Pathetic Journalism Provokes Nausea and Revulsion

When I telephoned a woman named Boxer in New York last week, I wondered who might answer. A DNC flack? A hack posing as a journalist? Someone paid by The New York Times to craft hatchet-jobs on Iraqis who dare to express thanks to America for deposing Saddam? Or simply a lazy writer with some confused ideas about fact-checking and objectivity? Until she picked up the phone, she was just a ghost on the page.
The mystery began last month when I went online to see what the mainstream media considered quality journalism. I stumbled into an ideological snake pit. Out of a list of three major networks (Fox doesn’t count: get over it) and about as many major dailies, I picked The New York Times because I keep hearing about that damned crossword puzzle of theirs.
It delivered more than that. The newspaper, which is quite upbeat about reporting all the bad Iraq news that’s fit to print, had provoked a deluge of intrigue and vitriol. People posting messages on “web” “logs” accused the paper of irresponsibility, laziness, and — common theme, here — irresponsibility again.
Abruptly, the Times had managed in a single story to crystalize everything sordid and depressing about American journalism today. I was determined to get to the bottom of the story, and determined to continue using the first-person voice, no matter how irritating it was and how hackneyed it made my piece sound. And so I set off to Times Square in search of the real story.
Turns out that the Times has decent security at that front door of theirs, though, so I wandered down the street a bit and found that over on 8th Avenue, a conspiracy theory had emerged about the Times on the corner of 8th and 42nd.
One of the guys who “owns” that corner, a colorful fellow named “Mouth” who makes up in keen insight what he lacks in teeth, had some questions for the Times. He wanted to know whether someone in the Zombie Leprechaun Conclave (or someone close to it) was funding it. And what about those newfangled “color” photos on the front page? Did the Zombie Leprechauns “have a shadow role in promoting them”?
The questions boiled down to whether The New York Times was “incompetent”. Incompetence occurs when a supposedly professional operation actually doesn’t bother checking facts, shuns anything resembling fairness or objectivity, and publishes lazy pieces that advance their internal editorial biases while flaunting a blissful disregard for reality and truth.
Sarah Boxer, inexplicably still at the Times, tried to quell some of the doubts: “Hi, I would be happy to answer your questions, as you do raise some valid questions.” To the question of the Zombie Leprachaun connection, she responded: “All I remember is that we get a pot of gold from a creepy looking little green guy every month.”
That did not quiet the suspicions on 8th Avenue. A man answering to the name “Queen Britney The Second” reported that his “mental harmonic energy transmissions were always returned rather rudely” by The New York Times. His conclusion? The newspaper is “a refuge for Leprachaun Zombies, Leprachaun Zombie sympathizers, and associated people who look more than a little bit like Leprachaun Zombies.” He added, “I hope some serious attention will be brought to bear on this ‘New York Times’ and reveal it as a fraud.”
What kind of fraud? One guy who offered to let me taste his shoelaces suggested that the newspaper is actually published by humans who are coached by the Leprachaun Zombies on what to write. Another, in support of that theory, noted the Times’ suspiciously enthusiastic support for New York’s annual St. Patties Day Parade. A third man (or woman; not sure, really) observed that coaching wasn’t necessary. All the Leprachaun Zombies would need to do to influence the Times was to get the endorsement of the Democratic party and the Valentine editorials praising flesh-eating, shamrock-loving little people would come rolling in.
The 8th Avenue group pointed out that the Times was getting lots of attention, while media organizations that actually, you know, have a concept of decency and fairness, have gone unsung. Surely the Times did not represent the mainstream of American thinking?
Using a phone number written on a cocktail napkin that a past-his-prime waiter at Tavern on the Green provided me, I got in touch with Sarah to see what in the world was going on. And last week I finally go to talk on the telephone to Sarah Boxer, a tired hack who once learned how to be a journalist with integrity but said, “I don’t look at myself as one now.”
Why did she write such utter crap? When was she going to expose the Zombie Leprachauns that control the Times?
She was surprisingly frank. The Times had changed her. When her time with the Times began, she said, “People surprised me with their warmth and how much they cared about actually getting the truth from their news.” But as time passed, she said, “I felt that hey, they’re not the ones paying my salary: the Zombie Leprachauns are. So screw ’em.”
“Me and my journalistic colleagues”, she said, “we generally agree on the important things about reporting: spelling; grammar; having a killer lede.” But there is one important difference: “Other journalists think checking facts and not floating unsubstantiated rumors that might get people killed are an important part of journalism. I have my questions.”
Now that seems genuine.