Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Time after Times

In the beginning, or at least the beginning of this month, there was William Bennett, that self-styled viceroy of virtue whose prodigious gambling losses, once revealed, set many a tooth a-gnashing and many a garment a-rending.

Then came Jayson Blair, that now-former New York Times reporter whose stories, it turns out, were precisely that: stories. Figments of Blair's fertile - but nowhere near as fertile as former Washington Post reporter Janet Cook's - imagination. (Although, to be fair, Blair didn't make ALL of his stories up. Some, the genuine, fact-checked ones, he simply "borrowed" from other reporters. Reporters working under the national, i.e., syndicated, radar, at newspapers with names like "The Cowtown Gazette" and "The Honest Injun Herald.")

As it was with Bennett, many teeth were gnashed and many garments rended.

And verily I say unto anyone listening, why? Indeed, wherefore all the hue and cry?

Cook, whose fictitious account of an eight-year-old heroin addict garnered her employers a 1981 Pulitzer Prize - which, of course, was returned, ahem, Posthaste - clearly warranted our attention. She lived, after all, in the house that bona fide journalists and, dare I say, bona fide patriots, Woodward and Bernstein built.

But Blair, well, c'mon: Blair worked for the New York Times. Surely there are more important things to fulminate over than some guy who, to coin a phrase popular with out-of-work Baath party loyalists, "was just doing his job."

For the Times is as much about straight reporting and the unvarnished truth as the (thankfully) as-yet-unpublished Jerry Falwell Papers are.

Yes, it boasts the best, perhaps even the WORTHIEST, crossword puzzle of any Yankee daily, ever. And no native Noo Yorkuh - or any self-respecting urbanite, for that matter - is ever completely dressed without a Times under his arm. (Unless it's Sunday, when many Times's can be found doing duty as makeshift deadbolts and/or doorstops.)

Now that I think of it, maybe that's the problem: too many Times's aren't being read. Because if they were, there certainly wouldn't be all this teeth gnashing and garment rending going on. (Except for in those circles where teeth gnashing and garment rending is considered a sport - which, incidentally, would explain the outrage over Mr. Bennett's hobby.)

Really, methinks that, if more Times's were being read, especially on Sundays, when the Times is at its most National Enquirer-esque, rather than being read about or used to accessorize outfits and prop open doors, we'd be able to focus on the more pressing issues of the day.

Such as, is it "al-Qaeda," "al-Qaida," or "al Qaida," no hyphen?

(No one addressed this during the "Khaddafi/Ghadaffy" days, either, and it's been bothering me ever since.)

All this horror over something that happened at the "just the facts, ma'am" Times?

Somewhere, Jack Webb is laughing.

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