Dan Rattiner's Stories

Criticizing the NY Times: Little News & No Sports

I have a special place in my heart for The New York Times. Not only am I a longtime reader of this newspaper, but I also worked there briefly, long ago, as a lowly clerk in the City room. It’s been a fine publication. But editorially, it’s had its ups and downs. Currently I think it’s a down.

My main complaint is its very irritating focus on slow news days on little things that go terribly wrong way on the other side of the planet. It’s a big planet. Things go wrong all the time. But why do we have to read about that itty-bitty thing here in New York? We can’t do anything about it. For example, there could be a front-page article about an 11-year-old girl in Kenya who falls off her bicycle in Nairobi and then gets eaten by a crocodile. Why? Because the money the government sent to build curbing on the side of that road was in fact stolen by the mayor for a side trip he took to Dubai, so the curb never got built, which means this poor little girl who works 17 hours a day in a rice field went over the edge into the bog while pedaling home. There’s an interview with the girl’s parents—he a street sweeper and she a volunteer at the hospital without borders—with her brother and sister, an account of the funeral, a big picture of her looking really cute on a silk banner and a comment that the Office of the Mayor refused to make a statement when contacted. What exactly is it we are supposed to do about this? There’s a sidebar story about saving Kenyan crocodiles from poachers. There’s another about the dangerous infestation of crocodiles there in Nairobi.

I know this story never appeared on the front page of The New York Times, but I think it could. Here was the lead story November 9: TRICKED WHILE ON LAND the headline begins. It’s about 31-year-old Emil from Linabuan Sur, the Philippines, who went out onto a tuna fishing boat to earn enough to replace his mother’s leaky roof. He arrived back home in a wooden box, jet black from having been kept in a fish freezer, missing an eye and a pancreas but covered with cuts and bruises from being beaten. He’d been tricked with false promises by a recruiting agency and subsequently endured 20-hour workdays, sex for favors and brutal beatings. There’s an interview with Shelley Thio from Transient Workers Count Too, and the contents of the court records of Step Up Marine Enterprise, which recruited poor Emil.

These stories just get liberals feeling bad about themselves because they can’t do anything about this while getting conservatives thinking these liberals are just a whiney, sad little bunch of bleeding hearts and this proves it. And it does.

It wasn’t always thus. Way, way back when I was there, the editors and journalists who worked at the Times had to get to that building by walking along the sidewalk in Times Square past heroin addicts, prostitutes, murderers, con artists and muggers. That’s what filled their heads when they went to decide what should go on the front page. Write about THAT. It’s right in our backyard.

Now they walk through Mickey and Goofy and the Lion King and Walt Disney. So in order to find things that would make people feel bad, they’ve got to find awful things going on far,
far away.

In many ways, I think what the Times is doing is contributing to the collapse of the Democratic Party. I’ve often wondered why anybody would vote for a Republican. You can hear them at the debates. They want big business, limited health care, low wages, non-union labor, a vigorous military itching for war, guns for the people, immigrants thrown out and no government regulations. Also pollution and private schools. Right? Well, close to it. It’s dog eat dog in the Republican world and may the best dog win.

Well, from their perspective, and from anybody’s perspective who’s on the fence, it looks like they take a strong position, but the Democrats just want better curbing in Nairobi and did you see all those people crying at her funeral? What the hell does anybody expect?

I also think there’s something now seriously wrong with the sports section in the Times. In the old days, the Times would write about the game-winning touchdown that took place the day before. Everybody would re-live the experience. It was wonderful. But then there came a time, after I left, that the Times expanded their coverage to include big sections about food, the arts, travel, leisure, science and health. And to get all that done, they have to have earlier deadlines. So when I was there, we could hold off printing the paper to find out who won an extra-inning game at 1 in the morning, but now everything has to be buttoned up by 10 p.m.

Today, you can read the exciting sports news in all the other papers, but the Times, tired of being embarrassed by missing everything important in the paper the next morning, now has made the decision to put on the sports page feature stories about things associated with sports, but not the sports themselves. For example, last Monday, their lead story was about the University of Missouri football team demonstrating against the administration about racial prejudice by refusing to play their games until the school president resigned. That was up at the top. So no sports there. Meanwhile, down at the bottom, they have a feature story about all the little motorized trucks that teams use to cart injured football players off the field. I have now been made to know that some of them are red, others are yellow, still others are green and the Pittsburgh Steelers use Toro Workmen, the New Orleans Saints use Cushman Carts and in Arlington, Texas, the Dallas Cowboys take their injured off the field in something called a Club Car.

Again, this is about NO sports. The only hint of sports in the story is when the athlete strapped to the gurney raises an arm and gives a brief thumbs up while being bumped along the grass in the Toro. This results in polite applause.

Meanwhile, there’s this incredible football story that took place on Saturday about a play with two seconds left on the clock when the University of Miami, three points behind, took a kickoff from the Duke Blue Devils and, by using eight consecutive laterals during the kickoff return, took the ball 80 yards for a touchdown to win the game. Far and away the most extraordinary play ever to happen in a college football game. Wow! Fact is the digital media reported it right after the game ended. Those who hadn’t been there or hadn’t watched it on TV could watch a two-minute clip of this play on YouTube, and about 2 million did within the hour. You could also relive it in other newspapers. The New York Post went nuts. Even USA Today had three articles about it in their sports section. And of course the Daily News went nuts.

But not the Times. The story about this on Sunday—this was not even a problem about deadlines, because the game was in the afternoon Saturday—was in the section called COLLEGE ROUNDUP. It ran 150 words. That was it. Next was the report about the Notre Dame–Perdue game, another 150 words, and then another short report about still another game. And Monday? Well, there was a story about the game, but again it was not about sports. The headline was ACC SUSPENDS MIAMI-DUKE OFFICIATING CREW FOR ALLOWING FINAL PLAY. Apparently somebody’s knee touched the ground that should have ended the play, and then there was an illegal block that wasn’t called. And then there was a Miami player who rushed enthusiastically out onto the field before his compatriot crossed the goal line and there should have been a penalty about that. Well. Those officials would be suffering a three game suspension,
well deserved.

Actual athletic accomplishment, it seems, is considered a black hole around which all the reporters dance.

I rest my case.

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