Eminentoes

Adventures in Timesland

The paper's new "Sunday Review" section is beyond parody. Yet every once in a while it produces a gem.

By 8.29.11

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For years the Sunday New York Times' "Week in Review" was a discard pile for beat reporters' stories that were too opinionated or irrelevant to put anywhere else in the paper. Then about two months ago, shortly after Bill Keller announced he's turning the paper over to Jill Abramson, the section was revamped into something called the "Sunday Review" that is even longer and more boring. It's enough to ruin any Sunday.

This week's edition, for example, kicks off with an awkwardly titled story by Frank Bruni, "The Fall This Summer." It starts out with something about eating insects, but the point he arrives at is that things aren't going so well in this country. (Remember, this is NewYorkTimesLand, where the view is from a cabana in the Hamptons.) Bruni settles on the word "down" as his starting point -- "drawdown," as in Afghanistan, "downturn," as in economy, "downgrade" as in bond rating. Then he ends with this gem: "Where are Batman, Superman and Spidey when the economy is in free fall, the president needs an emergency gumption transfusion (or maybe spinal replacement surgery) and Grover Norquist must be vanquished?"

Inside a story called "Give Pacifism a Chance" occupies a full page. Opposite that is "Glittering Rage," which tells how dumping boxes of gold sprinkles on conservatives such as Newt Gingrich has become "the latest act of political theater from the L.G.B.T. (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement." (Gay, in case you haven't noticed, is getting kind of old at the Times, what with gay marriage legalized and all. The paper is now focusing on transgendering and runs at least one story a week on someone who is making the surgical leap.)

On the op-ed page, the peripatetic Nicholas D. Kristof just returned for a brief stay from the distant parts of the world. Usually he's telling us how many women were raped this week in Rwanda. But summer has brought him back to his hometown of Yamill, Oregon, where he finds people are more concerned about -- would you believe it? -- jobs!

I can't help feeling that national politicians and national journalists alike have dropped the ball on jobs. Some 25 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed -- that's more than 16 percent of the work force -- but jobs haven't been nearly high enough on the national agenda.

Only a globetrotting New York Times reporter in love with his own moral rectitude could write that sentence.

On the back page a trial-lawyer primer makes the case that ugly people are victims of discrimination. Those in the bottom one-seventh of what is generally considered unattractive make 15 percent less than those in the top third. The author takes a typical Times approach:

With all the gains to being good-looking, you would think that more people would get plastic surgery or makeover to improve their looks.… [B]ut studies have shown such refinements make only a small difference.… A more radial solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals? [What happened to the transgendered?]

Finally, there are things that are simply untranslatable unless you understand NewYorkTimesSpeak. Consider the following. An eight-panel cartoon on pg. 3 entitled "Educating the Obvious" begins with the following observation:

In a rare victory for reality, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that teachers can call creationism "superstitious nonsense," paving the way for even more reality-based education.

Fair enough. So we don't have to deal with those Creationists anymore. But then the comic strip goes on with six more panels of NEA-type teachers instructing their classes:

That's right, kids. Evolution is real. The sky is blue and above it is space, not heaven. [We're getting very 20th century here.]

Climate change is happening. And if anyone tries to tell you differently, yell "No!" run away and tell a grownup. [Wait a minute, are we making fun of the teachers here?]

Supply side economics doesn't work. [This is an avuncular professor teaching high school.]. It's chiefly a way for the wealthy to hoard more money.

[An embarrassed redhead has written on the board, "2 + 2 = Obama's a Socialist."] There are two things wrong with that equation, Billy.

Even Reagan raised taxes to reduce deficits! [This is a first grade teacher doing show-and-tell.]. He also called ketchup a vegetable, but you'll learn about that at lunch. 

So is this a satire on what radicalized teachers would really like to teach their students? (Not that they don't already fill them with lefty propaganda anyway.). Or is it a "Gee-wouldn't-it-be-great-if-we-could-really-tell-them-the-truth" kind of in-joke? Your guess is as good as mine. After all, these "obvious" truths are all just liberal shibboleths.

So why go through all this? Well, because every once in a while there's a gem. This week it was economics reporter Catherine Rampell's story on pg. 6 entitled "Why Washington Really Likes Itself." It seems that the Gallup Poll takes a daily reading on how people feel about the economy. They subtract the negative responses from the positive and come up with a number called the "Economic Confidence Index." The latest results show that every state has a negative confidence rating, ranging from -14 in North Dakota to -44 in West Virginia, with a national median of -30.

However, there's one jurisdiction that has a positive response -- the District of Columbia. There the reading is +11. Even with a poverty rate of 18.4 percent, one of the highest in the country, the majority of folks in Washington think everything is hunky-dory. (The survey only polls those who are employed, which tells you a lot.). And who can argue with them? With the healthcare industry getting to relocate in Washington, with the EPA gearing up to shut down 20 percent of the nation's power plants, with the Dodd-Frank regulations waiting to be written, with the bureaucracy having grown 10 percent since Obama arrived in office, and with Virginia congressmen holding seminars on how to apply for federal jobs, what more could there be to celebrate?

I think this story should be the top headline of every newspaper in America. It explains everything that's wrong with the country. Hooray for the New York Times!

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About the Author

Green Lantern is the pen-name of an East Coast writer.