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Asymptomatic Spread

February 15, 2021 at 9:44 am

What percentage of coronavirus cases result in no symptoms?

An opinion piece in today's print New York Times reports, "An estimated one in five people who develop Covid-19 never have symptoms."

That estimate conflicts with other information published by the Times. In August 2020, a Times news article reported:

The study's estimate that 30 percent of infected people never develop symptoms is in line with findings from other studies. In a television interview on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tendered 40 percent as the figure.

"The good news about Covid-19 is that about 40 percent of the population have no symptoms when they get infected," Dr. Fauci said.

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George Shultz

February 8, 2021 at 8:16 am

The New York Times obituary of George Shultz is strange. The print headline is "Statesman Who Guided U.S. Toward the End of the Cold War." The jump headline over the end of the piece is "George Shultz, 100, Who Helped End The Cold War, Dies." I would have gone with "Statesman Who Guided U.S. Toward Victory in Cold War," or "George Shultz, 100, Who Helped Win The Cold War, Dies." For whatever reason, though, the Times headline writers seem loath to admit that the U.S. won the Cold War.

This isn't just a headline problem with the obituary, either. The Times obituary says, "Mr. Shultz lived long enough to see his most lasting legacy from the Reagan years come largely undone." This is followed by a long dirge about the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. But Shultz's most lasting legacy was not the INF treaty but the defeat of the Soviet Union, the freeing of the captive nations, and the emigration of Soviet Jewry. None of those legacies have come undone.

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Times Advises Readers How To Stop Reading It

January 18, 2021 at 8:07 am

From a column in the business section of today's New York Times:

Some of the news this month has been so stressful that many of us have needed reminders to unclench our jaws and stop staring at our screens.

In my recent column about creating a digital detox plan, I outlined methods like setting no-phone zones in the home — keep devices out of the bedroom! — and turning off app notifications. Some of us might need more extreme measures, like restricting access to the news.

For example, you can temporarily block your smartphone from accessing certain websites and apps, such as Twitter, CNN and even The New York Times — whatever may trap you in anever ending cycle of bingeing on doom and gloom....Temporarily blocking access makes it just a bit harder to check the news, which helps break the compulsive desire to doomscroll. Try these steps when you need a breather, like on the weekends or during dinner.

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January 17, 2021 at 9:07 am

The New York Times Sunday Book Review has a positive review of "Drug Use for Grown-Ups," a book by a professor of psychology at Columbia University, Carl Hart. According to the review, Hart's book states, "I am now entering my fifth year as a regular heroin user." From the review:

I met Hart once, in 2016, when I interviewed him for an article I was writing about Adderall. He told me that for a responsible adult, it could make more sense to take a small dose of Adderall than to use caffeine — because Adderall has "less calories." At the time, I was struck by his candor. Now I understand that this is his driving purpose: to demystify drugs, to advocate for the right to "the pursuit of pleasure" enshrined in the Declaration of Independence itself.

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"Upcoming Presidential Election"

January 3, 2021 at 7:46 am

This morning's—the January 3, 2021—print New York Times Sunday Book Review includes a review that begins with this sentence: "Barring some variant of an 'October surprise,' the upcoming presidential election seems unlikely to turn on questions of foreign policy."

"Upcoming presidential election"? Is the Times talking about 2024 already? Or am I caught in a time warp? October 2020 is already behind us.

The online version of the review indicates that it was "published Oct. 6. 2020" and "Updated Dec. 21, 2020." Whoever did the updating must not have been paying too close attention.

The Times editors have the job of running an online operation and simultaneously running a print operation. Sometimes the two get too far out of synch, as seems to have happened here, with the print version of a review appearing nearly three full months later than the online version. That is a long enough lag to make the lead sentence of the review obsolete.

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Defining the Price-Earning Ratio

December 27, 2020 at 9:40 am

A front-page New York Times news article about whether the stock market is overvalued includes this passage:

The market appears overheated by another gauge that investors often use to determine how cheap or expensive a stock is: its price relative to the profits it's expected to make. Currently, the so-called price-to-earnings ratio for S&P 500 companies is above 22, and has been for much of the year. The last time the market was consistently above that level was in 2000.

Actually, the price to earnings ratio is not the price relative to "the profits it's expected to make"; it's the price relative to the profits it already made.

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Mixed Messages on Masks

December 5, 2020 at 10:22 pm

"You don't need to wear a mask when you go for a walk or a jog," writes David Leonhardt in Saturday's New York Times. Leonhardt is kind of a big foot—he won the 2011 Pulitzer prize for commentary, and he is a former Washington bureau chief of the Times. His advice is headlined "Three Steps for Safe Living." He also cites the authority of Donald G. "First Person in the Lead News Article" McNeil Jr., another Times reporter: "Donald, who's famously careful, bikes without a mask." Leonhardt testifies that he himself skips masks sometimes: "I do take occasional unmasked, distant walks with one or two friends. They help keep me sane as we head into a long, very hard winter."

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How To Fix America

December 4, 2020 at 8:20 am

The Times Dealbook section features a special report on "How To Fix America." Explains the Times, "we asked top experts for one idea..." Somewhat jarringly, the second "expert" on the list is Robert F. Smith, chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, who proposes to "persuade" companies to "donate 2 percent of their income to do good." The Times doesn't mention it, but here is a report from last month in the Washington Post:

Smith had a secret: He'd played a role in what federal prosecutors allege was the biggest tax evasion scheme in U.S. history, an effort by his longtime associate, Texas billionaire Robert Brockman, to hide $2 billion from tax authorities in an offshore scheme featuring a computer program called Evidence Eliminator and code names such as "Redfish" and "Snapper."

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First Person in the Lead News Article

December 1, 2020 at 8:25 am

The first person makes an unusual and arguably jarring appearance in the top front-page news article of today's print New York Times. In an article about the coronavirus, Donald G. McNeil Jr. writes:

In mid-October, I surprised some New York Times readers by shifting from pessimism to optimism, with the epidemic in the United States most likely ending sooner than I expected. Now that at least two vaccines with efficacy greater than 90 percent have emerged, I am even more hopeful about what 2021 holds.

It's all a bit too meta- for my taste. I'd rather hear about the virus and the vaccines than how the virus and vaccine matches the prior expectations of the Times reporter, or the reporter's vacillation between "pessimism" and "optimism," however those are defined. At least in the front-page news articles. But I am even less hopeful than I was about the possibility of the New York Times adhering to longstanding journalistic conventions.

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A Pulitzer in "Service Journalism"?

October 30, 2020 at 8:52 am

From a New York Times business section article on journalist Glenn Greenwald's resignation from the Intercept: "At the time of the leaks, Mr. Greenwald worked for the United States edition of The Guardian newspaper, and the aggressive reporting he conducted with two colleagues, Ewen MacAskill and the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, gave The Guardian US the Pulitzer Prize in service journalism in 2014."

The 2014 Pulitzer won by The Guardian US was for public service, not "service journalism," which is a term for how-to articles that help readers do things: "How to be productive while working at home," "How to renovate your kitchen without losing your mind," etc. There is no Pulitzer Prize in "service journalism," unfortunately for the hardy souls who churn out these articles, which do, when well done, provide a service to readers, though less glamorously than the investigative crusades that often win the Pulitzer for public service.


The Wine-Affordability Problem, and Socialists For Biden

October 28, 2020 at 9:21 am

Two exhibits in today's installment of "I don't know who these guys think their intended audience is, but I don't think this was written for me":

Exhibit no. 1: The front page of the New York Times food section carries an article headlined "Income Inequality And Great Wines." It complains that "Income Inequality Has Erased Your Chance to Drink the Great Wines." The lead example involves how "back in 1994, a bottle of Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny 1991, a grand cru, retailed for $80 (the equivalent of $141 in 2020, accounting for inflation). Today, that bottle costs about $800."

"It is impossible for most people to pay for these wines," the Times article complains.

The article does not mention that $800 is less than the price of a seven-day home delivery subscription to the Times, which is now $20 a week, or $1,050 a year. Nor does it consider the possibility that a group of people might chip in and share an expensive bottle.

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Angela Davis and Anna Wintour

October 25, 2020 at 4:26 pm

More and more, the Times is so "woke" as to be almost unreadable.

The Sunday "T" magazine carries an adoring profile of Angela Davis, labeled under the category "The Greats."

Among the highlights, or lowlights, depending on how you see it:

In 2018, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Alabama invited her to receive an award, which was rescinded three months later after unnamed members of the community complained to the board about her support for Palestinian rights and a boycott of Israel. (The institute eventually reversed its decision and issued Davis a public apology.)


Throughout the '70s and '80s, as the Communist Party U.S.A.'s presence dwindled, and Communist regimes worldwide became increasingly totalitarian, Davis remained a staunch supporter of the party's ideas, twice running as its candidate for vice president in the '80s. In 1991, she stepped away, along with a number of other members, because the party refused to engage in processes of democratization...

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Op-Ed Whitewashes China

October 24, 2020 at 10:44 pm

A New York Times op-ed by Stephen Wertheim, "deputy director of research and policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and a research scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University," includes this passage:

Citing China's "bankrupt totalitarian ideology," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heralds a new dawn for U.S. leadership. "Securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party," he said in July, "is the mission of our time."

Is it? China is authoritarian and on the rise. But it is hardly Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. China is open for business, whether on fair terms or not; the world's largest trading nation makes a strange candidate for a totalitarian menace whose every activity closes off the earth. And unlike 20th-century rivals, China has long abstained from armed conquest. Though it threatens Taiwan, no one thinks it is about to invade U.S. allies like South Korea or Japan.

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Fact-Checking a Trump Vaccine Campaign Ad Fact-Check

October 20, 2020 at 8:03 am

A New York Times "fact check" of a Trump campaign commercial faults the ad: "Later, the ad says Mr. Trump is 'developing a vaccine in record time.' While potential vaccines may arrive in record time, they are being developed by private companies, not by Mr. Trump or his administration."

Who will fact check the fact-checkers?

Here is the New York Times's Science section's own "vaccine tracker."

Pfizer: "The Trump administration awarded a $1.9 billion contract in July for 100 million doses to be delivered by December and the option to acquire 500 million more doses."

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Drugs and Double Standards

October 4, 2020 at 11:02 pm

The double standards of the New York Times are on clear display in the newspaper's coverage of illegal drugs.

Sunday's New York Times style section carries a mostly laudatory feature about parents turning to drugs during the pandemic: "Though there aren't reliable statistics that break down parents' use of alcohol, marijuana and anti-anxiety medications specifically, overall adult use of these substances has gone up since the pandemic began, said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse."

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