TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2021
Does any of this make sense?: Yesterday, Ben Smith offered a fascinating report about life inside the current-day New York Times.
Smith offered what is, by far, the most lucid account to date of a recent event which has been in the news—the recent firing/resignation of veteran health reporter Donald McNeil.
Why was McNeil forced out at the Times? Until Smith published his report, the circumstances surrounding McNeil's departure have been almost wholly unclear.
That hasn't stopped an array of journalists from expressing their views about those events—events they couldn't possibly know a whole lot about.
Smith's lengthy report starts to fill in the basic information in what seems like an even-handed way. There's still no way to form an ultimate judgment concerning whatever it is the Times reporter actually said and did during his exile, in the summer of 2019, on a high-priced educational trip—a profit-making trip to Peru with a bunch of middle- and high school students.
What did McNeil do and say during that ill-fated excursion? There are no videotapes of his (allegedly) offensive remarks, and there are no transcripts. Strikingly, this hasn't stopped a wide range of observers from denouncing his conduct as racist.
Reporting at The Daily Beast was especially bad. We may attempt to tackle this topic at some point next week.
Smith's account of McNeil's adventures appeared in yesterday's Times. Today's edition features a set of reports which help define the somewhat peculiar lay of the land at the modern-day Times.
How can we characterize the strange array of subject matters explored by the modern Times? In his lengthy report about McNeil, Smith touches on the "media ambitions" of the famous newspaper:
SMITH (2/15/21): The Times is an object of obsession because of its unusual, perhaps unhealthy, central place in American news, culture and politics. Its actions—and those of its internal factions—carry huge symbolic weight...The Times’s media ambitions have also intensified its status as a cultural lightning rod. It is no longer just a source of information. It seeks to be the voice whispering in your ear in the morning, the curriculum in your child’s history class and the instructions on caramelizing shallots for the pasta you’re making for dinner.
The questions about The Times’s identity and political leanings are real; the differences inside the newsroom won’t be easily resolved. But the paper needs to figure out how to resolve these issues more clearly: Is The Times the leading newspaper for like-minded, left-leaning Americans? Or is it trying to hold what seems to be a disappearing center in a deeply divided country?
In that first paragraph, Smith captures some of the dimwitted daffiness of the modern Times.
"It is no longer just a source of information," Smith correctly notes. The Times also seeks to be the voice giving you "instructions on caramelizing shallots for the pasta you’re making for dinner."
Plus a million things more! In this morning's print editions, the featured report in the National section appears beneath these headlines:
Twitter Is Turning Birds Into Celebrities and Birders Against One Another
A Twitter account helped spread the word about rare birds in New York City, but publicizing their locations exposed a rift among birders.
Then too, the paper has some genuine "political leanings," Smith says. He suggests the Times is possibly trying to become "the leading newspaper for like-minded, left-leaning Americans."
Smith's report appeared in yesterday's editions. Several reports in today's edition help us see the way the Times now proselytizes, often dumbly, on matters involving gender and race. Another report helps us see the very dumb way the paper perpetually tries to brand itself as a very smart, "intellectual" newspaper, something it plainly isn't.
We tend to regard the New York Times as our dumbest upper-class newspaper. Tomorrow, we'll examine that last report to which we've referred, in which the Times takes us on a journey through deconstruction as it was practiced, long ago, by the literary giant who walked the hallowed halls of the "Yale School."
The work of the Yale School may have made sense. The work in this morning's report in the New York Times does not.
Is the New York Times our dumbest newspaper? It proselytizes on gender and race. But is the newspaper dumb?
Also this: On page A3 of this morning's paper, the daily Spotlight feature actually starts like this (print editions only):
ADDITIONAL REPORTAGE AND REPARTEE FROM OUR JOURNALISTS
In the latest newsletter of "The Daily" podcast, the host Michael Barbaro writes about how the team comes up with the titles of its episodes. Here is his edited explanation...
Barbaro's edited explanation proceeds from there. It's an edited explanation of the way the team comes up with its titles!
For gazing at birds, visit Central Park. For pure navel-gazing, come here.