Can the New York Times read the New York Times?

WEDNESDAY, MAY 10, 2017

Who in the world are these people:
Just like that, yesterday turned into a very big "news day."

There's a downside to such occasions. All too often, they keep us from the day's "noteworthy facts"—more specifically, from such "noteworthy facts" as this:
"The ongoing restoration of the Roman Colosseum has been financed by a roughly $30 million donation from Tod’s, the Italian shoemaker."
Now that's a noteworthy fact! It's right there today on the New York Times' reimagined page A3, along with noteworthy facts like these:
"The company that owned Southern Comfort liqueur thanked Janis Joplin, a devotee who made a show of drinking it, for the free advertising by giving her a fur coat."

"At the height of its 14-year run, the singing competition show 'American Idol' sometimes drew more than 30 million viewers a night."
Good times! Truly, those were the days—and those are some noteworthy facts!

The New York Times' "noteworthy facts" are routinely inane, to the point of seeming bizarre. The daily "Here to Help" feature is typically just sad.

Today, though, we were struck by the reimagined A3 feature called "The Conversation." Here's the way it starts:
The Conversation
THREE OF THE MOST READ, SHARED AND DISCUSSED POSTS FROM ACROSS NYTIMES.COM

1. Jimmy Kimmel Responds to Critics Over Health Care
The latest "Best of Late Night" column, the most read article on Tuesday, includes a recap of Jimmy Kimmel's on-air confrontation with Senator Bill Cassidy...
According to that text, this latest "Best of Late Night" column was "the most read article on Tuesday."

We're not entirely sure what that means, but the "column" in question is extremely short.

Mainly, the original "column" provided a brief, rather fuzzy account of Kimmel's opening monologue Monday night. During the segment, Kimmel discussed his recent remarks about health insurance for children. Mainly, the "column" provided videotape of the 12-minute segment.

Out of the Times' full body of work, was that really "the most read article on Tuesday?" A fellow could imagine being depressed by revelations like that.

More strikingly, we're puzzled by the account of the original column the New York Times proceeded to give on today's A3. Perhaps for obvious reasons, items on page A3 don't include the names of any authors. But whoever wrote today's account of that original column didn't seem to understand what he had read and seen.

During his monologue, Kimmel spoke with Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who had said on CNN that any new health care law should pass a “Jimmy Kimmel test,” meaning that “a child born with congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in that first year of life.”

On Monday night, Kimmel and Cassidy had a very friendly, five-minute discussion. In all honesty, Kimmel didn't push very hard or seem to know very much. Cassidy said very little.

That said, there was exactly zero antagonism between the two men. Until you read today's A3, where you find yourself being told this:

"Commenters felt that the senator, who appeared on Mr. Kimmel's show on Monday via satellite, had been presumptuous—as did Mr. Kimmel."

Say what? The text goes on to quote the comment by Kimmel which supposedly demonstrates that he felt this way about Cassidy. Watching the actual videotape, we have no idea why the anonymous journalist who composed this text thought he'd seen any such thing. We don't know why he thought he saw a "confrontation" between the two men.

Giovanni Russonello's original "column" was fuzzy and hapless enough. Along came The Conversation to distort the episode further. Did the unnamed person who wrote today's piece actually watch the Kimmel tape? Kimmel was very friendly to Cassidy—and no, Kimmel doesn't seem to know enough to conduct such discussions. (Very few people would.)

What sorts of life-forms are writing the items on the Times' reimagined A3? Do they go unnamed on the page because, being aliens from deep outer space, they don't actually have any names, let alone any knowledge of this planet's noteworthy facts?

Russonello wrote a lazy original "column." On this morning's page A3, some alien life form proceeded to dumb it down substantially further. Meanwhile, Russonello's murky column was "the most read article on Tuesday," whatever that's supposed to mean.

That item today makes little sense. Are we getting a horrible look behind a terrible curtain?

Final question:

If our smartest newspapers function this way, should anyone be surprised that Donald J. Trump is now president?

13 comments:

  1. Failure at comprehension of reading and hearing seems to be a growing phenomenon. There is at least one regular commenter at this site, who is hostile to anything Bob says, who regularly misinterprets what he has read.
    Isn't reading comprehension taught anymore?
    Perhaps the people would rather read articles telling us that we've been drinking water the wrong way, or that, as I believe The Firesign Theater said, "Everything you know is wrong." Or telling us the "mistakes" that were made in such and such film.
    Idiocracy was prescient.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is only one understanding -- yours.

      Delete
    2. This phenomenon is frequently demonstrated on Facebook.
      Over and over you read: "The CIA and FBI proved there was no collusion between the Trump election committee and Russia, only liberals refuse to accept it."
      Well, this liberal doesn't accept the logical fallacy of proving a negative.

      Delete
    3. If reading comprehension were as black and white as you make it, Horace, we would all reach the same conclusions, but unfortunately, it is not. When you add in context and tone of voice and inference, which are all part of understanding someone else's communication, it is very possible to take a variety of different, even conflicting meanings from the same text. That's why we have a lawyers (to nail down ambiguities) and literary critics and comment sections. That's why math, not English, is the language of science. There are as many different meanings (understandings) as there are readers.

      Delete
    4. Anon @ 4:45: "That's why we have lawyers...,"
      yes, and that's why we have so many words, so that we can more accurately express our thoughts and feelings. However, to suggest that if five different people read the same newspaper article, and have five potentially different interpretations of what was written is patently absurd. Each reader may come away with a different belief regarding specifics in the article, but the overall meaning of the news report should be consistent, e.g. "Comey was fired."
      For example, someone who commented on an earlier post by Bob seems to believe that Bob is "a white, southern, conservative man who never amounted to anything in life." Is that a valid interpretation? For someone originally from Massachusetts, raised in California, and currently residing in Baltimore, who clearly espouses progressive and liberal policies, is it a valid interpretation to be described as he was?

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  2. Somerby says: ""Commenters felt that the senator, who appeared on Mr. Kimmel's show on Monday via satellite, had been presumptuous—as did Mr. Kimmel."

    Say what? The text goes on to quote the comment by Kimmel which supposedly demonstrates that he felt this way about Cassidy. "

    Would it kill Somerby to include the actual sentence so that we can decide for ourselves whether Cassidy was being presumptuous or whether Kimmel might have felt that way?

    We just get Somerby's characterization of the interview as friendly and his statement that there is an apparent disagreement, but Somerby doesn't trust us with the sentence that constitutes the evidence. We are apparently supposed to take his word on that, or else track down and view the segment, which takes an investment of additional effort that is rarely worth the time.

    The Times says that both Kimmel and "commenters" felt there was presumptuousness. Not just Kimmel. Would a bunch of commenters have bothered complaining if there were no basis whatsoever for it? Remember, these are a bunch of people responding independently of each other and reaching a similar conclusion. Isn't that evidence too?

    Somerby likes to label other people's thinking as "fuzzy." But he doesn't say how many commenters and he doesn't bother telling us why the reporter said what he did. That might lead us to a different conclusion than the one he has reached -- that the Times made something up because they are bad reporters.

    No thank you, Mr. Somerby. I don't believe I will play this game with you today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
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