At the meeting with Carter and his daughter Marie Dixie Carter, Jared laid the check on the table and moved quickly into his pitch, which was keyed to Carter’s sentimental attachment to the paper. He told him he would invest money in the Observer, build up the paper’s fledging website, and finally run it as a profit-making business.
Later that afternoon, when Jared was back at his internship at Square Mile Capital, the private-equity firm, Carter called to accept his offer. The next day, Jared called his boss. “I have to resign. I bought a newspaper,” Jared remembers saying.
Six months later, Jared—in near-constant contact with his father, who by then had been released from a Newark halfway house—paid $1.8 billion, a record for any office building in the U.S., for 666 Fifth Avenue, the iconic 41-story office tower on the corner of 53rd Street. While Charlie was in prison, Jared persuaded him to sell their mid-Atlantic holdings. In 2007, the Kushners sold the portfolio mostly to AIG, for $1.9 billion, at the end of the bubble, a profit of almost $1 billion. Overnight, Jared had transformed from a student to a major player on the New York stage. At 26, he was the fresh new face of the Kushner family, his rise providing a counternarrative to his father’s fall. But in many ways, they are the same story.
I met Jared Kushner last month in his fifteenth-floor corner office at 666 Fifth Avenue, just down the hall from his father. He was dressed in standard-issue young-mogul attire—navy suit, matching blue tie, bright white shirt—but he still looked remarkably young, more like a college student than a macher. A flat-screen TV on one wall was silently tuned to CNBC. Tasteful modern paintings hung on the opposing wall. A stack of thank-you cards sat unwritten on his desk. His south-facing window frames the twin spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “The only fight we had,” said Jared, “he wanted me to take this corner [instead of him]. I think it’s the better view, but my father insisted.”
Jared’s words, often delivered with a playful, dimpled smile, can be as tightly controlled and innocuous as an athlete’s. But when he talks about his father, there’s palpable emotion behind the mask. “I speak with my father about everything in my life,” Jared told me.
And, the crimes notwithstanding, he sees his father as a victim. “His siblings stole every piece of paper from his office, and they took it to the government,” Jared maintained. “Siblings that he literally made wealthy for doing nothing. He gave them interests in the business for nothing. All he did was put the tape together and send it. Was it the right thing to do? At the end of the day, it was a function of saying ‘You’re trying to make my life miserable? Well, I’m doing the same.’ ” (Charlie’s brother Murray and sister Esther wouldn’t return calls.)
At the time we spoke, the Observer was in crisis, or in more crisis than usual. The longtime editor, Peter Kaplan, a charismatic proselytizer for old media in general and the Observer in particular, had announced his resignation. In early June, the Observer laid off about a third of its newsroom. But Jared talked with an optimism that seemed a bit unrealistic given the dire conditions. “I think we’re definitely at a bottom for newspapers,” he said a couple of weeks later. “Once this Russian winter is over, once the papers fail that should fail, you’ll see a resurgence. I think the Observer two years from now will be a very viable entity.”
The deal for 666 Fifth is also in trouble. The building doesn’t generate enough revenue to pay the $1.2 billion mortgage, and the debt is likely worth more than the property itself. Jared’s heavy investment in real estate and newspapers could be viewed as misjudgment, or bad timing. Yet the actual outcomes may be beside the point. Three years ago, Jared Kushner would likely have been seen as the callow son of a disgraced businessman. Now he vacations with the Murdochs. At some future date, he plans to marry Ivanka Trump. He knows the mayor. The governor will take his call. Jared has become a macher. The Kushners may not always see the value of newspapers—but access to power is a value they understand.
In the middle of our talk, Charlie knocked on the glass door to Jared’s office and walked in to tell his son he was leaving for the day. Jared jumped out of his chair, hugged him, and kissed him on the left cheek. “Okay, bye, Dad. I love you,” he said.