It’s true: I’m sticking up for the Times. (Obviously, this isn’t about Murray.)

April 11th, 2007 → 11:07 am @ // No Comments

Those of you steeped in the minutiae of baseball should appreciate the extent to which an obsessive can drill down when dissecting his subject of choice. For folks who’s bete noire (or object of affection) is the media and the New York Times, there’s no amount of detail that could ever seem trivial. (Trust me: I know.) That’s why a columnist in Los Angeles is writing about the bad review the Times gave to a play written by one of its former staffers.

The reason I’m writing about a column about a bad review of an Off-Broadway play is because, well, the media habit can be a hard one to break. (I want credit for avoiding all “Brokeback Mountain” puns.) So without further ado, I’ll unpack this whole thing…and then point out who patently absurd it all is.

* Bernie Weinraub, the former staff in question, was, for years, married to a movie executive at the same time that he was covering Hollywood.

* As he acknowledged in a grimace-inducing story he wrote upon his retirement, Weinraub not only saw nothing wrong with this, he thought it small minded of those who would dare raise questions about the propriety of a reporter living with one of the top people in an industry he’s reporting on.

* When Weinraub’s play came out, the Times farmed the review out to a freelancer to avoid any conflict of interest.

* The freelancer didn’t like the play.

* Now Weinraub is complaining and Nicki Finke, who says right off the bat that she’s “one of Weinraub’s closest friends,” is giving those complaints some legitimacy. Weinraub seems to think the Times is unhappy because his play criticizes the the paper’s Holocaust coverage. (There are plenty of lifers at the paper…but there’s nobody there who was patrolling the newsroom in the forties.)

My reaction? Man, Bernie Weinraub is a whiner. (Given his history, there’s some irony that he’s the one calling the Times “unprofessional.”) There’s no way in hell the Times could have given the play to one of their own writers. And once they decided to assign it elsewhere — to David Ng, the Village Voice‘s theater critic — they couldn’t very well have demanded the outside reviewer soft-pedal his opinion; that would have been a clear sign of meddling.

As befits this whole mess, Finke’s column doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. “I am not suggesting any sort of conspiracy theory,” she writes, “[e]ven though I happen to know that Weinraub and [Times theater editor] Lyman, who took over the Hollywood correspondent beat from Bernie, never got along and didn’t like each other.” She goes on: “I am also not maligning the choice of Village Voice theater reviewer David Ng for the assignment nor impugning his integrity as a reviewer,” although she does feel obliged to point out that “this does appear to have been not just his first theater review for The Paper Of Record but his first piece on anything for the NYT since I could not find his byline there either in Nexis or the NYT‘s own online archives.” So what’s Finke’s beef? Unclear: “What I am doing is simply drawing attention to what I consider to be a gross unfairness.”

I’ve drawn the shit end of this particular stick in the past: in 2004, when the Times reviewed Hard News, my book about the paper’s full-scale meltdown, Slate‘s Timothy Noah has tapped to do the honors. He wasn’t impressed. It was virtually the only bad review I got: the Washington Post named Hard News one of the best books of the year; the Los Angeles Times compared it to a Greek tragedy, and EW gave it an A-. Unfortunately, the Post, LA Times, and EW don’t carry as much weight as the Sunday Book Review does. If anyone had cause to suspect the Times was deliberately sabotaging his work, it would have been me — Arthur Sulzberger, the paper’s publisher and CEO, told me to my face he wished the book hadn’t been written. But there wasn’t a conspiracy going on; there was just a writer who didn’t care for my book. That’s life. And it’s a lesson Weinraub could certainly stand to learn.

Post Categories: Bernie Weinraub & Hard News & New York Times & Nicki Finke

3 Comments → “It’s true: I’m sticking up for the Times. (Obviously, this isn’t about Murray.)”

  1. rog

    17 years ago

    Nothing can be “patently absurd.” I’m very literal-minded and the use of ‘patently’ boy most people these days is usually wrong. Sorry.


  2. mpfork

    17 years ago

    I’m new around here rog, but uh, actually, “patently” is rooted in Latin: patens, patentis, meaning lying open, from patere. So, in fact, while this guy might be wrong about plenty of things, I don’t see how this is one of them.


  3. quartuccio

    17 years ago

    “If anyone had cause to suspect the Times was deliberately sabotaging his work, it would have been me.”

    Um, no.

    “If anyone had cause to suspect the Times was deliberately sabotaging his work, it would have been I.”


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