The Yorkie stays in the picture: In the first hundred pages of her new book, Amy Chozick offers a memorable portrait of the way the New York Times covered our last presidential campaign.
As Mother would have said, she seems to think what she's saying is "smart." In truth, it's an unintentional, dimwitted indictment of the standards and procedures of that famous newspaper.
Over at Slate, Isaac Chotiner read the book, then interviewed its author. After quoting from the book, he said that Chozick's portrait includes "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."
Chotiner's aim was true. That said, he didn't go far enough in his indictment of the Times, perhaps due to time limitations.
On Saturday, we cited some of the ludicrous behaviors and attitudes Chozick attributes to Carolyn Ryan, the Times politics editor during the last campaign. As we left off, Chozick was about to extend that portrait of her "no-bullshit boss."
We were on page 21 of her book. She was about to give an example of "the kind of memorable details that Carolyn and I both gravitated to" in the coverage of Candidate Clinton which helped put Trump where he is.
How inane is the type of journalism Chozick goes on to describe? Below, we show you the "memorable detail" Chozick cites. Inevitably, it involves a major movie star, and the major movie star's dog. According to Chozick's rollicking memoir, this is the way the New York Times covered the last campaign:
CHOZICK (page 21-22): .... In minutes, [Ryan] could weed through two thousand words of crap, pulling out a priceless treasure of an anecdote buried in graph fifteen.That's the end of the rollicking section in Chapter 2 in which Chozick helps us see how brilliant Ryan, her "no-bullshit boss," was and presumably is. The section ends with this rollicking anecdote, in which the inclusion of a "memorable detail" leads to an inane, and apparently erroneous, attack on the Clinton Foundation.
[Clinton staffers] hated the kind of memorable details that Carolyn and I both gravitated to....
But they could never forgive me for the Yorkie.
I had a detail about the foundation purchasing a first-class ticket for Natalie Portman and her beloved dog to fly to one of the Clinton Global Initiative gatherings. Carolyn loved the Yorkie. She wanted to make it the lead.
"It's a fucking Yorkie, Amy!" [one Clinton staffer] yelled as I stuttered trying to explain why this was a critical detail that showed the charity's glitzy overspending. "It weighs like four fucking ponds. It's not like it needed its own seat on the plane."
A year later a conservative super PAC sent around an anti-Hillary fundraising plea. "The Clinton Foundation—which pays to fly her around on private jets, flew Natalie Portman's Yorkie first class."
Carolyn emailed me, "I knew that Yorkie would be back."
Elsewhere in Hollywood lore, "The Kid Stay[ed] in the Picture." With the ludicrous Carolyn Ryan, The Yorkie Would Be Coming Back!
That anecdote constitutes Chozick's attempt to show how brilliant her editor was. Let's examine the story she tells, starting with our claim that the subsequent attack on the Clinton Foundation seems to have been erroneous.
In what way was that attack erroneous? The conservative super PAC seemed to be saying that the Clinton Foundation had wastefully purchased a first-class airplane ticket for Natalie Portman's pet dog!
Indeed, that seems to be the whole point of this story, even as Chozick tells it. According to Chozick, she told an angry Clinton staffer that the Yorkie was "a critical detail that showed" the Clinton Foundation's "glitzy overspending."
How could the Yorkie show such a thing unless the Foundation spent some money on the Yorkie, presumably by buying it a first-class airplane ticket? But in fact, there's no sign that the Foundation did any such thing, except in the insinuations lodged in this stupid anecdote.
Please note: when Chozick argues with the Clinton staffer, it sounds like she is saying that they should have bought a separate seat for the dog. It's the Clinton staffer who seems to be saying that the Yorkie is so small that he or she didn't need its own seat on the plane.
(Or something. Amy Chozick's rollicking stories rarely make clear sense.)
Along the same lines, here's the actual news report in which the Yorkie was mentioned. As best we can tell from a Nexis search, that's the only time Portman's Yorkie ever appeared in the New York Times.
The sole mention of the Yorkie comes fairly late in the news report, all the way down in paragraph 18. This is what was written:
CONFESSORE AND CHOZICK (8/14/13): [T]he foundation's expansion has also been accompanied by financial problems. In 2007 and 2008, the foundation also found itself competing against Mrs. Clinton's presidential campaign for donors amid a recession. Millions of dollars in contributions intended to seed an endowment were diverted to other programs, creating tension between Mr. Magaziner and Mr. Band. The foundation piled up a $40 million deficit during those two years, according to tax returns. Last year, it ran more than $8 million in the red.According to that report, the Foundation purchased one plane ticket—a first-class ticket for Portman. Portman brought the Yorkie with her.
Amid those shortfalls, the foundation has sometimes catered to donors and celebrities who gave money in ways that raised eyebrows in the low-key nonprofit world. In 2009, during a Clinton Global Initiative gathering at the University of Texas at Austin, the foundation purchased a first-class ticket for the actress Natalie Portman, a special guest, who brought her beloved Yorkie, according to two former foundation employees.
There was no claim that the Foundation spent any money at all on the dog. For that reason, it's hard to know why the Times included that "memorable detail" in this news report at all. That said:
Incredibly, Chozick says that her no-bullshit boss wanted to make the Yorkie the lead! That, of course, is the virtual definition of all-bullshit news reporting—the kind of reporting in which the Times has specialized down through these many long and destructive years.
Why did the Yorkie go in the story at all? The news report concerned alleged over-spending, but according to the news report, no money was spent on the dog.
Inevitably, this led to a later attack in which a conservative super PAC spread the impression that the Clinton Foundation bought a first-class ticket for the dog! And instead of feeling chastened by this outcome of her manifest bullshit, Carolyn Ryan emailed Chozick chortling about the Yorkie's return!
So goes the rollicking portrait of the Times written by this disordered person—her portrait of the rollicking way the Times covered Candidate Clinton. That said, there's much, much, much, much, much more of this manifest lunacy on virtually every page of this remarkable book.
What sorts of people behave this way? Can they really be people at all?
Final point, and here's a clue about human life as lived on the planet:
Very major movie stars don't really travel in coach! If they did, they would experience the actual problem only imagined by Scott Pruitt. They would be pestered and mobbed.
Just a guess! If you want a major movie star to bring big publicity to your event, it's very likely that you'll have to fly her first class. (We'll guess that there's a decent chance that some major stars will ask for a private plane instead.)
If you buy that first-class ticket, that doesn't mean you're wasting money. It means you're familiar with life on the planet.
As such, it wasn't just the movie star's dog who didn't belong in that news report. Almost surely, the movie star didn't belong there either! If the foundation really was running large deficits, a typical claim which was hotly disputed, that plane ticket wasn't the reason.
Why was the movie star in the report? Chozick and Ryan stuck her in because, in Chozick's words, Ryoan "had a more innate sense of what people wanted to read...than any editor I'd ever worked for."
In other words, New York Times readers just wanna have fun! In Ryan's mind, they want to read about movie stars, and about movie stars' dogs! For that utterly fatuous reason, the Yorkie stayed in the report!
New York Times readers just wanna have fun! In its political coverage, the Times has worked from that deadly prescription through these many destructive years.
People are dead all over the world because of the Chozicks and the Ryans—and because of the Seelyes, the Riches and Dowds, who played these games long before them.
For extra credit only: Carolyn Ryan was the editor. She wanted to lead with the Yorkie.
So why was the Yorkie in graf 18? As in her news reports, so too in her book:
Chozick forgets to explain.