Wednesday, April 29, 2009

NYT's New Column, "The Haggler," Sounds Pretty Good, Except It isn't About Haggling.

Yesterday the NYT quietly announced a new Sunday column -- "The Haggler" -- that sounds suspiciously like those great "Shame On You" segments Arnold Diaz used to do on WCBS. Which isn't a bad thing.

"We'd like readers to send in their complaints about specific transactions that have gone haywire: outrageous cell phone bills, airline ticket trouble, car rental nightmares — you get the idea," the NYT said in a tiny story published on Tuesday. "The Haggler will then call the company, get to the bottom of what happened, and, with any luck, right a wrong."

The NYT has mentioned only two rules:

Your run in needs to be recent and not so awful that it calls for lawyer or a police officer.

Keep it brief -- three or four sentences ought to do it — profanity-free and avoid the all caps key because IT MAKES YOU SEEM CRAZY.

"We'll run your letter, or parts of it," the NYT says, "and then describe the Haggler's efforts to win justice for all."

Sounds great, right? The powerful NYT solving your battles with Time Warner Cable about that defective remote, getting you a refund from JetBlue for that cancelled get the idea. It's a tried-and-true ratings grabber on television, and the NYT clearly hopes that The Haggler will become a part of the paper's newly-interactive, reader-friendly approach.

But there's just one pesky problem: "The Haggler" is not the right name. A "haggler," as we all know, is someone who does battle with a seller over price. And this column is clearly not about haggling.

Here are the dictionary definitions of "haggle" that we found at

1. To bargain in a petty, quibbling and often contentious manner: They spent hours haggling over the price of fish.

2. To wrangle, dispute, or cavil: The senators haggled interminably over the proposed bill.

We like the idea of the column. It sounds like fun and we applaud the NYT for not being all stuffy and pretentious about a offering a public service to consumers.

But we feel it necessary to call out the NYT on this misnamed enterprise. Back to the boards, guys. There's a better name out there.

It takes hours to come up with the perfect name; trust us, we know. This website isn't called for a reason.

Seriously, Will Shortz? A Four-Letter Word For Winter Exclamation Is "Brrr"?

Memo to crossword puzzle editor and geek idol Will Shortz regarding today's "60 Down" clue: "brrr" is not the answer to anything, including your apparent mid-life crisis.

First it was "Secret Codons," Shortz's ridiculously easy new game launched on the website last week. Now it's the crossword puzzle itself. Once an addictive bastion of brain-teasing clues designed to vex even the most educated reader, Shortz's puzzle-writing muscles are showing signs of extreme fatigue.

Come on, Puzzle Boy. Don't make us switch to the Word Jumble in the New York Post. Because we will. Oh, yes, we will.

Monday, April 27, 2009

NYT Bombshell: Banking Guy Had Lots of Breakfasts, Lunches With Other Banking Guys.

Did we miss something?

After plowing through today's 5,231-word takeout on Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, all we could conclude was what already seemed obvious: The former head of the New York Fed spent a lot of time conferring with the heads of banks overseen by the New York Fed.

The NYT labels these relationships "unusually close," but the only evidence of that is that they often took place at the Four Seasons restaurant, or in the executives' homes or board rooms. Frankly, it would have seemed far more "unusual" to us if those meetings had taken place on a bench near the Central Park boat pond. As we understand it, businessmen typically prefer to sit at desks and tables when they meet, so they can jot down numbers and such.

How is it "unusual" for a Fed chairman to spend time with bankers? If the NYT had obtained the schedule of the President of the Fed in St. Louis, wouldn't it have found a similar calendar of lunches and meetings with local banking officials? That's just what Fed Presidents do. Would the NYT find it unusual to to discover that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig goes to lots of baseball games, and often sits in the owners' box?

The NYT goes on to suggest that these relationships influenced Fed policy, and have continued to shape his views as Treasury Secretary. "His actions, as a regulator and later a bailout king, often aligned with the industry’s interests and desires, according to interviews with financiers, regulators and analysts and a review of Federal Reserve records."

Again, wouldn't it have been more shocking if Geithner's views diverged from his colleagues, friends and mentors in the banking world? Geithner belongs to the banking establishment. That's not news.

We won't deny our own doubts about Geithner's approach to bailout policy, putting taxpayers on the hook for the massive debts that resulted from unsound decisions made by the banking industry in recent years -- decisions that helped catapult the nation into an economic crisis that will cost hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to repair.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following the events of the last several months. Geithner has never been shy about his views on a government bailout, which is precisely the reason his term has already been so controversial. So for the NYT to devote so much space to reporting on Geithner -- and turn up only evidence to prove what we already knew about him, or could have guessed -- is frustrating to those of us who might want him gone.

The theme of the NYT's epic analysis of Geithner's schedule, by reporters Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson, seemed to be that the former Fed chief's close relationships might have unduly influenced his decision-making. But nowhere in the piece did the NYT break new ground in reporting any decisions Geithner made that were inconsistent with his publicly-stated views on monetary policy.

It's no news to anyone who reads the paper that Geithner has close ties with Wall Street. His mentor, Bob Rubin, was Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary and now works at Citigroup. Other pals include the head of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

The big NYT "scoop" appears to be a copy of Geithner's calendar for the last two years before arriving in Washington. The NYT crows that it was obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act.

But we spent several minutes flipping through the calendar's pages and saw nothing to suggest he'd spent all his time cozying up to the private sector in corporate boardrooms. We noticed a number of meetings with business journalists in there, too -- Greg Ip of The Wall Street Journal, Jesse Eisinger of Portfolio and John Cassidy of The New Yorker, and various reporters at the NYT, including Roger Lowenstein and Edmund Andrews.

Also, a basketball game at the Fed's 14th floor gym, a business trip to Zurich (why did he leave for the airport from 27 N. Moore St.?) and "Ben's recital." Could that be a recital by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke? We didn't know he played an instrument!

We want the NYT to stay on the Geithner story, and to keep looking for real evidence to suggest a corrupt relationship between him and the banking industry he has worked so hard to protect. But so far it hasn't found anything worth devoting 5,231 words of increasingly valuable real estate in its pages.

Stephanie Clifford Finally Gets Around To Reporting Changes at PRWeek, Eleven Days Late.

On April 16, PR Week Magazine announced its ridiculously ironic new plan to become a monthly in print, yet hang onto its PRWeek title for old times' sake.

Everyone reported the news, chuckled, and moved on. Everyone except the NYT.

In this morning's business section, media reporter Stephanie Clifford "reports" the same news exactly 11 days after it was first announced. Her story made no mention of the fact that it had been announced over a week earlier, or the reason for the delay. Nor did it contain any substantial information that hadn't been in previous stories -- including PRWeek's own account of its decision.

It happens every day and is almost not worth mentioning anymore, but what the hell -- Prconsider yourself reminded, by today's example, that the NYT still regularly clings to the absurd, arrogant and false belief that news hasn't happened unless and until it has been reported in its pages.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Want Six Minutes Of Fun? Watch Sam Tanenhaus Plant A Sloppy Kiss On Jay McInerney's Ass!

The NYT has come full circle on Jay McInerney. The once-regularly reviled novelist has suddenly found himself with a rave review from Janet Maslin two weeks ago and, today, from no less a personage than the editor of the NYT Book Review himself, Sam Tanenhaus.

That's not all. In a six-minute-plus video posted on the front page of today, Tanenhaus offers website users an amusingly sychophantic interview with McInerney, in which he actually refers to recent McInerney duds like "Brightness Falls" and "The Good Life" as "brilliant interrelated novels."

At one point, Tanenhaus asks him a string of questions that may remind viewers of those cute third-graders who cover conventions: "Where are you from, where did you grow up, what's your background?" At another, Tanenhaus offers up a simplistic interpretation of the short-story craft that leaves McInerney with no choice but to agree. "Yes, that's pretty much it," McInerney says.

Of course it is! Authors tend not to disagree with the editor of the NYT Book Review. At least not when the video camera's turned on.

Sorry, Will Shortz, But "Secret Codons" Will Not Soon Be Replacing The "Crossword Puzzle."

The other day, NYT crossword puzzle editor and geek idol Will Shortz revealed a new word game in a post at -- no doubt for the 56-year-old puzzler to seem hip and "with it" to the kids who use this new-fangled "Internet" thing everyone keeps talking about.

But there's just one problem. It's too easy!

Here are the comments on Shortz's game, so far: "Fun, if easy." "I had a surprisingly easy time with this one." "Ditto. It looked overwhelming at first, but sort of flew by after the first word was in place."

Will, don't you get it? We like the crossword puzzle because we can't finish it. It taxes our brains and wastes our time. It rewards us for knowing who comedian Arte Johnson is. If we wanted something easy we'd challenge our fellow NYTPickers to a rousing game of Candyland, or maybe War.

Shortz's new game is called "Secret Codons." What the hell is a codon? According to one online dictionary, it's "a specific sequence of three adjacent nucleotides on a strand of DNA or RNA that specifies the genetic code information for synthesizing a particular amino acid."

Dude, seriously, you need to take a deep breath and start over.

Cleopatra Died On August 1, 30 B.C., Not 31 B.C. Everyone Please Update Your Calendars.

From today's NYT correction column:

An Op-Ed article on Wednesday, about Cleopatra, misstated the number of years since her death. It was 2,038 years ago, not 2,039.

Hey NYT, There Must Be A Better Word To Describe Bea Arthur On Page One Than "Battle-Ax."

First on the front page and then in the lede of its obituary this morning, the NYT described legendary television actress Bea Arthur as a "battle-ax."

The page-one headline reads: "Bea Arthur, TV Battle-Ax, Dies." The lede of Bruce Weber's otherwise respectful obit tempers the description somewhat, calling Arthur an "endearing battle-ax."

Much nicer!

For those playing NYTPicker at home, the Urban Dictionary defines "battle-ax" as "a very aggressive and bad tempered (old) woman." From comes this interpretation: "Slang. a domineering, aggressive, sharp-tempered person, esp. a woman."

We get it. Bea Arthur didn't exactly play shrinking violets. But hey, didn't anyone at the NYT ever watch "The Golden Girls"? Dorothy had a sharp wit and used it for humor, like lots of women on television all the way back to Audrey Meadows's Alice Kramden on "The Honeymooners." Was Alice a battle-ax, too? To the NYT, probably.

It seems sad to see the NYT reduce the career of a brilliant actress like Bea Arthur to a harsh slang metaphor that seems synonymous with "bitch," especially on page one. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, we know. But she deserved better.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bad News: NYT Saturday Paper Has Only Seven Pages Of Ads. Two In The "A" Section. Yikes!

Today's 46-page Saturday NYT print edition has, by our count, only seven pages of advertising.

Only two of those are full-page ads: an Arts section ad for the Universal movie "State Of Play," and an ad for Java from Sun Microsystems on the back page of the business section. The rest include quarter-page ads, religion announcements, paid obituaries, and one half-page ad for Saab. The classifieds take up less than a half-page on the back of the sports section.

The "A" section seemed especially empty today. In 20 pages, we only counted two pages of ads, most of them tiny ones scattered here and there.

Oh, wait, we forgot one: there's Michael Cieply's article about the new James Cameron movie, "Avatar."

Randy Cohen, NYT Columnist, Implies That George Bush Was Insane. Is That Ethical?

Appearing last night on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," Randy Cohen -- who writes "The Ethicist" for the NYT Magzine and a weekly NYT Blog, "Moral Of The Story" -- offered a ringing endorsement of Barack Obama that carried with it an unmistakeable attack on his predecessor.

“I'm a huge Obama fan," Cohen told Maher. "I think it's such an unbelievably great thing to have a President who's competent and not insane.”

Well, we're the first to agree that it's great to have Obama in the White House, and Bush gone. But we also try to avoid using words like "insane" on national television to describe people we've never met.

And we don't even work for the NYT, where "The New York Times Company Policy on Ethics (!!!) In Journalism" (exclamation points added) makes clear that such statements aren't acceptable:

Journalists do not take part in politics. While staff members are entitled to vote and to register in party primaries, they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of our news operations. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation. They may not wear campaign buttons or themselves display any other insignia of partisan politics.

Staff members may appear from time to time on local or national radio and television programs devoted to public affairs, but they should avoid expressing views that go beyond the news and analysis that could properly appear under their regular bylines. Op-Ed columnists and editorial writers enjoy more leeway than others in speaking publicly, because their business is expressing opinions. They should nevertheless choose carefully the forums in which they appear and protect the impartiality of our journalism.

We're not trying to be sticklers here. It's possible that Cohen is not a "staff member" of the NYT. He writes a column and a blog, but for all we know he gets paid as a freelancer. Still, that is what's sometimes referred to as a distinction without a difference. When Cohen appears in public, he's there as a representative of the NYT. And when he expresses his political views so plainly, he's reinforcing the notion of the NYT as a part of the liberal media establishment that holds preconceived notions of our new president.

We like Randy Cohen's freewheeling opinions, and often agree with then. But we also wonder whether it's really such a good idea for Cohen to be implicitly diagnosing former presidents with mental conditions, especially when his day job involves representing himself as above reproach. To millions of readers, Cohen has come to represent an idealized version of themselves, an ordinary man whose daily choices guide theirs.

Does Cohen really want to risk alienating the portion of his audience that sees Bush simply as flawed or misguided, as opposed to incompetent or crazy? Or perhaps even those who actually either like Bush, or dislike Obama? Rumor has it such people actually exist.

Friday, April 24, 2009

NYT's LaForge To NYTPicker: "You Should Stop Being A Coward And Use Your Real Name. :)"

The above message came to us at 7:50 this morning from Patrick LaForge, editor of the NYT's City Room blog, via our new Twitter account.

Before we get around to answering him, can we just say that we love Twitter? This we share with LaForge, who Twitters several times a day with terrific news updates. We just starting Twittering last night, at Check us out!

Okay, so we've decided to answer LaForge's question, briefly.

When we launched this blog last November, we committed ourselves to bringing readers fresh information and insight about the NYT. We weren't going to just repurpose NYT stories for our readers the way Gawker does. Our goal was -- and is -- to offer information you can't get anywhere else.

We've broken news stories (last week's scoop about the UMass plagiarism of a NYT op-ed column was one), reported on patterns (like Ben Brantley's recent run of rave reviews) and spotlighted the career paths of little-known NYT personnel (such as our posts on Joshua Brustein, Ross Schneiderman and Julie Bosman).

We also try to catch the NYT publishing inferior journalism -- which it often does. We noted when Freakonomics blogger Steven Levitt pushed a product made by his friend's wife. We examined an excessively-thin City Section cover story on the missing 23-year-old teacher, exposed another City Section cover as after the fact (and beside the point), and reported on NYT page-one stories built around a single interview. We found an anti-Israel interview with Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner that we put online, along with a video of cultural editor Sam Sifton making fun of his staff. We look for errors and inconsistencies in Maureen Dowd's thinking and reporting; that keeps us busy, too. We devoted a lot of energy to covering the NYT's schizophrenic Caroline Kennedy coverage. We showcase bad ledes.

We like stuff, too. For example, we were blown away by this week's slide show/narrative, "An Ambush and a Comrade Lost," from Afghanistan by Tyler Hicks and Chris Chivers. Brilliant, chilling battle narrative at its 21st-century best, at under three minutes. Dudes, stick that shit behind a pay wall and we would totally pay you extra for the website.

Well, if we're so proud of what we've done, then why do we remain anonymous? Shouldn't we be proud enough of our website to put our names on it? A reasonable question.

The answer is that if you knew who we were, it would compromise our ability to function. Everything we say would become filtered through the reader's perception of our qualifications, our conflicts, and our personalities. This way, for better or worse, you focus on what we say, not who we are. We like that.

We don't like the "coward" label very much, Mr. LaForge, because it doesn't really apply to us. We don't make personal judgements about the people we write about. The NYTPicker sticks to the NYT itself, and to the people inside it. Everything we write about is public. Sometimes we go for a laugh, but hey, that's show biz.

Oh, and by the way: we love the NYT. Isn't that obvious?

The Sultan Of Superlatives Strikes Again! "Norman Conquests" Earns Yet More Brantley Love.

From this morning's Ben Brantley review of The Norman Conquests on Broadway:

...unassuming monosyllables acquire brute force in the topping, London-born revival of Alan Ayckbourn's “Norman Conquests,” crippling you with laughter that shakes the body and, more subversively, fractures the soul.

That's nine Brantley Broadway raves in the last month. Assuming you think having your soul fractured is a good thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The NYTPicker Is Now Available On Twitter.

Yes, it's true. You can now get regular updates from The NYTPicker on Twitter! Check us out at We're already updating. Follow us!

Some Harvard Brianiacs Think The NYT Should Buy Twitter. They Might Be Right.

There's some chatter on Twitter right now about a provocative new essay on a Harvard business school blog that suggests the NYT should buy Twitter. It's a pretty smart idea.

Umair Haque has written "How To Save Newspapers (Or, how the NYT should buy Twitter)" with an acknowledgement that the NYT "lacks the cash for such a play." But Haque, who posted his essay at 7:58 am this morning, subscribes to the notion that the NYT will soon have to charge website users for its premium content -- and also thinks the NYT needs to embrace new platforms if it hopes to survive.

A post in the comments section of Haque's post led the NYTPicker to fellow Harvard student Stephen Bates's slideshow analysis of the NYT's economic situation, which concludes that the NYT needs to do the following:

--charge for premium "nice to have" content on the website.
--get other individuals and corporations to pay for NYT content.
--switch readers "from print to pixels" through Kindle promotions
--"build/enhance brand" by form strategic alliances between the NYT and other media platforms, i.e. television (CNBC) magazines (The New Yorker) newspapers and radio.

These bold thinkers see the NYT as an even bigger brand than before -- and a complete turnaround from the defeatest attitude currently embraced by the NYT. (Witness its pathetic "we've cut this to save money" mea culpa on Tuesday's page A2, when it reverted to its old, one-page index layout.)

At the heart of the Twitter proposal lies an understanding of how the news business has changed. Everyone agrees that Twitters offers immediate context to news and information. It's a viral platform. Twitter lets companies form real bond with consumers.

There's a reason the NYT does three stories about it a day!

And here's the real rub: Haque suggests the NYT-Twitter merger could mean charging content providers for sending out information via Twitter. That could turn NYTwitter into a Google-level goldmine for its owners. Yum!

Wow, this is actually a hot idea. Too bad the NYT is broke. Maybe someone needs to call Carlos Slim for some more money.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Glenn Kramon: No, The Pulitzer Prize Winners Don't Give Us One Lousy Dime.

In today's website edition of "Talk To The Newsroom," assistant managing editor Glenn Kramon tacitly acknowledges the shocking truth that NYT Pulitzer Prize winners keep the whole ten grand for themselves, usually. They don't share. Although, yes, now that you mention it, he's heard of somebody giving the prize to charity. Can't remember now, but it sure as hell wasn't Walt Bogdanich, that cheap no-good bastard.

Sharing the Booty

Q. At The Times, when an individual writer or photographer wins a Pulitzer, does she or he share any of the rewards with the writer's editors and/or copy editors?

— Alex Cruden

A. Mr. Cruden: The winners of all the journalism categories (except Public Service) receive $10,000. I’ve heard of winners donating the money to charity. As for editors and copy editors, they’re happy to receive a shout-out when the awards are announced, as occurred in our newsroom last Monday. Without exception the winners of the five prizes graciously thanked editors behind the scenes: Holland Carter, the art critic (and all-around good guy), who won for criticism, took it to a higher level: he thanked not only Sam Sifton,the Culture editor, and his personal editor, Nancy Kenney, but also, name by name, Sam’s deputies and assistants, and every single member of the Culture copy desk. “It was the nicest gesture I’ve ever seen,’’ said Ron Wertheimer, the copy desk chief.

By the way, these days the thanks go beyond editors and copy editors, as when David Barstow, who won for Investigative Reporting, thanked multimedia, graphics and picture editing wizards — and also David McCraw, the newsroom lawyer who helped pry thousands of pages of documents from the Pentagon. People like David are our unsung heroes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

NYT Wins Five Pulitzer Prizes; NYTPicker Takes Rest Of The Day Off.

Meet Ben Brantley, The Sultan Of Superlatives! Run, Don't Walk, To Read His Rave Reviews!

Mary Stuart is "terrifically exciting." Joe Turner's Come and Gone "feels positively airborne." Next to Normal is "brave" and "breathtaking."

And that's just since Thursday!

Frank Rich's come and gone. The garrulous, dreaded NYT critic known to producers as the "Butcher of Broadway" no longer roams the aisles of the theater district with a venomous pen. He has been replaced by Ben Brantley, the Sultan of Superlatives.

Of ten new Broadway productions to open in the last 30 days, the Sultan has written raves of eight of them -- reviews with enough over-the-top adjectives to ensure that his words will banner the ads that appear in his own newspaper's Arts & Leisure section. Even when there's an undercurrent of doubt in his review, Brantley appears to be searching for ways to suppress the negatives and keep his commentary upbeat.

Could that be the point? Has Brantley become a tool in the NYT"s desperate effort to keep alive an industry battered by the recession? The NYT has always depended heavily on Broadway advertising; it remains one of the few NYC businesses that regularly buys full-page ads to sell its products. It seems unlikely that Brantley would sell his soul to the advertising department...but hey, he did once call Damn Yankees a "comforting lullaby."

Whatever the reasons, Brantley has showered Broadway with praise in recent days, so much so it seems beyond coincidence.

Brantley's run of raves began a month ago, when he issued a modest endorsement (with minor caveats) for the West Side Story revival. He described the production as "startlingly sweet" and declared Josefina Scaglione, the unknown who plays Maria, as "stunningly natural." It seemed as though he had a negative review ready beneath the surface, but couldn't let it out. Instead, he concluded with a defense against his own objections:

When Mr. Cavenaugh and Ms. Scaglione sing the duets “Tonight” and “One Hand, One Heart,” it’s hard not to melt into sweet, empathetic adolescent agony. First love may ultimately be only a matter of biologically programmed impulses. But the emotions it inspires, as this Tony and Maria remind us so poignantly, can transform the erotic into truly Edenic innocence.

Next up came God of Carnage, the Yazmin Reza play about two parents dueling over their children. Again, the Sultan seemed to be searching for nice things to say:

“God of Carnage”...definitely delivers the cathartic release of watching other people’s marriages go boom. A study in the tension between civilized surface and savage instinct, this play (which recently won the Olivier Award in London for best new comedy) is itself a satisfyingly primitive entertainment with an intellectual veneer....“God of Carnage” may be a familiar comic journey from A to B, but it travels first class.

After a brief stop to join the angry mob of critics who stomped on Impressionism, Brantley returned to raves with his March 27 review of Exit The King, the Ionesco revival starring Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon. He declared it a "brutally funny revival" and called it "genius," with words like "superb" and "knockout" to describe its performances.

But all that served as a subtle prelude to the Sultan's April 1 review of the revival of Hair on Broadway:

You’ll be happy to hear that the kids are all right. Quite a bit more than all right. Having moved indoors to Broadway from the Delacorte Theater in Central Park — where last summer they lighted up the night skies, howled at the moon and had ticket seekers lining up at dawn — the young cast members of Diane Paulus’s thrilling revival of “Hair” show no signs of becoming domesticated.

On the contrary, they’re tearing down the house in the production that opened on Tuesday night at the Al Hirschfeld Theater. And any theatergoer with a pulse will find it hard to resist their invitation to join the demolition crew. This emotionally rich revival of “The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical” from 1967 delivers what Broadway otherwise hasn’t felt this season: the intense, unadulterated joy and anguish of that bi-polar state called youth.

Two days later, Brantley hailed the Broadway production of Neil LaBute's reasons to be pretty:

Yet “reasons to be pretty,” which opened Thursday night at the Lyceum Theater in a wonderfully acted production directed by Terry Kinney, may turn out to be the sentimental sleeper of a season that includes star-powered, would-be tear-jerkers like “33 Variations” and the unfortunate “Impressionism.” Making his Broadway debut with a revised (and much improved) version of a play seen off Broadway last year, Mr. LaBute has exchanged misanthropy for empathy, reaping unexpected dividends.

It would be almost two weeks before the next Broadway opening, leaving time for Brantley to check out some off-Broadway productions. He caught La Didone at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn and found it "wondrous." He stopped by Christopher Durang's new play at the Public Theater, Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them, and declared it "hilarious and disturbing."

Brantley returned to Broadway last week with a review of the musical Next to Normal that could cause a producer to spontaneously combust with joy:

No show on Broadway right now makes as direct a grab for the heart — or wrings it as thoroughly — as “Next to Normal” does. This brave, breathtaking musical, which opened Wednesday night at the Booth Theater, focuses squarely on the pain that cripples the members of a suburban family, and never for a minute does it let you escape the anguish at the core of their lives....

Such emotional rigor is a point of honor for “Next to Normal,” sensitively directed by Michael Greif and featuring a surging tidal score by Tom Kitt, with a book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey. With an astounding central performance from Alice Ripley as Diana Goodman, a housewife with bipolar disorder, this production assesses the losses that occur when wounded people are anesthetized — and not just by the battery of pharmaceutical and medical treatments to which Diana is subjected, but by recreational drugs, alcohol and that good old American virtue, denial with a smile.

That theme was also at the center of the production that opened Off Broadway last year (at the Second Stage Theater) under the same title and with most of the same cast, technical team and music. Yet the differences between “Next to Normal” then and now are substantial enough to inspire hope for all imbalanced shows in need of rehabilitation.

The next day came Brantley's paean to the revival of Joe Turner's Come and Gone:

Great works of art often tote heavy baggage. Yet the revival of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” a drama of indisputable greatness, feels positively airborne. Much of Bartlett Sher’s splendid production, which opened Thursday night at the Belasco Theater, moves with the engaging ease of lively, casual conversation.

This morning's review of Mary Stuart won't disappoint Broadway producers longing for yet more Brantley love:

You can argue all you like, as historians and theologians have for centuries, about which of them has the greater claim to the English throne. But after seeing the terrifically exciting new production of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” which opened Sunday night at the Broadhurst Theater, you won’t doubt that both the queens it portrays are born to rule. So, I might add, are the actresses who play them.

Okay, so maybe it's all just a coincidence. After all, this is the time of year when Broadway producers put on their likeliest hits. But with all the gushing praise from Brantley, we kind of miss the days when Frank Rich savaged Broadway productions left and right, with his famously high standards and expert critical judgement. Maybe producers won't agree, but we wouldn't mind a revival of Rich's tough, passionate perspective in the NYT arts section once in a while. The Butcher's still in the building, right?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Is, Who's Behind It, And Who Is Abusing It? Some Answers, And Some Questions...

Earlier this evening, The NYTPicker noticed some Twitter chatter among NYT employees about what appeared to be a NYT web feature we'd never heard of before: The twitters all had to do with the unusual message they found when they went to the web address:

Taken down for now due to abuse.

Those words appear ominously in the upper left hand corner of an otherwise completely blank screen. What do they mean? What is Who did it belong to, and where did it go?

Some creative Googling turned up an information page that looked exactly like a web page, with considerable information about the site -- most of which made it look exactly like an official NYT website in the planning stages. It even shows up on a computer screen with a user's official account name in the upper right-hand corner.

An excerpt:

What is a NytUrl?

Its more than a URL shortening service; it only allows links to trusted web sites, those news and noteworthy.

But wait there's more: it also allows you to cover many URLs with one short URL so you can get the most from one link.

Trusted Web Sites, More Than One Link?

Yes, when clicking a NytUrl you can be confident that you're not going to get a 80's pop song on YouTube, that you will only be sent to a small subset of trusted sites. Click here for a list.

Nothing about it can be found on That's because it turns out to be a new, secret project being run by a web developer who works for the NYT, but without any direct affiliation with the NYT.

The twitter chain began tonight with Patrick LaForge, editor of the NYT's City Room blog, who twittered some friends about the "due to abuse" screen at the website. We followed the twitters to Michael Donohoe, whose website identifies him as a Brooklyn-based developer who "does fun interweb things for the New York Times."

Donohoe is directly involved in, but the project isn't connected to the NYT. Under the logo on his website -- designed with what appears to be an official font, or at least suggestive of it -- Donohoe has written the following description:

Also under development, this is a NYT specific (but not affiliated) URL shortening service.

Super secret details to be announced soon. Well, not really - its just a matter of finding time to fix the code. As of writing this has been taken down as I didn't finish debugging some new code. Sorry.

(By the way, Donohoe's web page has links to a whole bunch of cool new NYT projects he's working on, including a "Homepage Browser" that "takes hourly snapshots of the New York Times home page" and that is "not endorsed by the New York Times." Why not? Sounds rad!)

A post on Donohoe's twitter page elaborates slightly on his decision to take down the site tonight. His most recent twitter post:

never enjoy taking a site off line due to abuse. my own fault for liking to play with code outside of work.

So who was abusing Donohoe's little secret project? And how does the NYT feel about having one of its in-house developers working on an outside project that services readers? Will it be returning anytime soon?

We've contacted Michael Donohoe for answers to these questions and more information about his secret project. We'll update when we hear back. If anyone has any more knowledge of the project, we'd love to hear from you -- just leave us a comment.

Worst Lede Of The Day: Sam Sifton Uses Jay McInerney To Explain Home-Cooked Pizza.

From "Crust Fund," by NYT culture editor Sam Sifton, in today's NYT Magazine:

Jay McInerney has a new book out this month, “How It Ended,” short stories taken from across his 25-year career. There is plenty of cocaine in them, and good wine. There are yellow ties, damaged women. People try to quit smoking and share illicit kisses. There are hangovers. There is less darkness than you might imagine. Everything pretty much works out.

There is no pizza in McInerney’s work — and pizza is what we are about today — but that last fact, that essential optimism of his, may be applied to the business of making pies. It is why you should never listen to the deadbeats who tell you that it’s hard, that it can’t be done at home, that if you are baking pizza at home then what you are making is somehow not pizza because you don’t have a professional pizza oven that burns at 800 degrees.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sam Roberts Apparently Didn't Get The Craig Whitney "No Sarcasm In Blogs" Memo.

In March, NYT standards editor Craig R. Whitney issued "News Blogs and Online Columns," a 4-page rules memo for its ever-expanding menu of blogs. Right at the top, Whitney made it clear that NYT blogs must avoid "sarcasm," or what is sometimes referred to as "snark."

Whitney wrote:

There are many different kinds of blogs on our site. Some of them are indistinguishable from news stories. Some have a personal point of view (see below). Others have a breezy, conversational tone, and resemble some of the lighter articles and personal essays of the print paper’s feature sections. What should be avoided in all of them is any hint of racist, sexist or religious bias, or any suggestion of nasty, snide, sarcastic, or condescending tone — “snark.” If something could easily fit in a satirical Web site for young adults, it probably shouldn’t go into the news pages of Our ethics code promises that in all dealings with readers, “civility applies.”

In a podcast transcript posted yesterday on the NYT's City Room blog, veteran NYT reporter Sam Roberts rhapsodized about the 1974 movie "The Taking Of Pelham One, Two Three" that involved a $1 million blackmail scheme and 18 hostages on a subway train, and a Mayor (modelled, in fact, on Ed Koch) who spends as much time worrying about his public image as he does the hostages' fate.

After noting that the mayor agrees to pay the $1 million ransom to free the trapped passengers, Roberts concludes:

Wow. A million dollars for 18 votes. That’s even more than Mayor Bloomberg spends.

Let's see...that's nasty, snide, sarcastic and condescending!

Also, it's not very funny.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: U. Of Massachusetts Student Paper Plagiarizes Much of NYT Op-Ed Piece, Word For Word.

In what appears to be a flagrant case of plagiarism, a University of Massachusetts Daily Collegian opinion piece published yesterday -- written by an undergraduate student named Nicole Sobel -- copied numerous sections verbatim from a NYT Op-Ed piece published only three days earlier.

Sobel's piece, called "Free-Range, Not Bacteria-Free," lifted entire passages from last Friday's Op-Ed essay about the relative dangers of free-range and conventional pork, called "Free-Range Trichinosis" and written by James E. McWilliams, a professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos.

Consider the following, first from McWilliams's piece:

Is free-range pork better and safer to eat than conventional pork? Many consumers think so. The well-publicized horrors of intensive pig farming have fostered the widespread assumption that, as one purveyor of free-range meats put it, “the health benefits are indisputable.” However, as yet another reminder that culinary wisdom is never conventional, scientists have found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It’s not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut paste that have been infected with salmonella but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with a bolt gun.

Then, from Sobel's essay:

For a long time now people have been going into the meat section at supermarkets, distracted by a cornucopia of different labels, and wondered the obvious question: is free-range pork really better and safer to eat then conventional pork? There has been a widespread assumption that, the health benefits are indisputable. However, scientists have recently found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It’s not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut butter that have been infected with salmonella, but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with their own death.

Their summaries of a recent study are virtually identical. First, McWilliams:

The study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease that brought these findings to light last year sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. The study, financed by the National Pork Board, discovered not only higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs (54 percent versus 39 percent) but also greater levels of the pathogen toxoplasma (6.8 percent versus 1.1 percent) and, most alarming, two free-range pigs that carried the parasite trichina (as opposed to zero for confined pigs).

Sobel's version:

Well, a study published in the Journal of Foodbourne Pathogens and Disease, which brought these findings to light last year, sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin. It not only discovered higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs (54 percent versus 39 percent), but also greater levels of the pathogen toxoplasmosis (6.8 percent versus 1.1 percent) and, most alarming, found that two free-range pigs carried the parasite trichina (as opposed to zero for confined pigs).

Identical lines litter Sobel's piece. Consider this from McWilliams:

Pigs lucky enough to land in this verdant playpen are endowed by the hand of man less with survival skills than with the ability to generate flesh retailing for $12 a pound.

And this from Sobel:

Pigs lucky enough to land in this verdant playpen are endowed by the hand of man less with survival skills than with the ability to generate flesh retailing for $12 a pound.

The plagiarism continues all the way through the piece, leading up to the identical last line. Concludes McWilliams:

After all, if clean and humane methods of production cannot be developed, there’s only one ethical choice left for the conscientious consumer: a pork-free diet.

Sobel's last line:

After all, if you find yourself not wanting to eat pork that isn’t free-range, but also not wanting to eat pork that is contained but void of a sweet taste, there’s only one ethical choice left for the conscientious consumer: a pork-free diet.

The NYTPicker has emailed Sobel, McWilliams, Dailly Collegian editor Michael King, NYT op-ed editor David Shipley, and NYT spokeswoman Catherine Mathis for comment.

UPDATE: James McWilliams, the Texas State professor whose work was plagiarized by UMass student Nicole Sobel, has emailed this statement to the NYTPicker:

Wow. Indeed, the plagiarism is blatant. If the plagiarist knew what a massive headache this piece has caused me (and, I imagine, Mr. Shipley), she'd most certainly have thought twice. Not exactly sure what else I'm supposed to say except thank you for providing such a valuable service and that I hope the plagiarist learns a lesson and never contemplates doing such a thing again.

McWilliams is apparently referring to the fact that today's Times included an Editor's Note on his original column, noting its failure to disclose that the financing for the study in the piece came from the National Pork Board.

COMMENT FROM NICOLE SOBEL: In an email to The NYTPicker tonight, University of Massachusetts student Nicole Sobel had this comment on her plagiarism of the McWilliams column in the Daily Collegian:

In terms of my comment, the only thing I have to say is that I apologize, and that I have no excuse, I was going through alot and was under alot of pressure with schoolwork, and copied some of the article from the NY times, because I didn't have the time to write alot of my own stuff that day. I have written wonderful things in the past, and am completely capable of it, this is the first time i've ever done anything like this and I apologize to the Daily Collegian for my mistake, and to the original columnist from the NY times, I'm honestly truly sorry, and regret it - I was in a rush, and didn't know what to do to finish my article, so I took a bad route. It's never happened before in my life, and I do not plan to do it ever again, it's not in my character to even do something like this. I made a mistake, and It will never happen again, and like I said before i offer my deepest apologies.


I'm going to respectfully decline your kind invitation to comment.

Attention, Please: NYT Media Reporter David Carr Has Just Donned His Nutcup.

From Twitter -- that newfangled form of shorthand communication that the NYT devoted most of its Business Day cover to this morning -- comes this tweet from NYT media/culture reporter David Carr, posted three hours ago and here reprinted in full:

have entered kingdom of Manahattan via bus. donning nutcup, atttitude and changing into black clothing. a daily B & T ritual.

What is this "nutcup" that Carr has donned? A check of "Urban Dictionary" offers this definition:

nutcup: magic wicca word used to unlock a woman's longing for the male nutsack; must be said in low voice while engaging in coitus in the bathtub eating nuts (preferably pistachios); often said in couplets to expedite orgasmic nut pleasure.

That sounds about right.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Meet R.M. Schneiderman. He Wrote the Captain's Rescue Story For NYT Website, And This....

How many nights did I lie naked on the floor in my bedroom, mourning my own shards? How many days did I spend in Union Square, dreaming of buttresses, trembling at the thought of another faceless moon?

Now every morning you lay beside me. You sleep late. When you wake, you lend me a groggy kiss. Your lips taste like mortar, like concrete. And when I look in the mirror to brush my teeth, there is no sign of a shattering.

My face grows rich with architecture.

Yes, that tasty bit of prose comes from the pen of R.M. Schneiderman, whose byline can be found all over the NYT website this afternoon. A NYT web producer who has drawn Sunday duty at the website, Schneiderman also writes fiction for Copious Magazine, where his short stories range from "Dusk In Calcutta, Italy" (excerpted above) to "A Ride on the 7-Train," the account of a young man who gets a bit nervous when he sees an Algerian-looking man on the subway:

It was his eyes that caught my attention. They were red, almost sun burnt. His skin was the color of charred tobacco and a thick mustache reclined between a long, narrow nose and a pair of thin, dark lips. He looks Algerian, I thought, though I didn’t know why; it was the first word that popped into my mind. He turned towards me and I immediately looked down; on the tracks below me, expired cigarettes lay motionless in fetid puddles of water.

Woohoo! Da bomb diggity fo sho!

Schneiderman, whose first name is Ross, follows the grand NYT tradition of abbreviating his first and middle name into initials; some stellar predecessors include A.M. Rosenthal, A.H. Raskin, E.W. Kenworthy, and of course, A.O. Sulzberger Jr. and his son, recent NYT arrival A.G. Sulzberger.

Welcome, R.M.! As of today, there would seem to be no more reason for you to be mourning your shards.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Quotation Of The Day (With Our Apologies To Mihai Fusu, The Moldovan Theater Director)

“He really doesn’t care what size my breasts are. He just likes them. He liked them before I got pregnant. He liked them after. What can I say? He just likes them.”

--Lee Michel, formerly a 36A, now a 34C, discussing her breasts in "Your Bra Size: The Truth May (Pleasantly) Surprise You," by Laura M. Holson, Thursday Styles.

"Our journalism has never been more glorious."
--Jill Abramson, managing editor, The New York Times, January 7, 2009

NYT Quietly Shuts Down "Proof," Its"Alcohol And American Life" Blog. We'll Drink To That!

On Tuesday night at 10:15 pm, just when most drinking Americans were least likely to be reading a pretentious blog about drinking, the NYT shut down "Proof." No warning, and no explanation.

Apparently we're just supposed to go cold turkey. That figures.

There's a faint promise that it will return -- "We'll let you know when," the editors warn -- but don't bet on it. When the history of the NYT's website is written, "Proof" will be remembered as the prose equivalent of your college roommate who guzzled too many White Russians and then puked out your dorm room window.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

NYT Is Shocked To Discover That Iraqis Still Rescue Babies From Burning Cars.

The sentence appeared front-and-center on the NYT's home page this morning, highlighting Sam Dagher's dispatch from Baghdad about yesterday's car bombing that killed eight Iraqis.

If you read it quickly you might have missed some subtle but offensive moralizing about the Iraqi people, masquerading as a dispassionate news summary.

The story itself, under the headline "A Moment of Heroism After a Blast in Baghdad," recounted the rescue of a baby from the fiery aftermath of a car bomb that resulted in eight casualties, including the baby's mother. Dagher detailed the tears of a woman whose son pulled the baby from the car -- a classic tug-at-the-heartstrings account of a simple act of valor in times of war.

Here was how the NYT website summarized the story, under a photo of the woman feeding the baby in the wake of the blast: "The rescue of a baby from the wreckage of a bombing that killed eight seemed to be proof that Iraqis were still capable of extraordinary acts of humanity."

Does the NYT seriously contend that the rescue of a baby should lead readers to that condescending conclusion?

It seems to us that the rescue of a baby from a burning car -- in Baghdad, in New York City, in Tokyo, or anywhere in the world -- proves nothing except the good news that human nature still prevails over political agendas.

But the message of the NYT's absurd moral judgement -- smack in the middle of its home page -- is that for an Iraqi to commit such an act of humanity somehow would be less likely, given the events of the last six years, and thus worth noting as newsworthy.

Read the story and you'll see that what happened yesterday in Baghdad was notable only in that it showed acts of individual human courage. It demonstrated nothing about how Iraqis "were still capable of" anything -- aside from doing what any human being might do in a similar situation.

To implicitly suggest that a six-year war would turn ordinary Iraqis into heartless bastards who might leave a baby in a burning car is naive and grossly simplistic at best.

It's interesting, while coincidental, that on the day after the NYT launched its provocative new "Moral of the Story" blog by Ethicist Randy Cohen, it showcased a sentence in its news pages that implied its right to pass moral judgement on Iraqi citizens for their behavior.

Those sorts of judgements and conclusions may have their place in the NYT's opinion pages, but not in news stories that shape readers' perceptions of a country -- and their view of what moral acts its citizens may or may not be capable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Ethicist Gets A NYT Blog. It's Called "Moral Of The Story." Cool Idea.

The NYTPicker stumbled on Randy Cohen's new blog this morning, "Moral Of The Story." Apparently he'll be applying his perspective to news events, interpreting them according to his personal sense of rectitude. We've had some problems with Cohen's advice in the past, but his first effort -- a look at Madonna's blocked attempt to adopt a 3-year-old Malawi girl last week -- does a nice job of dissecting the debate.

Cohen's first post went up last night with no fanfare, and already has 53 comments. Check it out.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dan Bilefsky Really, Really Thinks Vaclav Klaus Is An Iconoclast With A Perfectly Clipped Mustache.

[Vaclav] Klaus, the 67-year-old president of the Czech Republic — an iconoclast with a perfectly clipped mustache — continues to provoke strong reactions.

--NYT, "A Fiery Czech Is Poised to Be the Face of Europe," by Dan Bilefsky, November 25, 2008

Mr. Klaus, an iconoclast with a perfectly clipped mustache, has blamed what he calls the misguided fight against global warming for contributing to the international financial crisis.

--NYT, "Obama Calls on Security Council to Punish North Korea," by Helene Cooper and Dan Bilefsky, April 5, 2009

Anonymous Source Epidemic Continues; Teri Karush Rogers Interviews "A Man."

In today's Real Estate section cover story on families moving into coveted public school districts, writer Teri Karush Rogers makes liberal use of an anonymous source who she identifies only as "a man."

All right, Teri, fair enough -- that does narrow it down a bit.

Rogers's rules transgression -- the Times policy specifically warns reporters to use anonymity only as “a last resort when the story is of compelling public interest and the information is not available any other way” -- comes only two weeks after Public Editor Clark Hoyt blasted the NYT for its continued dependence on anonymity in lifestyle stories.

In Hoyt's piece, NYT standards editor Craig R. Whitney declared: “The bar should be far higher than it is before a reporter puts an anonymous quote in and before an editor lets it stay in.”

Oh, well. Maybe next time.

This time, Rogers interviewed an Upper West Side couple who were considering "gaming" the system to ensure that their child would get into a public school. Rogers justified this compelling disclosure to readers by saying he was remaining anonymous for "obvious reasons."

Obvious to whom? Maybe to Rogers and the editor of the Real Estate section, but not obvious to readers in this context:

A man who lives in the same school zone as Ms. Knafo says he is prepared to do whatever it takes to get his son into a preferred kindergarten.

“I will certainly consider some alternative way to game the system by gaining a different address,” said the man, who asked to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. “This is my child, who is a really smart kid, and he’s not going to my crummy zoned school. That’s just not going to happen.”

When he and his wife bought their $1.6 million six-room apartment a year and a half ago, they had envisioned his alma mater, a prestigious private school, as the place to send their son. . He and his wife both still have jobs and could probably scrape together the tuition. But their financial optimism has dimmed.

“I think it’s all part of the end of the wishful-thinking era, where you just think you’re going to grow into your expenses,” he said. “We’ve had successively bigger mortgages and we say: ‘It’s always a stretch. That’s all right; in a couple of years we’ll have more money.’ But now we’ve had to get a little more real.”

Indeed, the boom-inflated price of the real estate they occupy has worsened the situation. “I think of my father, who had three kids in private school when I grew up,” the man said. “His home probably cost him two or three times his income. So there was some money left over for school. But that math doesn’t work anymore. Most people I know own apartments that cost five or six times their income. And most people are spending so much money on their apartments there is nothing left for private schools.”

Did Rogers really need to allow "the man" to remain unidentified so he could wax eloquent on his theories about the "wishful thinking" era? That can't be what Whitney meant by raising the bar.

Alessandra Stanley, Move Over: March 22, 2009 "T: Travel" Section Sets New Corrections Record!

Congrats to Gerald Marzorati, Stefano Tonchi, Nathan Lump and the entire team behind the eight errors in T Magazine's March 22, 2009 Travel section -- setting a new NYT record for the most mistakes in a single issue!

Here they are, with special apologies to readers who used that bookshelf brush to clean their motorcycles.

A picture on March 22 with an article about the Dubai Mall and other popular attractions in Dubai was published in error. The photograph showed the Mall of the Emirates, not the Dubai Mall.

An article on March 22 about Bali misspelled part of the name of a hotel. It is the Como Shambhala Estate (not Coco).

An article on March 22 about Chicago misspelled the name of a store that sells clothing, jewelry and housewares. It is Florodora, not Floradora.

A picture credit was omitted on March 22 with an article about the fashion designer Rosita Missoni. The photograph showing her at the wheel of a sailboat was taken by Nally Bellati.

An article on March 22 about Claudia Schwartz, the owner of Bell’occhio, a San Francisco boutique, misstated the store’s Web address. It is A picture with the article was also published in error. The photograph showed a horsehair brush used for cleaning crown moldings and bookshelves, not one for cleaning bicycles and motorcycles.

An article on March 22 about the designer Nicole Miller and her vacations in Aspen, Colo., misidentified the mountain on which Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro is located. It is on Aspen Highlands Mountain, not Aspen Mountain.

An article on March 22 about the Parkdale neighborhood in Toronto misstated part of the name of a street. It is Queen Street West (not Queens).

Hey, Look -- People In Other Countries Actually Read The Newspaper. (Plus, It's An Extra!)

This goofy Reuters photo accompanies the NYT's lead story on its website this morning, reporting on the North Korean launch of a rocket -- an event that apparently took place so long ago that the Japanese had time to put out an "extra edition" of The Daily Yomiuri.

Also, note the fact that the two people in the photograph aren't even looking at the story about the rocket launch. They appear to be perusing the department store ads. Maybe that's the whole point.

Also, those are rad sunglasses.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The New York Times Is Not Going To Shut Down The Boston Globe.

Just thought we'd mention that.

WTF!? Helene Cooper Compares Michelle Obama Unfavorably To Angelina Jolie.

Towards the end of NYT White House correspondent Helene Cooper's dispatch today from Strasbourg, France -- a mostly fawning account of Michelle Obama's European trip so far -- comes this bizarre, brief attack on the First Lady.

It is not exactly mastering nuclear physics to smile nicely, shake hands, and visit sick patients, the traditional job of a first lady. And Mrs. Obama has yet to stake out her own territory on a big do-gooding issue, à la Angelina Jolie and African poverty, or even Mrs. Sarkozy, who recently signed on with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as the fund’s first formal celebrity envoy.


The NYTPicker doesn't need to explain to anyone the absurdity of that paragraph. We're just here to make sure you read it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

NYT: 'Just Because We Put Oliphant's Cartoon On Our Website Doesn't Mean We Published It.' Huh?

On March 25, a visitor to's Cartoons page could find the latest cartoon from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pat Oliphant: an image of a headless, sword-carrying Nazi-like soldier marching a Jewish star into Gaza -- a clearly anti-Israel statement from the cartoonist who the NYT once described as "the most influential cartoonist now working."

The cartoon was widely denounced last week by Jewish groups as anti-Semitic.

But as of today, Diane McNulty, a NYT spokeswoman, has not only disowned the cartoon -- insisting it "was not and will not be published by the New York Times" -- she's also claiming that it "did not appear on our Web site." McNulty made this fairly preposterous claim despite the fact that the cartoon appeared directly under a NYT logo, and the word "Cartoons" appearing above it in the NYT's familiar font.

The NYT has also added this Editor's Note to the Cartoons page today:

Editors' Note: A cartoon by Pat Oliphant depicting Israeli actions towards Gaza that appeared March 25 gave offense to many readers. The political cartoons that are reachable by clicking on buttons of the artists' names on this page are not selected or commissioned by editors of The New York Times but distributed by contractual arrangement.

McNulty's rather illogical position is essentially this: while a visitor to's "Cartoons" section can click on an Oliphant button -- which takes them to a reprint of his most recent cartoon, on a page with the NYT's logo clearly visible -- that depiction of the cartoonist's work doesn't "appear" on the NYT website.

But as any visitor to the NYT's cartoons section on its website well knows, readers can choose from a select few of the nation's top cartoonists, and see their work on a page that has the paper's logo on it -- and today, at least, a flashing NYT house ad for print subscriptions.

The NYTPicker has contacted McNulty to ask for elaboration on just exactly how she justifies the NYT's deniability in this case. She clearly wants to distance the paper from the content of Oliphant's cartoon -- thinking, perhaps, of the ongoing controversies created by the New York Post's Sean Delonas -- but it's a form of hair-splitting that doesn't seem to apply when a link takes a reader to a page clearly marked as a part of the NYT's website.

We'll update if and when we hear from McNulty.

Here's the text of McNulty's letter to one NYT reader who complained:

Dear Ms. Wolinsky,

The offending cartoon by Oliphant was not and will not be published in The New York Times. It did not appear on our Web site either. What did appear there, by a long-standing contractual arrangement, is an "Oliphant" button. This button on the cartoons page took people who clicked on it on March 25 to that cartoon, which is now relegated to the Oliphant archive.

Nobody at The Times, therefore, made any decision to "publish" the cartoon. But, though the click gets you to a page that is not a page, the banner on the page says "The New York Times .....Cartoons."

We are currently reviewing those arrangements.

Thank you for contacting The New York Times. We appreciate your readership -- and your taking the time to write.

Diane McNulty
Executive Director of Community Affairs and Media Relations