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.