Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bill Keller Is Shocked -- Shocked! -- To Find Elitism In The NYT. (Your Paycheck, Sir.)

Nothing quite nauseates us more than when the NYT -- and specifically, executive editor Bill Keller -- wraps itself in the "common man" image, as Keller did today in saying that Cintra Wilson's J.C. Penney essay shouldn't have been published.

In a statement of mind-bending hypocrisy, Keller told public editor Clark Hoyt this morning that the Critical Shopper piece in the Styles section -- which archly (and Hoyt confirmed, correctly) noted Penney's seming obsession with the obese -- “would make a fine exhibit for someone making the case that The Times has an arrogant streak.”

Keller then dragged his own mother into the paper's defense, noting that she was "a Penney’s shopper for much of her life,"and would have deemed Wilson's point of view “snotty.” According to Wikipedia, Keller's mother was the wife of the wealthy chairman and CEO of Chevron, and lived in San Mateo, California.

Is this the same Bill Keller who has been seen sitting side-by-side with NYT critics and editors at fashion shows, happily ogling skinny supermodels who promote an industry that has ignored the overweight American population completely?

Is this the same Bill Keller who pays the bills for his much-vaunted foreign bureaus by publishing a high-end, size-2-only fashion supplement, "T," that hasn't featured a full-figure model in its entire five years of existence?

Is this the same Bill Keller who has sent children to NYC's elite private schools? (Sorry, Bill, but once you drag your own mother into the argument...)

Is this the same Bill Keller who closed down his paper's stand-alone Metro, Sports and regional news sections, while preserving its two-day-a-week Styles sections and its arts section that routinely covers Broadway and Lincoln Center events that cost $100-plus a ticket? (Of course, when Keller or other editors go to Broadway or the opera, it's free -- and they sit on the seventh row, on the aisle.)

As hard as the NYT tries to be a newspaper for the common man -- most recently by getting itself a dog, and cloaking itself in the cuddly fur of man's best friend -- it's a staunchly elitist institution that depends on its upper-crust status for survival. Its readers live largely in the city's wealthy suburbs, not in its working-class neighborhoods. They shop at Saks and Bloomingdale's. They eat at the high-end restaurants reviewed by its critics, who stick mostly to Manhattan and Brooklyn when it comes to culling the city's culinary options.

We don't object per se to the NYT's elitist sensibility. What troubles us about Keller's attack on Cintra Wilson's piece -- which we've already defended here against what we consider an unfair pile-on by politically correct readers and critics -- is that he would try to differentiate her point of view from the paper's own, and his own.

Wilson is guilty of only one transgression -- of speaking the truth, in frank language, about a topic we all prefer to avoid. We live in a society that allows obesity to run rampant. These days, stores like J.C. Penney routinely label a dress that was once a size 20 at size 14 -- or smaller -- so that an overweight woman can convince herself she has lost weight. Penney has bought overweight mannequins (now increasingly common) to make its customers more comfortable. Indeed, Wilson praised Penney for its attention to the needs of overweight women, to the exclusion of the city's stereotypical social x-ray.

Keller is guilty of a far greater commitment to elitism than he's willing to admit, or than is reflected in Wilson's essay. During his six-year tenure as the NYT's executive editor, while overseeing the literal shrinkage of his paper and reductions in its news coverage, he has given his full support to the paper's elitist elements -- overhauling the NYT Magazine's Part IIs into high-end vehicles for advertising to the too-rich, too-thin crowd who keep frequent advertisers like Barney's and Armani in business. (We've noted in the past the paper's obsessive, obsequious coverage of Armani.) Those magazines (once upon a time, edited by a NYT fashion critic) have become increasingly less interested in journalism, and more focused on high-end-user-friendly features for the NYT's richest customers.

More recently the NYT has become fixated on Vogue and its troubles, perhaps wanting to comprehend the slide in high-end advertising that has afflicted its own messed-up business model. Just today, Maureen Dowd -- famously fascinated with all things ritzy -- chronicled a MOMA screening of the new Anna Wintour documentary,pressing her upturned nose against the glass yet again.

We don't fault Keller for doing what's necessary to keep the NYT alive and kicking. But we do resent it when he criticizes Cintra Wilson for doing precisely what the rest of the NYT has done for decades -- celebrating the elitist sensibility that has kept the NYT in business. For Keller to make Wilson the scapegoat for his desire to align himself with working-class J.C. Penney shoppers is offensive and unfair.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to weigh in on Cintra Wilson, but I think you're misfiring if you think that the new smaller sports section is somehow a betrayal of the common man. The Times is only covering the $100+ arts tickets. Hah! Arts tickets are cheap compared to sports tickets. The Yankees tried to charge $2500 for some tickets before they backed off and cut prices in half. Sure. They make Broadway tickets look cheap.

Anonymous said...

I think it's better for reporters to be fair to their subjects and polite to everyone. Sarcasm and reporting don't mix very well because it's hard for all of the readers to pick up the subtle or not-so-subtle clues about what is fact and what is hyperbole. I really don't like the Style section for this reason

Anonymous said...

just look at the newsstand price of the times: $2. It's pushing away poor readers. That's elitist even if Keller doesn't have anything to do with the business side.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the Home section, which is devoted exclusively to covering the rich and their swanky houses and properties.

Also, Keller's suggestion that the article makes the NYT look arrogant? Please. It's keller who makes the case for arrogance every time he brags how much better the NYT is than everyone else. He should keep his mouth shut.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the Home section, which is devoted exclusively to covering the rich and their swanky houses and properties.

I'm still a little amazed every time I see the "Great Homes and Destinations" header. Has the recession shut down the "your second home" column yet?

Barth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barth said...

The Times does not have "poor readers" at $2.00 a pop, nor would they have them if the paper cost a quarter.

What is silly is the Executive Editor wasting time commenting on this article. Wilson was writing to her own crowd, none of whom disagreed with her. Nobody else read the piece. This is a non issue if there ever was one.

I do not want a NY Times that trues to reach every reader. We already have several newspapers of that type: USA Today is probably the most representative.

It is not "elitist" to want a newspaper for people who are interested in more than five grafs, or something more than television can spew out.

I am not sure the Times has lived up to that goal in recent years, but this is the direction they should be headed. If that means that cultural and style reporters should accept the general biases of the typical Times reader, I can live with that.

Jane said...

Pure NYT. Every week it seems the editors and writers trip over another conflict of interest or frame the story away from the real issues. I don't know why I put up with the Sunday Times. Even with home delivery it's hard to dump it and yet hard to keep it.

The smaller sections are a problem. Maybe the newspapers would have kept readers if they had written about relevant things instead of trying to keep up with the talking heads at 5,6,and 10 and now, web 2.0 and beyond....