TUESDAY, MAY 25, 2021
We'd call this a Public Embarrassment: When Kathleen Kingsbury thought about Patrick Healy, her thoughts turned to his dog-shaped slippers—to the "whimsical loungewear" of his "puppy-shod feet."
Kingsbury quoted a former colleague on that point as she announced Healy's appointment as her deputy on the New York Times editorial board. (For background, see yesterday's report.) Our own thoughts turned to one aspect of Kingsbury's performance during Campaign 2020.
During 2019, the editorial board had interviewed the major Democratic candidates. In the end, they made the somewhat peculiar choice of endorsing two of the hopefuls.
(Given the rapid drift of Modern Times Culture, no one had to be surprised by the two candidates they chose.)
Kingsbury had chaired the lengthy interview sessions with the various candidates. Along the way, she made a point of asking each hopeful this somewhat peculiar question:
KINGSBURY (12/16/19): Sir, we’re running out of time, and I want to get to some economic questions as well as foreign policy. But before that, we have been asking every candidate the same question, which is, Who’s someone who has broken your heart?
That's the way she posed the question to Candidate Biden. Late last month, she was on the dog-shaped slippers beat.
Do moments like these tell us something about Times journalistic culture? We're not sure how to answer that question.
For ourselves, we found the passage about the dog-shaped slippers to be insultingly dumb, perhaps a bit embarrassing. In fairness, this was possibly just the standard clatter in which high-end, upper-class journalists try to make us rubes believe that the journalists are just regular people like us.
They're deeply sunk in silliness too, just like us subscribers! They care about dog-themed loungewear too. They want to know who broke your heart!
In part, that may be all that slipperware foolishness was. On the other hand, we found a different strain of TimesThink as we stumbled upon earlier announcements involving Healy.
In this particular strain of TimesThink, it seems to us that the journalists may be protesting too much. In this second strain of public expression, Timespersons tell the world, and tell themselves, how unutterably brilliant they are.
Should this cultural conduct be cause for concern? That is a matter of judgment—and no, it isn't Healy's fault that such recitations were unloosed in the course of announcing his recent appointments.
But good grief! Back in September 2016, Healy had been named "Deputy Editor in charge of news" at the Times' Culture desk. Culture editor Danielle Mattoon wasn't just thrilled to make the announcement. She said she was thrilled and delighted:
MATTOON (9/30/16): I’m thrilled and delighted to announce that Patrick Healy will be returning to Culture as the next Deputy Editor in charge of news.
Patrick, as anyone following this presidential election knows by now, is a journalistic powerhouse, able to deliver everything from breaking debate and convention coverage to incisive analysis and deep-dive narratives. A tireless reporter who writes beautifully, Pat is also a wise and sophisticated thinker who, time and time again, has clarified the confusing and explained the seemingly inexplicable—usually on deadline.
He’s also a generous colleague and an all-in digital explorer, eagerly embracing the many ways to best convey the news and context of whatever story he is telling. For anyone who missed his brilliant oral history of Bill Clinton’s 1992 resurrection in New Hampshire, take a look here. More recently, he wowed us again with Bush/Gore.
“He’s a remarkable talent and has delivered dazzling coverage of this extraordinary election,” political editor Carolyn Ryan writes. “He has the drive of a reporter but the wider aperture of an editor, with expansive curiosity and eagerness to understand what is happening in the world.”
According to Mattoon, Healy wasn't just a journalistic powerhouse. He was a wise and sophisticated thinker who could explain the inexplicable, and a generous colleague to boot.
Mattoon cited Healy's "brilliant oral history" of the 1992 campaign. (She failed to provide the implied link to the material.) According to Mattoon, Healy had recently "wowed us again," this time with something about Bush/Gore, presumably from Campaign 2000.
From there, it was on to political editor Carolyn Ryan, who praised Healy as a remarkable talent who had provided dazzling coverage of the 2016 campaign. Just for the record, very few liberals have ever believed that the Times presented such work.
Once again, none of this peculiar behavior was Healy's fault. As she continued, Mattoon lavished praise on the way Healy had once "covered the theater beat for seven years, turning over scoop after scoop as he dug into the intersection of art and business on Broadway."
His "love and appreciation for the arts began as a child in Scituate, Mass,," she explained as she continued. Only one question seemed to remain:
Why wasn't Healy being named editor in chief and given a generous ownership stake?
As Mattoon closed her piece, we may have received our answer. Everyone else at the New York Times is just as dazzling as he is:
MATTOON: Patrick will rejoin Culture at an exciting time of innovation and change, bringing new perspective and skills to our incredible and growing team of reporters and critics who are unparalleled around the world.
He’ll be arriving in mid-December. Please join me in welcoming him back!
Given the Times' incredible team of reporters and critics—they're unparalleled around the world—it's hard to believe that anyone could bring new skills and perspectives to the Culture desk. But that's what Healy was going to do. It's no wonder Mattoon was delighted as well as thrilled!
Over the weekend, we stumbled upon these encomia as we considered Healy's work on the Times' collection of essays concerning the death of George Floyd.
These essays filled the Sunday Review section this weekend. On Saturday, Nicholas Kristof had seemed to phone in another essay—an essay about our public schools—as part of this collection.
We have no doubt that Patrick Healy is a good, decent person. That said, we thought the work he compiled for this special collection was nauseating, unreadable—a gruesome Public Embarrassment. We're going to guess that ranking Timespersons would voice a different view.
Back in 2015, Ryan had been delighted to say that Healy would be joining the Times' campaign coverage team. By the end of that campaign, many liberals were less than thrilled with the way that coverage went—but Ryan, as part of this peculiar culture, was aggressively pre-gushing:
RYAN (1/23/15): I am delighted to tell you that Patrick Healy is joining our outstanding presidential campaign team as a national political correspondent.
Patrick is an uncommonly gifted reporter, supple writer and journalistic innovator whose career has taken him from Dover, N.H., to Afghanistan, Iraq, two presidential campaigns and the star-crossed production of Spider-Man on Broadway.
Patrick will work closely with Jonathan Martin, our deeply talented and insightful national political correspondent who is helping to lead our election coverage.
Please join me in welcoming Patrick to a spectacularly talented election team.
Healy was uncommonly gifted. He'd be working closely with Jonathan Martin, the Times' deeply talented and insightful national political correspondent, as he joined an election team which was spectacularly talented.
Should residents of Our Town be concerned by this aspect of Times culture? Should this be a point of concern?
We're not sure how to answer. As we read these peculiar announcements, we did think of those who are sometimes said to be protesting too much. We also thought of the Bushmen of the Kalahari, one of the shortest groups of people on earth, who have long been said to address one another with this standard greeting:
I saw you from afar!
We offer no criticism of that group, but does this practice of group reassurance travel well to the Times? For ourselves, we'll only say this:
On Sunday, we read as much of the work from the Sunday Review as our hearts and minds could stomach. We didn't think it was dazzling work. In fact, we thought the work was so predictably bad that we lost the will to continue.
Can our failing society hope to survive when Our Town keeps churning such work? Some experts say the answer is no. For ourselves, we would have to call that work a bit of a Public Embarrassment.
Tomorrow: No standards need apply