Monday, March 07, 2005

BuzzFlash has a strong editorial that leads into a state of the Times meandering discussion (on my part)

Liang e-mails this BuzzFlash editorial entitled "Wanted: An Investigative Reporter to Break Open the Explosive Story of a Mainstream Press that Betrays America." Excerpt from the editorial:

The White House apologist mainstream press corps is now flagellating the Internet blogs and news services, such as BuzzFlash, claiming that writers on the net are fast with the truth.
What the reality is is this: sites like are fast, fast in telling the truth. The New York Times and Washington Post are so interested in protecting the status quo that they are now the tail end of breaking White House scandal stories, rather than breaking them. They can lay claim to be 12th and 13th to publish hot news stories, two weeks after they've hit the Internet.

[For background from this site see numerous entries, but focus on "The Times didn't break news this morning, they did a blurb for a report that's available to the public later today," "Robert Pear, or "Robert Pear," is useless addressing Medicare in this morning's Times," '"U.S. Drops Crimingal Investigation of CIA Antidrug Effort in Peru" and NYT sits on the story since "late January,"' "The New York Times, afraid to break the news?," "The New York Times is still fawning over the inauguration," "The New York Times more worthless everyday,"
[. . .]
It's got nothing to do with credentials. You can report a Pentagon news release, get two people in the Pentagon to say it's true, and still be writing up a lie. It's who you ask, what you ask, and how vigorously you pursue the story. Most mainstream reporters can telephone in their stories nowadays after getting news releases from the Bush Administration.
Sure, there are some decent, honest journalists chafing at the restrictions placed upon them not to expose the truth about the White House chronic lying and media manipulation. And there are some swell columnists in the New York Times and Washington Post, but the accomplices to the White House are the news editors. Everyday they choose what is considered news and what is not considered news. It is a highly subjective process, subject to White House pressure and influence.
Recently, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller wouldn't even tell his own ombudsman why the controversial Judith Miller went on television to discuss how the infamous source of many of her misleading pre-Iraq leaks, Chalabi, was now on the insider's list of the Bush Cartel again. You see, Miller revealed this on cable TV, in the newspaper's name, several days before it appeared in the NYT under another byline. [Believe BuzzFlash is
referring to Dexter Filkins.] And Miller was one of the people whose pre-Iraq war reporting the NYT apologized for. But nothing's changed.
Which brings us to the Valerie Plame, Jeff Gannon/Guckert, Judith Miller, Bob Novak, and Patrick Fitzgerald axis of "six degrees of separation." Just a few of the mainstream press dots that connect one to the other. You see, Gannon/Guckert tried to nail Joe Wilson by saying that he, Gannon/Guckert, was shown a classified CIA document (but Kurtz, Blitzer and the like seem to care little about such violations of national security). And Miller, ostensibly, faces going to jail for not revealing her knowledge about the Plame leak, while Novak blissfully continues to get paid to shill for the Republicans and the White House in particular, even though he was the one who outed Plame.
So Bill Keller is getting all indignant that Miller might go to jail and is making the Plame matter an issue of the right of a reporter to maintain confidential sources. But, here is where it gets interesting. Just the other day, a Federal judicial panel including David Sentelle (who exonerated Ollie North, appointed Ken Starr, approved secret activities by the FBI, and countless other decisions for the GOP), approved sending Miller to jail if she didn't talk.
Well, why would a right wing lackey like Sentelle side with the Bush administration on forcing a reporter (Judith Miller) who is a propaganda conduit for them to go to jail? (Miller wrote stories without naming sources that Cheney then used to create "factoids" to justify the Iraq War.)
Here's why. Because the purpose of the so-called Fitzgerald "Plame Investigation" is not to charge anyone at the White House; it is to find a reason NOT to charge anyone at the White House. If the U.S. Attorney can prove that there was general knowledge among a certain group of reporters in D.C. that Plame was a CIA operative, then no crime was committed. And that is where, in the end, trust us, the go-to-girl for the White House, Judy Miller, will assist them. Alberto Gonzales brought the two key lawyers who were representing Bush in the Plame case to the Justice Department. So are you getting the picture now?
And what better way to bollix up an investigation than not to subpoena Novak, and, instead, subpoena secondary reporters to the investigation and get the media to denounce the threats being placed on their reporters? Ingenious.
Are you starting to connect the dots? The mainstream press should be connecting the dots, except for the fact that they are the dots.

[See "Intentionally or not, the Times reporting backs up Greenspans's non-reality based views,"
"Robert Pear, or "Robert Pear," is useless addressing Medicare in this morning's Times," "Elite Fluff Patrol squadron leader is safe and sound and on page A16 of this morning's paper," "The New York Times at its worst: Elisabeth Bumiller, Jodi Wilgoren and Juan Forero make the front page on the same day," '"In Jacksonville, Faith, Hope and Charity at a Super Bowl" doesn't belong on the front page of this morning's New York Times,'

Bill Keller recently bemoaned to the New Yorker that Karl Rove had berated him for not being fair to Bush. We were laughing so hard when we read that, we fell off our barstool. [See "Opinion: It's not a real good time to be Bill Keller."] The New York Times political coverage (as distinct from its editorial page) is so innocuous and unwilling to connect the dots of the Bush administration, it would be useless without all of its supplementary sections, such as the editorial section and book review. It's Karl Rove's dream "liberal paper," because its news section is not liberal politically in the least in terms of news judgment.
It's had a little run on torture stories, and printed an Iraq munitions theft piece before the election because it was going to come out anyway, but it accepts the administration as if it is an honest one. If the role of journalism is to challenge authority by seeking out the truth behind the official statements, the New York Times fails miserably, with a few exceptions here and there. It in no way conveys the radicalism of the people in the White House, nor runs longer investigative pieces on their chronic deceptions and dishonesty. It pretty much accepts their news handouts at face value.

Liang did a cutting of the BuzzFlash editorial and focused on their remarks regarding the Times but there's a lot more in the editorial.

Liang also provides the links which I know from my own experience is a pain in the butt (there's no search engine at this site). (If I'd known Liang was going through the archives, I would have asked her to look for John L. Hess because Shirley's pretty sure he was mentioned once on this site before he died. I've never been able to find that and Shirley's pulling a blank on when it would be. If anyone knows, the site is

I'd add another series of links: "The Times appears opposed to covering any voices who want the troops home now," "Is the Times letting average Iraqis voice their opinions?" "The New York Times, more worthless every day," 'Amy Goodman warned us about "The Lies of the Times"' and many more. That's not disputing Liang's links. She's chosen very well and worked hard. (Thank you Liang.) But the issue of being a gatekeeper and denying the voices of the average citizen is a continued problem for the Times as they continue trying to be the "paper of record." (Again, Okrent was wrong about the paper never pushing that term when he did that hideous tongue lashing at readers who'd used the term in their e-mails to his office. While doing some research for a Third Estate Sunday Review planned article, I found out that the slogan had been pushed publicly by an editorial staff. Maybe we just love to find Okrent here, but I never get tired of including that in parentheticals. Maybe if he'd written about a real issue -- instead of attacking readers -- it wouldn't even bother me. Maybe if he wasn't so ___ damn self-important in his tone and so damn sure of himself, we'd let it go. But he's looked and looked, according to him, and can't find the paper ever using the term. I stumbled upon it while looking into a historical side issue about the paper. Let's see if Okrent corrects himself before he steps down in May. I don't think he will, but if he does, we'll note it.)

But the access they covet (not something that developed under Keller, this goes back to the earliest days -- and in fact goes back to how the paper was saved financially) comes at a price.
That price is they won't break news. They can't. They won't risk offending certain people in office. They've formed bonds with others out of office. (As we've pointed out here -- or maybe it was a Third Estate Sunday Review piece I helped with -- they never ran one word on the revelations Naomi Klein uncovered re: James Baker. They wouldn't. It's not in their nature.)
(My opinion and the opinion of people who've worked for and continue to work at the Times.)

Someone asked a question in an e-mail (no permission to name or quote so we'll paraphrase) and I think they'll ask the same question when they read the BuzzFlash editorial. It can be boiled down to: "But they are a liberal paper and you've noted the editorials so I think you're just wanting it to be more liberal in the reporting but they can only report the facts."

That person is entitled to their opinion. But I'm not talking about slanting the facts nor do I believe BuzzFlash is (again I really prefer not to speak for others), the issue of it being a liberal paper means something different to many on the left than the general hype (that's come from the right). We're not talking about creating "facts." By all means, be fact based. We're complaining that it's not a liberal paper not because of the facts or "facts" that make it into print but because of the reality that a liberal paper would flood the zone (which the Times has done only regarding the budget and the tsunami since Decemember -- Howell Raines was much more eager to flood the zone than Keller is) and it would do that (and assign stories) on some sort of basis of a liberal outlook on issues. The Times can't be bothered.

Football (or baseball training camp today) and Utah skiing, upper-class retirees . . . take your pick. Social justice, which is a liberal concern, isn't a big concern of the Times. (I'm speaking of the reporting, not the editorials.) The concerns of the people aren't a big concern of the Times.
Too often, stories on policy proposals or changes focus only on the people who will be making the decision, not upon the human impact they will have. (The Wall St. Journal, to give credit where it's due, has done a far better job in their reporting over the last twenty years -- not their editorials -- in focusing on the human impact, the costs, of policies and business decisions.) The paper's reporting section just isn't interested in that aspect. (Or interested in parts of New York City, to be quite honest.) A liberal paper would be. The criticism from many on the left isn't that the paper won't skew/fit "facts." The criticism is that what the paper chooses to cover is not about the impact/costs on your average person.

And this goes to what we've noted over and over here which is it's a class issue. (Rebecca's noted that as well.) The Times isn't really concerned with the average person though they love and need their monies. The paper knows that too. When Dorothy Shiff was alive and running the New York Post -- a liberal newspaper then -- the Times could pride themselves on having a more "desirable" demographic, a more "upscale" audience. In these days of dwindling circulation, the Times -- which is one of the top three papers in the country in terms of circulation -- knows they need customers to buy the paper. But there's something happening here that a few at the paper of record realize (and have attempted to make noises about according to their self-reporting to this site) and it's that the one-paper-town is becoming an issue even in New York City.

The paper benefitted from circulation wars. (We can go into a history of the strikes and how they effected the Times but I'm not sure anyone's interested.) As it looks to some like the days when even New York City can boast of sizeable circulations for more than one paper may be drawing to a close, there are some arguing for a little larger focus. (If history's any guide, those voices will be ignored.) The paper (as far as I know) isn't losing money. But you do have Keller expressing opinions about the costs of the national edition and the costs of the web site which is why they'll probably push through the pay to read anything idea -- an idea that thrills the Washington Post, according to community member Professional Journalist who works there as well as a few others. It thrills the Washington Post because such a move towards asking people to pay to read killed off the Wall St. Journal's influence. They know it will damage the Times' influence/reach.

I'm tired (to the point that my eyes are running -- my soul crying for the Times?) and I'm all over the place, I know. Try to hang with me for this entry.

Either step that Keller's toying with (he's not the only one, but he is the executive-editor, so let's lay it at his doorstep) will severly damage the paper. (More so than certain people at the paper think this site damages the paper. I'm thinking of an angry, colorful e-mail to this site from someone at the Times over how I'm "destroying lives.") The paper needs the illusion of being the paper of record. (And it is, if "paper of record" applies only to what officials say.) It won't continue at the current level without it.

If it loses readers, it will find itself still being the "house organ" (in the words of one person at the paper) but it'll be about as important as an "office newsletter" (ditto). The readers that Okrent bullies and lectures are more important than Okrent acknowledges. If they stop reading, the paper is an "office newsletter." And the minute that happens, people who enjoy the access the paper provides, may decide to take their business elsewhere.

The paper, I'm told, survived by being the countering voice that served to silence certain elements in the country wanting a more progressive nation. (If that's indeed true, the Times has certainly succeeded there.) That was fine, when it was competing against several other papers. And certainly the readership's demographics made it attractive to advertisers. But even New York City may be feeling the pinch that other cities have. (Let me be clear, it's not there yet according to those concerned, they see it coming down the path, however.)

But if Keller moves to a for pay site or messes with the national circulation, there's little reason for it to be cited on news programs. One of the reasons it's reffed so often is because of it's reach. (You though it was because it broke news? Oh, cookie . . .) If you screw with it's potential reach, you screw with its power.

It can be as bland as it wants to be. Right now it has a reach. But instead of thinking "if we charge for viewing online" or some other proposal that's only going to cut into circulation and readership (online or off), they could try to throw some sop out to the masses by actually writing about some things that matter. (While they matter.)

Today the paper did a valentine to Joe Lieberman. We didn't comment on that. There's only so much even I can stomach. (And it wasn't news.) That's where the paper finds itself in many ways. It's becoming Lieberman. And when there were more people reading all newspapers, it could do that. But with circulation declines a concern at all papers, it really may not be able to continue down that path. The New York Post (under Murdoch) is Orrin Hatch, Rick Santorum.
Newsday's a brave Congress member (and based outside of New York City but it picks up commuters). New York Daily News is Joe Biden -- not sure from one moment to the next what it is exactly. Of the senators listed, who grabs your attention? (I'm asking who grabs your attention, not whom do you like. The point is the Times isn't grabbing attention.)

If the Times doesn't consider seriously what the ramifications are for changes to the national edition or to a for pay site, they may find themselves overtaken by the Post. Not because it's a better paper. But because the Post stands for something (something hideous, my opinion) in it's coverage. From editorial to feature article to gossip column to news story to front page, it's "on message." Forget it's tendency to rely on "facts" as opposed to facts for a moment. Put that aside, and you're left with the obvious: it makes a statement.

The Times editorial board has one approach, the editorial slant with regard to reporting another, the feature stories . . . well, I'm not sure that there's any real supervision going on in the arts department, a smug, self-satisfied approach in the book review section (I'm referring to the Sunday section) [and the approach isn't about "we're smart because we read," it's more like "we're smart because we think we are"] . . . You have no idea where you are from page to the next as you make your way through the paper. (Stealing from Eli on the last statement.) During the days of the paper wars, the Times could afford this all-things-to-all-people approach.

But can it as readership declines at all levels across the nation? The erratic approach, "centered," works with a paper war. But you can't be all things to all people. And the Times doesn't seem to grasp the damage done by repeated cries from the right that it's "liberal."
They think they can include this or that and the right will respond, "Oh, it's not liberal."
That's not happening. The campaign against the paper was aimed at people who didn't read it and those people probably never will (this campaign has gone on what, thirty years now?).

When Keller makes noises (to The New Yorker) about courting the right readership, he's acting as though it's 1970 and there's still a great paper war going on. (Or earlier.) There's not. What is going on is declines (across the nation) in readership for all papers. His business model is flawed. (That may surprise some since the Times is such a business paper as opposed to a labor one, but the Times has never really covered business with a reality approach the way, for instance, the Wall St. Journal has.)

The paper's in danger of becoming a Lieberman -- someone who satisfies few. Oh sure, as the paper noted today, Lieberman gets high marks from Republicans -- most of whom don't vote for him. That's a bit like being a paper getting high marks from "balance" from people who won't buy you but will encourage you in the wrong direction. The Times has the power of incumbency going for it, that may be all it currently has.

The New York Post is a serious threat to the Times not because it's conservative (although, again, having a unified approach does help it appear consistent) but because it's seen as someone concerned with the working class in many ways. (An illusion, but we're not analyzing the Post here so we'll move on.) The Times has always prided themselves on their "class level." Which is why the "elite" criticism was always more valid than the notion that the paper was "liberal." Dorothy Schiff understood her power came from the readers. (This isn't a valentine to Schiff. She had many problems as anyone who worked under her can attest.) She realized her access (and she had access) was the result of putting out a major paper in the heart of the American media. King makers and would be kings came calling for that reason. But on the printed page, under Schiff, the paper could touch on issues that the Times won't. (Granted, many of them issues that puzzled by Schiff. Again, this isn't a valentine to her. And probably a great deal of credit goes to the executive-editors under her. But she was less apt to stand in the way than is the structure at the Times.)

The Times doesn't appear to grasp the need for regular readers still and the need to interest them (puff pieces on sports and Hollywood on the front page won't do it). They've had a "gentleman's agreement" with the powerful. And they honestly seem to think that things are as they once were. Things are not as they once were. BuzzFlash, The Daily Howler and other sites (including this one) point out the obvious regarding the Times. But even if that weren't the case, readers still wouldn't be satisfied because the paper is too damn erratic. That's what's hurting the paper today and has turned it into the Lieberman. Like loyal Democrats in Conn., some of us hang on. (And realize how important the editorial board of the Times can still be.) But we're not kidding ourselves that we're getting breaking news or that all areas are being covered.

Other than op-ed columnists and the crossword, the paper has few calling cards (on the actual page) to attract readers. And there's this idea that it can continue to be "centerist" (erratic) and thrive. Maybe it can. But when The New York Post is coming on strong (in all the wrong ways), the paper of record looks more and more like the New York Timid.

There are serious problems at the paper and increasing revenue with changes to the national edition or moving to a for pay site won't solve them. (That's like having a tag sale on a holding to make a quarter's report even though it means falling short in subsequent quarters.)

If I'm all over the place in this entry (and I am) it's because I'm trying to tackle pretty much every issue that people who worked and work at the paper are bothered by, to tackle the concerns of members and to tackle my own concerns.

A number of members are suggesting moving on to another paper (there are two they're arguing for strongly) but to those who e-mailed this evening after the last post went up wondering if we were going to stop covering the Times, no decision has been made there.

I'm thinking about this entry and realizing that in many ways it reads like a send-off to the Times. (Maybe I've already made a decision.) If that's the case, let me be clear about something that I used to address in e-mails when I had time to reply to everyone, comments on the paper here were never about "Oh God! I hate that paper!"

We got a lot of one or two-time readers (as opposed to members) who would stop by and dash off an e-mail saying, "Oh, I hate the Times too!" They'd get a reply that said, "I don't hate the Times. I wish it would live up to its potential." And then they'd either move on or want to slam the paper for some perceived issue. (And that's fine, that was their opinion. But this wasn't about being a Times hating site when this started and I don't think we have been that. A number of angry e-mails from people at the Times suggest the impression they had and what I thought was going on were in opposition.)

I liked the Times. As Rebecca noted (and she was correct), each day I grabbed the paper thinking it would be better and I'd be highlighting something really important in it.

(Or, as I pointed out Sunday, I'd defend their decision to cover the entertainment industry with greater scope thinking that they could really do that.)

I've lost those illusions. Not because we've chronicled so many missteps here. But because what I used to dismiss prior to The Common Ills as people not getting it (even people who'd left the paper or were working at other papers) has proven to be true.

When I just read it, I could dismiss this reporting or that article. But when you start following it to comment on it (or when I did), the criticism that I'd long heard finally started register. (I've never claimed to be the most intelligent person in the room.)

I wish the paper was better. I wish the paper would cover what matters. I wish it would do a better job of getting it's facts straight. When it's done something right, I've been more than happy to play cheerleader. Not just for the tsunami coverage early on, but recently Jodi Wilgoren's remarkable turn around (which I take heat for in e-mails but I stand by -- and people who are disagreeing are welcome to share their opinions, as always I could be wrong) or even noting Kit Seeyle's turn (Katharine is the spelling, I think, but I'm in no mood to check it out and she did bill herself as "Kit" so we'll go with that) as a blogger for the paper. (Boy, did angry e-mails come in over that.)

But whether it's the protests at the inauguration (which I took part in and didn't see reality reflected in the paper) or realizing how badly they screw up stories (there are two in tomorrow's edition that are screwed up -- one has already had someone protesting via e-mail "Don't blame me!") on even what many consider "minor" topics, it's just too hard to continue to play cheerleader. That breaks my heart (and that's not hyperbole).

To put in a perspective that Susan will appreciate, I read the paper for years with the attitude summed up in a Carole King & Gerry Goffin song ("Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby" or "Oh No, Not My Baby") and was undercritical (to say the least) but now it's more like a Bob Dylan song ("Seeing the Real You at Last") (or possibly, "Drifiting Too Far From Shore"). The mistake was mine.

And as I noted earlier, I can't fake what I write. If I'm left cold, I'm left cold and have nothing to say. And that's where I find myself more and more regarding the paper (Erika calls it "soul damage" in a very nice e-mail). Saturday's entry went up late because I had read the paper that morning and frankly didn't even want to write about it. I went out and did errands then came back with a second wind to try to tackle the paper. As I noted, on Sunday I didn't even bother to take it out the paper when the day started. I'd planned to not do for that some time.

When calls and calls kept coming in about the article on Disney & Miramax, that was something that did excite me. And I thought, "Okay, I'll write that for me and I'll focus on the hideous stories on torture and the 'normalization'/rehabilitation of a homophobe." This morning, Dominick's e-mail was so appreciated because I'd read the paper and spent about thirty minutes trying to find something worth saying that hadn't been said here a hundred times. (By me. Any member can weigh in and I don't care if we've covered it or not, if you want to share, it will be shared.)

"Are we looking at a divorce?" wondered Krista in an e-mail (she said that could be quoted). Maybe so.

Tomorrow they have a piece on Jane Fonda. They'll be talking about how she doesn't have a Grapes of Wrath to her credit the way her father did, a film that stands out. What the f*ck is Caryn James smoking?

I mean seriously, forget the revulsion so many modern audiences feel towards black and white films (not a revulsion I share), there's no way of finding perspective for such an uninformed remark. Fonda's Bree in Klute remains a touchstone of strong acting. (As does They Shoot Horses Don't They? To name but two.) So she's not speaking of acting. (As Henry Fonda noted in terms of recognition for acting, Jane Fonda won the Oscar long before he did. Won two.)
Is she speaking of "reach?" If so, certainly (as members have noted) Nine to Five is a film that never stops playing. She seems to (and I could be wrong) be attempting to pinpoint one role by which someone is remember . . . and fails to realize that Jane Fonda is still alive. (She also doesn't grasp that Monster-in-Law is no-lose for Fonda. Which is, by the way, "conventional wisdom" in Hollywood. Or that there's a reason Fonda accepted the role. Hint to James, you come off as uninformed as some writers in 1975.) She sees an E-poll as being, if not bad, mixed news to Fonda. The poll is a great news and confirms what many thought.

James is so uninformed on so much, I'm left thinking once again, "Where's the supervision on the editorial side?" (Remember, they don't have a fact check department.) Then I'm left with the Times love of narrative and wondering how they intend to spin this. (Loved how James' article brings up the doctored photo of John Kerry & Jane Fonda but fails to mention that the Times hyped it, though they didn't run it as some claimed, when one hour of research could have spared them the embarrassment.) (The Times ran a real photo that had Fonda & Kerry several rows apart at another event. That photo was real. They did, however, bring up the issue -- in the same story -- of the photo they didn't run. They could have figured out in one hour of research -- maybe less -- that Fonda was in Los Angeles when Kerry was on the other side of the country speaking.)

So what's the narrative? It doesn't appear to be a kind one. But I'll leave that to others to decide. (And yes, James comes off like a fool about the nineties. She has no knowledge of the UN work, the treadmill which was huge news in the excercise industry and assorted other things. She also fails to grasp the reasons for Fonda stepping away from acting and producing which is why she comes off tacky -- was she writing for the Enquirer? -- about the marriage of Fonda and Ted Turner.) (She appears to have read the Esquire cover story from the early nineties, though she doesn't credit it when she's dancing around the "zeitgeist" issue/nature.)

She even frets over Fonda's hair color. (As if she weren't blond in Barbarella, Barefoot in the Park, The Game Is Over, The Morning After, and a host of other films.) People don't recognize her, James feels, and that might be because she's blond. Or it might because she elected to step away from the spotlight? And when the Times put the spotlight on her most famously last year, they did so with a photo from the seventies when her hair was brown?

The poll was good news (great news) and James can't grasp that. (She also appears to have read Clamor's feminist critique -- worth reading but it's not available online -- but doesn't credit that either.)

She's attempting to navigate a life and a career that she has little grasp on (and little editorial support apparently). It's an embarrassment in terms of reporting. There was a time when I'd be eager to take on that. Now, I'm just indifferent.

(Yes, I've noted some of the problems. But that's noting. This bland entry has no voice, or a deadened one, I'm quite aware.)

TV critic James has written an article that's already been circulating and resulted in many messages (that I haven't had time to return). And I can't even get enthused over that. She goes to the trouble of mentioning Fonda's upcoming book but apparently she and no one else is aware that there's an angle (if not a story) there as well. (And one that would back up a sub-theme about growing comfortable in one's own skin. But no hint for James there, I can only spoonfeed so much.) (Oh, what the hell, Fonda signed to do a memoir before. A writer attempting to tackle "meaning" should be aware of that. It was the early seventies and that's all the hint I'll provide.) You read this piece (which isn't breaking news and apparently required no "official sources") and you wonder exactly what James did besides look at a poll and then assume she was writing a "my thoughts" essay? This isn't reporting. She hasn't done the basic work required to earn that term.

And if the Times had an editor mildly aware of entertainment or interested in it, the piece would have been marked up, handed back to James and she would have had to go do some research.
Instead, it runs in the paper, as superficial as it is. (And judging from the messages I got, it's another embarrassing howler for the paper.) James knows very little about the topic she's writing on (though I do suspect, right or wrong, that Nexus/Lexus allowed her to pull up both the Esquire story and the Clamor one).

It's the problem with the paper. They can't even get the "little" things right. They're happy to churn out anything in the arts section. And no one's providing oversight. No one's saying, "Look this isn't even up to the standard Bumiller sets in the news section." They embarrass themselves in the news section, they embarrass themselves in the arts section. They just can't seem to pull it together. And it gets harder and harder to find a reason to give a damn about that on my end.

Maybe it's a mood. Or maybe it's a good sign. Maybe when hope fades, things are seen more clearly? BuzzFlash hasn't had a change of heart. They've seen reality from day one. Again, I'm not the smartest in the room so it's no surprise that I didn't see it from day one or until recently.

Also again, I didn't mean to do a send-off the Times (or to go on so long) but it happened. And maybe it's my mood, maybe it's an estrangement leading up to a divorce as Krista suspects. I don't know.

But BuzzFlash is correct that the paper's not breaking news in the news section. They've traded access for that. And the issue is elitism as much as it's left or right. They just don't seem to care about getting anything right as an institution.

In case this is the big send-off, let me note (again) that when you read something so off the mark don't think it's just the fault of whomever's byline is on the printed page. Many times life is squeezed out of piece by the rewriting of editors. And the writers left to take to the fall. (I don't give James that escape clause because what's there is so hideously uninformed. Even if it was rewritten severely, there's nothing that survived that indicates she knew much about her topic to begin with.) And I don't want to say the writers are worthless (or that all the editors don't care). Some writers care more than you know. (There are restrictions about what they can say publicly.) (In the ethics code.) I'll even offer that I don't think Bill Keller is the devil or even a bad person. I think he's lost his way and I don't mean politically. I think he'd benefit from taking a step back and regrouping. But it's also not Keller in executive-editor position that all the problems result from. This is an ongoing problem for the paper. "Systematic" to use a popular phrase. Institutional to toss out another one.

Raines tried to shake things up and was cut off at the knees as a result. Forget politics (yes, Raines came off like a Clinton-hater) and listen to the "problems" cited about Raines. No checks were just going to be handed out, people were going to have to work. (Miller certainly did with her hyping WMD.) Those were the sort of whines that were bandied about in the press. Now it's supposedly about the embarrassment that the Jayson Blair affair brought on the paper. But those weren't the complaints aired in the closed door meeting/attack.

You can write fat and lazy at the Times (or not write) and collect your check. Raines' notion that you couldn't was a huge problem. ("And he's highlighting star reporting!") (When has the Times not done that other than when everyone else was on "holiday?" After the strong reporting done by Amy Waldman, for instance, on the tsunami, how many times has she graced the front page since the "stars" got back from their vacations? Not very often.)

There's a lethargy at the paper that's ingrained. And people who've left and who remain there regularly talk about how as long as you keep your head down and don't shake things up in reporting, you've got a lifetime job.

I'm off on a tangent. Again. But if this is a send-off, I do want to be sure that people who've attempted to air their side are heard and noted. There are people who really try to break news at the paper (and there are editorial staff members who really want to see that happen) but there's an institutional mind set that they are up against.

I recognize that, I've heard you if you've e-mailed. That's why I've tried to note repeatedly that just because a byline appears doesn't mean that the reporter is responsible.

And I don't think Keller's the enemy or someone evil. But I can't kid that the paper cuts it on a daily basis or even on a semi-regular basis. It doesn't. There are people who are very passionate about their jobs. And there are a lot of people who are fat and lazy in their writing.
Maybe they'll change. (Again, I think Wilgoren has. I don't know what turned her around, but something did and more power to her.) More likely, most won't.

We'll do two women's history entries tomorrow and my apologies for not doing one today. But I really did mean to address questions that were coming up in e-mails (there were seventy about the post that went up before I had to go out). So that's where I stand with regards to the Times. And maybe I'm just tired lately. But I'm not finding much too get excited over one way or the other (postively or negatively).

This post would benefit from some severe editing, believe me I know. But I'm looking up being up in two hours and need to get to bed (and unplug the phone). Take from it what you can. And I could be wrong. I'd love to be wrong. But I went from the attitude that each day might bring something worth noting to the attitude of "Okay, prove me wrong" to indiffernece.

And that cold approach, if we stay with reviewing the Times, might be the best approach to have.

Oh, one last thing I meant to deal with this weekend. A number of people e-mailed asking if I was serious about Elisabeth Bumiller being suited for the op-ed pages. I was. The Times should have considered her for that. (And should have given her the post.) "Floating op-ed" is not an insult to Bumiller. (Some newer members were confused on that. If I'm insulting Bumiller, and I often am, I'm a little more direct in the insults.) "White House Letter" is not news. It's an op-ed. Whether I agree with her or not, she's suited for the op-ed pages. (And that's not meant as an insult.) Frank Rich also does a floating op-ed on Sundays. (Which is why I don't comment on what he writes. Not because I don't enjoy it but because I never wanted to get into a debate over someone's printed opinion.) For selfish reason, Bumiller officially moving to the op-ed pages would have meant I no longer had to think up ways to address her pieces. In terms of her writing in the White House Letters though, she is doing op-ed writing (and is supposed to be in those; though not in news stories which she also writes). I don't agree with her White House Letters but those are her opinions and she's allowed to have them and express them. (Even if I or someone else finds them ill informed.) She's suited for the op-ed pages and the paper should have considered promoting her to them. It would have been better for her and for the paper. (I'm aware I've at least once typed the words "for chuckles" check out her White House Letter. I don't believe I've gone beyond that. But if I have on the White House Letter, that was my mistake because we don't comment on op-eds here or editorials, or I don't comment on them. Members can comment on whatever they choose. My apologies if I have gone beyond that. And that includes to Bumiller -- no, she's never written or had someone who's a "long time friend" or "an old friend" write either.)

If this isn't a send-off to the Times, it's at least a send-off to a feeling and hope I once had for the paper. Again, that might be a good thing. I don't mean to imply there will be no more "as rude and nasty as we want to be" (community member Yazz) or that Gina needs to panic that we'll fall back on "in fairness" if I continue to review the Times. If anything, there will probably be a lot less "in fairness" statements because I won't rush "to rescue" the paper (as Erika has often noted).

Take what you can from this post (if anything). I know I'm all over the map here. (There may be something on everything but the cartoons.)

A number of members wrote to ask that we address a round table in the book review because it featured Katrina vanden Heuvel. If Folding Star doesn't do that at A Winding Road, we will. I'd e-mailed that to Folding Star because I hadn't wanted to get into all the problems with that section and FS does a book review post. But if it's not addressed there, we will. And warning, I may go off topic and vent a little on the book review section as well. (KvH comes off very intelligent, no surprise there. But I want to put that in before I get e-mails on, "You're going to vent at KvH?" No.)