Sunday, November 28, 2010

NYT's 2010 Holiday Gift Guide Recommends The Ugliest Thing Ever Made, For Only $985.

At least this year's NYT Holiday Gift Guide doesn't offer a segregated shopping section for people of color, like last year.

But in its "Home and Decorating Gifts for $250 and over" section, it does recommend this truly hideous zebra teapot, for $985, which may be even worse:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Attention, Pulitzer Prize Jury: Come On, Already. This Is Frank Rich's Year.

In 1987, Frank Rich was a well-deserved finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism.

But unaccountably, for the last 23 years since then, Rich has not once been in final contention for journalism's top prize.

This ridiculous, inexpicable omission has come despite thirteen years as the NYT's lead drama critic -- where he was, without debate, the best of his generation -- and another sixteen years on the NYT's op-ed page. Meanwhile, Rich's columnist colleagues (Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, and Tom Friedman) have collected a passel of nominations and wins among them.

This is Rich's year. Don't agree? Take a look at today's op-ed page. If you don't shudder with fear at Rich's message, then you simply can't be moved by the power of potent, well-arranged words.

While Dowd tut-tuts comically at the latest failings of her fallen hero, Barack Obama, Rich eloquently warns against the persistent, pernicious threat of Republican firebrand Sarah Palin. Under the perfect title -- "Could She Reach the Top in 2012? You Betcha" -- Rich does his passionate best to rile us with the fear that she may make it to White House.

Instead of simply whining about Palin's faux populism, or making fun of her appearance or malaprops -- that's Dowd's default position -- Rich prescribes a solution to her opponents, if they'll only listen:

Revealingly, Sarah Palin’s potential rivals for the 2012 nomination have not joined the party establishment in publicly criticizing her. They are afraid of crossing Palin and the 80 percent of the party that admires her. So how do they stop her? Not by feeding their contempt in blind quotes to the press — as a Romney aide did by telling Time’s Mark Halperin she isn’t “a serious human being.” Not by hoping against hope that Murdoch might turn off the media oxygen that feeds both Palin’s viability and News Corporation’s bottom line. Sooner or later Palin’s opponents will instead have to man up — as Palin might say — and actually summon the courage to take her on mano-a-maverick in broad daylight.

That's classic Rich -- offering his audience not just a vituperative complaint or attack, but also a reasoned recipe for change. He reports his columns by voraciously consuming the culture, and embracing the web: each week the online version of his column links to dozens of articles, commentaries and reports that illuminate his point of view.

Rich has been a powerful force in American journalism for most of his career -- not just as a writer, but also as an informal adviser to NYT editors on matters of hiring and content. He also wrote a moving memoir in 2000, "Ghost Light," that could have justified a Pulitzer on its own. (His other books include a collection of his NYT theater reviews, "Hot Seat," and a 2006 attack on the Bush adminstration called "The Greatest Story Ever Sold."

Yes, Rich preaches to the choir: his mostly-liberal NYT audience probably rejoices each week in how much it agrees with him. But that undersells his gifts at argument and persuasion. Often, Rich's columns -- at 1500 words, longer than any of his colleagues -- go deeper into explanation and example. His raw intelligence and deft touch combine to make him the most powerful liberal voice of our time.

Obviously, there's more to life than a prize, and Rich doesn't need the reward of a Pulitzer jury to measure his worth. But in an industry that still bows down before the almighty prefix -- "Pulitzer prize-winning journalist" -- it seems only fair that Frank Rich at last get his.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NYT Freelancer Sarah Maslin Nir Debuts On Front Page With Phony Trend Story About School Photo Retouching.

It was made to order for a Saturday NYT front page.

Sarah Maslin Nir, the highly visible NYT freelancer who has recently been covering education for the Metro section, delivered a delicious trend story this morning on how kids now get their school photos retouched to remove unsightly scars and imperfections.

Only one problem: it's not a trend at all.

As any photographer -- or former high school student -- can tell you, school photographers have been retouching photos for decades to remove blemishes, scars and other elements that might mar a permanent portrait. It has been standard practice since at least the 1950s, a fact conveniently missing from Nir's story.

Instead, Nir presents this as a new phenomenon, using the standard buzzwords of trend reporting:

The practice of altering photos, long a standard in the world of glossy magazines and fashion shoots, has trickled down to the wholesome domain of the school portrait. Parents who once had only to choose how many wallet-size and 5-by-7 copies they wanted are now being offered options like erasing scars, moles, acne and braces, whitening teeth or turning a bad hair day into a good one.

School photography companies around the country have begun to offer the service on a widespread basis over the past half-dozen years, in response to parents’ requests and to developments in technology that made fixing the haircut a 5-year-old gave herself, or popping a tooth into a jack-o’-lantern smile, easy and inexpensive. And every year, the companies say, the number of requests grows.

But if you need any proof that this phenomenon has been around a while, just take a look at the 179 comments on the piece on the NYT website -- 32 of which specifically recall their own photos being retouched as long ago as the 1950s, and remark that the story reports nothing new at all.

Here's a typical comment, from Norman Baxley of Urbana, Illinois:

It was common practice in early portrait photography to retouch negatives, particularly 4X5" and larger. It was done by applying graphite directly to the surface of the negative. Since dark bags under the eyes and zits are clear on the negative, filling in these areas with graphite caused them to print lighter....Go back and look at high school yearbooks from the mid sixties and earlier and you won't find many zits in the black and white photos!

Or this, from Barbara Leary of Amesbury, Massachusetts:

I am a high school newspaper and yearbook advisor. In a portrait type photo we would almost always remove temporary deformities such as a scratch, pimple, or stray hair as a matter of course....The person who said photos were retouched 40 years ago is correct. Look at a yearbook from 1950 or 60 and you won't see kids with zits all over their portraits....This is NOT another case of our society becoming more fake. It has always been done.

And there are 30 more, making the same point -- that the notion that this is a new practice is false.

By the way, this isn't even the first time this phony trend has been reported recently -- it had been done in Feburary of 2008 in Newsweek. So even if editors bought Nir's faulty thesis, why did they put it on page one?

It may have something to do with Nir, a rising freelance star at the NYT who began contributing to the paper in 2008. Earlier this year Nir was named "The Nocturnalist," a weekly column for the City Room blog that reports on New York nightlife. More recently, Nir has been writing high-profile education stories for the paper.

Today's feature marked Nir's solo page one NYT debut. Unfortunately for her, it's not going to be so easy to airbrush out this story's flaws.

UPDATE: Late this evening, Nir briefly posted two Twitter comments (at her Twitter feed, @NYTNocturnalist) in response to our post, but then took them down. Fortunately we were able to get a screen grab before they disappeared:

Friday, November 19, 2010

NYT's Michael Barbaro Tells The NYTPicker: Hey, You're Not Posting Enough Items Attacking My Employer!

We've just received the following email from the NYT's Michael Barbaro, who covers New York city and state politics. He seems to think we're not devoting enough time to investigating his employer's wrongdoings.

In an email to The NYTPicker at 7:27 pm this evening, under the heading "Six days without a post," Barbaro wrote:

I really do think that the biggest scandal of your blog is that you somehow find fault with a deeply reported paper that comes out every day -- and online, every hour -- while you post items once every, well, never.

Barbaro's right. We're ashamed of ourselves. We promise that our 1,150-person paid editorial staff will get right back to work on some new posts, as soon as Carlos Slim's check clears.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Maureen Dowd, Move Over: Funniest Column In NYT Is Mary H.K. Choi's Weekly "Townies" Essay On The Opinionator Blog.

After only two weeks on the job, a young Korean woman named Mary H.K. Choi has emerged as the NYT's funniest new writer in ages.

Is it too early for editors to consider moving her brilliant and insightful "Townies" column from the Opinionator blog to the Op-Ed page, and kick Tom Friedman to the curb?

Choi's first effort comically chronicled her multiple moves around New York -- a new apartment for every miserable breakup in her young life, and a long partnership with a moving man who carried her stuff nine times as she criss-crossed the city in search of a permanent place.

This week, Choi's second column confessed the misery a young Korean woman faces getting a pedicure from a middle-aged Korean woman whose grey roots remind her of her mother. It's more than that, really, but we can't do justice to it with a summary.

In October, the Opinionator blog launched a new "Townies" column for fresh young voices. Its first contributor was Sloane Crosley, the popular essayist with two best-selling collections under her belt. Crosley delivered her predictably droll commentaries on predictable topics like cats and New Year's Eve. No surprises.

But the arrival of the considerably less well-known Choi has delivered a dose of comic adrenalin to the Townies column. Her bio identifies her as a writer for The Awl and senior editor for Complex Magazine. Before that she edited something called "Missbehave" and wrote a comic called "Lady Deadpool."

We can easily envision Choi alongside the comedy stylings of Ross Douthat, the hilarious Bob Herbert, and the rest of the op-ed gang. The NYTPicker proudly declares itself pro-Choi.

Whoops! Turns Out Twin In Cute Page-One Story About Tree Sleeping Got Busted On Felony Drug Charges Last Year.

Once again, a NYT reporter has forgotten to Google.

You know Dana and Cory Foht, those cute 25-year-old Florida twins on the front page of today's NYT? The ones who've been sleeping in the trees in Central Park?

Well, that's Cory Foht on the left. It's his mugshot, courtesy of Florida's Collier Country Police Department from July 30, 2009. That's the day he got arrested on four felony counts, including drug posession and resisting arrest.

The charges have since been dropped, and The NYTPicker is currently exploring what may have been the circumstances behind that.

But one thing is clear: NYT reporter Colin Moynihan forgot to Google these Foht fellows before putting them in a story that landed them on the front page of the paper. Yet again, a NYT reporter has forgotten that classic journalism adage: if your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Cory Foht was arrested on four felony counts: possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana; possession and use of narcotic paraphernalia; destroying, fabricating or tampering with evidence, and resisting arrest without violence.

Translation: stoned, long-haired Florida dude allegedly tries to flush his stash and pipe down the toilet while cops pound on the bathroom door.

Cory's arrest was reported on the Naples News website. Want to see it? Just type the words Cory Foht into Google. It's the first link.

Now, Cory wasn't convicted of anything. That means he's innocent until proven guilty. Court records reveal that the charges were dropped earlier this year, so he's off the hook.

And the worst crime his twin brother Dana ever apparently committed was appearing in this 2005 music video, hitting on a voluptuous girl on a Florida beach and getting royally dissed.

Still -- when you're writing a page-one story about some Florida kids sleeping in Central Park trees, shouldn't you at least look up the guys you're writing about?

Seems to us a previous arrest record might be relevant here, especially since Moynihan's story addresses the fact that technically, it's a crime to sleep in Central Park.

We liked the story, by the way. We think the Fohts are probably great guys and we totally believe them about the YouTube video they're gonna edit together and make and stuff. Like, any day now. Meanwhile, don't bogart that joint.

UPDATE: A number of readers have objected to this item as being excessively nit-picky, basically because Cory Foht wasn't convicted of anything. Why, readers wondered, were we criticizing the NYT for failing to report something irrelevant to the story at hand?

We considered that point carefully before publishing the item. In the end, we decided that because Moynihan's story appeared on the front page -- and because it focused heavily on the criminal aspect of the Fohts' actions -- a previous felony arrest seemed worth knowing about. Employers typically require a job applicant to disclose an arrest record, with or without a conviction; why shouldn't reporters and newspapers care about them?

The inclusion of the arrest history wouldn't have detracted a bit from Moynihan's otherwise entertaining story, or from the Foht twins' reputations as cool tree-dwelling dudes. And it would have sent readers a signal that the NYT checks out the people it puts on page one, especially when they're unknowns. We find it odd that so many commenters are quick to defend the reader's right not to know.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NYT Correction Of The Day: SF Giants First Baseman Aubrey Huff Does Not Wear Women's Undergarments.

From today's NYT corrections column:

An article on Nov. 4 about the San Francisco Giants’ victory parade referred incorrectly to the type of underwear shown to the crowd by first baseman Aubrey Huff. His “rally thong,” which he said he wore for luck during the Giants’ run to the World Series title, was designed for men, not for women.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BLOGOUT! All 58 NYT Blogs Go Dark; For Last 12 Hours, Readers Stumbling In Darkness Looking For Krugman, Pogue, Motherlode.

Where were you when the blogs went out?

For the last 12 hours at least, the NYT's entire blog system has gone suddenly, quietly dark -- giving the paper's millions of online users no access to any of its 58 blogs' postings or archives.

Amazingly, not a single one of those readers has twittered the news, and the Great Blogout of 2010 has also escaped the notice of a vigilant army of media websites. Does this mean no one actually reads the NYT blogs?

Approximately 12 hours ago, the NYT twitter feed sent out this message to its 2.7 million followers:

We're working hard to get our blogs back up and running. Stay tuned.

It wasn't clear from that tweet when the blogout happened, although The NYTPicker recalls getting an error message on a blog as early as yesterday afternoon. That message can now now seen by anyone clicking on any blog.

Then, approximately 20 minutes ago, the twitter feed sent out a new message to its millions:

To our followers: We are still wrestling with the technology that powers NYT blogs. Sorry for the hassle, but we're working on it.

At this moment, no reader has any access to any NYT blogs or their archives.

There's now an Editor's Note on the NYT website that declares:

The blogs on have been experiencing technical difficulties. DealBook posts can be found at

Hurry up, NYT! We can't live without "Motherlode" much longer!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cheesy Journalism: NYT Prints Page-One Warning Of Cheese Dangers, While Regularly Pushing Cheese In Food Coverage.

Today's page-one lead story by investigative reporter Michael Moss brilliantly deconstructs the hypocrisy of a government that fights obesity with one hand while promoting cheese products with the other.

But it doesn't mention the NYT's own hypocrisy. While probing government programs that push high-fat cheese products with one hand, it promotes cheese products with the other -- with regular recipes, reporting and recommendations that treat cheese, particularly when delivered on a pizza, as a healthy food choice.

A look at the last several years of cheese references in the NYT -- helpfully gathered in a Times Topics section, "Cheese," introduced with a lengthy Florence Fabricant essay that makes no mention of its saturated-fat content -- finds almost no stories that reference the dairy product's potential health hazards.

In fact, in recent years, NYT reporters and critics have mostly written about cheese as though it were a leafy vegetable.

In September, restaurant critic Sam Sifton heaped praise on fat-filled pizzas that sound like a suicide mission for a heart patient.

Reviewing Fornino in Park Slope, Sifton criticized a "plain margherita pie" that "sits flat and crackly on its plate, devoid of yeasty flavor; it felt in the mouth a little like a pizza made with saltines."

"More successful are the versions in which a fair amount of stuff is piled on top of the pie, and the cheese and fat perhaps protect some part of the dough," Sifton went on, with emphasis added by us. " The pizza Mr. Ayoub has dedicated to the memory of Mr. Scotto — piled high with Bel Paese, pecorino, fior di latte and ricotta, as well as slices of fiery salami and dabs of roast-pepper aioli — has proved itself to be a marvel of structural integrity, with great texture beneath the creaminess. It is the best on the menu."

It's good to see Sifton's concern for "structural integrity" in a pizza "piled high" with cheese, but it might also be nice to see some semblance of concern for our arteries.

Other Sifton reviews have extolled the virtues of cheese cupcakes, cauliflower and goat-cheese gratin, a goat cheese creme brulee (okay, that does sound good), and, at Prime Meats in Brooklyn, "a nice selection of Northeastern cow, sheep and goat cheeses worth lingering over" before you "walk out into the soft Brooklyn night."

Sifton's predecessor, Frank Bruni, also lavished heart-damaging praise on the cheesy pizza principle.

"As for toppings, they should add a whisper of sweetness or murmur of heat to the milky, tangy, wonderful white noise of cheese," Bruni wrote in a 2009 Critic's Notebook, "The Crust Is A Canvas For Pizza's New Wave." "All of the pizza places in my list of new-generation favorites understand this. And almost all of my favorite pies exemplify it."

Just yesterday, an essay by Lesley Alderman in the business section -- objecting to the proliferation of fats and sugar in school lunch diets -- referenced pizza as a healthy lunch option for kids, assuming it's made "on the premises with fresh ingredients."

After citing milk as a healthy beverage choice -- even though its high fat content comes under scrutiny in Moss's story -- it recommends packing cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch, instead of schools' fast-food fare. Sounds like saturated fat to us, though that aspect of the Alderman-approved diet isn't mentioned.

Similarly -- and regularly -- NYT reporters and critics refer to cheese as a preferred ingredient of recipes and meals, even healthy ones. We looked through five years of NYT references to cheese, and found no mentions whatsoever of the saturated fat content that is the focus of Moss's investigation.

This hypocrisy extends to the NYT's coverage of Domino's Pizza itself -- which, before today, didn't address the health issues associated with the product.

An October 10, 2004 article by Brendan I. Koerner covered the debut of a new Domino's pizza, "The Doublemelt," which closely resembles the "Wisconsin" pizza that's the focus of Moss's investigation. Koerner describes the Doublemelt as "two thin crusts glued together with a potent cheese-and-herb sauce, then slathered with a six-cheese blend."

The Doublemelt had 16 grams of fat per slice of a 12-inch pizza. That's four grams more than the pizza slice that's the focus of Moss's article.

To be fair, Koerner's 2004 article did acknowledge some problems being created for American consumers by the introduction of such an excessively cheesy pizza.

"Dark days may be ahead," Koerner conceded, "for tomato sauce fans."

The NYTPicker Turns Two Today!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Don't Quote Me! House Aide Speculates In NYT, Then Seeks Anonymity "Because He Did Not Want To Speculate."

We do not grant anonymity to people who are engaged in speculation, unless the very act of speculating is newsworthy and can be clearly labeled for what it is.

-- NYT Confidential News Sources Policy

Today we launch a new NYTPicker feature, "Don't Quote Me!" -- a highlight of the latest, most egregious excuses for anonymity from the pages of the NYT.

You see them every morning, unnamed sources spilling their guts -- usually claiming anonymity because they were "not authorized" to speak to reporters.

Hey, we understand. On deadline, it's often very difficult to get those Official Newspaper Source Authorization Forms properly filled out.

But often -- pressed to develop some original explanation for a source's reluctance to see his or her name in the paper, per NYT policy -- NYT reporters twist themselves into pretzels with their excuses for failure to force a source onto the record.

In "For Obama, Foreign Policy May Offer Avenues for Success," by Helene Cooper, comes this articulation of a source's anonymity today. In this instance, the source says he doesn't want to engage in "speculation." A noble goal, considering it's useless, and against the NYT's anonymous source rules.

But Cooper goes ahead and quotes him speculating, anyway:

The expected ascension of Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican of Florida, to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee, could signal trouble for Mr. Obama’s efforts to expand Americans’ opportunities to travel to Cuba, the next step aimed at encouraging contact between people in both countries.

“The likelihood of things moving on that in the next Congress are greatly diminished,” said a Republican aide in the House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to speculate on legislation before the new committee assignments were set.

We'll be back soon, with another edition of "Don't Quote Me!"