carpathia arrives safely

5/19/08

When it comes to columnists, I’m sort of a “ya get what ya pay for” shopper – Maureen Dowd is going to use Maureen Down phrases, Dave Barry is going to be slightly obvious and then sneak up and say something brilliant, and Ann Coulter is going to eat her own mother. But Bill Kristol, recently hired by the New York Times, has now crossed over into Bafflingly Terrible territory.

The idea that the NYT needed a conservative columnist is further proof how antiquated and behind-the-eight-ball mainstream media has become. It’s an effort to “cover all the bases” in a world that has largely left that sort of tokenism behind. And it’d be one thing if Kristol were any good at the job, but his recent column contained another whopping factual error, the kind that gets you demoted/fired at any newspaper unless you hide behind the translucent curtain of the “opinion” page.

This is the third completely avoidable error from Kristol since he took the post; not content with being ideologically bankrupt, he has to undermine himself with “facts” that never happen. That’s the problem with conservatives who fancy themselves Serious Intellectuals© – so much of their analysis is of the “I make my own reality” genre that it never holds up under scrutiny. If I were one of you actually smart right-leaners, I’d be pissed off.

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The thing that riles me, however, is that Kristol’s presence at the New York Times is a destructive force at a paper I have always loved. I’m speaking purely on my behalf, having not talked to my friends at the NYT, but there’s something slightly disgusting about Kristol’s tenure, especially given how the Times embarrassed all journalism on the build-up to W’s Iraq War. I mean this in all seriousness: Matt from the comments section would do the job 50,000 times better, and I’d be happy to write the recommendation.

I realize my own contribution to the Op-Ed page of the New York Times probably didn’t enter Pulitzer consideration in 2004, but at least I got all my Harry Potter facts straight. Plus, I got letters from kids all around the world!

The scuttlebutt on Bill Kristol is that his dad Irv was best friends with Abe Rosenthal, and Abe’s son Andy happens to be the New York Times’ opinion page editor. I’m all for nepotism if the charmed subject happens to be great – hell, nepotism gave us JFK, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, and an NBA full of Tar Heels. But in this case, it just makes the NYTimes look like a bunch of amateurs – and if the Old Gray Lady starts shopping at Kmart, we have naught but the New Yorker and Cat Fancy to foment our dreams.

0 thoughts on “carpathia arrives safely

  1. Matt

    I agree with Ian’s sentiment about tokenism. Besides, there aren’t fig leafs big enough for the NYT’s purpose. But curious about this “whopping factual error,” I went looking for the “fact that never happened” and should get Kristol fired. After following several links I found the offending passage in which Kristol wrote:
    “…Barack Obama was being trounced in the West Virginia Democratic primary — by 41 points. I can’t find a single recent instance of a candidate who ultimately became his party’s nominee losing a primary by this kind of margin.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/19/opinion/19kristol.html?_r=2&ref=opinion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
    As it happens, Mitt Romney won Utah’s February 8 primary by nearly twice that margin. No matter the distinguishing features between the two primaries what Kristol wrote is obviously incorrect. A shocking lapse of journalistic integrity! He’s just making things up to paint Obama in a bad light! Fire the bum!
    Is this really Jayson Blair territory here? Nobody needs the Time’s correction page more than Paul Krugman, except for perhaps Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Bob Herbert, Thomas Friedman….

    Reply
  2. MacNonymous

    Matt, McCain lost three states by that kind of margin. Kristol lied when he said he “can’t find” any, because he obviously never looked. That’s a pretty bad correction. But you put exclamation points after your sentences, giving what would otherwise by an admission of defeat that arch, mocking, impossible-to-refute quality. So you win.
    Plus, the Jayson Blair card gets Kristol out of jail for free. That’s a double-win. Plus plus, I’m sure your assertion about other columnists and corrections is correct, even if you allow for the number of columns written. I don’t need proof, from you, the triple-winner.

    Reply
  3. CM

    Bill Kristol should go back to what he was actually good at, hosting the Academy Awards.
    Seriously, I have strong feelings on journalism and fact-checking and accuracy, but if I got started, my comment would be longer than today’s post. (And I already wrote about some of my feelings in a looong email to Buzz Bissinger last week after the Buzz-Will Leitch brouhaha). But anyway, unless Kristol qualified it with “as far as I know,” he can’t necessarily hide behind the veil of “opinion”, and the Times should run a correction either way. He shouldn’t have touted it as a fact unless he did some research. Everyone goofs, esp. when dealing with large quantities of info, but he should know better.

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  4. Matt

    Kristol really struck a nerve, eh, Mac. It’s clear why you prefer to use pseudonyms – for the embarrassment-free petulance.

    Reply
  5. jon

    Speaking as someone who spent several years editing other people’s writing for a living, I can tell you that writers screw up facts — even obvious, easy ones — ALL the freaking time. Especially columnists, who are all about trying to make a point. I have no interest in being in the business of defending Bill Kristol, but I will say that this to me looks like a case of bad editing as much or moreso than agenda-based chicanery on his part. While I don’t agree with the decision, the New York Times hired him to foment. That’s what he’s doing. He’s doing his job. The editors and fact checkers are the ones who are not doing theirs. I expect that kind of screw-up from my local paper, but the NYT is supposed to have a staff of editors and fact-checkers who catch crap like that in every article and column that enters its pages. That’s the entire basis for the Times being America’s paper of record for important stuff — the general acceptance that they get it right (at least, most of the time). If they need to fix something, they should start there, not with Kristol.

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  6. GFWD

    CM,
    I’d be curious to see what you wrote to Buzz. I presume you’re talking about their piece on the Bob Costas-hosted show on HBO. I came in during the middle of that show, but caught their entire segment and thought it was entertaining.

    Reply
  7. grumphreys

    Kristol’s mistakes in the NYT pale in comparison to his neo-con role in pushing hard for the Iraq war. How can you screw up that badly and keep falling up? He’s a foreign policy adviser to McCain’s pres campaign.
    Heck of a job, Kristy.

    Reply
  8. CM

    GWFD, feel free to email me (click the link for my url and it should have my email address) and I’ll send it to ya. It was more about the future of journalism than the particular segment, though.

    Reply
  9. Anne

    Ian, I *love* this line from your Hogwarts piece:
    “They aren’t reading too much — they’re feeling too much, which is the miracle of fiction.”
    Perfect.

    Reply
  10. Matt

    I just caught Kristol on Special Report and he repeated the above quoted portion of his column except he referred to a “presumptive nominee”, which would seem to make it a true statement. Maybe that’s what he was thinking when he wrote what he did (sloppily). It seems plausible. I’ll have to check with Mind Reader Mac, of course, to know for sure.

    Reply
  11. Julianna Hofeld

    Do you ever read Garrison Keillor’s columns? They are often brilliant and he reminds me a lot of you, Ian.

    Reply

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