CSotD: Grey Lady Down

DD Degg having reported the facts of the case, we’ll open the discussion with a Homer Davenport graphic commentary. I couldn’t find information on the “anti-cartoon bill” Senator Platt (foreground) was pushing, but most schoolchildren know the story of Boss Tweed and how Thomas Nast took him down with a barrage of cartoons.

There are variations on the exact quote, but Tweed said that he didn’t care what they wrote about him, because his supporters didn’t read, but that any fool could look at a cartoon.

The New York Times has now declared that it will write, write, write but forego any use of cartoons.

Making them, in the battle for America’s soul, REMFs.

While Times management says they had been planning for over a year to make their pages even more elitist, boring and irrelevant, most observers blame their decision to fire Patrick Chappatte and Heng Kim Song on a cartoon that neither cartoonist drew.


This piece was approved for publication two months ago, by someone amongst the cloth-eared middle-management editorial types at the Times, who did not detect any Anti-Semitic imagery.

Readers being more imaginative and metaphorically inclined than that, it didn’t take long for a storm of fury to descend upon the newspaper, whereupon they pledged to rethink how they selected cartoons.

And whether it was the full impetus for their Pythonesque response of “Run Away! Run Away!” it almost certainly hastened yesterday’s decision.

No word on whether the aforementioned cloth-eared editor was fired, demoted or flogged around the fleet, but the incident certainly justifies all my previous statements about editors and metaphors and cartoons.

Editors get promoted for their ability to enforce style rules, which means that they are generally literalists with little appetite for, or understanding of, nuance, much less for sarcasm or any sort of humor which does not involve cream pies.

And the New York Times is referred to as “The Grey Lady” (using the more pretentious spelling of the color) because it has even less interest in such things than most newspapers.

The most celebrated example of this being the brief tenure there of the late Molly Ivins, one of the funniest, most incisively sarcastic social and political critics in American journalism.

Ivins was, at the time, still alive, but the Times edited her work such that it appeared otherwise. As she explained in her autobiography, “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?”

This prompts (but does not beg) the question of why they would hire Molly Ivins in the first place. It’s not like she started out writing obits and was later given a column; they had apparently read her previous stuff and decided it was fine, just as long as she didn’t keeping writing that way after they hired her.

And, yes, I know they have a resident sarcastic columnist, Maureen Dowd, but her material — at least in the form it appears post-editing — is, well, more witty than funny, not really geared towards making anyone bust a protuberant abdomen laughing. I think she needs to visit Denver more often, though perhaps more cautiously.

That’s really the problem with the New York Times: They have the top editors in the business, which means their editors exemplify the most tradition-bound, literal-minded enforcers-of-rules and therefore the most implacable foes of anything even indirect, much less funny.

I mean, for god’s sake, they still insist on using courtesy titles.

I was appalled when, back in 1987 — which I would point out is more than 30 years ago — I hired on at a newspaper whose editorial style required me, at the end of an otherwise intelligent interview, to ask women if they preferred to be called “Mrs.” or “Miss” or “Ms.”

And, to further illustrate the point, those editors did not understand my amusement that the first woman inducted into the local Rotary Club was named “Chauvin.”

Humorless as they were, and out here in the sticks as the paper may have been, they dropped courtesy titles a year or two later, except for military members, those in religious orders and doctors of anything.

Point being that the New York Times seems to pride itself as living in the middle of the last century, and in being only marginally better reading than the phone book.

I would point out that phone books these days are almost exclusively used in place of booster seats for toddlers.

The reason being that, if you use the New York Times, the ink will come off on their little bottoms.

So please excuse me if, rather than weeping for the fate of Patrick Chappatte and Heng Kim Song, I greet them as if they had tunneled under the Berlin Wall or possibly swum in from Devil’s Island.

I imagine the gig paid well and I have no idea if they are responsible for large mortgages and huge families, but, as the old fable says, lean freedom is better than fat slavery.

And if I were married to a wealthy person who did not laugh at my jokes, I would readily divorce her for a pauper who did.

Or possibly for no-one at all.

That’s my take. Here’s what some others have said:


And here’s who they have thrown away.

I have cancelled my subscription to the Times, though, as you may have gathered, I never found it very good reading anyway.

I will maintain my subscription to the Washington Post, which not only employs two of the best cartoonists in the business, Ann Telnaes and Tom Toles, but is simply more interesting.

I also am a sustaining member of New Hampshire Public Radio, which does a lot of important local reporting as well as carrying national NPR features.

A responsible citizen, I believe, should support good journalism.

But I never had to pay for a phone book and I’m not about to pay for the Grey Lady’s dull musings.

Here’s a song for those two fortunate escapees:



11 thoughts on “CSotD: Grey Lady Down

  1. According to Joseph Campbell (“1897: The Year That Defined American Journalism”) NY Republican Timothy Ellsworth put forth a bill to prohibit publication of a person’s portrait or caricature without his/her consent, with penalties of up to $1,000 in fines and a year in prison. Back-bencher Ellsworth was believed to be acting on the direction of Senate Leader Thomas Platt.

    The Ellsworth Anti-Cartoon Bill was a reaction against cartoons in William Hearst’s New York Journal, and against Hearst himself. It was passed in the State Senate, but died without a vote in the House.


  2. You’ve inspired me to switch to the Post too, Mike. I’ve subscribed since 2002 and lately I’ve noticed that the only thing I look forward to is the recipes.

  3. As to the one possible remaining reason to support the NYT, I understand it’s possible to subscribe to the crossword puzzle separately.

  4. Just another reason why newspapers are failing: they are cutting out on things that bring readers to buy their publications (reporters and cartoonists).

  5. Paul, the very idea cracks me up, but, then again, that circle of self-dealing Tweed associates could readily be updated and I don’t think any of them would mind such a bill becoming law!

    Thanks for the tip!

    And, yes, The Grey Lady is demonstrating why newspapers fail, and it’s not just the Internet, though their inability to respond to Craigslist and other on-line listing services (Realtor.com etc) is also a part.

    Very frustrating to watch from the inside, believe me. It’s one thing not to get it, quite another to have the power and not get it. It’s a bit like watching the incompetent top officers of the Crimean War with ink instead of blood.

  6. (This contribution is somewhat off topic.) Several years ago I wrote to you suggesting that you had misused “beg the question.” I see it today, used correctly. I write a grammar blog, and I couldn’t resist quoting this use of the expression, with credit, of course, and a link. I hope that’s okay. The post is scheduled for August 8. If you want to see it pre-release, let me know, and I’ll send it to you.

  7. The New York Times and this website have one thing in common: neither one prints conservative cartoons.

    This is

  8. Well sheee__t – the Wall Street Journal don’t even run a crossword puzzle !

    The Akron Beacon Journal subscribed to Molly Ivins’ columns for awhile,,,ran about five of them and then dumped her. Great minds ?

    Molly sure would be fun to have around today, wouldn’t she ? (Gwen Ifil too…)

  9. A minor correction on the NYT: the _only_ way to get the crossword is a separate paid subscription. In the long-ago, they used to have the crossword in the Kindle version. I don’t get it any more because I had subscription problems and their “customer service” insisted I should be grateful for the opportunity to pay for nothing. I’m a bit surprised they actually have subscribers any more.

  10. My local deadtree paper (the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE) runs all of the New York TIMES crossword puzzles, one week after each appears in the TIMES. I suspect many other non-NYC papers also do this. (And any such papers are also probably going to have a whole lot more editorial cartoons and comic strips than the TIMES does, by definition, since they could scarcely have fewer.) So, find one you like and subscribe to that instead.

    Incidentally, any NYT crossword fans who don’t already know this site (for explanation and discussion of same) might want to take a look, though I’m puzzled at their apparent assumption idea that the fun of solving them should be measured by “how quickly you can do it.”


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