Monday, May 12, 2003

L'Affaire Blair: I feel pretty apathetic for not having an opinion on the Blair matter, but to be brutally frank, I don't much care what happens at the Times, and I'm not convinced it has much shine left to dull. Sure, sure: it's still The Times, after all -- at least in America. That distinction and a couple of bucks will get you a cup of coffee -- and the New York Post, which is all the things the Times is not (for example, fun to read). The Times, at some point, became convinced of its own reputation as the journalistic equivalent of high fiber, but there's actually a quite fine old paper across the river at the Newark Star-Ledger, which -- to my knowledge -- is not excluded from major news stories. Allergic to wire copy? Try the Wall Street Journal, which has its own reporters on the ground everywhere, provides about as much news as you need before you get into the realm of analysis, and sports the finest Chinese wall in the business -- more, alas, than can be said for the Times. (See, for obvious reasons, Sullivan on this point.) And, for all the Pulitzer Committee obscene-phone-call breathing over the Times's columnists, none of them rises too far above the banal in my estimation. Even Safire, the odd man out there and certainly the closest to my political leanings, is more interesting writing on language. Dowd, Krugman, Herbert -- they're mired so deep in Bushophobia, and in such thrall to their own influence, that they rarely rise above a parody of the Concerned Liberal Columnist. Old Rosenthal was interesting, even if it was only because he was a dinosaur; but like a dinosaur he stayed, and like a dinosaur he went.

Is there still good, solid reporting to be found at the Times? Yeah, I guess, but there is at the local daily in Bangor or Des Moines or Abilene, as long as you aren't the type to sniff at provincialism. Which brings us back to New York, the most provincial of the provinces. To a Times reader, it's that old New Yorker cover where, once across the Hudson, the country is foreshortened into caricature. In order to buy into the importance of the Times, you have to buy into the importance of New York, and therefore the importance of Importance. It's a worldview that is not entirely without merit, but one certainly couldn't call it a priori pre-eminent. A certain amount of the blogger world is all about puncturing that sensibility: it's a group of well-read, smart, even hip people -- bloggers and readers alike -- who are tired of the talking points, the recieved wisdom of The Times.

Which brings me to my final point, which was also my point in mentioning the Post above: The Times is generally a humorless paper. News, to them, is made and reported with a grim mien. When there is humor, it's often startlingly trite and revelatory of the insularity of the Times staff. The Post, on the other hand, is a big, meaty dish of news, full of weirdos, straphangers, pervs, and all the wonderful Post-isms that only a seasoned reader doesn't need explained (e.g., "Beep to Hizzoner, PA on Wrong Track in Bx" or some other juicy shorthand like that).

By the way, if I ever blog about newspapers again, I'm skipping the italics. (You'll notice I didn't get them all. Screw it. Even an editor gets tired of this crap.)

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