The Times they aren’t a-changin’. And so the mystery deepens. First there’s the coup de grâce delivered by the dashing Jayson Blair to the New York Observer, in which he called the hands that fed him idiots and racists. Then when his own bogus work was read back to him, he laughed and guffawed, finding it a routine worthy of Seinfeld and Jack Benny, if not Lenny Bruce and Phyllis Diller. Meanwhile, Howell Raines remains at the reins, even without the help of the Supreme Court. But where is Raines?
This week’s issue of Newsweek ran a marvelous full-page-plus color spread of Raines pondering the world whilst reading the an “A” section of the Times. The photo is meant to suggest that Raines is in a somber mood as he struggles to recover from the Blair affair. On closer inspection, however, one can detect that the issue in his hands is hardly current. Indeed, a special Enemy Central investigation, after the requisite Freedom of Information requests, has nailed the provenance of that edition down to the precise day, month, and year: August 30, 2001. Twenty-one months ago, in other words, and already it appears Raines was in desperate straits.
Mind you, that was twelve days before 9/11 shook his world. It was more than a year before George Bush regained a Republican Senate, and even more than that before he remarried, Augusta remained genderly segregated, and his prize Blair project was exposed. Yet already he seemed deeply disturbed.
There is another possible explanation, as there usually is at the Times. The photo may not be as old as it appears. Raines, perhaps, had merely fallen behind in his reading. Scrupulous to a fault, he devours every edition of his paper. No self-respecting executive editor would do otherwise. So he’s fallen behind a bit in his reading, and when the photographer came calling he was about to finish off the editions from August 2001. Of course, given the lousy lines of communication at the paper, which are now being improved, it’s entirely possible that Raines has yet to learn about 9/11, or even that the Yankees lost the World Series to Arizona (nice retirement country, hint, hint).
But let’s let him catch up with the rest of 2001 before informing him of the events of 2002 and of more recent vintage. In the meantime, let him balance his remedial reading with perusal of the Raines-thinking French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin’s latest book on the purposes of poetry. According to the London Telegraph, which obtained an embargoed copy of the book from un undisclosed presidential palace near Baghdad, Villepin has become French poetry’s answer to Proust. He writes in his introduction: “From the bottom of my pockets, stuck to the back of my smock, hidden in the corner of abacuses, poetry gushed out, scribbled on scraps of paper, anxiety drove my mother to stick poems everywhere, in verse or prose, quatrains or alexandrines.” It’s not clear whether the Telegraph translated from the French or the Arabic original. We do detect touches of the Tikrit dialect.
Guerrilla theater came to tiny Rockford College, where students pulled the plug on commencement speaker Chris Hedges after he said many hurtful and insensitive things. It so happens that Mr. Hedges is a New York Timesman, and so it’s not entirely clear whether his hurtful and insensitive remarks were entirely his own, or borrowed in part from Anna Quindlen or Anna of Siam, and in larger part from Walter Duranty or Jimmy Durante. Here many of Rockford’s graduates were all set to join the Peace Corps in Iraq, and Mr. Hedges had to denounce America’s intervention there as an isolationist exercise (“we are very isolated now”) and a sign of collapse (“we have folded in our selves”). Next time, Rockford, ask M. de Villepin to do the honors. Or any of Saddam’s surviving sons.
It was “great while it lasted,” Charlie Gibson, anchoring for Peter Jennings, declared tonight, even before the results were in. But the writing was on the male-built scoreboard wall. Ms. Annika Sorenstam was not going to make the cut at the Colonial, and women in professional golf will continue to live under a glass ceiling. To reach it, it’s said, they’ll need more trajectory on their shots. But Ms. Sorenstam, was done in by the most underhanded shot in sports, putting. Even the New York Times editorially acknowledged, in a phrase first coined by a newspaper to be named later, “She does not putt as well as she should.” Nonetheless, her chief propagandist, Ms. Sally Jenkins, who caddied as Ms. Sorenstam’s chief propagandist all week, thought Sorenstam’s performance the greatest show on this good earth. “She reared back and struck yet another impeccable shot… a stirring and nearly immaculate round of golf…. the round was remarkable for its easy precision, and sometimes beautiful.” Even Sidney Blumenthal doesn’t talk about Bill Clinton that way.
“I hope she misses the cut,” Vijay Singh had said, before his tongue was ripped from its mounting. It never dawned on anyone that maybe Singh didn’t want Ms. Sorenstam to fall even further behind over two extra days. Or that maybe he was secretly in love with her, as most of the guys if they had any brains would be. But that’s a different story, one far from the world of the Brave New Worlders who never leave good enough alone. So we had Ted Koppel devoting his entire “Nightline” to gender re-engineering Thursday night, all in the name of Ms. Sorenstam.
Naturally, there was a New York Times angle. Duffer Dave Anderson, the paper’s longtime overweight jock, ended up telling Ted that Sorenstam’s presence compares to Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough. Typically, insulting as it is, that general point isn’t original to the Times either. Just for that, let’s let Dave Anderson carry EOW honors this week. It’s hard to imagine Timesmen qualifying for any further prestigious prizes.