Entries Tagged as 'New York Times'

Were Our Enemies Right?

David Frum August 3rd, 2011 at 3:16 pm 187 Comments

In February 1982, Susan Sontag made a fierce challenge to a left-wing audience gathered at New York’s Town Hall:

Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader’s Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?

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Page One: Inside the New York Times

July 8th, 2011 at 6:01 pm 6 Comments

“The old newspaper business is dying.  PERIOD,” proclaims noted columnist and author Jeff Jarvis, at one point in Andrew Rossi’s up-to-the-second new documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times, a film that sets out to show the who, what, when, where, and why of journalism’s ongoing meltdown.

Indeed, the movie’s opening is a symbolic montage — reams of paper and ink-filled printing presses, imagery that’s looking more and more like horses-and-buggies in the era of Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler, after the iPad, Kindle, and Huffington Post.  The next thing we see are the printed on paper editions of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News and Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer being sent to the death panel, while even the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle are bleeding as much as $1 million per week.  (The movie was completed well before the atrocities at News of the World were revealed – but the grim Murdoch revelations make Page One and its premise even more timely and chilling.)

Page One tells the story of the 2009-10 production year at the Times, focusing on several reporters (young bucks like Andrew Ross Sorkin and Tim Arango make appearances), but the main characters are embattled editor Bill Keller, and gruff, lovably no-nonsense media writer David Carr.  It also gives us a look inside the Times’ temple of truth (which looks more like a trendy city library with its open floorplan, pop art and furniture and cubicles, than a headachy, fluorescent-lit Lou Grant or All the Presidents Mens sweatshop.)

Far from being a dry (dare I say) newspaper-like documentary, the movie moves at an almost Entertainment Tonight pace, covering the almost uncountable ways and means in which the newspaper, magazine, and book publishing model we’ve known for the past 150 years is being obsoleted at photon-torpedo speed.  From plagiarists and fact-cookers like Judith Miller and Jayson Blair ruining newspaper credibility, to the ethical questions surrounding WikiLeaks, to advertising revenues brought to their knees — well before the 2008 meltdown — by Monster.com, Craigslist, and Angie’s List, it’s all there.  Not to mention the autistic 8-year-old’s attention span of Twitterized, text-messaging young readers, raised on shock journalism and reality TV.  If Page One can be faulted for anything, it’s for information overload and biting off more than it can chew — but it should be commended for trying.

Indeed, while the movie skates on some issues (and though it is specific to the New York Times, it tries to use the Times as a metaphor for what’s going on in the larger writing world), it raises just enough of them to provoke much-needed thought and discussion for the tuned-in viewer.  The most important area that the film breezes through is the fact that it isn’t just a decline in money that’s caused the problem at many papers.  As with the federal budget, there is definitely a revenue problem — but there’s also a priority problem, too.

I can personally name several top-level industry trades and papers who went on Flint Michigan-like downsizing kicks in 2008-10 – sending respected writers with 15, 20, 25 years experience into the dog ditch along with young ones starting out — only to spend literally millions of dollars on getting a few “name” editors the very next year. And as chilling as this is for the practice of journalism, from a Management 101 viewpoint, it may not necessarily be wrong.

Having a superstar editor, dripping with bling in her company Jaguar or Mercedes, may cost the same in salary as 8 or 10 hard-working, no-name writers and journos actually covering stories, checking facts, and generating content 24-7. (By contrast, the “Krystle Carrington” editor might actually do next to nothing writing- or copy-editing wise.)  But she WILL go to all the right cocktail parties and openings in New York, Washington, Beverly Hills, and Brentwood.  She’ll be a buzzy one-person PR “rebranding” of a borderline company.  She will ease the fears of advertising execs and bailout-era banks and boards (“Well, this place must have a bright future, or they couldn’t have afforded her in the first place!”)  In many magazines and newspapers, symbolism has begun trumping substance on a level to warm Karl Rove and Bill Clinton’s hearts.

It’s also no news to reveal, as Page One does, that after OJ, Monica, Jon-Benet, and Robert Blake, the line that once separated “serious” news from tabloid throwaway has all but disappeared even at many prestige venues.  What Page One underlines is that this crudity represents a paradigm shift in how news is delivered — and who delivers it.  In the past, Punch Sulzberger, Katharine Graham, Otis Chandler, and Walter Cronkite told us which stories were the “important” ones; they set the agenda.  Today, Google, Yahoo, and AOL tell newspapers and magazines what stories and topics they need to cover in order to generate traffic.  And that means if Kim Kardashian, Snooki, Lady Gaga, and The Bachelor are “trending” higher than Eric Cantor and Tim Geithner, guess who’s likely to get the electronic ink?  (Can we say “Casey Anthony trial,” anyone?)

Today, making the “hit count” nut isn’t just an issue.  To downsizing-traumatized line editors – even at many “serious” venues — it’s become the main issue.  Now imagine what this means for really serious, world stories.  It may frighten you as much as the budget default.

Against this frightful backdrop, the movie’s climax comes as the Times’ closest competitors for “papers of record” meet their doom.  The Post-Newsweek company skates on the thin ice of bankruptcy, Newsweek going into receivership and The Washington Post brutally downsizing.  And the Tribune Company, parents of The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune (as well as several other papers and the legendary TV “superstations” KTLA-Los Angeles and WGN-Chicago) is forced to file for reorganization.  The Tribune story is especially sordid, replete with an Enron/Halliburton level of cynical cronyism and looting, courtesy of its former CEO Sam Zell – a radio man who had little experience in print, who is seen telling outside reporters to “f*ck off” and calling them “p*ssies”, and openly suggesting carrying ads for porn. (The Boogie Nights atmosphere evidently carried over into the workplace, with allegations of rampant harassment and even employees having sex with editors right in the office.)

After spending most of the film “vaporizing” people who criticized Old Media newspapers and network news in favor of the brave new world of aggregation sites and Twitter/Facebook “citizen journalism”, even the tough-as-nails David Carr seems appalled and shaken by the Tribune and Post horrors.  And that’s the most dangerous story on Page One of all.  After all of the above, is it any wonder why people from Arianna Huffington and Markos Moulitsas to Palin and Bachmann hold the old-time news media in utter contempt?  If this isn’t “lame-stream” behavior, what is?  A free and vibrant press is an absolute must for a democracy, and must and should be defended absolutely.  But can there BE any defense of these kinds of travesties (let alone of the even more nauseous abuses that went on at News of the World?)  Of the misplaced priorities, the insular arrogance?  Is there any place left today for news venues that simply report what the news is — instead of the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns, who tell you what to think,too?

For all the dusty dignity and tarnished-armor courage of people like Bill Keller and David Carr, Page One never really answers how we can defend the media as it struggles to exist today – without inadvertently defending the abuses and abusers too.  Or the even more important question, the main question:  whether or not there IS a future for News Reporting 1.0.  And maybe it can’t explain or answer that.  But the point of Page One is that we as a people had better answer that question.  And we’d better do it soon — before it’s too late.

Why Thomas Friedman Is Flat Wrong

June 23rd, 2011 at 4:07 pm 19 Comments

Thomas Friedman has a way of getting attention with provocative statements and inaccurate facts.

His new recipe for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict (“What to do with Lemons,” New York Times,  June 18, 2011) is a case in point.

When Friedman claimed that “The World is Flat” in his 2005 book of that title on globalization, all he meant, obviously, was to get a catchy title.

The book begins with the story of Christopher Columbus, who set out to find India only to reach the Americas. Friedman claims that this proved Columbus’s thesis that the world is round. Actually, proof that the world is round came later, in 1522, when the sole surviving ship from Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet returned to Spain.

When it comes to the Middle East, however, Friedman’s belief that the world is flat seems to be sincere. No amount of evidence will make him budge from the dogma that the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines with bring the conflict with Israel to an end. Which is why he twists facts in order for the theory to look correct.

For a start, UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (from November 29, 1947) did not partition the British Mandate between a Jewish state and an Arab state. It only endorsed the recommendation of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). General Assembly resolutions are not binding upon UN members.

Resolution 181 became moot anyway after the Arab states rejected it and attacked Israel. Turning Resolution 181 into a Security Council Resolution, as Friedman suggests, will accomplish nothing.

Such a resolution would not be adopted under Chapter 7 of the international convention dealing with acts of aggression. It would be adopted under Chapter 6, which deals with finding a peaceful solution to international disputes via negotiations.

So the Security Council would officially ask Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate. What an achievement: they’ve been doing just that, to no avail, for the past two decades.

Besides, there is already a Security Council resolution on the Arab-Israel conflict: it is Resolution 242. This Resolution does not require from Israel a withdrawal to the temporary 1949 armistice line. The future border between Israel and its Eastern neighbor is to be negotiated.

When Friedman claims that “The dividing line should be based on the 1967 borders,” he not only invents a border that never existed. He also turns Resolution 242 on its head.

Aware of the fact that reverting to the 1949 armistice line is technically impossible, Friedman calls for “land swaps” that would enable “five percent of the West Bank where 80 percent of the settlers live” to “be traded for parts of pre-1967 Israel.” Why should there be “land swaps” when Israel is entitled, according to Resolution 242, to retain parts of the West Bank in the framework of a peace agreement?

In his recent address to AIPAC on May 22, President Obama claimed that the 1967 lines with land swaps “has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous US administrations.”

This is untrue. The only US Administration that mentioned land swaps was the Clinton Administration during the Camp David negotiations in July 2000.

Friedman concludes his op-ed by quoting Gidi Grinstein’s gloomy prediction that “September can be a confrontational zero-sum moment with potentially disastrous consequences.” Actually, Abbas is bluffing. “Palestine” was already recognized by the UN as a state in 1988. In addition, one of the conditions for state recognition in international law is to have a government. This is why Abbas tried to work out a deal with Hamas in order to put an end to the Gaza/West Bank dichotomy.

With this deal falling apart, there are still two, not one, Palestinian governments.

The world is not flat, but Thomas Friedman is flat-wrong about the Middle East. “You know what they say to do with lemons?” he asks in his piece. “Make lemonade.” Well, do you know what I say to do with prima donnas whose judgment is blurred by an inflated ego? Ignore them.

The Headlines Review

August 30th, 2009 at 8:10 pm Comments Off

Napoleon Linardatos presents a humorous take on today’s headlines.

“As Internet Booms, the Postal Service Fights Back”

-New York Times, 08.28.09

The U.S. Postal Service plans to start its own email service. The users of the service will be able to send and receive emails every day except Sunday.

* * *

“Bernanke Victimized by Identity Fraud Ring”

-Newsweek, 08.25.09

The Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, became suspicious when his attempted online purchase of Suze Orman’s The Laws of Money was declined.

* * *

“Colorado wildlife experts get aggressive going after smart bears”

-Denver Post, 8.24.09

Bears found in Mensa meetings will be shot at once.

* * *

“GOP Offers Seniors Health Bill of Rights”

-Associated Press, 8.24.09

Article I. Congress shall make no law reducing the massive intergenerational wealth transfers instituted by our political opponents in the years past.

* * *

“Yahoo renews vow to fight Microsoft”

-Financial Times, 8.25.09

Yahoo’s CEO said “We shall fight them on the closed circuits, we shall fight them on the e-commerce platforms, we shall fight them on the copper and fiber lines, we shall never merge.”

* * *

“Anne Fine deplores ‘gritty realism’ of modern children’s books”

-The Times, 8.24.09

J. K. Rowling’s newest book Notes from the Hogwarts Underground will be out this fall.

* * *

“Iran puts leading reformers on trial over unrest”

-Reuters, 8.25.09

The dissidents are charged with disorderly contact and astroturfing.

* * *

“U.S. limits visas in Honduras, stepping up pressure”

-Reuters, 8.25.09

In an effort to improve its relationship with the Obama administration, Honduras plans to turn decidedly anti-American.

* * *

“Italy to Ask Libya for Help in Controlling Migration”

-Wall Street Journal, 8.28.09

If Libya refuses the offer, Italy plans to cut off the head of Gaddafi’s favorite camel and place it in the dictator’s bed.

* * *

“Robbers pretended to sell President Obama health insurance policies to invade Long Island home”

-New York Daily News, 8.29.09

The victims got wary when they were told that the first insurance premium payment would consist of the plasma TV, the kid’s iPod and the “really cute shepherdess lamp.”