New York Times


dumbieI’m digging through my pile of New York Times issues that contain crazy errors, and this one came up to the top: February 25, 2008, p. B1, front page of the “The Arts” section has a screaming headline: “‘Old Country for Old Men’ Wins Oscar Tug of War.'”

Of course, this can’t possibly be. I recall reading this, circling it and putting it aside because it was so egregious, I felt they must be perpetrating some convoluted parody, and since I hadn’t seen the movie, thought I’d check it again later.

Well, later was today, and I went to the Times website to see if I was seeing things. The headline in the online edition was correct: “‘No Country for Old Men’ Wins Oscar Tug of War” was the wording here. Whoa. They really did make an error that big! Surely they couldn’t sweep this under the rug. I scrolled to the bottom of the page, and sure enough, there it was–

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 26, 2008
A headline in some editions of The Arts on Monday with an article about the Academy Awards ceremony misstated, in some copies, the title of the film that won best picture. It is, of course, “No Country for Old Men,” not “Old Country for Old Men.”

Holy Crap. I’m just an amateur here. This was huge. I am speechless. Devoid of words. Silent.

Let’s remember the theme of this blog: “The Dumbing of America.” How can we expect 3rd graders to read and write when the standard-bearer of the Fourth Estate can’t? Wow.

I can say no more.

Sorry to say there’s more evidence of the decline and fall of Western civilization: the decline of journalism as a professional skill. Yes, it’s represented by the writing found in The New York Times, the old stalwart of fine journalism. Today’s paper, sadly, right on page 1, features a teaser piece under the headline “Money, Influence and the Campaign.” It is subheaded under 2 columns–the article on the left about the Democrats, the one on the right about the Conservatives. I hesitate to say Republicans here, because that’s not the focus of the piece, and, I just like using the word “Conservatives” because they, since the advent of Ronald Reagan, refuse to use the word “Democrat,” favoring “Liberal” instead. Time to turn the tables. Oops, I used a cliché.

What’s bizarre about the teaser for the Conservative piece is its terrible, terrible writing style. In two small paragraphs, it manages to use so much misappropriated jargon, slang and metaphor to be almost devoid of meaning. To be fair, the remainder of the article, which is quite long and plainly written, is almost jargon-free. So rather than bringing writer Michael Luo to trial, the culprit has got to be the hidden Page 1 editor. It looks like some worried editor, jazzed up on energy drinks at 3 in the morning, feared that the lead didn’t have enough sizzle. Oddly, he didn’t give the Democrats the same treatment, but they have their own problems with sleazy, Mafia-connected Harold Ickes as the subject of the piece.

ClockThe Luo article is about the group Freedom’s Watch, who had hoped to raise lots of money for the Republican presidential candidate. Rather than led, the group is “headlined by” some ex-Bush White House officials. I think, though it’s hard to tell in this lengthy article, these are Ari Fleischer and Brad Blakeman. Apologies, I just don’t see Ari doing 10 minutes at the Ha-Ha Club. The group is also “deep-pocketed” and a “juggernaut” (sic). It has been “heralded” (I’m seeing British lords fêted by long trumpets) as a “counterweight” (now envisioning a tall grandfather clock) to a group, an individual “and the like.” What is this? 1889? Who uses this terminology? It’s as if some Robber Baron woke up from the dead, got a job at the Times, and decided to become a hepcat.

Finally, instead of giving us an actual explanation of who exactly is being counterweighted, the editor groups together a progressive political organization, a wealthy, renegade liberal activist, and, instead of putting in the work to find a third example to round out the list, throws it all away with a brisk “and the like.” He might as well write “and fellow travelers” circa 1951, since that’s what he’s implying! Talk about lazy… and all of that was in the first sentence!

The next sentence brings the Freedom’s Watch “debut” (a blushing ingenue onstage) which was “splashy” (hard to believe for über-Conservatives). But indeed, the splashiness may have been caused by their “advertising blitz” (Merriam-Webster’s actual example defining the 1940’s slang for the German term “blitzkrieg”). The organization is then described as “paralyzed” wondering “what role… it will… play” (we’re back onstage). We are now well into the world of cliché.

The third and final sentence of this nightmare features “go full bore” and “prospects… seeming to dim.” Again, WWII seems to be the start date for “full bore.”

Whether from gun or engine, bore has an extended use attributed to the Royal Air Force in World War II: ”I went after him full bore,” recounted the ace C. H. Ward-Jackson in 1943. There was a need for a new full, since full sail, full blast and full steam were obsolete.

The citation goes to the incomparable William Safire in a Times article from 1997 (“Full Bore, Small Bore,” January 12, 1997). As for prospects dimming, can’t we do any better, Mr. Editor? That’s 13 ridiculous language abuses in 3 sentences. You’re lucky I got to you before Safire did.

Herald image originally uploaded by Rovin’ Reeds
Clock image originally uploaded by Tao Jones

scarychefdet.jpgYou gotta be kidding — look at this guy. Apparently the joke went right over the collective heads of The New York Times, who published this picture today under the title, “YOUR WAITER TONIGHT…” Is that a threat or a promise?

This is what you see when you grab your first gander at today’s Dining Out section above the fold — this horrible, Manson-like evildoer serving tiny portions of gruel to you, the reader/potential restaurant-goer.

Is this some latter-day John Malkovich with a bad haircut? What about that thousand-mile stare? Or do we now expect sociopaths, recently released from the State Asylum, to serve us dinner at our local upscale NYC eatery? I don’t want my chef serving me dinner, thank you. Just because he can cook doesn’t mean he knows how to hand over my scrod foie gras without dropping it in my wife’s lap.

images-miscellaneous-2006-rake-700x700.jpgSorry, I’ve been behind in my New York Times errors documentation. But the list is piling up! Here are a few good ones:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008: A heading “Oil Price Rises Above Record” under the Inside feature states that–

Oil prices rose briefly to $103.95, breaking a record set in April 1980 during the second oil shock…

What in the world does that mean? “The second oil shock” is such an odd turn of phrase. Was this the second one of the year? Of the decade? Of the millenium?  And when was the first one?

Monday, February 25, 2008: An article entitled “Blogger, Sans Pajamas, Rakes Muck and a Prize.” Fine. But the 2nd paragraph leaves me sputtering. Here’s the quote:

On Tuesday, it was announced that he had won a George Polk Award for legal reporting for coverage of the firing of eight United States attorneys, critics charged under political circumstances.

Is this the most awkward sentence you’ve read in a long time? Me too! It sounds like the “critics charged” phrase is referring to the announcement of the award.

By the way, the article title sucks as well, since, while you can definitely rake muck, you can’t really rake prize. Author Noam Cohen and his copy editor, who both need a journalism school refresher class, obviously meant “rake in” a prize. I know, who would notice that? Easy answer: ME.

Oh, well. More coming.

1010061141.jpgAnother anomaly from the Times today–the big setup and the even bigger letdown. We see a tantalizing array of photographs. Easy chairs? Barcaloungers? What’s the underlying theme? Our eye immediately finds the caption, unoriginally titled in that it is based on a big Hollywood movie title, and learn that it is from a photo exhibit by an artist named Saul Robbins. Brilliant idea: therapists’ chairs! I want to know more! Which gallery reps Saul, so I can go see the hilarity in person? Well, we’ll never know, because Saul or his work or the exhibit is not mentioned again. Sure, the article tells us a lot about shrinks and their offices, but what is the tie-in to this artwork? How did Mr. Robbins come to this project? Has he been in therapy for 20 years and finally confessed that he typically never listened, instead focusing on the office decor in his endless stream of experiences with various and sundry psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers? No, nothing like that. As has been the wont of the Times for the last few years, as it slips into decline, the pictures don’t really match the articles, or the captions don’t match the pictures, or the caption is misleading, or the article doesn’t bounce off the picture… you know, high school stuff. It reminds me of the story about the tall guy below.

GiantHere we go with another annoying goof. In Friday’s edition (August 24, 2007), the failing paper’s front page “Inside” box had yet another screw-up. There were six teasers for articles inside the paper, and the one titled “The Fun and the Fearsome” boasted an intriguing photo–a man who appears to be The Tallest Man in the World next to a woman who is presumably a visitor to the newly opened Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium in Times Square. She is about 5′ – 7″ and he is clocking in somewhere south of 9′ – 0″ — pretty amazing! It’s a good teaser! I can’t wait to read the article!

So I rip open the paper to page B25 and read… and read… and read…

NOTHING!

Not a word about the tall man! Now the questions begin to articulate themselves in my mind: is he a wax figure? Is the girl a wax figure? She’s dressed like such a NY shlub she must be real… or perhaps too real, like she’s an actor with a forced grimace and the all-too-typical touristy shopping bag and oversized purse. Then again, is this just a posed photograph? Maybe it’s the actual guy, visiting the museum to participate in its Grand Opening?

Most puzzling, once again, is why the editors don’t remember simple rules, like “Set it up, and pay it off.” That’s the purpose of the tease. That’s the raison d’etre for the tease in all aspects of advertising, promotions, PR, publicity, and media. Sure, the movie teasers might lie, but the public quickly catches on that the movie stinks and they’re only showing the 3 best scenes. And again, isn’t the NYT supposed to be a shade above the sleaze level of the movie and TV world? Have they completely given up on the idea of setting the standard for print journalism worldwide? Get it together people! It’s bad enough you shrunk the size of the actual paper. Please don’t appear as tiny as the poor woman in the picture. I know it’s hard, but all this simply heralds the ultimate demise of this once-fine paper, which suddenly, sadly, seems inevitable.


Cindy McCainA really ridiculous typo from the nation’s most important newspaper The New York Times on page A22 of the Los Angeles edition. Here’s the quote:

But Mrs. McCain is clearly not interested in having her husband take a beating at the expense of his family or enduring accusations about his briery temperament.

“Briery?” What the hell is that? Is that a word? Could it mean “thorny,” as in a brier patch? Nah. I think it’s just a really bad misspelling of the word fiery.

Well, my favorite dictionary tells me there actually is a word briery! The root word brier is defined as “a prickly plant or shrub,” so it could actually make sense. Is the NYT being super clever and willfully obscure? Impressive!

Briery McCainStrangely enough, there’s a 2nd definition of brier which is “the woody root of which is used for making tobacco pipes.” Okay, I remember those pipes. My father even tried to sell them at some point in an ill-fated mail-order business scheme. The attic was filled with unsold pipes, boxes of tobacco packets, and some pretty impressive preprinted sales materials. My Dad took on the persona of fictional “Lou B. Meyer,” not a great name in the world of sedentary pipe-smoking. In fact, I’m picturing a fat, cigar-chomping 1930s show-biz mogul for some reason… In any case, isn’t a guy named “Lou” not to be trusted at all?

This 2nd definition has no adjectival variant. So I guess it would be untoward to take a leisurely drag and utter, “Hmm, this pipe is a little too briery for my tastes. I’m more of a Meerschaum man myself.”

Even stranger, there’s the other brier, which is spelled briar. I recall this because of some cartoon character who was associated with the Briar Patch. Was it Br’er Rabbit? What was Br’er Rabbit? Some of these things are just on the thin edge of memory. A friend of mine recently jogged something loose in my subconscious about a cartoon character named Odie Cologne. I obsessively watched this character in my young childhood, but it was laying inert at the very bottom of my soul until now. I certainly couldn’t tell what the context was until she told me. It was a show called The King Leonardo Show, later called The King and Odie. It ran from 1960 to 1963. She was asking me if I recalled Mr. Wizard, which rang a bell but is such a generic name, I imagined there have been hundreds of Mr. Wizards throughout television history.

When she showed me the images, especially Tooter Turtle (I didn’t remember his name) I almost got sick. It was like I was slammed back into age 4, sitting on the cold black-and-white checkered tiling in my basement in Colonia, NJ. It was such a precise and deep memory, that it effected me physiologically, causing me to shudder. I saw the pictures of Leonardo and Odie and remembered exactly their voices, clear as a bell in my mind. The images of the detective, the cop in the tiny helicopter, the elephant who could fly by dint of his rotating tail… go to this web page to see what I’m talking about. My stomach is hurting right now looking at those images, but it is an ecstatic pain, bittersweet that I had forgotten these cartoon friends but have now recovered them. Impossible!

Where were we? Oh, yes. The Briar Patch. So Wikipedia tells us the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South was based on three Br’er Rabbit folklore stories, one called The Briar Patch. So perhaps they showed that movie on TV when I was a kid. Who knows?

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