Sunday, August 29, 2010
All The Men That's Fit To Print: So Far This August, NYT Has Published 76 Obituaries -- 70 Men And 6 Women.
Consider this more frightening and fundamental imbalance: so far in the month of August, the NYT has published 78 obituaries. And only six of them were for women.
And for the year 2010 to date, the NYT has chronicled the deaths of 606 men, and only 92 women.
Bear in mind that the population of women in the U.S. exceeds that of men, and is nearly neck and neck worldwide.
This disparity in coverage has gone on for years, virtually unnoticed in a society that decades ago granted full equality to women, and has seen huge strides in the prominence of women in virtually all fields of endeavor.
And not only does it show no signs of getting better -- it's actually getting worse.
In a September 2006 "Talk To The Newsroom" interview, NYT obituaries editor Bill McDonald (pictured above) was asked about the lack of what a concerned reader referred to as "gender parity" in the section. His stunning response somehow slipped by unnoticed.
"Ask me in another generation," McDonald replied. "Really. The people whose obits are appearing in our pages now largely shaped the world of the 1940's, 50's and 60's, and the movers and shakers in those eras were predominantly white men."
Seriously? We were so struck by the seeming ludicrousness of that statement that we devoted several hours to a painstaking count of NYT obituaries in 1990. That's two decades ago, long enough in the past that the supposed disparity noted by McDonald should have been even more pronounced. Right?
Wrong. What we found was a disparity between men and women nearly identical to the extraordinary current gender split.
Of 691 NYT obituaries published in 1990, only 92 of them were of women -- almost exactly replicating the 2010 numbers.
So what's going on? Are the world's prominent women -- the ones deserving of NYT obituaries -- simply living forever? In the last two decades, has there been zero growth in the number of notable women who've died? Does it stand to reason that no more women have worked their way into the limelight in the last twenty years than in the previous twenty?
No, no, and no. In fact, what the numbers make plain is that the NYT still makes no significant effort to ferret out the stories of important women's lives, from unconventional sources -- and instead fills its columns with only the most obvious candidates for coverage.
Obituaries go first and foremost to the famous: we accept that, and acknowledge McDonald's point that we still live in a society dominated by a predominantly male power structure. We recognize that for all the advances that have been made by women, the world still too often rewards men with media attention, and denies women the spotlight they deserve. As McDonald went on to say:
Those generations of white men are now passing from the scene; hence you're seeing a disproportionate number of them. In a generation or less, I suspect that the Obits pages (no doubt entirely digital by then) will be filled with stories of women and members of minorities who made contributions at a time when the world finally allowed them to.
But as the gold standard of American journalism, it should fall to the NYT to aggressively find and chronicle the lives of women who deserve attention in the obituary column right now -- women whose rich lives and notable achievements warrant the honor of recognition when they die.
Is there no female equivalent to the man who invented the Cheeto? Or the man who designed the Greek coffee cup? Those are but two of the dozens of obituaries in the last year commemorating men who weren't particularly famous, but whose achievements earned them attention on the NYT obits page.
"To me," McDonald said in the 2006 interview, "the Obit page is not a reflection of the times in which we live. It's a mirror on a past that is slipping away."
That's simply not true. But if you doubt us, look at the NYT Magazine's well-executed annual "The Lives They Lived" issue, which brilliantly shapes its essays around the present, not the past. In its 2009 edition, eight out of 23 subjects were women -- more than three times the gender ratio of the NYT obits page.
It's time for McDonald to stop making excuses for his failures, and to withdraw his sweeping and false assessments of recent history. He must immediately direct his staff (we count eight regular contributors) to seek out more stories of noteworthy women's lives, ones that will give his page a desperately needed balance -- and more accurately reflect the contribution women have made to society in the last fifty years.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Wondering When Arthur Brisbane, NYT's New Public Editor, Will Debut? Well, Guess What -- He Already Did.
"The new public editor’s blog opens with an entry in the field of science, something my mama told me never to do," Brisbane says.
Undaunted by maternal warnings, Brisbane launched his blog with a tough-minded and accurate analysis of Gina Kolata's blockbuster August 10 page-one story on a new, promising test for Alzheimer's disease.
Brisbane's column -- called "The Trouble With Absolutes" -- points out that the story subhead's claim of "100 percent accuracy" was false. He also says Kolata's lede falsely communicated the possibility that healthy patients can now be tested for possible Alzheimer's Disease with pinpoint precision.
"The problem with these two elements – subhead and lead – is that they create the clear impression that here is a test that will enable you to walk into your doctor’s office and find out with 100% accuracy whether you will get Alzheimer’s," Brisbane says.
Brisbane's right. Kolata's story should have been more precise in its wording and more careful in its use of declarative statements suggesting a breakthrough. It's a danger inherent in science reporting and one that even reporters with Kolata's experience can make.
Welcome, Art! An auspicious start. You done your mama proud.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
NYT Senior VP Takes Sides In Empire State Building Dispute, Calling Vornado Realty "An Idiot" On Twitter. (UPDATE: Christie Comments To NYTPicker!)
Christie's comments come only a few months after a NYT reporter, Hiroko Tabuchi, was sharply criticized by NYT's then-Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, for using Twitter to ridicule Toyota, a company she covered.
"Speed is everything," Hoyt remarked of social media networks like Twitter, "and attitude sometimes trumps values like accuracy and restraint."
It's true that Christie works for the corporate end of the NYT Company, and isn't subject to the same rules that govern reporters. Still, it's unsettling to see a top NYT executive take such a public position on a matter that remains undecided by regulatory agencies and the courts.
The basic issue is whether Vornado Realty Trust, a major NYC developer, should be allowed to go ahead with a planned midtown skyscraper that some contend would alter the city's skyline in unappealing ways.
Today's NYT story by Charles V. Bagli -- linked to by Christie in his tweet -- takes no position on the matter; the NYT editorial page has also been silent on the topic.
But Christie -- who prefers to be called "Bob" -- has often used his Twitter feed to express edgy views, and sometimes about his former employer, The Wall Street Journal.
For example, when former WSJ business reporter Peter Lattman left the paper to join the NYT, Christie tweeted the news with a snarky swipe at his former employer:
WSJ gave up on business news. Now great reporters leave. Shock! Welcome Peter. http://bit.ly/bbK28n via @addthis
But today's tweet went beyond boosterism for his new bosses and took sides in a city debate that promises to continue for years. That may not disqualify him for anything -- he doesn't cover the story, after all -- but it strikes us as a personal point of view having no place in the debate, or on a Twitter feed from a NYT executive.
Doesn't the NYT public-relations department have better things to do than tweeting its opinions on the news?
It also seems ill-advised to use words like "idiot" to describe a major NYC real-estate company that has undoubtedly dropped millions of dollars in advertising on his employer over the years. Dontcha think, Bob?
Oh, and Bob, the skyscraper isn't going to be "next to" the Empire State Building. It will be 900 feet away -- which is further apart than Cordoba House will be from Ground Zero.
UPDATE: NYT spokesman Bob Christie, in direct contradiction of the NYT's official policy, has issued a statement to The NYTPicker in response to the above post.
HEY NYT WYT -- I LIVE HERE!" Christie said, in reply to The NYTPicker's earlier post. His comments were made via Twitter.
On April 7, Christie issued this official policy statement to The NYTPicker on behalf of the NYT:
“It is the policy of The New York Times not to respond to bloggers or journalists who refuse to identify themselves and/or their affiliation.”
It is unclear at this time whether Christie's comments represent a permanent change in NYT policy.
Here's the original Christie twitter post:
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
NYT #1 Bestselling Author Jodi Picoult Blasts NYT For Giving Rave Book Reviews To "White Male Literary Darlings."
NYT raved about Franzen's new book. Is anyone shocked? Would love to see the NYT rave about authors who aren't white male literary darlings.
The NYTPicker contacted Picoult -- the 44-year-old fiction sensation whose bestsellers have, at times, been mercilessly picked apart in the NYT by daily critic Janet Maslin -- to see if she would explain her sentiments at greater length. This morning, we got this blistering email from Picoult.
"It is my personal opinion that yes, the Times favors white male authors.," Picoult told The NYTPicker. "That isn't to say someone else might get a good review -- only that if you are white and male and living in Brooklyn you have better odds, or so it seems."
In her Twitter comments yesterday, she made specific reference not only to what she perceived as the NYT's bias for Franzen, but also its rave reviews for the novelist Jonathan Lethem, a Brooklyn resident.
But according to Wikipedia, Franzen lives on the upper East Side of Manhattan. And it's worth noting that last October, Kakutani panned Lethem's latest novel, "Chronic City, as "lame and unsatisfying," and "nothing but a lot of pompous hot air."
In her comments to The NYTPicker, Picoult made it plain that her sensitivities derive from her own feelings of mistreatment by the NYT. In a 2008 review of "Change of Heart," Maslin said Picoult "seems to have written her latest tear-jerker on authorial autopilot."
Maslin went on: "When writers become this popular (Ms. Picoult’s books currently top both The New York Times’s hardcover and paperback best-seller lists), they can coast in ways not possible for the up-and-coming. The opportunity to be long-winded yet perfunctory, paradoxically daring yet formulaic, is available to only proven hit makers at the top of the heap."
"The NYT has long made it clear that they value literary fiction and disdain commercial fiction - and they disparage it regardless of race or gender of the author," Picoult said. "I'm not commenting on one specific critic or even on my own reviews (which are few and far between because I write commercial fiction). "
After that aside, Picoult returned to her point by contending that the NYT uses race and gender as a determining factor in deciding who gets a double dose of reviews, in the daily pages and Sunday NYT Book Review.
"How else can the Times explain the fact that white male authors ROUTINELY are assigned reviews in both the Sunday review section AND the daily book review section (often both raves)," Picoult asks, "while so many other writers go unnoticed by their critics?"
But even on Twitter, Picoult was challenged by readers over her undocumented accusations against the NYT.
"In all fairness to NYT, here are two such reviews re: Danticat & Diaz," wrote one follower, referring to recent rave NYT reviews for novelists Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz.
"True," Picoult tweeted back. "But did you know what 'lapidary' meant when you read it in Kakutani's review? I think reviewers just like to look smart."
And then: "Also - if you're the NYT, for every Danticat/Diaz review, there are ten Lethems and Franzens!"
Are there, really? That seems way off to us. But we're willing to put Picoult's claims out there as the statement of a prominent American novelist, and let readers weigh in with their own perceptions, or even statistics if they have them. Does the NYT dole out its reviews without regard to race or gender, or is it biased in favor of the white male establishment?
We've also emailed NYT culture editor Jonathan Landman for comment on Picoult's claims, and will update if/when he responds.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Michiko Kakutani -- Who Jonathan Franzen Once Called "The Stupidest Person In New York City" -- Loves His New Novel. Does That Mean It Sucks?
Franzen was referring, of course, to Pulitzer Prize-winning NYT book critic Michiko Kakutani, who had just blasted Franzen's memoir, "The Discomfort Zone."
In that review, Kakutani described the book as "an odious self-portrait of the artist as a young jackass: petulant, pompous, obsessive, selfish and overwhelmingly self-absorbed."
At the Harvard appearance -- as reported at the time by the Harvard Crimson -- Franzen went on to say of Kakutani:
“The reviews tend to be repetitive and tend to be so filled with error that they’re kind of unbearable to read, even the nice ones,” Franzen said, according to the Crimson. “The most upsetting thing nowadays is the feeling that there’s no one out there responding intelligently to the text....So few people are actually doing serious criticism. It’s so snarky, it’s so ad hominum, it’s so black and white.”
So it was something of a surprise -- or maybe not -- to find Kakutani effusively praising Franzen's new novel, "Freedom," in this morning's NYT.
With a nod to her previous objections, Kakutani wrote:
In the past, Mr. Franzen tended to impose a seemingly cynical, mechanistic view of the world on his characters, threatening to turn them into authorial pawns subject to simple Freudian-Darwinian imperatives. This time, in creating conflicted, contrarian individuals capable of choosing their own fates, Mr. Franzen has written his most deeply felt novel yet — a novel that turns out to be both a compelling biography of a dysfunctional family and an indelible portrait of our times.
Was Kakutani compromised by Franzen's earlier comments? Should she have been allowed to review the book, given his poisonous point of view? Or can a good critic learn to ignore these sorts of predictable broadsides from angry authors?
It certainly isn't the first time that a major novelist has gone after Kakutani. According to Edwin Diamond's 1995 NYT history, "Behind The Times," Norman Mailer once famously appealed to NYT editors to have her prevented from reviewing his books -- on the grounds that Mailer perceived a conflict of interest (read: dislike) regarding his work.
We've contacted Kakutani for comment, and will update when we hear from her. We're also seeking comment from Franzen, whose view of Kakutani has likely softened somewhat in recent
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Calling Gray Lady "A Slut, Whoring After Youth," Essayist Joseph Epstein Cancels NYT Subscription After Nearly 50 Years.
Under the headline "Adios, Gray Lady," Epstein has taken to the pages of the conservative Weekly Standard to declare that he has "had it with the old broad."
Epstein -- an emeritus lecturer of English at Northwestern who has written 18 books, and for years served as editor in chief of The American Scholar, the magazine of Phi Beta Kappa -- says he once considered the NYT part of his "morning mental hygiene."
"But the Gray Lady is far from the grande dame she once was," Epstein declared. "For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. She’s become a bit—perhaps more than a bit—of a slut, whoring after youth through pretending to be with-it. I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose."
Epstein's reasons have mostly to do with changes in the paper that he contends have weakened the product -- an emphasis on irrelevant feature stories on page one that don't deliver actual news.
Some of Epstein's specific complaints:
--"I long ago ceased reading the newspaper’s letters section in the hope of finding a man or woman after my own heart."
--"With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists."
--"Every so often I check to remind myself that Maureen Dowd isn’t amusing, though she is an improvement, I suppose, over the termagantial Anna Quindlen, whom I used to read with the trepidation of a drunken husband mounting the stairs knowing his wife awaits with a rolling pin."
--"I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials. Laughter, an elegant phrase, a surprising sentiment—the New York Times op-ed and editorial pages are the last place to look for any of these things."
Epstein declares that the "always dull" NYT Magazine is now dull "on the side of erzatz hipness." And for decades, he says, The NYT Book Review "has been devoted to reinforcing received (and mostly wrong) literary opinions and doing so in impressively undistinguished prose."
But wait, there's more: He attacks Frank Rich as "the liberal's Glenn Beck," and the Styles Section for its "forced gaity." Gaity, indeed!
The professor reserves some specific scorn for "The End of Forgetting," the recent NYT Magazine cover story by Jeffrey Rosen on Internet privacy.
"The article’s last sentence instructed that 'we need to learn new forms of empathy, new ways of defining ourselves without reference to what others say about us and new ways of forgiving one another for the digital trails that will follow us forever,' Epstein recalled. "Yes, I thought, and wet birds never fly at night."
We've emailed Epstein for further comment on his decision, and will update when we hear from him. He should have some spare time tomorrow morning.
NYT Clarifies: Larry King, CNN Talk Show Host, Not Currently In Rikers For Eight-Month Drug Posession Rap.
The paper published 60 beginning last Monday, including an editors' note on a Dexter Filkins piece, a signficant walk-back on a Gretchen Morgenson investigation, and our favorite fix, from yesterday, about that "ugly animals" story and slide show from Tuesday's Science Times:
A capsule summary on Friday directing readers to pictures of ugly creatures at nytimes.com/science left the impression that fish and crustaceans are not part of the animal kingdom. Many of them may be ugly, but they are no less animals.
Still, we think this morning's City Room blog post about prisoners baking carrot cakes went a little far in clarifying the facts, just to avoid of a possible correction.
In an interview with one of the Rikers Island prisoners about their cakes --- which require 25 pounds of sugar to produce cake for 500 inmates -- reporter Emily B. Hager carefully inserted a clause to avoid any confusion or correction about his itentity:
“I myself was kind of impressed with the size of the machines,” said Larry King, who is serving an eight-month sentence for drug possession.
Mr. King (not the CNN host) had no previous kitchen experience before he began working in the bakery two months ago. He earns 39 cents an hour, which he uses to buy toothpaste and soap at the jail commissary.Helpful information, but not necessary, as we are well aware that CNN host Larry King has a decided preference for wedding cake.
Friday, August 13, 2010
For months, the team of NYT reporters kept noting that Gov. David Paterson's February 5 phone call to Sherr-Una Booker -- the woman allegedly assaulted by Paterson's aide, David Johnson -- took place the day before a scheduled court date that she ended up skipping.
The clear implication was that the Governor may have engaged in witness tampering by pressuring Booker to not go to court for an order of protection against Johnson.
But in July, the Judith Kaye investigation for the Attorney General revealed that the subject of the court date didn't even come up in the Booker-Paterson phone call -- and that Booker had forgotten all about the hearing, and thought she'd already missed it.
Now, the NYT reporters are once again using the coincidental juxtaposition of dates to insinuate the governor's guilt in a new criminal investigation-- and again, without any evidence to support their supposition.
Today's NYT story about new charges against Johnson raised a curious new element to its long-running campaign against the governor: the implication that he may have been involved in an illegal access of Booker's medical records.
In the second paragraph, reporters Hakim and Rashbaum note that the FBI is investigating the unauthorized access of Booker's medical records from a local hospital.
"The records were retrieved electronically on Feb. 5, a day after The New York Times asked Mr. Paterson questions about the domestic episode," the story states, in the third paragraph. "It remains unclear who obtained the records; doing so without authorization is a federal crime."
But does it really remain unclear? No -- it's quite clear what the NYT thinks happened.
The obvious implication is that the governor, or persons acting on his behalf -- prompted by concerns raised in his conversation with a NYT editor on February 4 -- may have unlawfully accessed Booker's records.
It's an odd, yet typical, attempt by the NYT to insinuate Paterson's guilt in his handling of the Booker episode. In a story purportedly devoted to the topic of his aide's arraignment on misdemeanor assault charges, the NYT clearly wanted to tie the governor to still-unanswered questions in the case -- even though the Kaye report cleared him of any criminal acts in his handling of it.
Today's story returns to the theme of Paterson's possible connection to the medical records in the next-to-last paragraph, going into more ominous detail about the coincidence of dates:
The records were retrieved on Feb. 5, a day after a Times editor asked the governor about the Oct. 31 episode and whether an order of protection had been issued. At that time, the question of whether Ms. Booker had been the victim of an assault was a pressing one for the Paterson administration. Mr. Paterson, in his conversation with The Times on Feb. 4, said there had been no violence.
There's really no way to read that paragraph without suspecting that the Governor of New York State was somehow involved in the illegal retrieval of a private citizen's medical records. And that's precisely what the NYT wants you to suspect -- without a single shred of evidence to support that suspicion.
We're not defending the governor's handling of the Johnson case; we've said before that the NYT's first salvo againast the governor -- its investigation into David Johnson's abusive history --showed a lax attitude on Paterson's part, and that he should be held fully accountable for actions of a top aide. Parerson showed repeated poor judgement in Johnson's case, and we have no objections to the NYT's scrutiny of his handling of it.
But the newspaper has an obligation to treat the governor with the same right to fairness as any other citizen. And yet, in the case of the NYT vs. David Paterson, the governor continues to be guilty until proven innocent.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
This Just In: NYT Columnist Paul Krugman Has Just Disclosed That Someone Has Threatened To Kill Him.
Under the headline, "I Love The Smell Of Death Threats In The Morning," the Nobel laureate has used his NYT blog to disclose the existence of the alleged murder plot, though he has failed to provide any specific details.
"Haven’t gotten one of those in a while," Krugman posted at 8:54 a.m. today, implying the possibility of a pattern of threats. "I was starting to think I was losing my touch."
The economist added, with no further details or explanation: "No, it’s clearly not serious."Some immediate questions come to mind: Has Krugman reported the threat to the authorities? Does he know the alleged would-be killer's identity? Did it come via email, or mail, or phone, or in person? What were the reasons for the threat?
Also, how does Krugman know for certain that the threat is "not serious"? And if it's not serious, why did he post the existence of it on his widely-read blog? Isn't that an unwise way to deal with death threats -- perhaps encouraging others to follow suit in search of publicity?
There is, of course, another possibility -- which is that Krugman is noting someone's casual "I oughtta kill you, you stupid jerk" comment to add to his sense of self-importance. By posting a "not serious" threat on his blog, maybe he's just milking the moment to remind us that his economic views make people angry and violent -- as opposed to, say, bored and sleepy.
In any case, we look forward to more information on this breaking crime story out of Princeton this morning.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Q. How Old Styles Cover Girl Stephanie Dolgoff? A. Old Styles Cover Girl Stephanie Dolgoff Fine, How You?
Do You Already Know The Muffin Man? Yes, But That Doesn't Stop The NYT From Putting Him On Page One.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
If you lined up, end to end, all the Cheez Doodles that Wise Foods produced in one year’s time, a thin crunchy row of bright orange, cheese-dusted corn puffs would stretch from Times Square to the Outback Steakhouse in Orange, Conn., just west of New Haven (about 72 miles).
(Fun Fact: NYT reporter Fernandez reported his "72 miles" statistic by copying it directly from the "Fun Facts" section of www.cheezdoodles.com!)
As an alternative, we recommend this earlier version from the author Dorothy Parker:
If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.