The natives are getting restless at the New York newspaper of record. Belts are tightening, valued staffers are being given buyouts, but editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal continues to spend lavishly on the production of knee-jerk liberal tripe. Insiders from the news side have been spilling the beans to the New York Observer. Mr. Rosenthal’s regime is characterized by “tyranny and pettiness,” according to disgruntled Timesmen.
Andyâ€™s got 14 or 15 people plus a whole bevy of assistants working on these three unsigned editorials every day. Theyâ€™re completely reflexively liberal, utterly predictable, usually poorly written and totally ineffectual. I mean, just try and remember the last time that anybody was talking about one of those editorials. You know, I can think of one time recently, which is with the [Edward] Snowden stuff, but mostly nobody pays attention, and millions of dollars is being spent on that stuff.â€
Asked by The Observer for hard evidence supporting a loss of influence of the vaunted editorial page, the same Times staffer fired back, â€œYou know, the editorials are never on the most emailed list; theyâ€™re never on the most read list. People just are not paying attention, and they donâ€™t care. Itâ€™s a waste of money.â€ …
As for the charges that Mr. Rosenthal is a despot, one writer provided a funny example that others interviewed for this story immediately recognized. â€œRosenthal himself is like a petty tyrant, like anytime anyone on the news pages uses the word â€˜shouldâ€™ in their copy, you know, he sends nasty emails around kind of CCing the world. The word â€˜shouldâ€™ belongs to him and his people.â€
Also coming in for intense criticism were the opinion-page columnists, always a juicy target. Particularly strong criticism, to the point of resentful (some might say jealous), was directed at Thomas Friedman, the three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize who writes mostly about foreign affairs and the environment.
One current Times staffer told The Observer, â€œTom Friedman is an embarrassment. I mean there are multiple blogs and Tumblrs and Twitter feeds that exist solely to make fun of his sort of blowhardy bullshit.â€ (Gawker has been particularly hard on Mr. Friedman, with Hamilton Nolan memorably skewering him in a column entitled â€œTom Friedman Travels the World to Find Incredibly Uninteresting Platitudes,â€ as a â€œmustachioed soothsaying simpletonâ€; another column was titled â€œTom Friedman Does Not Know Whatâ€™s Happening Here,â€ and the @firetomfriedman Twitter account has more than 1,800 followers.) …
Asked if this stirring resentment toward the editorial page might not just be garden variety news vs. edit stuff or even the leanings of a conservative news reporter toward a liberal editorial page, one current Times staffer said, â€œIt really isnâ€™t about politics, because I land more to the left than I do to the right. I just find it â€¦â€
He paused for a long time before continuing and then, unprompted, returned to Mr. Friedman. â€œI just think itâ€™s bad, and nobody is acknowledging that they suck, but everybody in the newsroom knows it, and we really are embarrassed by what goes on with Friedman. I mean anybody who knows anything about most of what heâ€™s writing about understands that heâ€™s, like, literally mailing it in from wherever he is on the globe. Heâ€™s a travel reporter. A joke. The guy gets $75,000 for speeches and probably charges the paper for his first-class airfare.â€
Another former Times writer, someone who has gone on to great success elsewhere, expressed similar contempt (and even used the word â€œembarrassâ€) and says itâ€™s longstanding.
â€œI think the editorials are viewed by most reporters as largely irrelevant, and thereâ€™s not a lot of respect for the editorial page. The editorials are dull, and thatâ€™s a cardinal sin. They arenâ€™t getting any less dull. As for the columnists, Friedman is the worst. He hasnâ€™t had an original thought in 20 years; heâ€™s an embarrassment. Heâ€™s perceived as an idiot who has been wrong about every major issue for 20 years, from favoring the invasion of Iraq to the notion that green energy is the most important topic in the world even as the financial markets were imploding. Then thereâ€™s Maureen Dowd, who has been writing the same column since George H. W. Bush was president.â€
Yet another former Times writer concurred. â€œAndy is a wrecking ball, a lot like his father but without the gravitas. What strikes me about the editorial and op-ed pages is that they have become relentlessly grim. With very few exceptions, thereâ€™s almost nothing light-hearted or whimsical or sprightly about them, nothing to gladden the soul. Theyâ€™re horribly doctrinaire, down the line, and that goes for the couple of conservatives in the bunch. It wasnâ€™t always like that on those pages.â€
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