Monday, May 23, 2005

Daniel Okrent exits

Daniel Okrent, the refreshingly honest Public Editor of the New York Times, hangs it up. Click the title for his valedictory, "13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did." He purports that this list is random but I'd bet not.


2. Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. [emphasis added] Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales "called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint' " nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

I didn't give Krugman, Dowd or Safire the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist.

3. Question: What do these characterizations have in common?:

"At the first sound of her peremptory voice and clickety stiletto heels, people dart behind doors and douse the lights." - Television critic Alessandra Stanley on Katie Couric, April 25.
"A semicelebrated hustler Ms. Lakshmi may be." - Fashion writer Guy Trebay on Padma Lakshmi, Feb. 8 .

"Le mot juste here is 'jackass.' " - Book reviewer Joe Queenan on writer A. J. Jacobs, Oct. 3 .

Answer: Each is gratuitously nasty, and inappropriate in a newspaper that many of us look to as a guardian of civil discussion. I'll put the chart that appeared in the Feb. 20 edition of The Times's T: Women's Fashion magazine, touting oxycontin as a status symbol, in the same repellent category.

5. Reader Steven L. Carter of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., asks, If "Tucker Carlson is identified as a conservative" in The Times, then why is "Bill Moyers just, well, plain old Bill Moyers"? Good question.

Farewell, Daniel. And if I were Newsweek, I'd give this guy a call.

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