truth, and he was very compelling at arguing it,” his son told The Fine Print. “I, funnily enough, do not feel like I know the answers to every question. I think it’s part of being a reporter in that the more you report, the more nuanced and complex any story gets.”

The young Leonard knew that if he was ever going to make his own way, he’d have to do it away from New York. “It’s funny, both my children now live in New York and I never felt the desire to come back to New York because it was my dad’s town for sure. There was no room for me,” he said. “The dinner parties that my dad had and the people that came to them — Kurt Vonnegut was a super close friend of his — I felt like I needed, for my own sense of ego, to build something separate.” So when he went off to the University of Michigan, he began studying Chinese — his father had mastered Western culture, but China was one thing he knew little about.

When Leonard graduated in 1984, he moved to Taiwan for an intensive year-long Chinese language program. One year turned into four. He thought his career would keep him tied to the broader Chinese world, but in his last year in Taiwan, a friend of his father’s offered him a weeklong gig as a gopher for a Today Showsegment. “That took my relationship with Taiwan to a completely different level. All of a sudden, I had access to all these different people’s stories, and I was learning all this stuff and running around. I thought, ‘Man, this is actually a really cool thing to do,’ which is not, and this is an important distinction, what my father ever did,” he said. “I decided I had to figure out what I was doing with my life, and I applied to a bunch of graduate schools, mostly in Chinese history. At Berkeley, there was a joint program in journalism and Asian Studies, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s perfect.’ I discovered, after about a year of doing that, that I was not interested in the political science academic Asia track. I just loved being a reporter. I just loved learning something new every day.”

Starting out, Leonard occasionally leaned on his father’s connections. “I got the chance to write a couple of pieces for The Nation because he was editing there,” he said. “But mostly, what I carved out here in California was a career covering technology, which had absolutely no intersections with what he did. So I felt like it was self-made, and I wasn’t leaning on my privilege.” His proud father kept a close eye on his progress and offered unwavering support. “My first job was at The San Francisco Bay Guardian, and he subscribed from New York City. He already read The Village Voice, The Times, the Post, New York, New Yorker,” he said. “He read everything I wrote. We had a great relationship around words. We would call each other up just to read something that we had just written, just to share our favorite lines. That’s the thing I miss the most. My children get kind of annoyed when I do that.”

When Leonard published his first book, Bots: The Origin of New Species, in 1997, the fact that it was put out by an extremely short-lived Wired imprint seemed to promise an inauspicious launch. “In fact, they closed the week my book came out, so I got no marketing,” he said. “That book got reviewed both in the daily New York Times and in the Sunday Book Review, and I can guarantee you 100 percent that that was because of who my father was. Which is not to say the book didn’t have merit, but that was kind of a surprise.” One of the reviews was by longtime Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, who has his own oakling daughter, Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, who was a frequent freelancer for magazines in the aughts and now runs a content studio called StoryMade. “Obviously, he and my dad knew each other extremely well. They used to sit out on the back porch divvying up the books that they were going to review. So he’s going to know my name. But at the same time, it was a topic that everybody in New York felt like they needed to start understanding very quickly. So it was a conjunction of forces that got me that profile,” he said. “I was interviewing for a job at Salon when that review ran, and that was extremely helpful.”

At Salon, he discovered a new way to distinguish himself from his father. “My dad was obsessive about his copy. One of the things that made him so excited when he finally moved to a word processor was he could line up the margins exactly the way they would be in the column so that nothing had to be hyphenated, and he would tinker with sentence structure to do that,” he said. “You did not move a semicolon of his if you were his editor without getting a really strong response.” In the early 2000s, Salon was run by mostly print editors who had crossed over to experiment with the mechanics of internet publishing. “We were trying to figure out how to adapt, and I was definitely one of the voices because I covered the internet saying, ‘We’ve got to start posting more content and shorter content,’ and man, I could kick myself so hard right now, but I plunged in.”

For eight years, he regularly wrote three blog posts a day, every day of the week. It was more exciting than burdensome at first, and it called for a new approach to prose. “He would build cathedrals with a scalpel and a chisel; so I would spew my words with a fire hose, slapping up blog post constructions destined to be blown away by the next frail breeze,” he wrote in a remembrance shortly after his father’s death in 2008. “His every sentence would be a masterpiece; as for me, on occasion, a phrase or two that rang true would pop from my keyboard, I would appreciate it in passing, and think to myself: My father might like that one. But the pause would not last long, for another sentence, another post, another observation waited impatiently to be born.”

Leonard left his job at Salon in 2014. Now that he’s escaped the churn, he regrets having subjected himself to it. “It took a terrible toll on my craft. You just had to get it out and get it out quick and you really didn’t have much chance to report. It illustrated everything wrong that the internet did to journalism, and now I’m completely on the other side,” he said. “Now I put most of my energy into a Substack newsletter which I craft the fucking hell out of.” Ironically, it was in writing the post-mortem in which he distinguished his own and his father’s approaches that he rediscovered his love for closely crafted prose. “All these people read it and they were like, ‘What are you talking about? This is as good as your father.’ That was like, ‘No.’ But it felt like, ‘Oh, there is something to tap there,’ and I’ve tried to follow that more since,” he said. “I feel like some of the best things I’ve ever written have been since my father died and he’ll never get to read them, which is a bummer because he read every damn thing he could.”

We’ll publish the fifth and final part of this series — featuring the children of TV (Tortorici, Moonves, Shachtman, Taibbi, Kotlowitz) and others — soon. Curious about an oakling we haven’t covered yet? Let us know: tips@thefineprintnyc.com