The Times and the cuckoo's nest: Amy Chozick's initial portrait of Carolyn Ryan starts early, on page 20 of her appalling but deeply instructive new book.
It's now 2013. Despite (or because of) her fraudulent work at the Wall Street Journal, Chozick has already been at the Times for two years.
For unknown reasons, Jill Abramson appoints her to the Candidate Clinton beat roughly two years before Candidate Clinton becomes an actual candidate. Here's Chozick, describing her anointment:
"It was 649 days before Hillary would announce she was running for president again, 1,226 days before she would lose to Donald Trump." Chozick doesn't seem to realize that she is describing a somewhat odd state of affairs.
Whatever! With no one else being covered at all, Chozick's ludicrous coverage of pre-candidate Clinton begins. On page 20, so does her fawning portrait of her spunky, no-bullshit boss.
Warning! Clichés ahead!
CHOZICK (page 20): Carolyn Ryan, the paper's politics editor and my new no-bullshit boss, made a name for herself at the Boston Globe and had New England newsprint in her blood. She'd led the Times' metro-desk's coverage of New York governor Eliot Spitzer's rendezvous with a call girl, a scandal that ended his career and won her reporters a Pulitzer. Carolyn, who had an infectious guffaw, a mischievous smile, and the spunk required to stroll around the Times' newsroom in a Boston Red Sox hat, was such a straight-shooter that even after her reporters' coverage led to his ouster, Spitzer sent her a video message wishing her good luck on her new job heading national political coverage.She'd even wear her Red Sox hat! Has there ever been so much no-bullshit straight shooting, not to mention so much spunk, from someone with newsprint in her blood?, and an infectious guffaw?
You'll have to answer that question yourselves. Meanwhile, understand this:
Along with the restored hymens, the Iowa campaign hookups and the larger Japanese breasts, the instant appearance of a call girl in this passage is perhaps unsurprising. Right on page one, Chozick works hookers into her puzzling initial paragraph; her second chapter begins and ends with Chozick herself in "cold metal stirrups" at her gynecologist's office, weirdly musing about the way Hillary Clinton was destroying her chance to have children.
"It was Hillary Clinton vs. my ovaries," this ridiculous person says as that second chapter ends. Within that chapter, she offers her ridiculous portrait of Ryan, in which Spitzer's act of courtesy (and, presumably, of fluffing) can only show what an amazing straight-shooter the politics editor is.
As she continues, Chozick begins to paint her rollicking portrait of the way a news report comes to life at the New York Times. Below, you see the way the portrait continues.
Warning! Cliché alert!
CHOZICK (continuing directly): At first, it was just me and her and a handful of political reporters scheming up stories that she would then edit and pass on to the copy desk, a grizzled group of editors who saved us from ourselves, scanning our stories for factual errors and slang that didn't fit the Times stylebook...So cool! After Chozick and Ryan had "schemed up a story" about pre-candidate Clinton, a grizzled group of editors would "save them from themselves!"
Even after Ryan's editing, such "stories" would still be full of factual errors, along with slang which didn't fit the Times stylebook. But let's return to our basic question. As we noted yesterday, we get an idea on page 21 of the way the initial "scheming" worked
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.”How did the scheming work? For starters, Ryan had an innate sense of what people wanted to read. Meanwhile, as the "stories" were being schemed up, she liked to go off on "rollicking tangents" fueled by "gossip collected" everywhere political gossip was sold.
She also loved "unsubstantiated tidbits," as long as these tidbits concerned the Clintons. She'd allegedly "leap across her desk" when such a tidbit was mentioned.
Meanwhile, how did Ryan "get the best out of every reporter?" How else? After one of her reporters handed in two thousand words of crap, she'd save the day in her no-bullshit way, finding "a priceless treasure of an anecdote buried in graph fifteen.”
This is Chozick's actual portrait of the way the New York Times set about "covering" Candidate Clinton roughly two years before she, or anyone else, was a candidate for anything. Over at Slate, Isaac Chotiner had a good ear for the lunacy of this portrait.
When Chotiner interviewed the person who gave the world that straight shooting portrait, he quoted from this peculiar passage, then said this about that rollicking portrayal:
"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."
Perhaps extending a bit of courtesy to a guild member, Chotiner used the word "interesting" there, though he plainly meant "appalling." That said, Chotiner's overall aim was true as he questioned Chozick about this ridiculous portrait—about her picture of the way "the most important newspaper on Earth [covered] one of the most important elections of our lifetime."
Chozick's portrait of the Times comes straight from the cuckoo's nest. In fairness, so has the work of the New York Times over the past thirty years, as cowering liberals refuse to talk turkey about the way this vacuous, Hamptons-based ship of fools has helped destroy the basic workings of our rapidly failing democracy.
Mainstream journalistic careers run through the New York Times. It's rare to see career journalists talk about the New York Times in the way Chotiner now has, although we think he understates the weirdness of Chozick's book.
Chozick's portrait of Ryan isn't finished when she describes those rollicking, gossip-fueled, no-bullshit brainstorming sessions. After she describes the way Ryan would find an anecdote lodged in thousands of words of crap, she gives an example of "the kind of memorable details that Carolyn and I both gravitated to."
As we mentioned yesterday, the example Chozick supplies concerns a major movie star and the major movie star's dog. On Monday, we'll take you all the way through that memorable example.
We'll show you what Chozick says in her book. We'll show you the "memorable detail" as it appeared in the hard-copy Times, fueling silly jibes aimed at the Clinton Foundation.
According to Chozick, Clinton staffers "hated the kind of memorable details that Carolyn and I both gravitated to." Based upon the example Chozick provides, those staffers' aim was very true—and readers of the New York Times were being treated like fools.
Coming Monday: The Lady with the Lapdog, part 2