There is nothing sadder than watching something beloved and essential to one’s comfort level and well being decline. No, I’m not talking about the human aging process with its relentless surge of decrepitude and eventual oblivion. I’m talking about something that has always been there in my life for decades, stalwart, steady, exciting, frequently aggravating, but the most enduring stimulant to starting one’s day, more potent than its accompanying coffee eye-opener.
I am talking about The New York Times, once the immortal grey lady, now slowly morphing into a stripped down version of a retrograde teenager showing off in a desperate attempt to be noticed or, in this case, stay noticed.
Nevertheless my love affair with the old grey lady continues since I can still see vestiges of her classic beauty that keeps me interested, perhaps more out of nostalgia and habit than necessity and utility. The fact is that if the New York Times did not arrive at my front door in the morning, I would be bereft. A huge gap would open in my life that could never be filled with whatever the vast cloud of the internet could provide.
Strangely, the Times has morphed into a bizarre version of ideological schizophrenia. It has become the impassioned champion of its non-readers whose eyeballs would hardly matter to those advertisers who seek to sell goods and services to its ever declining readership. On the other hand, it does satisfy the ideological demands of many of its readers, whose “save the world” mentality protects them from the guilt of plenty and extreme comfort that punctuate their lives.
One would think that such breast beating would actually increase the readership of its paper. Then again, perhaps this ideological pose is the least important reason why people read the Times. It has, far and away, the best arts coverage of any mass media paper, probably in the world. Its feature stories, always well written, imaginative and often surprising in content, offer a marvelous potpourri for curiosity hounds like yours truly. I am often astonished by the imagination of its editors in ferreting out wonderful sidebars to international, national and city life that have often been neglected elsewhere. And, their sports coverage is darned good.
There is enough non-ideological material to make up for the obvious bias. Some star op-ed columnists are almost universally nasty. For example, Frank Rich, a pleasant fellow in person, seems to be running a close race with Maureen Dowd as to who will win the nasty prize. Frank, who single-handedly nearly ruined the live theater business when he was the drama critic for the Times, maintains a sniggling self-righteous nose-in- the-air superiority that makes one shudder with inferiority anxiety.
As for Maureen Dowd, her column must attract a large readership of psychiatrists to observe her love hate relationship with her own gender. I read them both avidly, proving the theory that nastiness has great entertainment value for people of my ilk.
Then there are the self-righteous op-ed lecturers on the subject of the way the world should be run, meaning Tom Friedman, Nicholas D. Kristof, David Brooks and Paul Krugman whose economic views offer even more fodder for the Times’ non-readers. Let’s throw in Bob Herbert for racial sensitivity. No racial slight, real or imagined, goes unwritten.
Their “how-to’s” have spawned for these writers an entire ancillary personal profit industry with ever burgeoning contracts for book writing, speaking tours and talking head babbling on the boob tube. More power to them. Talking to non-readers puts them in an income category that makes them wealthy enough to buy the goods advertised in their flagship distributor.
Kristof, who sheds tears for third world atrocities is quite eloquent on the depressing treatment of females in many of these abominable countries. One wonders why his exposes don’t send ardent feminists into violent protest mode along with the rest of us allegedly caring humans. Or does it indicate that Times readers are mostly armchair activists who prefer to bleed privately and leaving the dirty work to its non-readers.
As for the editorial pages, here is classic umbrage taking to satisfy the most hardcore “progressive.” The page screams with “down with the rich” and “republicans are neanderthal” indignation, offering a perfect magic bullet right into the heart of its readership which is mostly “upper middle class and comfortable to very rich” and, without a doubt “democratic or faux independent.” I suspect the target audience is themselves, the privileged guys and gals who run the editorial end of the business.
I keep wondering how many readers of the Times live in subsidized housing or how big a circulation the Times has in the borough of Queens, statistically the most multi-culturally geographical designation in New York City and probably the world. As the Bible for political correctness, the Times has a world-wide franchise on this transforming vocabulary in which evil doings are deliberately scrubbed clean of vituperation. Indeed, it won’t be long before the Times will describe terrorists as “wayward youths.”
I’m sure the right of center crowd, if any remain, are left with heartburn and rising blood pressure if they read the Times editorials, undoubtedly with masochistic fervor.
As for the Jewish readership, which is probably a healthy statistic, the paper’s anti-Israel stance may have little to do with a decline in circulation, since the paper acts as a bellwether of bias and a record of Israel baiting, both obvious and subtle, that offers a proper standard for the many Jewish organizations to attack. How could they keep score if they didn’t read every word of this outrageously anti-Israel biased coverage?
On the other hand, the United Nations personnel must revel in such coverage and surely provide a heavy statistical bump to its circulation figures.
Whoever selects the Letters to the Editor also takes its marching orders from the same folks who put together the editorials and approve the stunningly subliminal and brilliantly biased headlines embedded in the news coverage. And their so-called ombudsman tries desperately to prove that he is not a toady to those who write his paycheck.
I’d give the live theater and movie critics so-so reviews. The theater guys try hard to impress us with their broad range of knowledge and often forget to review what is on the stage, so caught up are they with their own intellectual narcissism. But hey, at least they cover the whole turf. The movie reviewers are less snobby and, in my experience, more on the money. But then, the job has to be very dreary these days with most popular movies mimicking big screen video games.
I hope I’ve left out no area or target of insult. Nasty can be fun. Bottom line is I love the old bitch and despite all my huffing and puffing I could not imagine not having her greet me in the morning. In fact, I find myself rising at least an hour earlier to cadge the paper before my wife gets the front section. Indeed, this is the only serial disagreement in our otherwise tranquil married life.
And I pity poor “Punch” Sulzberger, the heir to the Sulzberger-Adler family alliance that built the Times into what was once the most powerful and influential newspaper in the world. I sincerely hope he doesn’t fall into that shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves cliché that signifies the beginning and end of good fortune. That rumble you hear is those venerable newspaper builders rolling over in their graves as their golden boy heir fights to take the lady off life support.
I, for one, will stand by the paper and defend it to my very last breath.
And no, in the interest of fair revelation, I am not a descendant of those Adlers. I wish I were.