Sunday, July 25, 2004


Where to start? Well, let's start with the fact the "public editor" of The New York Times believes he is honor-bound to respond -- on behalf of his newspaper -- to correspondents like Mr. Jim Chapman:

If you're like Jim Chapman, one of my correspondents who has given up on The Times, you're lost in space. Wrote Chapman, "Whatever happened to poetry that required rhyme and meter, to songs that required lyrics and tunes, to clothing ads that stressed the costume rather than the barely clothed females and slovenly dressed, slack-jawed, unshaven men?"

Whatever happened to poetry that rhymed, Jim? The twentieth century happened. Don't bitch to the Times. Take it up with, say, these guys.

But this cuts Daniel Okrent to the quick. Good guilty liberal that he is, he shoulders the blame, on behalf of his newspaper, for the decadence of free verse and the lack of melody in rap music and male models who threaten the moral fabric of the Republic by not tucking in their shirts.

Okrent acknowledges, seemingly with a tone of regret, that "a creationist will find no comfort in Science Times." Then his spine stiffens just for a second ... or seems to:

Not that creationists should expect to find comfort in Science Times. Newspapers have the right to decide what's important and what's not.

So, according to Okrent, the failure of the Times to give equal time to creationists has nothing to do with scientific evidence. It's merely a choice. Does that mean it could be reversed? And what about flat-earthers? Can they, too, hope, that a future Times editor will decide that the paper was wrong to consider their beliefs not "important"?

But the real bee in Okrent's bonnet is his paper's coverage of homosexuality and related topics. (And it does seem to be a bee in Okrent's bonnet -- he quotes no actual readers who bring it up.) Yes, the Times has two conservative op-ed columnists, but one "supports legalization of gay unions." The Metro section publishes, says Okrent with squeamish distate, "a long piece best described by its subhead, 'Cross-Dressers Gladly Pay to Get in Touch with Their Feminine Side.'" And -- in addition to those gay wedding announcements -- there's article after article with positive things to say about gay marriage. Okrent writes:

Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn't even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you'd have the makings of a life insurance commercial.

Okrent again retreats. With creationism, he won't stand and fight for the notion that the paper is siding with science; he retreats to editorial prerogative. And on the subject of a bias in favor of gay marriage, he won't stand and fight for that same editorial prerogative, even though it's entirely appropriate in a city that's been a gay epicenter for at least a century; again he retreats, comparing the Times unfavorably to, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle, which ran

an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage.

Here's the article in question. The "Stanford scholar" is anti-gay polemicist Stanley Kurtz. You can decide for youself whether the article is inflected or not:

Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va., asked Kurtz several times if what he was arguing was that heterosexual couples will not marry if homosexual couples do. "Are you saying that men and women are less likely to get married because two men get married?"

When Kurtz said yes, Scott laughed....

Okrent is describing a newspaper that reflects its city and its readers. It's appropriate for a newspaper with a large gay readership to lean in favor of equality for gay people (and yes, I do think it's fair to make a comparison to the more progressive Southern newspapers that gave sympathetic coverage to the civil rights movement). It's appropriate for a newspaper with a lot of fashionista readers to cover unshaved young scenesters with untucked shirts. It's appropriate for a newspaper in a city of rootless cosmopolitans to show (much as it disturbs Okrent) people wearing "T-shirts bearing the slogan, 'I'm afraid of Americans'" (especially given the fact that many of those rootless cosmopolitans are David Bowie fans).

Don't like it? Start your own damn world-class city and your own damn newspaper of record.

No comments: