BREAKING: Chozick describes her boss at the Times!

FRIDAY, MAY 4, 2018

A lover of gossip and tidbits:
Quite rightly, Slate's Isaac Chotiner was puzzled by several parts of Amy Chozick's new book.

Chozick's memoir, Chasing Hillary, is a review of Chozick's entire life dating to junior high. This included her tenure as Clinton reporter at the New York Times, a beat to which she was assigned in 2013, when Clinton wasn't yet a candidate for anything.

When Chotiner read this ridiculous book, he was struck by Chozick's cluelessness in 2007, when the Wall Street Journal assigned her to cover Candidate Clinton's original White House campaign. Jumping ahead to her years at the Times, he was also struck by Chozick's fawning portrait of Caroline Ryan, the newspaper's politics editor and Chozick's "no-bullshit boss."

Chotiner should have been struck by Chozick's portrait of Ryan, which was notably strange. This was Chotiner's first, lengthy question:
CHOTINER (4/27/18): The politics editor of the New York Times during the [2016] campaign was a woman named Carolyn Ryan, who you thank in your acknowledgements effusively, and about whom you write “had a more natural ability to get the best out of her reporters than any editor I have ever worked for.” And you also write that she “had a more innate sense of what people wanted to read” than other editors, and “Talking to her set every brainstorming session off on rollicking tangents that included gossip collected in the congressional dining room, on the Washington softball field, and while waiting for the Times’ vending machine to spit out some stale Twizzlers. Unsubstantiated tidbits—particularly involving Bill and Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, and anything related to New York politics—would cause Carolyn to leap across her desk with a ‘No way!’ and ‘We gotta get that in the paper.’ ” You add that she could “weed through two thousand words of crap, pulling out a priceless treasure of an anecdote buried in graph fifteen.” I thought this was an interesting way of introducing the politics editor of the most important newspaper on Earth as it covers one of the most important elections of our lifetime, because it fits with a lot of critiques of the Times coverage, especially around the Clintons—that it was too gossipy and not focused enough on policy. But I thought you meant it basically as a compliment. How do you respond to that?
Chotiner's aim was true. The portrait of Ryan he is quoting comes early in Chozick's book. As the book proceeds, Chozick adds to the portrait, but Chotiner was right to be struck, and indeed troubled, by the oddness of that initial description.

This portrait of Ryan does in fact "fit with a lot of critiques of the Times coverage, especially around the Clintons—that it was too gossipy and not focused enough on policy." As Chotiner notes, Chozick explicitly describes Ryan's alleged love of gossip, along with her alleged desire to fill the pages of the Times with "what people wanted to read."

Especially given the many years of gong-show Times political coverage, how awful does that description sound? Chotiner's question for Chozick was long and slightly jumbled. In the interest of clarity, let's offer this chunk from the actual book:
CHOZICK (pages 20- 21): [T]he seedlings of the story always began with a reporter and editor talking. Carolyn had a more innate sense of what people wanted to read and a more natural ability to get the best out of every reporter than any editor I'd ever worked for. Talking to her set every brainstorming session off on rollicking tangents that included gossip collected in the congressional dining room, on the Washington softball field, and while waiting for the Times’ vending machine to spit out some stale Twizzlers. Unsubstantiated tidbits—particularly involving Bill and Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, and anything related to New York politics—would cause Carolyn to leap across her desk with a ‘No way!’ and ‘We gotta get that in the paper.’ ” And once the first draft was written, Carolyn's editing style was like an episode of Antiques Roadshow. In minutes, she could weed through two thousand words of crap, pulling out a priceless treasure of an anecdote buried in graph fifteen.”
We're skipping the earlier parts of the portrait, where Chozick panders to Ryan most heavily. That said, this passage paints a peculiar picture of the process by which, in Chotiner's apt formulation, "the most important newspaper on Earth...cover[ed] one of the most important elections of our lifetime."

Questions:

Should "every brainstorming session" at the Times "set off on rollicking tangents that included gossip collected in the congressional dining room, on the Washington softball field, and while waiting for the Times’ vending machine to spit out some stale Twizzlers?"

Indeed, should any session at the Times head off on such a rollicking tangent? Similarly, should "unsubstantiated tidbits" about Clinton, Clinton and Warren cause that newspaper's politics editor to "leap across her desk," insisting that the unsubstantiated tidbit should go into the paper?

Does it speak well of Times reporters to see their submissions described as "two thousand words of crap?" If a reporter like Chozick has submitted such a voluminous pile of crap, can her report by saved by finding "a priceless treasure of an anecdote buried in graph fifteen?"

It's typical of Chozick's lighter-than-air mental horizons that she can present such a portrait without thinking that it makes the Times look like a movable gong show. In her interview with Chotiner, she offered this backside-covering explanation of what she actually meant:
CHOTINER: I thought this was an interesting way of introducing the politics editor of the most important newspaper on Earth as it covers one of the most important elections of our lifetime, because it fits with a lot of critiques of the Times coverage, especially around the Clintons—that it was too gossipy and not focused enough on policy. But I thought you meant it basically as a compliment. How do you respond to that?

CHOZICK: Oh, that’s interesting. I more meant it how enthusiastic Carolyn got about breaking news. Of course, the unsubstantiated tidbits would have to be reported out, effectively reported out, and sourced in order to get them in the paper. It is not that she wanted to put gossip in the paper. I just think she has a real excitement for breaking news, and we covered every one of Hillary Clinton’s policies, and all the characters—I’m sorry, all the candidates’ policies—but I think, yeah, I was there just trying to show she had really an innate sense of what people wanted to read...
Chozick had been misunderstood! She only meant that Ryan had a love for breaking news!

Even here, Chozick isn't sharp enough to see that there's a problem with telling us that her editor "had really an innate sense of what people wanted to read." Is it the job of a major newspaper to give its readers what they want?

In fairness, Chozick was bright enough to say that Ryan didn't want to put gossip in the paper. Indeed, those "unsubstantiated tidbits would have to be reported out!"

This portrait comes early in Chozick's book. It helps define the flyweight level at which the book proceeds.

Chotiner's aim was true when he landed on that portrait. That said, he passed over a specific anecdote within that initial portrait of Ryan, an anecdote which helps us see the level on which Chozick still proceeds, even in the writing of her book.

The anecdote concerns a "detail" which Ryan loved—a detail about Natalie Portman's appearance at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. (In other words, and needless to say, the anecdote which Ryan loved involved a major celebrity.)

More precisely, the detail which Ryan so loved involved Portman's pet Yorkie—and yes, the wonderful detail which Ryan loved did appear in a major report in the tidbit-loving Times.

Chozick presents this rollicking story as an example of Carolyn Ryan's brilliant eye for detail. She also says that this was the sort of thing which Clinton's staffers hated about her newspaper's coverage of Candidate Clinton.

This anecdote, from pages 21-22, supposedly lets us marvel at Ryan's rollicking, leap-over-the-table newspaperin' style. Tomorrow, we'll show you what Chozick writes in her book and what she wrote in the Times.

Ryan loved the detail about the Yorkie, Chozick entertainingly says at two different points in the book. If you care about your country, we'll suggest that you, like those Clinton staffers, should probably feel quite differently about this rollicking nonsense.

17 comments:

  1. "and not focused enough on policy"

    What 'policy'? Pleasuring globalist banksters, or ravaging the most developed country in Africa, murdering one of the greatest anti-colonial leaders in history, and then chuckling about it on tv?

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    1. Uh huh...

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  2. Come for the bigotry.
    Stay for the treason.
    Vote Trump 2016.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The problem with "gossip" is not that it is (or starts) unsubstantiated...the problem is that it's intrinsically unimportant.

    Sure, "...the unsubstantiated tidbits would have to be reported out, effectively reported out, and sourced in order to get them in the paper..." The gossip might not make it to the paper until it's known to be true...but it's still stupid, irrelevant crap that is no substitute for, and a serious distraction from, what actually matters in choosing the Leader of the Free World.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And someone has to decide whether something is "irrelevant crap" or important information. For example, Bob Somerby has decided that both the Stormy Daniels and the Mueller Probe stories are irrelevant crap. Some folks may differ with his opinion.

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    2. Gossip serves important social functions related to group cohesion. It is only considered frivolous or trivial because supposedly only women do it (we all know that men do too however). Anything women do is automatically unimportant, if not a sin.

      Delete
  4. Why isn't Somerby mocking Katy Tur's book about covering the Trump campaign? It is just as fatuous. She too begins by explaining how she was accidentally assigned to it, and pretending to be a different kind of reporter (a foreign correspondent based in London). But she got death threats AND verbal abuse from Trump himself.

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