My colleague Brent Baker has a theory to which I subscribe: A political scandal has registered real traction in the public conversation only when it becomes a topic for the late night TV talk show hosts. That being the case, the Gray Lady's in big trouble. From David Letterman's opening monologue Wednesday night: "You have SARS, Mad Cow Disease, the Orange Alert. The news is so bad the New York Times doesn't have to make it up."
The New York Times prides itself on producing the news. Unfortunately, these days, it can't help being the news. Twice this week its reporters' behavior has made headlines nationally.
First there is the matter of Jayson Blair, the disgraced former Times reporter who was fired for fraud and plagiarism but who won't leave the limelight because apparently he's enjoying it too much.
According to the Associated Press, Blair has given an interview to the New York Observer in which he "couldn't stop laughing" at the consternation he's caused his former employer. Apparently he's very proud that he "fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism" with his brand of reporting, which, according to Times' after-the-fact fact-checkers, contained fraud, plagiarism and inaccuracies in 36 of the 73 stories he filed over a seven-month period.
This fellow is so unashamed of his performance he wants to do what comes naturally these days to professional charlatans. Newsweek reports he's hired a literary agent to peddle his story in search of book and movie deals.
Arrogant. That's the one word that jumps from the page. But then others come to mind. Obnoxious. Ingrate. Punk.
What was it in the drinking water at the Times that produced this kind of haughty attitude? Whatever it is, it's now affected another Times reporter who this week also made news headlines.
According to the Rockford (Illinois) Register Star, "Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College's graduation because he gave an antiwar speech." But just as so many media reports are misleading when they say Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks was "critical of" President Bush -- she insulted President Bush -- so, too, is it a bit inaccurate to label Hedges' screed as simply "antiwar."