Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Empty Suit Hits the Books

The Empty Suit, New York Times spokesman (alias "public editor") Barney Calame, today tackles an issue that's actually fairly interesting: the favoritism that the Times shows towards its hacks when they write books. As every reader knows, the Times always reviews its staffers' books, almost always favorably. Hell, six of the 61 Times "notable books of the year" were by Times people.

As usual, Barney's padded column addresses an open-and-shut issue by covering it with fog: focusing on "process," serving as conduit for lame excuses by Times bureaucrats, and signing off with a "gee they may wanna look at this and wouldn't that be nice?" fadeout.

First, Barney tackles the practice of the Times always reviewing its people's books. As a publisher quoted by Barney acknowledges, the worst thing that can happen to an author is to be ignored. Times people aren't ignored. Ever.

Well, you'll be happy to know that it isn't happening. As has happened several Times before, Barney follows in the tradition of Groucho Marx, who once asked, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own two eyes?"

It is happening, you say. Well, you're own two eyes are wrong. It isn't happening. Oh yes, it used to happen -- a Times books editor told Barney that "as recently as five years ago, Times writers 'pretty much automatically got reviewed.'" But it ain't happening today. Damn it!

Wait a second. How many Times-writer-author viewed books are not reviewed? I mean, like, none maybe? Shouldn't be too hard to find out. So, you really nailed him on that. Right, Barney?

Wrong. "[The editor] said that these days the section doesn't keep track of how many books by Times staffers are considered or reviewed."

No cub reporter, no Jimmy Olsen right out of j-school, would let himself be brushed off like this. But our Barney isn't a journalist, or even a parody of a journalist. He is a parody of a public editor! And a good one, I might add.

Barney continues in that vein for the rest of the column -- process and more process, with Times editors making carefully crafted excuses and Barney not being impolite enough to question anything they say, no matter how ludicrous.

Those 61 notable books having a bunch of Times people? "The editors said they don't give any special consideration to factors such as an author's staff position at The Times." And that's that. The Times editors have spoken, and Barney says no more.

Obvious examples of bias and conflict of interest -- the letters columns of the Book Review are filled with them -- aren't even mentioned by Barney. Unfair reviews by attack-dog Joe Queenan -- who never met a book he didn't hate and who notoriously was assigned to ridicule Klein's book on Hillary Clinton -- are, of course, not even mentioned.

The only example of a biased Times review cited by Barney is, laughably, a hundred-year storm -- a negative review of Maureen Dowd's recent book that was a rare example of a Timesperson not getting a flowery endorsement.

"Readers," our management shill predictably concludes, "it seems to me, are generally well served by the Book Review screening process."

Though it is absolutely not true that Times authors get special treatment -- despite what you see what your own two eyes -- the Times Sunday Book Review editor says he is considering simply notifying "readers of new books by Times staff." He says "we set the matter aside for various reasons"-- which Barney, of course, doesn't press him to reveal. "Perhaps the time has come to revisit this solution." Replies Barney, "I believe that it has." Barney, as usual, has no opinion, other than to endorse management's.

But what about the daily reviews, which are just as important. Barney? Barney? Aw, sorry, he's gone back to sleep on the divan. Barney's not touching that.

Anyway, that's it for another week. An egregious example of Times bias swept under the carpet. Sleep tight, Barney. You've earned your pay.

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