Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Empty Suit Solves a Problem!

The Empty Suit, New York Times spokesman (a/k/a "public editor") Barney Calame, faced a serious dilemma as he rose from his divan to write his biweekly column today. His employer, which he loyally serves as a management shill, is facing an unparalleled credibility crisis. The Judith Miller imbroglio has blown up in its face. How was he going to ignore all those problems?

He couldn't very well do another "reader letters" column, which is Barney's preferred method when he wants to duck hard issues. So this week he devoted an entire column to you. Yes, you my friends, the reader.

"If you are reading these words, it means you are one of the millions of readers of The New York Times," Barney began. Damn! That man is smart. How did he figure that out? Barney goes on to say that your "desires and dislikes are never far from the minds of the paper's editors and reporters." So "I asked about 50 news staffers, ranging from the executive editor to reporters, to describe the audience for whom they are editing and writing."

You have to admit--Barney is consistent. Barney warned us before he began his job that he was going to focus on stuff nobody cares about. He said that he was interested in "process" and would "explain how decisions are made" -- a subject of complete indifference to readers. People care about the Times being inaccurate and biased on its news pages and inaccurate and ideologically rigid on its editorial page, not how Correspondent X and Editor Y do their job.

Likewise, Times readers could care less what Times hacks really "think about them," much less the self-serving swill that they fed Barney for public consumption.

What makes his condescending, smarmy column all the more execrable, all the more a reflection of the paper's storied arrogance, is a gaping omission. Barney, in this column, talks about the characteristics of the Times's readers, but he ignores the only one that matters -- New Yorkers read the paper because they have no other choice when it comes to a daily paper.

Oh, anyone primarily interested in New York-area news could stick with the tabloids, which beat the pants off the Times every day. The new New York Sun has good columns and stories. But only the Times covers national and international news in any detail.

One day, perhaps, another Herald Tribune will pop on the horizon, to give readers an alternative to this biased, once-great newspaper. Maybe the Sun will sprout wings. I hope so. But meanwhile, people in the New York area are stuck with a "hometown" newspaper of increasingly questionable credibility -- a paper that regularly insults the intelligence of its readers with bilge like the Empty Suit's column today.

UPDATE: Be sure to read Tom Lifson's excellent analysis. An excerpt:
Today’s column by Barney Calame (pronounced "Kuh-lame"), ombudsman (“public editor”) for the Times, certainly reads like a parody, an embarrasing wet-kiss to readers and editors. Or maybe it is a cry for help, such as might be made by a hostage with a gun to her head, unable to say directly that she is in trouble, but signaling distress by answering a knock at the door with an implausible statement.
Good point. Calame is clearly in over his head. Maybe he should do everybody, including his beleaguered employers, a favor and quit? As I've said before, he is such a disaster that he is actually doing the Times more harm than good.

UPDATE No. 2: The Empty Suit expands on his goofy column in his cobweb-covered "web journal," in which he includes a link to readership stats from the Times advertising department. That's the stuff the Times gives out to advertisers.

Well, what do you expect? They don't call Barney a "Times flack and parody of a newspaper ombudsman" for nothing.

Back to the divan, Barney! You've worked hard today. Sleep tight.
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