Such Miserable Times As These (March/April Edition)

Our bimonthly roundup of the Grey Lady’s wrongdoings…

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The Current Affairs Book of the Good Life has the following to say on the subject of newspapers:

Reading the newspaper is an activity best avoided. Every moment spent reading the news is a moment not spent doing something far more productive, like building a sandcastle, icing a multi-layered cake, saying hello to a vicar, sampling an array of unusual cheeses, or masturbating quietly in a dark place. The illusion about reading newspapers is that it makes you smarter. In fact, the opposite is true. The reading of newspapers has a marked tendency to turn one into the sort of creature who finds primary elections interesting and thinks minor D.C. pundits are significant enough to be infuriated at.

Harsh words indeed, but difficult to dismiss coming from such a highly-esteemed source. And indeed, upon a close read of the morning papers, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the only good reason not to finally shutter and dismantle the entire creaking New York Times apparatus is that it would leave Current Affairs with some empty page space that might take effort to fill. Begone with it all, we say!

“Now you wait just a gosh-danged horse-feathered country second, Current Affairs! That’s our Paper of Record you’ve just so cavalierly dismissed. Where do you get the everloving nerve to go carelessly micturating upon our nation’s core journalistic institutions?”

Well, hypothetical respondent, we concede you may have the gist of something of a point there. It is probably wise to be able to offer evidence to support the things one says. We do not wish anyone to think that Current Affairs the sort of publication in which unreasonable things are sometimes said. Our bimonthly report on the various indefensible acts committed by the New York Times will therefore be the sausage-grinder through which our indefensible opinions are transformed into incontrovertible fact….

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As a gentle winter turned into a worryingly balmy February spring, The Times was in peak form. Questions of global importance were debated, such as “Could Bloomberg and His Millions Save Us From Ourselves?” (Some say yes! Some say no! Nobody, however, appears to find the question incomprehensible.) Two of the paper’s reporters spent what must have been days compiling a vast chart of Donald Trump’s Twitter insults (spoiler: he calls many people ‘losers’), a use of their time for which they were evidently paid money. The Style section attempted to run a profile of an uncooperative Henry Kissinger, who rebuffed their efforts to inquire into where he gets his suits. (“My what?” Kissinger replied, as if even he could not help but think “You’re a journalist asking a war criminal where he gets his suits?”) Marshmallowy divorcé and professional poverty-scold David Brooks admitted that “my predictions have been wrong consistently” before going to make… a batch of all-new predictions.

Oh, yes, and of course in the Weddings Section some nauseating people got married nauseatingly, with romances blooming across the whole spectrum of society from the Yale Club to the Vanderbilt Alumni Association. But the meat of a newspaper is made of its columnists, and the Times gang has been busily churning out some first-rate ordure as our multi-year Primary Season lumbers ever forward. Here is a short list of their finest recent secretions:

1. Maureen Dowd, “Here’s the Beauty of Trump.”

2. Thomas L. Friedman, “#You Ain’t No American, Bro” [hashtag in orig.]

3. David Brooks, “Donald Trump Isn’t Real”

4. Paul Krugman, “Weakened at Bernie’s” …Oh, no, Paul, no, you can’t have. You didn’t. Dear God. Look, Current Affairs has always opposed the imposition of capital punishment for heinous punning alone, but exceptions must be made. This time we will be generous and pretend we never saw it, but consider yourself duly warned, PK. (Leave aside the minor indignation one might also show at making a pun based on a 74-year-old presidential candidate’s having the same name as the titular character of a film about a dancing corpse.)

Speaking of Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist also used the Times website to post a photo of a cat that looks like Donald Trump, and an image of Sesame Street’s Count to represent Ted Cruz, drawing the Times one step closer to its inevitable adoption of entirely GIF-based journalism. (And by the way, what the hell does Krugman have against Count von Count?)

Aside from engaging in flagrant acts of dopey wordplay, Krugman spent the rest of his month assisting fellow Times writers in their Herculean effort to convince the readership that Hillary Clinton is both human and worth voting for. Krugman spent some considerable hours at his keyboard denouncing suspicions about Hillary’s integrity as “carefully fomented right-wing legends,” the mere product of a “two-decade-plus smear campaign” by the late Pittsburgh newspaper baron Richard Mellon Scaife. A peculiar angle, this, to say that there’s a conspiracy to turn us all conspiratorial, but one is forced into all manner of uncomfortable contortions in attempting to exonerate something so unabashedly sleaze-ridden as the Clinton political empire.

[We might, in passing, mention that lefty reasoning for disdaining Hillary does not overlap much with the rightwing attacks. The Sanders supporters Krugman accuses of being “Fox-ifed” certainly don’t sound particularly Fox Newsy, their revulsion at Hillary emerging more from matters like: her blithe intimacy with verminous financial types (“I represented Wall Street as a senator,” plus those hundred-thousand dollar Goldman speaker-fees), her cowardly tardiness on supporting gay marriage (“The fundamental bedrock principle [is] that [marriage] exists between a man and a woman… and its primary, principal role… has been the raising and socializing of children”), her encouragement of public fear and paranoia about young criminal offenders (warning of gangs of roving juvenile “super-predators” with “no conscience, no empathy”) her intermittent tepidity on abortion (Planned Parenthood videos “disturbing”; abortion a “tragic” choice that should be avoided by encouraging teen girls to embrace “moral and religious values”), her role in sanctioning an invasion that resulted in the extinction of tens of thousands of Iraqi preschoolers, her subsequent vigorous defense of that role even after the whole thing turned calamitous (“No, I don’t regret giving the president authority…” ), her support for kicking people of welfare (so they are “no longer deadbeats”), and her audacious insistence that taking these benefits was to help poor people’s self-esteem (they have made the “transition from dependency to dignity”). However, if each of these is a Carefully Fomented Right-Wing Legend, Current Affairs will stand humbly corrected.]

Elsewhere in the paper, other valiant and amusing attempts to assist the tottering Clinton campaign were made. Mealy, globetrotting, sanctimony-dispensing sweatshop-lover Nicholas Kristof opined on Twitter that: “[o]ne sign of Clinton’s greater knowledge of foreign affairs [is that s]he pronounces “Iran” correctly, while Sanders speaks about Eye-ran.” It’s certainly telling of Mr. Kristof’s social class that he draws that kind of inference from that kind of evidence. Does he also think people should pronounce the word “France” with a French accent?

Lesser lights at the paper pitched in, too. Reliable political stenographer Amy Chozick reported that Clinton has newly “become a spunkier, warmer candidate” in recent days. (This fresh warm spunk was manifested in several acts of Completely Genuine Relatability, including Tweeting to Hispanic people that she felt like she was an abuela to all of them, and a misguided stunt in which she “turned control over her Snapchat account to Bill Clinton for a day”—one would have imagined a core duty of Clinton staffers consists in keeping Bill as far away as possible from the official campaign Snapchat account.)

The old class bigotries were in full blossom, too. Senior Economics Correspondent Neil Irwin displayed a photo of some Bernie supporters out in the DC snow, only to mock those who “care enough to march on a cold day in Logan Circle, [but] not enough to go to Iowa/NH.” One might have thought Mr. Irwin’s economic corresponding would have exposed him to the concept of “having a full-time job,” but evidently such an expectation underestimates the distance between the Times writership and the class of person who somehow finds herself unable to suddenly take a lengthy Iowa sojourn at her convenience.

The statisticians got in on the act, with Nick Confessore delicately fiddling some numbers in an attempt to smugly prove that Sanders, rather than Clinton, was the true beneficiary of our post-Citizens United Super PAC hell.

Finally, there was the paper’s own endorsement of Clinton, which carried the expected spirit of anemia and defensiveness, recycling most of its Clinton endorsement from 2008 with the word “experience” deployed several hundred times in rapid succession. (Quick point on the concept of experience-as-virtue: purely theoretically speaking, what if one’s experience is the experience of being a massive blundering screw-up? What if, for the sake of argument, one’s experiences were mostly a long string of whoops-a-daisies, say by accidentally decimating a series of countries through catastrophically ill-advised military interventions? Just, well, hypothetically.)

It would be inaccurate to say, however, that every single word in the New York Times was dedicated to either the bolstering of the Hillary Clinton campaign or the stroking of liberal cultural prejudices. Occasional other material finds its way into the paper. For example, in an item incomprehensibly flied under the heading of “news analysis,” vowely film critic A.O. Scott wrote a rousing defense of his profession entitled “Everybody’s a Critic. And That’s How It Should Be.” Ao says that, while we may think of critics as as a vermicular, parasitic ooze slowly devouring the last minuscule residuum of our collective cultural inheritance, in reality they are so much more. For to be a critic, says Ao, is to be “a defender of the life of art and a champion of the art of living.” Pretty stirring stuff, though one suspects this may all just be something Mr. Scott desperately tells himself as he sits down to review Ride Along 2. (In fact, he’s publishing a book-length expansion of this strained effort to justify his career, entitled Better Living Trough Criticism. Someone please let Ao know that he doesn’t have to do this for a living if he doesn’t want to. Side-inquiry: is it common for a film critic’s midlife crisis to take the form of a book on the social value of film criticism? Does not seem implausible that this may be a well-known phase in the lives of reviewers.)

Finally, the Times made two attempts to redeem despised cultural objects:

1. Phil Collins (“Does Anybody Still Loathe Phil Collins” Jan. 29, 2015)

2. Turtlenecks (“Can Turtlenecks Be Cool Again?” Dec. 30, 2015) For the benefit of readers, the answers to this little quiz are “yes” and “no,” respectively.

Our Times report would not be complete, however, if we did not note the good along with the bad. There were some redeeming aspects of the paper’s work. They did a good David Bowie obituary (we presume), and the brilliant writer Vinson Cunningham wrote a characteristically brilliant thing. We are capable of being positive, then. We do not, like certain Times film critics, believe the route to the good life is through exercising the curmudgeonly passions. Tis report has not been drafted for our own idle pleasure, but is offered as a public service. It is the least we can do.