Mugger

Written by Russ Smith on . Posted in Posts.


Daily newspaper publishers can’t change the uncomfortable fact that every day, as older people die, they lose readers of their print editions, a number that isn’t satisfactorily replaced by the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the deceased. Take a look at the passengers on an airplane, bus or train, and it’s striking to see the demographic divide: the majority of those combing through, say, The New York Times or Daily News, are north of 40 years old and those who are younger pass the time in ways that don’t include putting hands to paper.



In a way, the newspaper industry for too many years reacted to the shift of readers from print to the Internet in the same manner that Major League Baseball refused to acknowledge that a growing number of players were using steroids and other substances to gain a competitive edge. People had suspicions of a trend—I remember seeing the Oakland A’s playing at Fenway Park against the Red Sox in 1990 and marveling at just how big Jose Canseco and his teammates were compared to their opponents—but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) articulate the change in habits.



So today it’s a way of life for consumers of news and entertainment to increasingly rely on their computers to find out what’s happening, and editors and publishers are frantically adding as much content, in the form of staff-generated blogs and interactive features in the hope of making up for lost circulation revenue by trying to entice traditionally fickle advertisers to join their show. I’m not taking sides here, no matter how appalling it may be that my own children never crack open a paper, but it’s hard to not to feel a twinge of sympathy for the mainstream media, which is reviled by so many bloggers and online journals, regardless of political leanings.



Granted, the horse left the barn a long time ago, but it would be fascinating to see a battle waged by the country’s highest circulation dailies against the blogosphere and prove that they still matter. (And of course they do: It’s just that they’ve been cowed by a tardy embrace of the Web and so get dumped on regularly, whether by the conservative Power Line site or liberal Huffington Post.)



What would happen, I wondered, in a highly unlikely scenario, if the dailies refused to post the content of their print editions online? For starters, The Drudge Report—which currently ranks sixth in online visits and is often the first stop in the morning for millions of people—would be crippled without links to newspapers. Other websites, like National Review Online, Gawker, Real Clear Politics and The New Republic, for example would also be compromised—although not quite as precipitously as Drudge or Lucianne.com—since so much of their content is reliant on commentary about a story in papers like The Times or Wall Street Journal. Writers for those virtual publications would still be able to praise or skewer an MSM article or column, but without a link to the original source their readers would be denied the proper context.



And if the dailies took such an action—whether it would be a violation of antitrust laws might be a worry, but that could take

several years to sort out—is it possible that print circulation would regain some of the losses they’ve experienced since the beginning of the decade? I read a lot of papers, but let my subscription to The Washington Post lapse, and will probably do the same if Rupert Murdoch, as suspected, makes the contents of the Journal free.

I posed this question to an editor at the Times (who made it clear he wasn’t speaking for the paper), and he emailed this response: “The overlap between print readers and Web readers is smaller than I think anyone imagines, and the space guys like you and me operate in, reading both, is tiny. It’s like a Venn diagram that shows baseball fans who are also cricket fans. Pulling our print journalism off the website wouldn’t, I think, lead to any sort of circulation bump. It’d lead to a loss of readers at nytimes.com, and an increase at the WashPost’s site, or (presuming that all the dailies acted together) to a [destination like] CNN.”

I’m not sure that the “overlap” between print and online readers is as “tiny” as he believes—just take a look at the plummeting circulation of the Tribune newspapers and the Times-owned Boston Globe—but he’s probably correct that people would adapt and find other sources of information.

Kurt Andersen, a columnist for New York, author and onetime co-proprietor of the excellent paid website inside.com, largely agreed with this assessment—no circulation increase—but also suggested the kind of “statement” the MSM could make to demonstrate its vitality. He dismissed my notion of dailies eschewing the Web altogether, but said, “What would be fun, however, is if the big dailies, et al, did what you suggest for, say, two weeks, as a demonstration of their own central importance to the blogosphere. [It would be] a temporary MSM strike/boycott rather than a permanent (and doomed) change of business model.”

Well, that would be a lot of fun, if only to disrupt the entire media world. For example, on the morning of Sept. 28, if I hadn’t purchased a copy of The New York Sun, I’d have missed the following nugget. I no longer pay much attention to the very popular Daily Kos website—there’s not enough to time to slog through the thousands of comments—but a recent Kos poll, according to The Sun, showed that 40 percent of its respondents would prefer Iran’s President Ahmadinejad to President Bush as leader of the United States. Once upon a time, I’d say “you can’t make this stuff up,” but clearly that isn’t the case anymore.

It wasn’t that long ago that Times columnist Frank Rich sniffed at the impact of Matt Drudge, dismissing him as a “cyber gossip,” a typical show of the hubris so common in the “legacy media.” Now that the tables have turned and it’s people like Kos and other “pajamas media” personalities who have huge hat sizes, it’s past time for corporate media to get off the mat and show some muscle.  C

Mugger

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


Joe Nocera, the Times’ star business columnist—who is, inexplicably, banished to the less-read pages of the Saturday paper—wondered on July 14 if it was “cheating” to write a “grab bag” column on the eve of his summer vacation. Heck no, since the odds of finding something of note in his space are magnified if he rambles on.

Who could argue, for instance, with Nocera’s complaint that Apple differs from most companies in that it “has other priorities” than providing convenience for its customers. He’s writing specifically about the iPhone and its faulty policy for replacement batteries, and since that’s a gadget I won’t touch for at least a year—the protests of my younger son notwithstanding—there’s no beef here. But although I’ve used Macs for two decades now, and spent an incalculable amount on the products they roll out every couple of years, each one seemingly a more apt example of planned obsolescence than its predecessor, there’s nothing more frustrating than negotiating with a service expert at one of the sleek Apple stores. You’d think that a minor glitch in one’s hard drive might be solved in two or three hours, but no, in my experience it takes about a week.

So far, plus one for Joe. On the other hand, he’s in a stew from being “tired, oh-so-tired of waiting for the Bancroft family to make up its mind about Rupert Murdoch’s bid for Dow Jones.” Now, I understand that the media likes nothing better than to cover its own industry—that’s why 50 layoffs at a major daily newspaper is given precedence in column inches over far more severe economic troubles at a dull manufacturing plant—but why don’t journalists let the possible acquisition play out in all its protracted negotiations and then offer analysis and opinion?

Jack Shafer, Slate’s prolific and normally very smart and sensible “Press Box” columnist has trashed Murdoch—“the rotten old bastard”—at least half a dozen times by my current count, which is certainly excessive unless he’s angling for a book contract next year over the success or failure of the deal. Jack’s clearly having a ball with this ongoing story, which is evident by his end-of-column requests for comments from readers. “‘I call my cancer Rupert,’ said playwright Dennis Potter as he was dying. What would you call your cancer?” was the question on June 1.

Two weeks ago, the teaser ran: “How long do you reckon you’ll read the Murdoch Street Journal before you cancel your subscription?” As a longtime Journal reader I “reckon” my subscription will continue as long as the paper is printed, unless young James Murdoch—who, if his father is successful in buying Dow Jones, will be the sooner-rather-than-later boss—suddenly becomes enamored of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. editorial views or turns the broadsheet into a New Age/Green digest. Besides, despite all the huffing and puffing over Murdoch’s supposed perfidy from some Journal reporters, I imagine the daily’s workforce will be far more robust under News Corp. than if the deal falls apart and those Dow Jones shares drop back to pre-April levels.

Just two days later, July 13, Shafer went all Ted Rall on his Slate constituency, saying “Isn’t comparing Murdoch to Stalin unfair? I mean, unfair to Stalin?” It’s not churlish in the least to suggest that Shafer hooks up with Nocera and goes fishing or skydiving or wine tasting and let this drama resolve itself.

One more comment about Nocera’s “grab bag.” He asks “Don’t you think that tattoo removal is going to be one of the big growth industries 20 years from now?” Joe, Joe, Joe, you’ve missed the boat on this one, which is fairly unpardonable even for a middle-aged business columnist. Turn the clock back to 1990 and this would be a smart and accurate observation. But “20 years from now”? First, tattoo removal is already a growth, if niche, industry. Second, in 20 years a lot of those people who Nocera suggests will patronize such a reverse artist, might, thinking demographically, no longer be with us. (And Lord have mercy, here’s hoping Joe and I will be around to settle this one-sided bet.)

He probably ran out of room, or was in a hurry to catch a plane to a suitably quaint Greek island, but it would’ve been entirely fitting if Nocera gave his own spin on the utterly hysterical reaction to the news that the Los Angeles Times, among other papers, is going to place advertisements on its front pages. Why this is so upsetting to the arbiters of journalistic standards is beyond me: Haven’t these scolds ever seen a European newspaper?

I have a scattershot observation of my own. Last week the local daily here in Maryland unveiled a spruced-up website and ran a house ad on its home page. It reads: “We’ve redesigned baltimoresun.com. And it looks amazingly like you.” Let’s ignore, for the sake of brevity, the condescension of such a statement, and instead wonder what idiot came up with that tagline. The Sun, a very liberal newspaper that champions diversity, the no blood for oil crowd, restrictions on food companies who air 30-second television spots featuring sweet cereals and tax penalties for those who profit from hedge funds, says that all its shrinking number of readers look alike. My, and I thought it was excessive of Shafer to compare Murdoch to Stalin.

Mugger

Written by Russ Smith on . Posted in Posts.


It’s difficult to pinpoint a date when little league got all mushy, but for the sake of nostalgia let’s say the early ’90s when Bill Clinton was spending most of his time “honoring” the actions of various friends and strangers he picked out of a crowd to politically exploit. Maya Angelou and T-ball: perfect together.

Don’t misunderstand, as a father whose son just completed another season of baseball, I’m glad that a lot of the nastiness from a generation ago has vanished. It’s not a lot of fun when you really suck at hitting and the guys (no gals back then) from your own team lead the catcalls and gales of laughter.

The precursors to soccer moms when I played on Long Island in the ’60s could be fairly scabrous (and often soused) as well. One May evening, in the last inning, I was playing shortstop and a mile-high pop fly was swirling around me in the dusk and finally landed in my mitt. It was the final out of the game, a victory for our Marsh’s Men’s Clothes team, yet instead of a pat on the back, a woman named Mrs. Hansen came up to me and said, “I can’t believe you actually caught the ball, Rusty, especially with that lousy glove you’ve got. When is you dad finally going to buy you a new one?”

So much for even a gratuitous “good game, son.” What really pissed me off is that year I was the best infielder on the team—as opposed to the previous campaign when I was rightfully stuck in the Siberia known as right field—and her own son, in addition to being a real dummy in school, was pretty lousy at the plate. Most of Huntington back then wasn’t nearly as affluent as today, so I didn’t take Mrs. Hansen’s unintentional slur on my dad’s income seriously—her own family wasn’t rolling in the dough and economic status wasn’t really an issue—but ridiculing my perfectly broken-in mitt, a Vada Pinson model, was out of bounds.

I really enjoy watching my younger son play baseball and obviously get a charge when he steals a base or snares a short-hop grounder at second and retires the batter at first base. In addition, the crowds of parents are generally much better behaved than in my youth, often getting so involved in conversations about current events or family that they miss a lot of the action. What’s missing, however, is some of the spunk and competition from an earlier era. For example, managers are instructed not to let players know the score of the game when it’s in progress, the intention of which is to discourage gloating or despondency. When a player makes a boneheaded play or swings at a ball way outside the strike zone, he (or she) is still congratulated on a terrific effort. “What a cut!” someone will say, or “That line drive was just way too hard to catch!”

It’s benign dishonesty and doesn’t fool any of the kids. Another strange rule in my son’s league is that every team in his division makes the playoffs, even if in the regular season a squad doesn’t win a single game. The 12-year-olds on my son’s Jr. Orioles squad didn’t complain this year: After an atrocious 0-5 start and finishing in the middle of the pack, the team went on a tear and won all three playoff games, knocking off the 16-0 Indians in a 9-6 championship game. The “miracle” finish was really exciting, but later at home, Booker thought it was a little strange, wondering if soon Major League Baseball would follow suit and the Devil Rays will wind up in the World Series.

However, our league—meticulously operated and quite inexpensive— isn’t a patch on some organizations in other states. The conservative syndicated columnist Dennis Prager, on March 20, had an interesting, if hyperbolic, tale to tell. He was at a little league contest with a friend whose son’s team was winning the game by a margin of 24-7. At the beginning of the last inning, however, the scoreboard—it must’ve been a fancy community to have scoreboards for teen games—was changed to 0-0 after a request by the winning team’s manager, who didn’t want the opponents to be “humiliated.” Prager wrote that this was a disservice to the losing team, since “compassion trumped all other values.” He continues: “They learned that they don’t have to deal with disappointment in life. Instead, someone in authority will take care of them… They learned that their feelings, not objective standards, are what society deems most important. They learned that they are not responsible for their behavior. Not matter how poorly they perform, there will be no consequences—sort of like tenure for university professors.”

Prager goes a bit far—although I loved his completely accurate assessment of tenure, something that certainly applies to unions as well—since I don’t think losing a baseball game is the ultimate “disappointment” of youth, but his bewilderment over the touchy-feely attitude when adults interact with kids is pretty much on the mark.

It gets worse. In a June 11 Los Angeles Times op-ed, Jeff Strauss (identified as a television writer and producer) gets misty in print, sharing a letter he sent to the parents of the baseball team he coached. “I am not sad about our loss today; it was an honorable and exciting one. Coming from four runs down to tie the No. 1 team in our league is something to celebrate, even if they got us by one run in the end. I am sad only because losing means we don’t get to play any more games together this year… For these last few months, I’ve had the chance to play a game and feel that game in the way I did as a child. I got to run around on the grass and get dirty and go to the batting cage every week. I got to play catch with my kids and yours.”

Mr. Jeff may be a cool cat, but I’m glad his sort wasn’t coaching my son, whose manager, even in this sensitive era, was like Leo Durocher in comparison. A compromise between the past and present—nix on adults screaming at kids in public, yes to the value of competition—would be a favorable outcome, but certainly not likely when middle-aged professionals want to re-live their youth, and parents view little league as an exercise in sensitivity training.

Mugger

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.


A smart baseball fan would follow the game this way: read nothing in the sports pages except the box scores and standings; keep the tube on mute when watching a contest; and ignore all the blogs (except maybe “Subway Squawker” in the Daily News), ESPN and talk radio.

Unfortunately, unlike my father-in-law, Rudy, who roots for the White Sox in the aforementioned manner, I’m not that smart. Why I continue to read the East Coast’s worst baseball writer, The New York Times’ Murray Chass (The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy is a close second) is a mystery I wrestle with more often than whether or not to engage the next-door neighbor, a Clinton Democrat, in a political discussion. It’s not just Chass, of course—YES’s Michael Kay and Ken Singleton, ESPN’s Rick Sutcliffe, Buster Olney, Joe Morgan (did you know he was a member of the “Big Red Machine”?) and FOX’s horrid duo of Tim McCarver and Joe Buck are all pure noise pollution—but grumpy Murray’s May 8 Times column was a dilly.

Chass begins: “Alcohol last week killed one more major league baseball player than steroids ever have.”
He’s referring to the premature death of Cardinals’ pitcher Josh Hancock, who died in a car crash at the age of 29, while drunk, not wearing a seat belt (Jon Corzine says hello), talking on a cell phone and, according to the police report, possibly stoned. Now, Major League Baseball is in a fit of soul-searching, with an increasing number of teams banning alcohol from clubhouses, as if grown men don’t have the common sense to make the decision whether or not to drive after consuming a couple of beers. Chass goes on to slam the baseball establishment and Congress for being “steroids zealots” while ignoring the dangers of excessive drinking.

I’m agnostic about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports—it’s not as if players haven’t abused their bodies in other ways, whether it’s uppers, booze, cocaine or dope—although I agree it’s a bad example for teenage athletes, a tiny percentage of whom will make it to the pros. But Chass zigs and zags about the controversy, especially when it comes to Barry Bonds, who’s on the verge of breaking Hank Aaron’s home run record.

On May 16 of last year, Chass wrote a love letter to Albert Pujols, the Cardinals slugger who is allegedly under the age of 30. “[I]t’s good they don’t make many players like Albert Pujols, because if there were more, he wouldn’t be so special, and Albert Pujols is very special … Pujols is the anti-Bonds. He has achieved his numbers free of the suspicion of the use of steroids or any other illegal performance-enhancing substances. In that sense, he is a refreshing superstar who can say, ‘I don’t cheat.’” Maybe Special A is as clean as Eliot Spitzer, maybe he isn’t, but how Chass would know that for a fact is something he didn’t divulge to readers.

Just a few days later in ’06, Chass was on the Bonds beat again, saying that the melon-headed Giant was maybe “the most controversial player” in the history of sports. One might say that Ty Cobb, the Hall of Fame Detroit Tiger who sharpened his spikes to inflict injury on opponents and once almost killed a heckling fan, would rate higher on the “controversy” meter, but we all have opinions. But more from Chass about Bonds: “If a substantial percentage of [Bonds’ home runs] were chemically aided, maybe he doesn’t deserve to be placed in [Babe] Ruth’s class. Ruth ate hot dogs and drank beer. If either helped him hit home runs, more players should have followed his example. They might have fattened themselves, but they would have been better hitters.” Chass doesn’t mention that Ruth drank more than just beer and had a habit of crashing cars. He was just luckier than Josh Hancock.

So the veteran Times columnist, who hates the Red Sox almost as much as Bonds and Sen. Jim Bunning, is all over the map. Yet, in fairness, so are too many loudmouths. Take Curt Schilling, a borderline Hall of Fame pitcher, currently with the BoSox—and as a Boston fan, I’m glad he is—who also felt the need last week to wade into Chass’ filthy waters.

Schilling—whose frequent diatribes make George Bush seem articulate, Joe Biden concise and the early-60s Cassius Clay humble—held forth on Boston’s WEEI on April 8 about Bonds. Asked whether “people should hold their noses” about Bonds breaking Aaron’s record, Schilling said, “Oh yeah, I would think so. I mean, he admitted that he used steroids. I mean, there’s no gray area. He admitted to cheating on his wife [surely a unique occurrence among baseball players], cheating on his taxes, and cheating on the game … And I don’t care that he’s black, or green, or purple, or yellow or whatever. It’s unfortunate … there’s good people and bad people. It’s unfortunate that it’s happening the way it’s happening.”

Red Sox manager, Terry Francon,a (rapidly becoming one of the best in the Majors) told Schilling to “zip it,” and the next day the pitcher apologized on his blog “38pitches.” “It was a callous, reckless and irresponsible thing to say and for that I apologize to Barry, Barry’s family, Barry’s friends and the Giants organization, my teammates and the Red Sox organization.”

And let’s not forget the self-righteousness about Roger Clemens returning to the Yanks for an enormous salary. The New York Post’s Mike Vaccaro, on May 9, gassed on that GM Brian Cashman’s acquiescence to the contractual demands of Clemens—allowing the 44-year-old pitcher to come and go as he pleases, whether it’s to return home to Houston or play in a celebrity golf tournament while the rest of the team is on a road trip and in the dugout of each game—has forever tainted the “class” of the Yanks.

Vaccaro, unlike other commentators, doesn’t fault Clemens for applying the financial leverage he had to make a good deal. Instead, ignoring the “classy” antics of past Bombers like Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, Darryl Strawberry, Reggie Jackson, Carl Pavano and George Steinbrenner, Vaccaro writes, “Gone are the days when the Yankees can even pretend their dirty socks don’t smell the way everyone else’s do. Gone are the days when they can harrumph and say they don’t adjust to the times, the times—and the players—adjust to them … They sold their collective history—and all the moral authority that allegedly went with it—down the Harlem River. Here’s hoping ol’ No. 22 is worth it.”

I love the sport, but with few exceptions—say Mariano Rivera of the Yanks, Tim Wakefield and David Ortiz of the BoSox, the Blue Jays’ Vernon Wells and, going back, Brooks Robinson of the Orioles—only a fool would combine the words “baseball” and “class” in the same sentence.

Mugger

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


New Yorkers who are advising guests where to stay Downtown can point to one advantage of the Financial District’s Marriott: It’s pretty cheap. Which isn’t a pot of beans, considering the gouging that defines the higher-end hotels, whether Uptown or in Tribeca or Soho. Nevertheless, after spending a couple of nights at the Marriott two weekends ago, I can report that the lodgings are best for those who don’t mind roughing it. With much of very-lower Manhattan resembling an almost surreal gulag of construction, it was a very gloomy setting, even while taking a stroll at dawn—a relatively quiet time that’s usually uplifting.

I don’t mean to carp too much. After all, it was my decision to camp at the West St. Marriott rather than the Peninsula or Four Seasons, but you’d think the management might notice the room windows caked so heavily with grime that, even on a sunny day, it seemed like East Berlin (circa 1975) in December. And is it too much to ask that your quarters are cleaned before dusk? At rush hour in the hotel—after 8 a.m. until about seven in the evening—the elevators were a joke, so jam-packed with tour groups that, if in an affable mood, you could get the life story of anyone waiting for a ride upstairs.

On the night of April 20, while my wife was visiting a longtime friend in Brooklyn, the boys and I were looking forward to watching the Yanks-Sox game in our 22nd floor temporary home, despite the certainty of barely edible room service (which, in fairness, is hardly unique; that onetime, 24-hour “luxury” has gone the way of airline civility). However, because the game was on ESPN and blacked out in the city, and the Marriott has a limited television selection, which doesn’t include YES, those plans were largely scuttled.

That suited my older son fine, as he was inexplicably fixated on CNN’s continuing exploitive coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings—the only saving grace was that middle-class wage slave Lou Dobbs didn’t have time to rant about illegal immigrants—and then happily gabbed with his older cousin, Quinn, about colleges, the disappointment of Grindhouse and the club scene in London. But for Booker and me, it was a real irritation. We did find out, after much inquiry, that YES was shown in the nearly empty lobby bar/café, and so we headed down there to watch the game.
Still, it’s not the ideal location for a 12-year-old, especially since we were nursing Cokes to keep our seats. So after A-Rod’s second homer off Curt Schilling, we called it a night. After Booker was asleep, I did go back downstairs for an outside smoke and happened to catch the Sox knocking off the Great Rivera in the eighth inning, an event so crackling (even in April) and unexpected that, for the first time that day, I slipped out of crank mode, anticipating the next day’s daily papers.

I wonder how long the Union Square Virgin entertainment center will stay in business. When the boys and I entered the once-bustling store at about noon on April 21, we were stunned to see that nearly half the first floor was given over to bins of CDs for discount prices, a sub-par vinyl section downstairs and an atmosphere that was verging on funereal, not dissimilar to the last days of Tower Records. Not all was lost, however, since a block down Broadway, Forbidden Planet was as reliable as ever for the latest manga titles, and the boys still go nuts over the street dogs at the cart outside of Virgin. Beats me, since I’ve never liked a boiled frank, much less one with just ketchup, but then they can’t understand how I can possibly eat sauerkraut.

The real highlight of this walking excursion, at least for Nicky, was a trip to Hospital Productions, the tiny temple of noise music that’s in the basement of Jammyland on E. 3rd Street. We were in a bit of a time crunch, so his browsing was rushed, but nonetheless we managed to talk with the very accommodating proprietors about Wolf Eyes, Lightning Bolt, Uncle Jim and a slew of other bands I’ve never heard of. It reminded me of the ramshackle East Village record stores in the late ’60s and early ’70s, where a serious collector could buy bootlegs as long as the clerk didn’t sniff out the smell of “fuzz” about you, although when I pointed this out to the guys at Hospital Productions, the mere mention of The Great White Wonder instantly branded me as an old-timer whose main redeeming feature was a teenager who could speak their language.

Now, on the subject of Bob Dylan, I had the opportunity to read Rolling Stone’s first of three 40th anniversary issues while at the Marriott (when you’re up with the crows there’s not much else to do). It was actually a darn good read, filled with graybeard interviewees, most—like Bob Weir, Jimmy Carter, Ringo and Patti Smith—bemoaning current events, but Dylan’s stood out. Jann Wenner was clearly frustrated, trying to goad Dylan into a vicious tirade against Bush and the supposedly diminished Constitution and receiving zero cooperation.
The following exchanges are hilarious, with Dylan refusing to be pinned down by the magazine’s founder:

Wenner: “You’re a student of history. If you were to take the current moment and put it in a historical context, where do you think we are?”

Dylan: “That would be hard to do, unless you put yourself 10 years into the future. It’s not the nature of a song to imply what’s going on under any current philosophy…”

Wenner: “Do you think it’s gloomy on the horizon?”

Dylan: “In what sense do you mean?”

Wenner: “Bob, come on.”

Dylan: “No, you come on. In what sense do you mean that?”

Wenner: “We seem to be hell-bent on destruction [in the United States]. Do you worry about global warming?”

Dylan: “Where’s the global warming? It’s freezing here … I think what you’re driving at, though, is we expect politicians to solve all our problems. I don’t expect politicians to solve anybody’s problems.”

It’s the first time in probably two decades I can recommend buying Rolling Stone, for this particular issue has content worth reading—even if you’re not stuck in a Marriott hotel.

Mugger

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


The New York Sun, on the occasion of its fifth anniversary last week, ran a self-congratulatory yet graceful editorial marking the paper’s progress since April 16, 2002. The headline atop the editorial, “What a Story,” is rather grandiose—the writer documents not only the progress of The Sun, but the city’s resurgence from the 9/11 terrorism attacks as well—but what the hell. After all, when the thin broadsheet first appeared on newsstands, with the noble and essential mission of providing, in part, an antidote to the insufferably elitist and isolated New York Times, naysayers had a ball in predicting how long it would take for The Sun to fold.

I can’t recall a single industry “expert” who went on record as saying that The Sun would survive, let alone prosper (if not yet economically, at least in becoming part of the city’s media fabric), and this was before the rat-a-tat-tat of reports detailing the woes of newspaper layoffs, shutdowns of foreign bureaus and the nearly complete collapse of the classified advertising market. So, if The Sun wants to claim that it’s “experiencing the fastest growth in the city” among the dailies, I’d just say, in the parlance of journalists who’ve irritatingly nabbed a little bit of London, “cheers.”
Five years ago, with the exception of The Wall Street Journal (a national paper in scope, although it’s located in the city), there was only the New York Post to counter the Times’ left-wing editorial views, and the tabloid, which has lost a lot of its juice, wasn’t always intellectually up to the task. Consider the Times’ drumbeat of editorials excoriating the Bush administration’s remarkably successful tax cuts, by now thousands of words written by affluent men and women who hire accountants and lawyers to compile their own returns and no doubt look for tax shelters and efficient estate planning.

An April 17 Sun editorial, without naming its mammoth competitor, placed the tax issue in proper perspective. The paper’s conclusion: “Nearly all income tax revenues come for the top half of earners. But the share paid by the bottom half of the income scale has plunged at the federal level to 3.3% in 2004 from 7.05% in 1980, according to the figures charted by the Tax Foundation. This is all something to think about as the Democrats in the Congress and in Albany get ready to make another attempt to raise our taxes and as the Republicans try to summon the will to fight for the tax cuts through which President Bush ignited the boom we are enjoying today.”

You can imagine the derisive comments from the likes of Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Bill Keller, Steve Rattner, Lewis Lapham, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Tim Russert—on the chance they read this particular Sun editorial—as they mingled at another genteel cocktail party fortified by no-trans fat canapés that cost almost as much as a John “Two Americas” Edwards haircut. (This is the same Edwards who appeared at an Al Sharpton fundraiser in Midtown on April 18, saying that a country where Don Imus could’ve been on the airwaves for so long proved that “opportunity isn’t equal” between the haves and have-nots. I wonder how many of the latter have ever paid $400 for a trim.)

I usually agree with Sun editorials—although the paper’s ongoing campaign to draft Headmaster Michael Bloomberg as a presidential candidate is a frightening idea—especially on foreign policy and the desperate need for immigration reform. The Sun fights the xenophobia, mostly from Republicans who think deporting 11 million or so illegals is brilliant policy, never mind the damage to the economy, by regularly reminding readers that the strength of the United States is derived in large part from its past embrace of “foreigners” seeking a better life in this country.

But that’s not to say I’m a complete Sun apologist. Seth Lipsky, the courageous journalist who’s the paper’s frontman, is a quirky, irascible, kind, irrational, passionate and often confounding man. Like other writers, I’ve felt the wrath of Lipsky: when the paper started, I contributed countless book and music reviews, opinion pieces and travel articles, and was well-compensated, especially for a start-up operation. That all came to an end more than a year ago when I committed the sin of criticizing R. Emmett Tyrrell, apparently a buddy of Lipsky, in the pages of New York Press. The word went forth to Pia Catton—one of The Sun’s most talented writers and editors—that my contributions were to cease. And so they did, to my disappointment and chagrin: It’s always a bit baffling to find out first-hand that someone you admire has thin skin and a “sacred cow” list of friends who can’t be criticized.

Nevertheless, the Sun’s roster of writers—including Ryan Sager, Jay Nordlinger, Mark Steyn, Alicia Colon, James Bowman and Tim Marchman—is formidable. The Sun’s sports coverage, for example, is shorn of the politics that finds its way into Times editorials and baseball articles. (A decade or two ago, there was a running joke that no article in the Village Voice—whether about dance, a cheap but noteworthy restaurant or a Smashing Pumpkins review—wasn’t complete without a reference to this or that left-wing cause of the day. The Times has gladly accepted that torch from the weekly.)

One of my favorite Times editorials on the subject of baseball appeared on March 22, 2006, as the World Baseball Classic was winding down. This paragraph ought to be enshrined in Cooperstown as an example of stupid writing about the sport: “Baseball has suffered on its home turf lately, with the Barry Bonds steroid accusations exemplifying an atmosphere of cynicism and greed that has tainted the sport from the minors to the major leagues. With the supply of homegrown talent in decline, it’s possible that baseball could someday become one of those activities, like manual labor and voting [emphasis mine], that Americans tackle a lot less enthusiastically than foreigners do.”

Marchman, The Sun’s lead baseball writer, can be maddening in his exuberance over this year’s Yankees squad (especially to this BoSox fan), but he’s always knowledgeable and doesn’t venture into topics like the lack of enthusiasm for manual labor.

And Colon can be too precious for her own good, as in her April 17 column castigating the exonerated Duke lacrosse players for hiring a stripper in the first place. She asks, “Parents, where were you?” In fairness, Colon did question the double standard that drove that Times-led “presumption of guilt” travesty, but in the modern era “parents” can’t be expected to track the movements of their young-adult offspring.

Warts and idiosyncrasies aside, however, the media business is enriched by The Sun’s success, and I hope it grows in both size, revenue and influence in the decades to come.

Mugger

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Let’s begin, in a discussion of The New York Times’ relentless class warfare, with a civic-minded editorial on April 1. It was a pitch to readers for contributions to the Fresh Air Fund, an organization that finances short vacations for youngsters to escape the city and go to sleepaway camps upstate or other spots of nature that are more conducive to their well-being than frolicking in front of an open water hydrant. A fitting gesture of noblesse oblige, certainly, but with the Times it’s impossible to per-form a decent task without a whiff of condescension.

The edit starts out: “Who wants to go swimming? We do, too. With the first note of spring our minds jump to summer. Can we get out of the city? If we manage, where will we go?” This isn’t exactly startling—the pose of “we’re just regular folks”—but it’s fairly nauseating nonetheless. Hey, I’m also wondering if Times editorial and business executives will “manage” to get out of the city to go swimming. As for “where will we go,” the answer is to Westchester or Long Island, where a pool awaits them once the driver has pulled up to the gates and notified the staff to set out the seersucker swimming trunks.

April 4 was a humdinger even for the Times, as the paper ran several eat-the-rich pieces. One editorial, “It Didn’t End Well Last Time,” implying that a reprise of the Great Depression is around the corner, hammered away at, what else, tax cuts. The opening tells the story for those who read just one sentence, grasp the forthcoming barrage and move on: “Not since the Roaring Twenties have the rich been so much richer than everyone else.” The writer, citing no specific evidence, beefs that America’s top 10 percent of wage earners took home 48.5 percent of the income in 2005. What portion of taxes did this group pay? That’s of no concern to the Times.

After paying homage to the Clinton administration’s era of “shared prosperity,” which the paper ascribes to tax hikes and a minimum wage increase, ignoring the 1990s technology boom that collapsed in 2000, it’s time to zero in on the current administration. “[T]he economic policies of the Bush years have failed to benefit most Americans. The tax cuts have overwhelmingly benefited the richest. As a result, the tax code does less to narrow the income gap now than it did as recently as 2000 … The nation needs an administration that will offer solutions for the scourge of income inequality.”

I’m not sure if the Times is slowly formulating a redistribution-of-wealth policy (and judging by its hysteria on this issue for the past couple of years, who’d be surprised?), but a few facts are in order. First, Bush inherited a recession that began at the end of Clinton’s tenure—which wasn’t his fault (aside from his Justice Department’s vindictive and market-shattering suit against Microsoft), since economics is cyclical—which was obviously made far worse by the 9/11 terrorism. In fact, it would be hard to find many people who’d have predicted five years ago that not only would the United States not be attacked again, but that in 2007 unemployment would remain under five percent. And guess what? Bush’s tax cuts of ’01 and ’03 are a major reason that so many people do have jobs, since it made more capital available for large companies and entrepreneurs.

If the Times was really concerned about “income equality,” its editors would advocate a flat tax—with an exemption, say, for those Americans who earn less than $25,000 per annum—which eliminated all the loopholes that the very rich (such as Times Co. executives) pay accountants to figure out.

The same day, another editorial, detailing the financial woes of mass transit, advocated an increase in the gasoline tax, which surely would be described by middle and lower class Americans, if not the elite media, as “regressive.”

On the April 4 op-ed page, author Richard Conniff contributes a piece—“The Rich Are More Oblivious Than You and Me”—that makes the obvious point that some people are real jerks. He just happens to focus on those with a lot of money. He writes, after citing a few examples of obnoxious behavior by wealthy men—Mel Gibson and Steve Wynn are singled out—that money causes atrocious manners. Conniff: “The bottom line: Without power, people tend to play it safe. Given power, even you and I would soon end up living large and acting like idiots. So pity the rich—and protect yourself.”

Never mind that the vast majority of wealthy Americans aren’t celebrities and often, without clamoring for publicity, do good deeds and spread their dough around, such as making the Fresh Air Fund possible. But do the rich have a monopoly on “idiocy”? Of course not, that’s a trait that really is distributed equally: take wife-beaters and parents who sexually abuse their children, for example. I think that’s a crime that cuts across all class, racial and gender barriers.

Who knows if the Times editorialists, owners and executives actually read much of their own paper, but it was a tickle to read, also on April 4, Frank Bruni’s restaurant review of The Four Seasons, that institution that’s known more for networking and being seen than the food itself. Bruni writes about entrée prices that would fit nicely into an editorial about the income gap: breast of pheasant for $55 and a $45 order of short ribs.

Here’s a passage that most New Yorkers undoubtedly relate to: “There are lofty peaks. The fillet of bison is one, because it’s so tender, and it’s cloaked in the epicurean equivalent of a mink: sautéed foie gras and a reduction rich with black truffles. The roasted duck, which emerges from a Peking-style sequence of many days and steps, is as astonishing as ever, a knockout of crunchy skin and succulent meat that plunges three friends and me into a gastronomic fugue state.”

No knock on Bruni—who can blame a guy for landing a cushy, if demanding, job—but maybe, when the Times opinion writers think about swimming and disadvantaged kids, they could suggest to management that every time Bruni goes out on an assignment he takes along one of those “ordinary” Americans who’s been screwed by the Republican administration.

Mugger

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Early last week, while perusing the irritatingly ragged Boston Globe website, I made a detour from the sports section—filled with Daisuke Matsuzaka stories—and wound up reading a lifestyle feature about intergenerational bonding. It’s not a new story, obviously, although I’ll never believe that 60 is the new 40, but just the headline was enough to make a grown, non-arthritic man wince: “Men will be boys: From video games to music to clothes, fathers and sons have a lot more in common than past generations. And that’s cool.”
Don Aucoin’s Nov. 14 space-filler got my goat almost immediately, as he started off with the example of Jeffrey Stone, 51, and his son Zachary, 14, two free wheelin’ dudes who burn CDs by the same artists, swap clothes and watch the same TV shows. “When Stone bought Zachary a World Cup T-shirt,” Aucoin writes, “he made sure to also buy one for himself. ‘My friends, they always say my dad is pretty cool,’ reports Zachary.’” As it happens, I’m also 51, and my older son Nick is 14, and it’s likely he’d puke if I brought home matching T-shirts; he gets annoyed enough as it is when strangers assume that he and his 12-year-old brother are twins despite their difference in height and hair color.
Let’s get something clear: There’s nothing “cool” about fathers and sons living out real-life buddy movies. I greatly enjoy the company of my kids, whether it’s watching a ballgame on the tube or at a stadium, going to museums or combing through the junk at local flea markets, but there are unspoken barriers in our relationship, ones that are more similar to those of that ’60s/’70s catchphrase, “the generation gap” that existed in my household growing up than the “pass the bong, man” ethos that’s implicit in Aucoin’s story. Like a lot of middle-of-the-pack Boomers, it’s a given that I’ll consider myself cool until the death rattle sounds, but the “cool” of my youth rarely intersects with the definition of that word in 2006.
Unlike some of the men interviewed in the Globe story, I’ve never played a video game—pinball is still tops—and it was pure torture when the boys were pre-kindergarten and I had to read the words on the screen so they could figure out what Mario or Luigi were up to. Another fellow interviewed by Aucoin, a New Hampshire therapist named Andy Gersten, contributed this gem: “A generation ago, fathers and sons could connect and have a bond through hunting. Now, fathers and sons bond through video games.” The only hunting I did 40 years ago was catching lightning bugs and box turtles and Dad wasn’t involved. Actually, no one ever thought about “bonding” back then—that’s an unfortunate phrase from the post-Earth Day years—but I do remember watching re-runs of I Love Lucy with my parents.
Maybe Gersten and his 19-year-old son, Ben, who share an uncool “passion” for the Dave Matthews Band, camped out last week for 24 hours to buy the new PlayStation 3 console. I lucked out on that score since Nick and Booker have thankfully showed diminished interest in gaming. Admittedly, the furor over the PlayStation frenzy was sort of amusing. A Boston Herald story last Saturday reported that Mayor Thomas Menino “vowed to bill Sony Corp. for the chaos” that caused him to send extra cops to control crowds at local malls. Good luck collecting, Mr. Mayor.
And Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, a father about my age, hijacked the hysteria to deliver a lecture that was ripsnortingly mean, a rant worthy of Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity, personalities who are definitely not his soul brothers. Rodricks wrote: “I know I speak for many Americans—some your own age, believe it or not—who find your obsession with video games, your dopey surrender to the hype, and your willingness to give time and money to the pursuit of an overpriced, made-in-some-other-country electronic toy [that’s Democratic protectionism peeking out of his pocket] to be wholly vulgar, crass and (insert synonym for wholly vulgar and crass).
“Yours is the most leisurely, pampered, tattooed generation ever. Some of you still live with your mommies and daddies, and there’s no military draft [say hey, Charlie Rangel!] so, compared to guys who came before you—your fathers and uncles and grandparents—you have a pretty cushy life.”
So, take that Kerry-voter Andy Gersten!   
Anyway, I gag upon watching the smug Jon Stewart, who’s a media god in Nick’s world. Sure, he’ll take some of my suggestions without a roll of the eyebrows, like buying high-top Converse sneakers instead of those ridiculous Adidas or Puma versions that clog up stores today. Seriously, when walking in the halls of my boys’ school, you see almost all the boys wearing these clown-like contraptions, and it reminds me of the futuristic exhibits at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing.
And, on occasion, Nick will deign to download one of my favorite songs and actually like it; a few that stand out are Donovan’s “Sunny Goodge Street,” the Stones’ “Paint It Black” and Marty Robbins’ “El Paso.” But mostly, even though we each have fairly extensive music collections, there’s a lot of humoring going on. He’ll give me a Lightning Bolt album, and I’ll listen to it once and think it sucks, much to his chagrin. I’ll counter with the Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and the Lash—and really, how could anyone not go nuts over that classic!—and he’ll shrug it off with a “not bad, although the sound’s kind of primitive.” So then I’ll tell him to get cracking on his Latin homework.

Mugger

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Many years before the word “globalization” became a launching point for political debate—not to mention Thomas Friedman’s “flat world” conceit—a shift in the United States, caused by changing demographics and technological innovation, led to the disappearance of the “regional specialty.” This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s swell to find ripe avocadoes or tomatoes at East Coast supermarkets no matter what season—but it has upset, at least for those Americans over 40, a culinary way of life.

At one time, more than a generation ago, New York (in fact, the entire tri-state region) was rightfully known as the pizza capital of the United States of America. You could walk into an unknown joint in the Village, Long Island or uptown andexpect to see a silent pie twirler by an oven before leaving 10 minutes later with a supreme slice, which tasted just as good folded or flat. Today it’s a different story: there’s no quality control and I’d say that seven out of 10 NYC places offer pizza that’s just as bad as a storefront in Reston, Va.

Last weekend I was in Texas for a wedding, an extended family reunion highlighted by my nephew Caleb exchanging vows with his girlfriend at the swank Alden Hotel in downtown Houston. My wife, the kids and I arrived there shortly after noon on Friday, met up with one of my brothers, his wife and two nieces, and set out on foot to find a Tex-Mex cantina for lunch. We settled in at a sprawling place called Cabo, which featured a menu loaded with standard burritos and tacos, as well as seafood specials that promised a Mexican kick. The food, as it happened, was atrocious: guacamole that was probably pressed out of a tube, stale tortilla chips, salsa so mild a baby could slurp it and microwaved enchiladas.

Not a bottle of Pearl beer, once found only in the Southwest, was visible. Could be that the brand’s now defunct—I haven’t kept track—but it did remind me when Stroh’s was a Detroit brew, Coors was a wonder of Colorado unavailable east of the Rockies and Olympia was reserved for those in the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t finish much of my meal, but still had a bellyache that was only made worse by reading the latest American Prospect—Robert Kuttner is the print equivalent of canned refritos—before taking a siesta. 

When I was a freshman in college in the early ’70s my roommate was from Houston and on my first visit to that city I was astounded at the quality of Mexican grub—I hadn’t yet been to California or Arizona—which was a true revelation to someone who grew up on Long Island. Conversely, my friend Mark, after we hitchhiked up to Manhattan from Baltimore in the fall of ’73, was similarly amazed when we had dinner one night in Chinatown. He’d never sampled a single Szechwan dish and even though my pal Elena (a Barnard student) and I tricked him into eating a whole chili pepper, Mark, used to the standard Cantonese glop at strip restaurants in Houston, wrote to his friends at the University of Texas in Austin about the marvels of real Chinese cooking.

It’s only a matter of time, I fear but, at least for the present, Houston hasn’t yet succumbed to the Bloomberg “health” madness that’s spreading around the country. Last Friday night, before the groom’s rehearsal dinner, I was sipping a double espresso while watching an Astros game in the Alden’s ground floor bar, when I told the bartender to hold my seat while I went outside for a smoke. He was befuddled, held up an ashtray and said in a slow, Al Gore sort of voice, “What do you think these are for?” We spoke about the tobacco cops for a minute or two and the fellow laughed and explained that, in Houston at least, there were vague ordinances about smoking bans but no one enforced them. He didn’t seem pleased when I told him to prepare for the inevitable.

I do think it’ll take a lot longer for the trans fat hoopla to even be mentioned in Lone Star State chatter; as for PETA, it’s hard to imagine that goofy group has bothered to hound Texans (except perhaps in liberal Austin), given the enormous crowds chowing down on chopped and slice beef brisket and pork at the fine Goode Co. barbecue destination 14 of us lunched at on Saturday.

(A digression: One of the biggest belly-laughs I had this summer, with the possible exception of A-Rod blabbing in Sports Illustrated about how “bright” and “attractive” he is, came at the Maryland State Fair in August. After spending about 30 bucks on typical carney games of chance and winning several stuffed animals worth about 29 cents apiece, we stopped by the livestock exhibit. While my youngest son admired a huge mama pig feeding her babies, I noticed a sign above a cow that said “Beef,” right next to a bunch of chickens who were called “Poultry.”)

There was a delightful juxtaposition on the Times’ Sept. 30 editorial pages on the subject of trans fats. Op-ed columnist John Tierney was eminently sensible in decrying this latest violation of personal choice in the name of health. He wrote: “You can make a case for a law requiring restaurants to tell people what’s in their food. But [health commissioner Thomas] Frieden’s edict goes well beyond that—and well beyond past public-health measures like the bans on lead paint and smoking in restaurants. This is the biggest step yet in turning the Big Apple into the Big Nanny … [I]f New Yorkers consume trans fat at McDonald’s or Chinese restaurants, it’s because they ordered it themselves.”

Taking the contrary position that Americans are too stupid to know that high-calorie foods, eaten with abandon can lead to obesity, a Times editorialist defended Bloomberg’s nanny persona (to think Mr. Self-Righteous is privately considering a bid for president in 2008), and even invokes Sylvia’s—“a soul food mainstay”—as a good government restaurant because it has banished trans fat. No mention, of course, that regular portions of ribs and mac & cheese, with or without trans fat, doesn’t exactly cleanse clogged arteries, but no matter. The writer concludes, “[Bloomberg’s nannyism] runs contrary to the anything-goes traditions of the city, but with epidemic rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes, New Yorkers could use more pressure toward healthy behavior.”

If you ask me, New Yorkers “could use more pressure” to vote against Eliot Spitzer, who poses a clear danger to “healthy” business, but that’s as likely as the Tigers taking three straight from the Yanks.

Mugger

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It’s clear that Gawker Media founder Nick Denton is every
bit as shrewd as advertised.

It doesn’t really matter just how much Denton received in the sale of
his website mini-mall to The New York Times Co.—the rumored figure is $32 million
with incentives and perks galore, although those terms are bound to be debated until a pissed-off
Times reporter leaks the number to The New York Observer, the paper that broke the
story—but that he out-foxed the shrinking Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in the
deal. As popular blogs merge with traditional media outlets, Denton was smart to catch Times publisher Sulzberger in a black cloud of desperation, the former best bud of Judith Miller fearful that younger “ordinary” readers are increasingly defying their elders and abandoning
the print edition of the Times.

That Denton didn’t flinch when Sulzberger insisted that his own team
operate Gawker Media proved that he’s a born entrepreneur—something that Sulzberger (and
people say that the third generation of Kennedy males waded in the shallow gene pool) wouldn’t
know much about—and though I don’t know the man, here’s hoping that he makes another bundle
with his upcoming project in India. It’s hard to imagine that Denton has a shortage of ego, but unlike
other Internet personalities/businessmen, he found it easy to wave goodbye to his creation.

Compare that to Andrew Sullivan‘s recent announcement
that come January his blog will be under the rubric of Time magazine, a marriage that’s bound
to end badly given the prickly and fickle Sullivan’s inability to hew to any discernible week-to-week
train of thought. My bet is that the nuptials are annulled by July; unfortunately, I couldn’t find
anyone to take some action on that wager, even for a lousy ten bucks.

Certainly there are benefits accruing to the Times online site—although
I doubt 32 million of them—since Denton’s Wonkette site shares the same Deaniac
political views of Sulzberger, Gail Collins and Frank Rich, and Ana Marie Cox‘s shtick of before-noon cocktails and advocacy of abundant anal sex as a cover to write
everyone’s-gone-to-the-moon invective about Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld will cause titters at
the Times headquarters every weekday. (How long Cox remains as Wonkette‘s top
poodle is a good question, since it wouldn’t appear that she’s apt to cotton to the Times
insistence that blogging continue on weekends.) With Wonkette, Gawker and Defamer able to write what Times editorialists and reporters aren’t yet allowed to, the farm team
should be very popular at the parent company’s cafeteria.

I’ll continue to gag at the political commentary, but the probability
that Deadspin‘s Will Leitch will graduate to the Times‘ sports pages as a columnist,
replacing, one hopes, either Murray Chass or Selena Roberts is a pleasing one indeed.

Too bad the Observer‘s Tom Scocca won’t be invited to
the party. The weekly’s lead media critic, recently described in Gawker as an “albino”
(hey, as far as Jessica Coen‘s concerned, we’re all Venezuelans now), wrote a blistering
critique of Sulzberger last week that probably didn’t sit well with the rock-climbing, country
club Democrat.

Scocca bludgeoned the putative Times boss in the form of a “personal
note,” which opened, “Who are you kidding? This is a real question, I’m afraid. It’s what people
want to know: the people downstairs from you and the people outside—the rest of the press,
the public, the readers. You do care what the readers think, or at least you said you do, with finger-wagging
sincerity, on Nov. 10 on Charlie Rose.”

[Scocca and I don't know each other well, but I enjoy his company at baseball
games, where we put aside politics—he's a Sulzberger liberal—and talk about the
media, his awful Orioles and mutual friends.]

Anyway, he continued: “The New York Times is not as trusted and
respected as it was a year ago—or even seven weeks ago. Morale is not, as you told Charlie Rose,
‘doing just great.’ The thing is, it’s hard to tell whether you believe what you’re saying, or just
want us to believe it. It’s hard to decide which would be worse. You are the publisher of The New
York Times
. Your stock price is on the skids. Your newsroom is having its second meltdown in
three years. Your great First Amendment showdown ended in a crushing legal defeat for the profession
and a public-relations debacle for The Times.”

One more snippet from Scocca’s devastating and dead-on article: “[Y]ou
didn’t get your job because you were clever. You got it because you were born into the right family
at the right time. Sorry for being so blunt about it. But to honestly accept that fact is a big part
of doing your current job. You’ve still got a chance to avoid going down as the worst Times publisher since George F. Spinney got out 109 years ago.”

Now, that’s one wicked brushback pitch. Spinney, of course, was the
publisher reigning at the Times just before Sulzberger Jr.’s great-grandfather Adolph
Ochs
bought the paper and re-jiggered it as a vehicle that delivered “All the news that’s fit
to print.” We’ll ignore Times columnist Arthur Krock’s lapdog association with
Joseph Kennedy, James Reston holding back stories at President Kennedy’s request,
Walter Duranty, the Times‘ denial of the Holocaust during World War II and the paper’s
insistence that certain reporters and editors fiddle with their bylines to disguise their Jewish
heritage and concede that Ochs and his some of his predecessors did build a notable institution.
I’ve mentioned it before, but post-boomer readers (those who actually glance at the Times instead of Gawker) would be shocked to know that the daily endorsed Republican Kenneth
Keating
over Bobby Kennedy during the U.S. Senate campaign of 1964.

Here’s my own memo to Sulzberger: It’s not easy to lose the support of
a faithful Democrat like Scocca, a talented and smart young man who probably grew up believing that
the Times was a sacred institution, ignoring the rampant hypocrisy of its wealthy owners’
positions on estate taxes and public education. It’s as if Gov. Mitt Romney abandoned the
Republican party because of irreconcilable differences with George Bush.

But who knows: Maybe Sulzberger’s courting of Nick Denton these past
months, skeet shooting in the country and bantering good-naturedly about Tony Blair while
hammering out a deal is a step towards restoring his reputation among the peers and family members
he reports to. n

—November 21

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