Ben Smith takes a look at the modern Times!

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.
As noted, those headlines sit atop the featured report in today's National section. Rift among birders exposed! Subscribers, please read on!

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):

Spotlight
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.


18 comments:

  1. "He suggests the Times is possibly trying to become "the leading newspaper for like-minded, left-leaning Americans.""

    Huh? We always assumed its only function is to distribute zombie talking points to the rest of liberal-goebbelsian media.

    If it's in the Times, it's been approved by liberal cult's management. Safe to parrot. Start parroting. Now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This cult-member has nothing but utmost respect for all Texans who want to freeze to death in the dark so businesses won't have regulations eating into their profits.
      Since they aren't cultists, they will surely respect my God-given right to laugh and point at them.

      Delete
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  2. Regional Director, Liberal CultFebruary 16, 2021 at 3:59 PM

    Incorrect.
    These talking points are still in the review process and have not been approved for goebellsian brain washing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. “We tend to regard the New York Times as our dumbest upper-class newspaper.”

    And while he’s at it, he’ll link to an opinion piece in the Times by Ben Smith that situates the Times at the center of the universe, which, despite his supposed disdain, Somerby seems to approve of, by virtue of the fact that he subscribes to it, scours it daily for its transgressions, and reports on it as if it is the center of his universe.

    This McNeil story must be supremely fascinating to Somerby, and he loves following the twists and turns of shit like this as it works its way through other media outlets. Frankly, I hadn’t heard about it and don’t really care. The news about Biden and Covid relief and insurrection and impeachment has taken most of my time and interest.

    Of course Somerby will decide that the story and its appearance in various media outlets is supposed to reflect somehow on “liberals”, although no one can say how.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The NY Times editorial aspirations have nothing to do with the problems caused by McNeill. McNeill's behavior would have been inappropriate regardless of how the NY Times sees itself.

    We do not need to have videotape of those conversations to know what happened. Several parents complained on behalf of the students who attended that tour. McNeill was a poor choice because of his lack of understanding of the role expected of him and his apparent unwillingness or inability to alter his behavior to do that job.

    We can trust that the Human Resources professionals at the NY Times knew how to do their job in evaluating both sides of this issue and determining that McNeill needed to leave. Even Ben Smith, who otherwise defends McNeill, says that he was difficult to get along with and held racial attitudes similar to those Somerby has expressed here. Somerby may identify with McNeill.

    Ben Smith says several derogatory things about the students (who are adult age, having completed high school). I find the behavior described unacceptable for anyone on such a tour, and Smith's belief that the students must have been spoiled or entitled in order to have complained about McNeill's comments is wrong. I would have complained too, as would many people. The parents of these kids felt strongly enough to pursue the complaints with the NY Times after the tour ended. Ben Smith wants to protect McNeill by suggesting that a crusty old reporter is out of place due to a changing editorial climate, but a crusty old bigot is just as out of place in the rest of our country.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "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. "

    This sounds like a topic suggested by listener comments or questions. Some people are interested in the nuts and bolts of journalism. If Somerby is not, he knows what to do. Hint: it isn't complain to others about how crappy the NY Times is.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Complaining when a bigot uses the n-word and says bad things about minorities, also insisting that race is no longer a problem because there is no more racism, is not the same as proselytizing about race.

    proselytizing: the action of attempting to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to another

    We used to be a society in which casual bigotry was either joined in or tolerated. That has changed. Those who long for the good old days when they could say whatever they wanted about others, are the ones who are wrong and out-of-step. Those bigoted words hurt innocent people and bystanders who are not joining in. They are no longer allowed in workplaces because of the atmosphere they create for both minorities and non-bigots.

    I remember the casual bigotry and offensive jokes made at a workplace in Chicago back in the 1970s. It made me sick and anxious because I was afraid to speak up about it, as a new employee, for fear of losing my job. Ultimately, I quit. Now companies realize that it is bad business to tolerate racism and they implement policies to prohibit it. They have that right because they are employers and employment is not a right.

    These are not hothouse children objecting to something their schools did not prepare them for. They are doing the right thing when they complain, being braver than I was, but why shouldn't they complain given the amount paid for that tour.

    Somerby apparently thinks it is OK to defend racist behavior while calling himself a liberal. He wants to convince us that liberals are being too sensitive and PC when The NY Times objects to racist talk and bad-mouthing people of other cultures (while a paper-sponsored tour-guide and guest of Peru).

    Somerby attacks liberals for trying to create a less racist society, but doesn't present any argument beyond Ben Smith's calling a group of recent-high-school grads the equivalent of snowflakes because they were embarrassed by McNeill.

    If McNeill were sounding off in a public place, as a private citizen, you could argue he has a free speech right to say what he wants. He wasn't doing that. He was representing the NY Times as an expert on a guided tour of Peru. His behavior was inappropriate, offensive to many (based on their complaints about him), and he was fired. End of story. And this isn't about curmudgeons. It is about stone cold racists who think their age gives them an excuse to treat others badly.

    ReplyDelete
  7. “A Twitter account helped spread the word about rare birds in New York City, but publicizing their locations exposed a rift among birders.”

    Somerby obviously thinks that this is mockworthy, because bird watchers, am I right?

    I mean, what’s the deal with bird watchers? Amirite? Bah-dum-tss.

    Just because Somerby doesn’t care about bird watching (or birds) doesn’t mean no one should. I imagine the controversy is that too many gawkers might cause the rare birds to feel intruded upon, and they may leave the area or be harmed in various ways. Birds...what are they good for, amirite? Please clap.

    Somerby criticizes a newspaper for being a newspaper, whose readers have many different interests, including bird watching.

    Bird watching actually can serve useful scientific, conservation and protective purposes.

    I would have found a post about the bird watching far more interesting than this one about an internal human resource decision at the Times, but to each his own.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is also interesting seeing the social impact of Twitter in different, unexpected domains.

      Delete
    2. The prevalence of social media is rarely if ever mentioned here. Newspapers and particularly journalists are far more engaged with the public than they were in Somerby’s heyday. Many journalists maintain Twitter accounts and actually interact with readers. Readers can express their views far more readily than they ever could.

      An example is the pushback the Times and other media outlets got for their horrendous hyping of Hillary’s emails and the Uranium One non-story. Somerby seems to think that he alone recognized it, but that simply isn’t true.

      If you compare the coverage of Biden with that of Hillary, it’s clear it was different, despite Somerby’s claims to the contrary. He keeps mentioning Tara Reade, but he fails to note how quickly that became a non-story once the facts came out, and how the Hunter Biden “story” didn’t become a thing, even though Somerby himself called Hunter “Fredo” and cast some serious shade on him, as if he wanted it to be a thing.

      Delete
  8. Birds, the little bastards. They wait until 30 seconds after you just spent all day cleaning your car, making it spotless, and whadda they do? They crap all over it. [pause for laughter] I mean, they know, folks. They KNOW. The calculating little shit machines.

    And what’s the deal with bird watchers? I mean, birds...all they do is eat and shit. That’s it. What are these people waiting for, the birds to stage a production of Hamlet? Hell, I’D watch that!

    I mean, what kind of a nerd do you have to be to be a bird watcher? Couldn’t you at least go for a cool animal, like, say, a black panther? Yeah, man. That would be awesome. I mean, when Harold the birder tells you he watched a house wren chirp and take a poop on the neighbor’s newly washed car, you could say “Oh yeah? I just watched a majestic black panther, the king of the jungle, stalk and kill an elephant and rip it apart and devour its entrails as he sits atop the circle of life. I mean, he eats wrens as pre-appetizer appetizers, man! A snack before breakfast.” How much cooler would that be?

    (Brought to you by Lame Stand-Up Comedians of the 80’s.)

    ReplyDelete
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  11. That’s actually a better riff on that topic than a lot of what I’ve seen comedians feature before, mh. You’re a natural.

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