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Misplaced Modifying Phrase

May 19, 2021 at 7:49 am

This sentence appears on the front page of this morning's New York Times: "Mr. Rivas, 37, a construction worker, and his girlfriend were riding a train home from Lower Manhattan last month when he said a man screamed at them for no reason."

What happened on the train last month? Mr. Rivas said something? Or a man screamed at him? I think the Times is attempting to communicate that the screaming happened last month, not the saying. If so, it'd be better written: "Mr. Rivas, 37, a construction worker, said he and his girlfriend were riding a train home from Lower Manhattan last month when a man screamed at them for no reason." As is, the phrase "last month" is dropped into the sentence closer to "said" than it is to either "riding" or "screamed," making it sound like the interview with the Times happened last month.

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Mundell and "Michael's"

April 6, 2021 at 7:58 am

A New York Times obituary of the Nobel laureate economist Robert Mundell reports:

His ideas were promoted with evangelical fervor in the 1970s particularly by two economists: Arthur Laffer, who became known for the "Laffer curve," postulating that lower tax rates would generate higher government revenues, and Jude Wanniski, an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, whose opinion pages took up Professor Mundell's cause after a series of lunches and dinners at the Midtown Manhattan restaurant Michael's, which were later described by Robert Bartley, The Journal's opinion editor, in his book "The Seven Fat Years" (1992).

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Fruit and Vegetable Subsidies

March 16, 2021 at 9:05 am

In general I am a fan of Jane Brody's health column. Today's has an inaccuracy about the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She writes:

Of course, in recent decades many of the policies of the department Mr. Vilsack now heads have contributed mightily to Americans' access to inexpensive foods that flesh out their bones with unwholesome calories and undermine their health. Two telling examples: The government subsidizes the production of both soybeans and corn, most of which is used to feed livestock.

Not only does livestock production make a major contribution to global warming, much of its output ends up as inexpensive, often highly processed fast foods that can prompt people to overeat and raise their risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease. But there are no subsidies for the kinds of fruits and vegetables that can counter the disorders that render people more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

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Denham, Massachusetts?

March 7, 2021 at 9:29 am

From the "Corner Office" interview in the Sunday Business section with the senior partner of PwC, Tim Ryan, described by the Times as "a white, male, Irish-Catholic millionaire.":

What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Boston, and then I moved right over the city line into a town called Denham. I was very, very, very middle-class, lower middle-class. We didn't have much at all. My dad worked three jobs. He worked at Boston Edison and The Boston Herald. When one of those two were on strike, which was all the time, he would work as a garbage man. My mother worked at a supermarket. And we were taught to work hard. We all got jobs at 14, and I remember lying about my age so I could get a job at the supermarket. I have no childhood memory of doing homework.

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Dr. Cornel West

March 3, 2021 at 6:47 am

A New York Times article about Cornel West seeking tenure at Harvard includes this paragraph:

By the time Dr. West returned to Harvard in 2017, Mr. Summers was long gone. Harvard's current president, Mr. Bacow, "actually has some decency," Dr. West allowed.

It's odd for the Times to refer to "Dr." West but "Mr. Summers" and "Mr. Bacow," since Bacow, Summers and West all have Ph.D. degrees, and none of them is a medical doctor. Also, it's not accurate that Summers was "long gone" from Harvard. Summers is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor, and the Times itself reported as recently as 2020 that Summers had a voice in economics faculty hiring decisions.


Common Cold

February 20, 2021 at 7:41 pm

A recent item here faulted the Times for criticizing Rush Limbaugh for having "pushed dangerous lies, at one point likening the coronavirus to the common cold." I pointed out that the Times itself had published that comparison. That generated some pushback in the Smartertimes comments. For what it's worth, the Times did it again in David Leonhardt's morning newsletter. Leonhardt writes, "The accumulated scientific evidence suggests the chances are very small that a vaccinated person could infect someone else with a severe case of Covid. (A mild case is effectively the common cold.)"

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Avoid News in Evenings, Times Advises

February 18, 2021 at 9:53 am

A news article in today's Times reports, "Sleep experts also recommend exercising, not eating dinner too late, having a before-bed routine, and cutting back on news and social media in the evening — good advice for anyone, especially these days."

How far to cut back? The article does not specify. Maybe the Times should make its website or mobile apps unavailable in the evenings.

This is the latest in a series of admissions from the Times that its own product can be bad for you. See the earlier post, Times Advises Readers How To Stop Reading It.


Rush Limbaugh

February 17, 2021 at 7:48 pm

From the New York Times obituary of Rush Limbaugh: "Last year, as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the nation, Mr. Limbaugh pushed dangerous lies, at one point likening the coronavirus to the common cold."

The Times itself has made the same comparison at least twice. In a health section article, a physician on the Yale medical school faculty wrote, "The symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, clearly cover a broad spectrum of illness, ranging from life-threatening pneumonia to what seems like a really bad cold."

And in a news article, Vivian Wang of the Times reported, "For many with mild infections, the coronavirus could be virtually indistinguishable from the common cold or seasonal flu, said Dr. Jin of the University of Hong Kong..."

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Wuhan Institute of Virology

February 15, 2021 at 9:46 am

The Times publishes a question-and-answer format interview with Peter Daszak, identified by the Times as a member of "A team of experts selected by the World Health Organization to investigate the origins of the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic." The print Times says, "A specialist in animal diseases and their spread to humans, Dr. Daszak has worked with the Wuhan Virology Institute."

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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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