The end of an era at the Times!


After the Dowdism crept: This memoir in yesterday’s New York Times reads like a bit of a parody.

It ran on the front page of The Arts section, getting a very large display. The memoir carried this tag line:

“Critics for The Times explore their inspirations.”

Apparently, it’s part of a series. In this installment, Chris Suellentrop explains his inspiration, which seems to be video games.

Can you feel the parody kicking in? After describing his childhood from age 5, Suellentrop, who is now 38, starts describing the arc of his journalistic career:
SUELLENTROP (8/8/13): [W]hen I started playing games again, when I continued playing them after moving to Washington to become a political reporter, I still didn’t take them any more seriously than I had as a child. I had set on a career as a journalist covering government because I wanted to perform some kind of public service, to sacrifice earning potential for the greater good of an informed citizenry. Video games, as much as I loved them, were trivial.
So far, so recognizable. This is the very familiar story of a young man who enters journalism hoping to serve the public.

Quickly, though, the narrative takes an unfamiliar turn. In this, the age of Collins and Dowd, upper-class boredom begins setting in. After seven years in DC, the journalist starts reverting:
SUELLENTROP (continuing directly): After seven years in Washington, including a stint covering the 2004 presidential election for the online magazine Slate, games began to loom larger and larger as a subject worthy of journalism. I moved to Boston and then to New York, first for my wife’s career and then for mine. I worked as a political editor for the Op-Ed page of The Times as well as The New York Times Magazine. In between the politics, I assigned some articles about games and found myself writing about them, too.
So much for all that stupid shit about covering White House elections! “Games began to loom larger and larger as a subject worthy of journalism,” the critic says.

As he continues, we’d have to say that a certain Stepford feel starts leaking in:
SUELLENTROP (continuing directly): The more I wrote, the more I played, the more I realized that games weren’t inconsequential. They were important. They were exciting. They were beautiful. Like the printing press or moving pictures in previous eras, video games were a technology that introduced a new creative form, this one with a particularly intimate relationship between designer and audience.

A flurry of games in the final years of the last decade—among them BioShock, Portal, Grand Theft Auto IV and Flower—pointed to ways that the feeling of intense focus that video games create, a sensation I first experienced as a 5-year-old in Kansas waging a futile space battle against annihilation, could be deployed in the pursuit of grander aims than diversion. Games could explore political philosophy, comedy, tragedy, serenity.
Can games explore political philosophy? We have no idea.

Whatever! Suellentrop was 5 again! That seems to be the preferred mental age for those who work at the New York Times now that the famous Creeping Dowdism has made its way all through the building.

We’d call that a remarkable memoir, one which captures the feel of the modern times. An era has come to an end in that passage, an era in which it was assumed, for a very long time, that journalists wanted to serve.


  1. Pretty much what I expected...

  2. Suellentrop feels no need to even defend the position that video games are important. He just states it. Maybe he doesn't need to explore these thoughts, because his games will do it for him.

  3. herr professor somerby says,

    "So far, so recognizable. This is the very familiar story of a young man who enters journalism hoping to serve the public."
    "Quickly, though, the narrative takes an unfamiliar turn. In this, the age of Collins and Dowd, ***upper-class boredom*** begins setting in. After seven years in DC, the journalist starts reverting"

    >>> the good doctor opened an exciting new field yesterday and i want to to get it right. are americans of irish catholic heritage influencing their colleagues with their generic upper class attitudes mostly (as in this article presumably) . . . or are they more often infecting them with their inborn "irish-catholic"-american "death in life" malady. or could the two be connected somehow?

    and second, i presume no physical contact is necessary for either type of transmission, but just to be sure: is locally direct contact necessary or does it significantly augment the chances of contagion, for either one, particularly "death in life"?

    1. this just dawned on me. have you, dr. somerby, considered the possibility of your “death in life” phenomenon among americans of irish catholic heritage being of an organic nature instead of a cultural one?

      . . . in this day and age one is tempted to jump to a genetic differentiation, but it wouldnt have to be gene based, especially not in this case, considering that in ireland and britain the irish-catholic population has been shown in a huge gene based study to be virtually identical genetically to the irish-protestant, the scottish and the welsh populations as well as 92% the same as the english, notwithstanding the myth of the english being primarily of germanic stock.*

      but its possible americans of irish catholic heritage are very strongly correlated to either some damaging behavior(s) or a damaging environmental condition(s) which are copied or fallen into from one generation to the next, and very importantly, which are unique to them.

      take irish step dancing. ive never done it myself, but I would imagine that repeatedly holding ones extended arms to ones side and maintaining a stiffened torso while jumping in a very quick repetitive manner in hard heels could cause a jarring of the brain made especially severe due to the arms and spine being constrained from moving in a natural balancing fashion to soften each landing -- thereby making each jump significantly more traumatic, im presuming. some as yet unknown part of the brain perhaps could be deleteriously effected in a way so subtle as to escape scrutiny as the only long term results might possibly be the “death in life” effect in some percentage of this population.

      an environmental example could possibly be drinking guinness disproportionately to the rest of the population. its possible there is some ingredient in it, or a propensity for invasion into it by some bacteria, which over time could change ones brain organically in a significant percentage of those who drink it regularly, resulting in somerbys “death in life” effect in some percentage of this population.

      and if the irish dancer regularly consumed guinness after dancing, the two effects on the brain together could potentially be exponentially greater than either alone.

      to explore this hypothesis further, you might try to find out were maureen dowd or gail collins irish dancers? did they at one time consume guinness regularly? and did either engage in both activities contemporaneously?

      * “Saxons, Vikings and Celts: the Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland” by Bryan Sykes or “Origins of the British” by Stephen Oppenheimer.

    2. "Death in life" is a phenomenon that can occur in all population.

      A definitive sign of it is an affinity for playing dumb or coy in the face of a very pertinent and particularly poignant allegory, because you don't care for the user's opinion.

  4. Another off-limits area for the Times...only ballet and opera reviews in the Arts section, I guess. I didn't think the cranky old geezer routine could get worse, but now it's the cranky old out-of-touch geezer.

    The icing on the cake would have been another incomprehensible, meandering Bob Dylan quote, but this is still a 9 on the get-off-my-lawn-o-meter.

    1. Trollmes, you don't seem to care for this site at all, yet you nevertheless keep reading it, and keep pointing out its shortcomings, real or imagined. Out of curiosity, are there any other sites that you would actually recommend?

    2. Bob Somerby, why tolerate a troll? Ban this troll, and stop being the crazed attacks.


    3. I like to try to figure out the particular grievances of the trolls who can't stand that Bob does what he does. This one just sounds like a wanker who's mad at Dad, or maybe someone furious that TDH didn't let something go unchallenged. What is it, Troll? Trayvon?

    4. Appreciate your interest, everyone. I don't agree with all his views, but Juan Cole's blog is a must read every day for the Middle East. CalculatedRisk and (its blogroll friends) is my stop for finance/economics--nakedcapitalism for an edgier take on things. Talkingpointsmemo to keep up on the mainstream Democratic take on things. Mostly, I look at economic/finance stuff like Mark Thoma's Economist's View. I check now and then (no good news there).

      I can't really explain my fascination with this blog; I used to think it was one of the very best. So I think there is a sense of betrayal as I realized (or the blog changed) that Bob didn't have any real policy interests or goals, just personal interests and vendettas.

      I have seen things in the NY Times that I thought were lazy. It would be great to have a better NY Times. But Bob's not interested in that. There is no doubt that gaming has attracted about a million times more brainpower in the last 20 years than, say, film making or folk music. So it is entirely appropriate that the Times moves with the times and covers the most innovative and interactive form of popular entertainment.

      If you're trying to figure out why I'm bitter, maybe you should turn your attention to the way our host, the teacher turned comic, treats Suellentrop in the above post. What's Suellentrop's crime? He writes about stuff Somerby apparently doesn't understand.

    5. Trollmes: "I can't really explain my fascination with this blog; I used to think it was one of the very best. So I think there is a sense of betrayal as I realized (or the blog changed) that Bob didn't have any real policy interests or goals, just personal interests and vendettas."

      Yeah, I followed it from about 2003 up until almost 2012 and felt the same way as you--it was one of the best. Then I just decided to stop.

      Not sure if the blog changed or I did, but I decided that I wasn't getting much new information out of it and decided to turn my concentration elsewhere. Learned a lot here on topics like education reform scandals/cheating, but the daily/weekly outrages of the stupid people who write for the major papers got... tiring, I suppose. I think my interests changed as well.

      I came back a few days ago just to see what was going on here. This post about Suellentrop hasn't convinced me to stay, though I did really like the "death in life" and "moral and intellectual paralysis" posts quoting Joyce.

    6. Oh. TPM. Nuff said.

    7. i thought there was something special about trollmes. all that reading is what i was seeing reflected in his fine comments.

      trollmes, dont take the paid commenters and useful sycophants admonishments to heart. selfishly i want to be able to read at least one commenter with a high level of discernment and insight here at this most. . . um . . . well i wont break character. cheers!

    8. Right, 12:27. Look down your nose at TPM like a good member of the Somerby tribe.

      FYI, in the time it has taken Somerby to turn a one-man blog about the 2000 presidential campaign into a one-man blog about the 2000 presidential campaign, Josh Marshall has turned his one-man blog into quite the Internet enterprise, employing several people and gathering well over a million unique reads a month.

      And that surely sticks in the craw of our stand-up host, who is trying so hard to diversify by slamming daily anybody younger and more successful than he is.

    9. But here you are Trollmes, day after day, demanding 'Dance little monkey! Dance!"

    10. "Josh Marshall has turned his one-man blog into quite the Internet enterprise, employing several people and gathering well over a million unique reads a month."

      That translates to credibility for you and you shouldn't feel bad. Many equate page views with credibility including FOX viewers who cite that network's rating status when defending it.

    11. Right. A blog that draws about 500 unique hits a day by bringing everything, including the Martin/Zimmerman case, back to the 2000 election has far more credibility, even as fewer and fewer bother to read the absolute genius that is Bob Somerby.

      Face it. Somerby is a one-trick pony with a busted leg.

      And let the predictable responses begin from those who insist their emperor isn't buck naked:

      "Oh yeah? Then why are you here?"


      "Fearless leader. Please, please ban these trolls. They are making my head hurt."

    12. 1:18, once again you cite blog hits as your proof of credibility. We get it. Mass appeal equals credibility in your mind. And that's okay!

    13. I know, you don't know how to reason, but please, try:

      You did in effect argue that page hits equal credibility. You were called on it -- because it's idiotic -- and you can't really attempt to deny it.

      Instead you sadly, pathetically, attempted to reverse the logic. But you failed. Why? Because your reversal makes no sense whatsoever.

      You made a bad argument. The person refuting you however, never made the implication you attempt to attribute to them -- that this blog therefore has "far more credibility" because it has fewer hits or because its author is an "absolute genius."

      It always comes down to the same "one trick" for you, troll: When your busted reasoning is exposed you always reach, reflexively, for the tired "if you agree with Somerby, he's your emperor, you must think he's a genius," etc.

      In terms of reasoning, argument and logic that's both ad hominem and non sequitur (you can look it up!) -- neither one distinguishes you as someone worth the time of discussing anything with.

      If there's a one-trick pony with a busted leg here, it's you, troll.

    14. Oh, I argued it "in effect" -- not in actual words.

      Well, here's a clue for you. Credibility is in the eye of the beholder. What I am arguing here is 15 years later, Somerby is still operating a one-man vanity blog, which still draws the interest of very few people.

      However much "credibility" you want to assign is up to you. But there was a time when all sorts of people linked to what Somerby was saying -- until he turned into a crank, griping about all these upstart kids.

      Nowadays, nobody cares, not even Kevin Drum whose bones thrown to Somerby are getting fewer and fewer.

      In other words, Somerby could be extremely credible and not very interesting at the same time.

  5. Here's Suellentrop's non-cherrypicked bio:

    Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor of Yahoo! News and a freelance videogame critic for The New York Times. Previously, he was a story editor for The New York Times Magazine, where he assigned and edited Mark Leibovich's profile of Mike Allen, which won the National Magazine Award for profile writing in 2011.

    He founded "The Opinionator" blog for The New York Times, making him the first person paid by the Times only to blog, for what that's worth. He also worked as a staff editor for the Op-Ed page at the Times.

    He has written feature articles for The New York Times Magazine, Wired, New York, Legal Affairs, Radar (2.0), and The Wilson Quarterly. He covered the 2004 presidential campaign for Slate, where he spent five years in the Washington, D.C., bureau as a writer and editor.

    His essays, reviews, and columns have appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, Grantland,, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Observer, and Washington Monthly.

    He graduated from Tulane University and the Missouri School of Journalism. He was born in Louisiana, grew up in Kansas, and lives in New York with his wife and two daughters

    1. I think Bob is criticizing the career trajectory where someone goes from serious worthy pursuits to something as insubstantial as reviewing video games. It's pretty funny coming from someone who started out teaching inner-city children and gave it up to focus on stand-up comedy.

      Maybe Bob didn't like BioShock? I know I don't.

    2. Hey Trollmes, I meant to ask, of you are so critical of Bob, why read him. Of course the same could be asked about Bob and the NYT.

      You know what Bob and Rachel Maddow have in common? They both like to tell the press what to cover and how to cover it. And neither have an impact.

    3. i dont remember if you were around at the beginning of last year but there were any number of heavyweight commenters on this blog. i dont know what happened that they all seemingly decided theyd had enough. too bad though.

    4. ^^^ @ trollmes

    5. I've been here for years and the good ones are still here. The only difference of late is that a slew of Sharpton sympathizing newcomers showed up during the Zimmerman coverage and it shows.

    6. Sharpton sympathizers? Seems to me this board was full of Bob's New Fan Club -- people who think a kid walking down the street unarmed doesn't have a right to defend himself, but the guy with a gun following him does because 140-pound kid allegedly beat the bejeezus out of the 180-pound pussy with a gun.

      After all, the 180-pound pussy had all sorts of scratches, boo-boos and grass stains to prove he couldn't handle the 140-pound unarmed kid.

    7. There never was a soul claiming Martin had no right to defend himself if he was attacked -- and that was never part of the problem with the press coverage of the case.

      Pretending you're arguing with people whose you claims you invent is poor reasoning -- and perhaps a sign of more serious mental malfunction.

      And this use of "pussy"... What can one say, except to observe that, like yourself, so many of the supposed "defenders of Martin" seem to have a real masculinity problem.

      Seek help, before you hurt yourself or others.

    8. Pretending you're arguing with people whose you claims you invent is poor reasoning

      It's called the Straw Man fallacy.

    9. "There never was a soul claiming Martin had no right to defend himself if he was attacked . . ."

      If he was attacked? He was being followed by a man with a gun.

      And there was post after post after post of people claiming the guy with the gun did nothing wrong when Martin decided to stand his ground and defend himself -- assuming that is what actually happened.

      And when that wasn't enough, they went further down the racial abyss, demonizing the dead kid as a "thug".

      And no, I have nowhere near the masculinity problem as a guy who can't defend himself without a gun -- nor a guy who is so afraid of the entire world that he can't even go shopping without one.

  6. Yeah, I'm definitely not feeling it on this one. Maybe there's a generation gap here? I'm 31, while Bob's probably about my parents' age (mid-60s). I know my parents see video games as something for kids, but most people around my age and younger see them as another for of media/art/entertainment, like movies or music--for kids and adults. It's not about pretending to be 5 again, it's about engaging with video games as an adult.

    Granted, video game journalism isn't high on the list of what I'd like to see journalists focus on, but its at least on the same level as movies, music, sports, and other arts/entertainment. Don't see what the big deal is here, other than that Suellentrop wants to use video games as a lens to "explore political philosophy, comedy, tragedy, serenity." If he's actually doing that, then more power to him--he's managed to merge his interest in a relatively modern art form (or at least "entertainment form") with higher journalistic aspirations. If he's not doing that, well then there's a valid critique to be had here given that he's not living up to his stated goals.

    It's not clear from the post which of the above is actually happening. I find myself agreeing with Trollmes...

    1. As long as you hike up your pants, don't use the N word, stay in school, don't have babies out of wedlock, and never suggest race or hoddies are a problem, you can avoid the irish inspired intellectual paralysis thing.

  7. I find the invitations for those who don't think in lockstep to leave, and even more so, the calls for the tribal chief to banish them, to be quite ironic.

    1. It's not so much that you don't think in lockstep, as it is that there's no evidence you think -- at all.

  8. Gotta agree with Trollmes on this one - this is really "old man yells at cloud"-level stuff. I have no use for video games, but Bob is deliberately misreading the young lads description of his attraction to the subject.

    Maybe it would have been ok if he had written something like:

    "A flurry of STAND UP COMICS in the final years of the last decade... pointed to ways that the feeling of intense focus that STAND UP COMEDIANS create, a sensation I first experienced as a 5-year-old in Kansas LISTENING TO STAND UP COMICS, could be deployed in the pursuit of grander aims than diversion. STAND UP COMEDY could explore political philosophy, comedy, tragedy, serenity."