In my nearly 14 years in Manhattan, I have bought the New York Times perhaps three dozen times, usually after a colleague recommended an article relevant to my research. I always clip that specific piece, then toss the rest, much as a matador might snip a defeated bull’s tail before dispatching the carcass to the nearest abattoir.
Why my disdain for America’s so-called “paper of record?” Unlike most commentators, I boycott the cult of the New York Times. It holds journalists, politicians, and other opinion makers in a Svengali-like trance. If the Times says the sun will rise in the West, then by golly it will! This belief system spreads far beyond the Hudson River. A Seattle radio producer once interviewed me and used a Times piece to challenge my every word. Such blind faith is unworthy of a paper so consistently riddled with errors, omissions and arrogance.
The Times’s corrections box soon may swallow the entire paper. No one’s perfect. I certainly make mistakes and try to fix them right away. But an institution that fancies itself the magnetic north of American journalism should do better.
Reporter John Noble Wilford’s compass told him last August 19 that “The North Pole is melting.” Wilford’s front-page story said water at the Pole was “more evidence that global warming may be real and already affecting climate.”
Ten days later, the correction: “The lack of ice at the pole is not necessarily related to global warming.” Why? Because “about 10 percent of the Arctic Ocean is clear of ice in a typical summer.” As Wilford backpedaled in a follow-up piece after speaking with climatologists: “This has probably been true for centuries.”
Even as the Times got lost at the North Pole, it should know its way around Gotham City. “Because of an editing error,” a November 21, 1991, correction noted, an obituary “referred incorrectly to Coney Island. It is in Brooklyn, not Queens.”
Stephen S. Hall’s March 11 New York Times Magazine cover story on Claritin reported that while FDA researcher Sherwin Straus evaluated the allergy drug, “he developed multiple sclerosis and became seriously ill, eventually dying of the disease.”
“Do I sound dead?” Straus asked the Washington Post, adding, “actually, I’m alive and living in Gaithersburg, [Maryland].” Hall blamed unreliable government sources for Straus’s synthetic demise.
Of course, errors of omission can be just as bad. Asked to comment on race relations, Sen. Robert Byrd (D., WV) declared on the March 4 Fox News Sunday: “There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time.” For two weeks, Nexis and nytimes.com searches show, America’s most prominent newspaper failed to report the most senior Democratic senator’s nationally televised racial slur. (Byrd quickly apologized.) Commentator Andrew Sullivan’s March 18 mention of this outrage finally broke this peculiar silence.
But in January 1995, when House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey (R., Texas) called gay congressman Barney Frank (D., Massachusetts) “Barney Fag,” the NYT couldn’t keep quiet. “Hate speech comes to Congress,” an editorial thundered the next day. The Times published seven pieces in the fortnight after what Armey called “a stumbled word” prompted his tearful apology on the House floor.
Gullibility on global warming and the Byrd cover-up highlight the Times’s liberal bias. If anyone doubts its outlook, consider reporter Ginger Thompson’s January 25, 1999 story. She wrote that Manhattan’s Ellen Mendel “feels the same despair that she did as a girl in Nazi Germany when the efforts of a stubborn group of leaders snowballed, crushing the will of the people.” Was this a profile on Slobodan Milosevic and his Serb henchmen? David Duke and the Grand Wizards Alumni Association? No, this article concerned efforts by Republicans to remove Bill Clinton during the impeachment saga.
But this slant doesn’t bother me. I enjoy reading the liberal Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. Ideology aside, the NYT exudes an insufferable snottiness. As I recently joked with a colleague, “It’s not the Marxism. It’s the mucus.”
I once phoned a friend at the NYT. “Hi, is Mark there?”
“No, he’s not,” a woman replied.
“May I leave a message?”
“No,” she said. “You’ll have to call back and speak with an editorial assistant. I’m an editor, and at the New York Times, editors don’t take messages.” Click.
Such pompousness permeates the paper.
Stephen Holden reviewed the movie The Mexican, for instance, noting that actor Brad Pitt “doesn’t have to do much of anything beyond looking dumb, sheepish and befuddled in an [sic] gracefully appealing way.” Holden discusses an antique revolver in the film that becomes “a facetious, comic symbol of fulfillment, a sort of Maltese Falcon manqué with a lovey-dovey mystique.”
Befuddled grace? Lovey-dovey mystique? Do humans actually speak this way?
Finally, the Times struggles to catch up with competitors. As watchdog website smartertimes.com observed, an NYT article on conservative activist David Horowitz and the slavery-reparations controversy appeared March 21. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley covered the story March 5.
The March 11 NYT discussed a federal probe of a Brooklyn assistant D.A. for possibly accepting bribes to fix a criminal case. This was front-page news on the March 10 New York Post.
An editorial marking Ronald Reagan’s recent birthday ran February 7, the day after America’s 40th president turned 90.
The Times’s famous slogan, “All the news that’s fit to print” should be replaced with something more accurate: “Yesterday’s news, tomorrow.” Step one in diminishing this rag’s undeserved influence is to stop reading it.