David Brooks writes:
"Unsolved Murders Prompt Outcry on Lack of Justice for the Poor," is the headline over a Times dispatch from Huntington Station, N.Y., reporting on four homicides: "Many who live here said the inertia in the cases proved that the authorities paid too little attention to solving crimes when the victims were poor or Hispanic or lived in the more economically hardscrabble parts of town."
Heads up: I am about to criticize the Times for being unfairly critical of a Democratic politician, which may be surprising given my own center-right political leanings. In a news article about an appearance by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vice President Biden, the Times reports that Mr. Biden "rambled on for 25 minutes about the importance of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure."
As an aside in a music review of a performance conducted by John Adams, whose opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" has prompted protests, Times critic Anthony Tommasini writes, "Many of those incensed by the opera admit to never having seen it."
The use of the word "admit" suggests that Mr. Tommasini thinks there is something wrong with protesting an opera one has not seen. But the rule he seems to be propounding — than in order to protest something or be angry about it, one has to have viewed it — doesn't make much sense to me. It seems to me to be legitimate to oppose child pornography, for example, without having seen it. Or to be incensed by the beheading of American journalists by the Islamic State without having viewed the videos of the killings.
The New York Times coverage of Ebola has been erratic, as Twitter commentators have pointed out effectively. My former colleague Josh Gerstein notices a Times article that manages to describe the disease as "extremely infectious but also tremendously hard to catch."
Paul Krugman's column is about a force in the book industry whose "power is really immense." He explains that "Book sales depend crucially on buzz and word of mouth (which is why authors are often sent on grueling book tours); you buy a book because you've heard about it, because other people are reading it, because it's a topic of conversation, because it's made the best-seller list." And he says that this force in the book industry, the one he is writing about, "possesses ... the power to kill the buzz."
The force that Professor Krugman is writing about is Amazon, and he calls for the federal government to break it up, or at least "curb its power," on antitrust grounds the way it did with Standard Oil.
But imagine if Professor Krugman's argument were applied to another "immense" power in the book industry — The New York Times itself.
Professor Krugman faults Amazon for its supposed "selectivity." He writes:
For the price of $6,995, the New York Times is offering 13-day tours of Iran guided by Times journalist Elaine Sciolino. Promotional material for the tour on the Times website promises "luxurious hotels" and describes Tehran as a city where "the young and fashionable adopt a new trendy joie de vivre." Also on the itinerary: "a pleasant evening stroll around the colorful bazaars," along with insights into the "accomplishments" of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.
The U.S. Treasury Department website advises that notwithstanding the American economic sanctions on Iran, "All transactions ordinarily incident to travel to or from Iran, including the importation of accompanied baggage for personal use, payment of maintenance and living expenses and acquisition of goods or services for personal use are permitted."
Thomas Friedman's New York Times column is about the Secret Service scandal. Who does he blame? Not President Obama, who as head of the executive branch is in charge of the agency. Not the secretary of homeland security, the department into which the Secret Service was dumped by the George W. Bush administration. No, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner blames Congress, for going on recess. The one villain named by Mr. Friedman in his column is, wait for it, Eric Cantor, the former House Majority Leader, whose crime, in Mr. Friedman's view, is going to work for a Wall Street firm. Give the Times columnist credit for originality. Who'd have thought there'd be a way to blame the Secret Service scandal on House Republicans?
"Health Plan Cancellations Are Coming, but for Relatively Few" is the headline over an article on page A3 of my print New York Times. It is labeled "The Upshot" but otherwise carries no indication of whether it is news, opinion, or something else. The article begins as follows:
A front-page Times account of the extortion of immigrants by those in the "ruthless," "ugly business of human smuggling" features some vivid and valuable reporting but runs astray in an ideological lecture:
The Times sees the problem with this smuggling arising from the fact that it is "unregulated capitalism." I see it the opposite way — it is an excess of government regulation that caused the problem. Without the government-imposed limits on legal immigration, these smugglers would be out of business.
The lead editorial in today's New York Times calls for passage of marijuana legalization measures in Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia, describing the drug as "far less dangerous than alcohol" and denouncing "harsh criminal penalties."
Meanwhile, over in reality — I mean, the sports section — a "news analysis" of swimmer Michael Phelps entering a six-week inpatient alcohol rehabilitation program after being arrested and charged with driving under the influence reports:
The lead news article in today's Times is a profile of the Dallas Ebola victim. It carries the byline of two-time Pulitzer-prize winner Kevin Sack, and it also carries some pretty compelling and fascinating reporting. Alas, it also carries a real clunker of a sentence that some editor should have caught and fixed: "Tragedy befell Ms. Troh in February when a daughter in Liberia died during childbirth."
Yikes. Can't Times readers be counted on to react with the appropriate emotion to the news of a death during childbirth without being clobbered over the head with notification that it is a "tragedy"? And who communicates in this passive-voice, non-idiomatic language — "Tragedy befell" — other than journalists?
"Hong Kong Protests Are Leaderless But Orderly" — Headline, page one, New York Times, October 1, 2014
"Joshua Wong Emerges as Unlikely Teenage Leader in Hong Kong Protests" — Headline, New York Times website, October 1, 2014
It's hard to see how both of these headlines can be accurate. The second story doesn't claim that Mr. Wong became the leader of the protests in the past 12 hours. How can the protests simultaneously have been leaderless and led by Joshua Wong? Both articles carry the byline of Times reporter Chris Buckley.
A fashion review in the Times begins as follows:
"Vets Face Rising Worry Over Fleas" is the headline over a Times article on the front of the Science section. This struck me as a less-than-good headline for several reasons. First, I thought it was about military veterans. Then, once I realized that the headline was about veterinarians, it once again seemed inapt, because the ones worried about fleas are the pets and the pet-owners, not the veterinarians. Maybe the veterinarians are the ones "facing" the rising worry of the pet-owners, but the veterinarians interviewed in the Times article all seemed pretty calm.
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