Times Watch Quotes of Note 2007 - The NYT's Worst Quotes of the Year
Last year, there was a clear favorite for Worst Quote of the Year (Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s liberal rant at a college commencement address). By contrast, this year brings a split decision, with our three Times-dissecting judges choosing different quotes as their "favorite" from the Times in 2007.
Thomas Lifson, editor and publisher of The American Thinker blog, liked a "gem" from reporter Elaine Sciolino's slanted coverage of the French election, a vote that resulted in a win for right-of-center Nicolas Sarkozy ("In this election, authority apparently is deemed to be more important than compassion").
Donald Luskin, who publishes the blog The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid, had a clear favorite - former economics reporter Eduardo Porter's suggestion that "perhaps we should tax incomes more to force us to devote less time and energy to the endeavor and focus instead on the more satisfying pursuit of leisure."
Jason Maoz, senior editor of the Jewish Press newspaper, writes: "My choice is Frank Rich's comment about Americans who fail to see their republic morphing into the Fourth Reich before their very eyesresembling the 'good Germans' of the 1930's and 40's. That statement perfectly encapsulates the Times' weltanschauung (worldview)."
Thanks to our judges, and enjoy the quotes. - Clay Waters, Times Watch editor.
Oh, Those Awful Conservatives
"Could adversity temper a jurisprudence that critics of the chief justice have discerned as bloodless and unduly distant from the messy reality of the lives of ordinary people who fail to file their appeals on time?"
- Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse's August 1 "Supreme Court Memo," the day after Chief Justice John Roberts suffered a seizure at his house.
"This is a signal difference from the Vietnam era, and not necessarily for the better. During that unpopular war, disaffected Americans took to the streets and sometimes broke laws in an angry assault on American governmental institutions. The Bush years have brought an even more effective assault on those institutions from within. While the public has not erupted in riots, the executive branch has subverted the rule of law in often secretive increments. The results amount to a quiet coup, ultimately more insidious than a blatant putsch like General Musharraf's."
- From editor/columnist Frank Rich's November 11 column.
"Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those 'good Germans' who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo....It's up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war's last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country's good name."
- Editor/columnist Frank Rich, October 14.
"The Bible Belt is the Loire Valley of American extremism - visitors glide across vast highways in the South and West to marvel at the revivalist megachurches and 'Honk for Jesus' road signs with the giddy awe of tourists exploring an alien civilization. And like Chenonceau or the vineyards of Sancerre, Christian evangelical churches rarely disappoint."
- From television critic Alessandra Stanley's review of an HBO documentary, "Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi," January 25.
"British skinhead culture, which had emerged from the Mod scene in the late 1960s, took a nasty turn in the '80s. Although the movement had its nonviolent element, tolerant of multiculturalism, the National Front exploited the jingoism of the early Thatcher years to instill racism in those with weak minds and steel-capped boots."
- From Graham Fuller's profile of Shane Meadows, director of the movie "This Is England," July 22.
"The madman in charge doesn't know what he's doing. Nobody trusts anybody else. All conversation is obfuscation. And if you open your ears, you hear a rising murmur of discontent among the people the institution is supposed to be serving. Does that sound like your office? Then how about your country? The creepy workplace portrayed in Harold Pinter's political-Gothic comedy 'The Hothouse,' which opened last week in a revival at the National Theater, has a familiarity that draws hard but anxious laughter from London theatergoers, the kind that erupts when the lines between funny and scary blur."
- Theatre critic Ben Brantley writing from London on July 24.
"Is America ready for a president with a trophy wife? The question may seem sexist, even crass, but serious people - as well as Mr. Thompson's supporters - have been wrestling with the public reaction to Jeri Kehn Thompson, whose youthfulness, permanent tan and bleached blond hair present a contrast to the 64-year-old man who hopes to win the hearts of the conservative core of the Republican party. Will the so-called values voters accept this union?"
- Susan Saulny, July 8.
"A Texas rock musician was shot to death here early Monday by a neighbor who fired through a closed door, thinking he was scaring off a burglar. The incident occurred just three days after a new law took effect strengthening the right of Texans to use deadly force to protect themselves and their property."
- Gretel Kovach, September 5.
"While Ms. Royal has pledged to protect and unite France, Mr. Sarkozy has often taken a ruthless us-against-them attitude, stressing there is no place in France for young people who do not respect the law or for immigrants who do not embrace French values....In this election, authority apparently is deemed to be more important than compassion."
- Reporter Elaine Sciolino on the victory of tough-on-crime French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy over Socialist Segolene Royal, May 6.
"Though [economist Milton] Friedman's free-choice doctrine contributed to ending the draft in the 1970s, the film takes virtually no note of the cultural and political climate in which he was making his opinions known. Nor does it address one result of the draft's elimination: a military not well represented by affluent men and women who have many choices, but dominated by comparatively disadvantaged ones with far fewer options."
- From Ginia Bellafante's review of a PBS documentary on the renowned free-market economist, January 29.
"Well, because what they have done is pervert, destroy, and hollow out the actual heart of the Christian religion. I mean look at the little empires that people like James Dobson or Pat Robertson run. They are despotic, Third World fiefdoms where these guys fly around with bodyguards and Lear Jets and amass hundreds of millions of dollars taken from - people who live on the margins of American society."
- Former NYT reporter Chris Hedges, author of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America," on the February 8 edition of "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central.
"This, after all, is the same president who lost the popular vote in 2000, was installed in the White House by a 5-to-4 vote of the Supreme Court and then governed as if he had won by a landslide."
- White House reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, January 11.
"Some Democrats may have hoped it would be the George W. Bush who contritely acknowledged a 'thumpin' for his party the day after the elections in November. But the evidence suggests it is more likely to be the man who all but ignored the disputed circumstances of his election in 2000, governed from then as if he had an expansive mandate and who - even as he has employed soothing tones in speaking to and about Democrats for the last two months - has gradually but firmly reasserted himself on both foreign and domestic policy."
- Reporter Jim Rutenberg, January 4, 2007.
Left-Wing Love-Fest on 43rd Street
"Perry Moore has the sinewy physique and golden looks of a California surfer, but get him talking about comics, and he can out-geek the biggest fanatic. He also has the fervor of an activist when discussing the dearth - and occasional shoddy treatment - of gay superheroes in mainstream comic books."
- Arts reporter George Gene Gustines, September 3.
"In fact, 40 years after his death, Che - born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna - is as much a marketing tool as an international revolutionary icon. Which raises the question of what exactly does the sheer proliferation of his image - the distant gaze, the scraggly beard and the beret adorned with a star - mean in a decidedly capitalist world?....Even in Cuba, one of the world's last Communist bastions, Che is used both to make a buck and to make a point. 'He sells,' acknowledged a Cuban shop clerk, who had Che after Che staring down from a wall full of T-shirts....But at least here he is also used to inspire the next generation of Cubans."
- Reporter Marc Lacey, October 9.
"Augusto Pinochet, 91, Dictator Who Ruled by Terror in Chile, Dies"
- Times headline from December 11, 2006.
"Kim Il Sung, Enigmatic 'Great Leader' of North Korea for 5 Decades, Dies at 82."
- Times headline from July 10, 1994.
"The first day of the post-Rosie O'Donnell era on 'The View' television show has come and gone, and by any fair accounting, an often useful provocateur has left the building. In her final months on the air, she mostly dropped her public torment of an attention-starved, orange-haired real estate developer. Instead, she opened debates with others about terrorism, peace and citizenship....Few civic virtues are as useful as skepticism, though it is rarely honored until too late. The citizens who questioned the validity of the case for war in Iraq were widely scorned or ignored in 2002 and 2003 by the government and the news media."
- Reporter-columnist Jim Dwyer, May 30. O'Donnell has expressed doubt about the events of September 11, saying on "The View" that "I do believe that it's the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel."
Terror Threat? What Terror Threat?
"It is unclear what role, if any, religion played in the attack Mr. Shnewer and the five other men are charged with planning."
- From a May 14 story by Alan Feuer on the "Fort Dix Six" terrorism suspects.
Reality Check: "The FBI first got wind of the alleged plot in January 2006, after an unidentified store clerk alerted police to a video that showed the men firing assault weapons, calling for jihad and yelling 'God is great' in Arabic, officials said."
- From the May 9 Washington Post.
"I asked Marty Gottlieb, the weekend editor and the senior editor in the newsroom when the decision was made, and Geddes, who made the call from home, for more detail about their thinking. Gottlieb said that as soon as he learned there was going to be a news conference to announce a terror plot, he phoned Geddes and said, 'Don't go to the beach.' Based on early reporting, he said he told Geddes, 'This could be the lead, Page 1 or an inside story.' Gottlieb told me he was mindful of a history of orange alerts that came at politically convenient times and previous terror plots that wound up amounting to less than they first seemed."
- Public Editor Clark Hoyt, on the placement of a story on a terror threat to Kennedy International Airport, June 10.
"Mr. Cheney's trip to Pakistan was shrouded in unusual secrecy. In trips to Pakistan last year, President Bush and Secretary State Condoleezza Rice announced their plans days in advance, and reporters filed articles on their visits as soon as they landed. But Mr. Cheney's traveling press pool was sworn to secrecy, and allowed to report only the barest details just before he left....News organizations that knew of Mr. Cheney's travels, including The New York Times, were asked to withhold any mention of the trip until he had left Pakistan. That appeared to be a reflection of growing concern about the strength of Qaeda and Taliban forces in the area, and continuing questions about the loyalties of Mr. Musharraf's own intelligence services....American officials did not explain the extraordinary secrecy surrounding Mr. Cheney's visit to Pakistan, a country the administration has cast as a stable nation moving gradually toward democracy."
- Reporter David Sanger in the February 27 print edition.
Reality Check: "A suicide bomber blew himself up this morning outside the main gate of the United States military base at Bagram while Vice President Dick Cheney was inside the base." - Online Times report, that same morning.
"In a somewhat wooden address to the nation on Saturday and in an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Mr. Brown played down the threat, treating the episodes as a crime rather than a threat to civilization. Yet, his minimalist approach seemed to strike a reassuring chord with Britons, many of whom had expressed fatigue with Mr. Blair's apocalyptic view of terrorism."
- Alan Cowell on new British PM Gordon Brown's mild response to terror attempts in London and Glasgow, July 4.
"The authorities have called the men Islamic extremists, but have not detailed exactly what role religion played in the plans they are accused of making. There has been no indication of involvement by the mosque here in Palmyra or another one in Philadelphia where four of the men occasionally prayed.
- Kareem Fahim, May 19.
Reality Check: "In Large Immigrant Family, Religion Guided 3 Held in Fort Dix Plot."
- Headline over Fahim's May 10 story.
Loving the (Illegal) Alien
"So why would illegal immigration be a cause célèbre in a place like this, the whitest Congressional district in Colorado? Residents and local political leaders say the answer comes down, at least partly, to words like 'order' and 'stability.' Those concerns may mask a certain amount of bigotry or bias."
- Reporter Kirk Johnson, June 24.
"Over the last several years, this city has gone to great lengths to turn itself into a kind of haven, quite literally, for illegal immigrants. It was not that new immigrants were pouring in, but that there were thousands already living here, and the officials who have long run the city wanted to bring them out of the shadows....Within hours, any sense of sanctuary that the city and advocates for immigrants advocates [sic] had developed over the years was turned upside down, replaced with fear." - Jennifer Medina in a June 8 story from New Haven, Conn.
"Pragmatism is being drowned out by the bullies with electronic bullhorns, who've got their party leaders running scared."
- Reporter-turned-guest-columnist Timothy Egan describing those opposed to illegal immigration, June 21.
"Mr. Bush and his allies have faced an important rhetorical disadvantage, particularly from the right. Conservative opponents can use one word, amnesty, against the bill. Supporters, the president included, are forced into the complex weeds of policy and the nuances of legislative language."
- Jim Rutenberg, May 30.
Just Plain Goofy
"Given those results, a new McDonald's menu item is a bit of a stunner. Remember Supersize sodas? They're back, except this time the chain is trying a new name. Meet the 'Hugo,' a 42-ounce drink now available for as little as 89 cents in some markets. A Hugo soda contains about 410 calories. McDonald's might as well have called it the Tubbo. Making matters worse, Hugo ads are available in several languages, making sure that minorities - who are disproportionately affected by the obesity epidemic - are aware of the budget beverage."
- Business reporter Andrew Martin, July 22.
"We have a war going very badly in Iraq, and another one in Afghanistan where our declaration of victory looks very premature."
- From Executive Editor Bill Keller's Hugo Young Memorial Lecture in London on November 29, sponsored by the liberal Guardian (U.K.) newspaper.
"Baghdad Starts to Exhale as Security Improves"
- Front page headline to Times' lead story from November 20.
"New religions do not arise every day, so serious note should be taken when a belief moves from cult status to bona fide faith. Recently a nascent creed has stolen the hearts and minds of thousands of young Americans. Its key tenets include the idea that everyone gets along really well in high school, and thus that being a teenager is super fun. The name of this new religion is 'High School Musical.'....Just as new faiths grow out of old belief systems (see Judaism and Christianity), 'High School Musical' is essentially derived from a previous mythology promulgated in the latter days of the 20th century. Namely, 'Grease.' (That religion has of course not wholly died out; indeed, representatives of a new sect emerge on Broadway this very month.)"
- Theatre critic Charles Isherwood on the sequel to the Disney Channel hit "High School Musical," August 11.
"An academic study of the National Basketball Association, whose playoffs continue tonight, suggests that a racial bias found in other parts of American society has existed on the basketball court as well."
- Lead sentence to a May 2 front-page story by sportswriter Alan Schwarz about an academic paper alleging discrimination in foul calls against black NBA players.
"Then, too, there was the unfortunate homonym at the heart of a commercial from Prudential Financial, titled 'What Can a Rock Do?' The problem with the spot, created internally at Prudential, was that whenever the announcer said, 'a rock' - invoking the Prudential logo, the rock of Gibraltar - it sounded as if he were saying, yes, 'Iraq.'"
- By advertising reporter-columnist Stuart Elliott, under the headline "Super Bowl Ads of Cartoonish Violence, Perhaps Reflecting Toll of War," February 5.
"More broadly, if the object of public policy is to maximize society's well-being, more attention should be placed on fostering social interactions and less on accumulating wealth. If growing incomes are not increasing happiness, perhaps we should tax incomes more to force us to devote less time and energy to the endeavor and focus instead on the more satisfying pursuit of leisure."
- Economics reporter turned editorial board member Eduardo Porter, in a signed editorial November 12.
"Don't mess with Duke, though. To shine a light on its integrity has been treated by the irrational mighty as a threat to white privilege. Feel free to excoriate the African-American basketball stars and football behemoths for the misdeeds of all athletes, but lay off the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street, excuse the khaki-pants crowd of SAT wonder kids."
- Sports columnist Selena Roberts, still attacking the Duke lacrosse players even after the "rape" case against them came apart, March 25.
"The high viewer turnout for 'Idol,' which is on tonight, cannot solely be explained by technological advances or a regression in human nature. It cannot be a coincidence that television voting rights arose so soon after the 2000 election left slightly more than half the voting population feeling cheated. Those who didn't go to the polls and fear that their abstention inadvertently made possible the invasion of Iraq may feel even worse. 'Idol' could be a displacement ritual: a psychological release that allows people to vote - and even vote often - in a contest that has no dangerous or even lasting consequences. (Even losers win out in the end: both Mr. Gore and Jennifer Hudson ended up on the Oscar stage.) Maybe the reason that more people didn't turn out for the 2004 presidential race, despite the closeness of the tally four years earlier, is that they were still in denial and distracted by 'American Idol.'"
- Television critic Alessandra Stanley, April 4.
Finally: Us, Biased?
"...we are agnostic as to where a story may lead; we do not go into a story with an agenda or a pre-conceived notion. We do not manipulate or hide facts to advance an agenda. We strive to preserve our independence from political and economic interests, including our own advertisers. We do not work in the service of a party, or an industry, or even a country. When there are competing views of a situation, we aim to reflect them as clearly and fairly as we can."
- From Executive Editor Bill Keller's Hugo Young Memorial Lecture, delivered in London November 29.
"I know there are some people who actually believe that the Times has a partisan or ideological 'agenda' - the favorite word of critics on the right AND the left. There are even a few people who think the news coverage and editorial page operate in lockstep as part of a liberal cabal. The vice president is much too experienced and sophisticated, I suspect, to really believe that. I won't pretend that reporters' stories are never shaped by liberal bias (more accurately liberal assumptions about the world) but I think those instances are relatively rare, and I fight to filter them our [sic] and deplore them when they get into the paper. But that's not an 'agenda.'"
- Executive Editor Bill Keller, in an e-mail sent to Dick Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems in 2004 and reprinted in "Cheney," Stephen Hayes' biography of the vice president.
"When I first met Mrs. Crowe, she had been wary after I identified myself as a reporter from The Times. She confessed her suspicions, saying she watched Bill O'Reilly and harbored serious reservations about The Times. I had, in fact, experienced this kind of wariness, sometimes outright hostility, from nearly every person I stopped to interview at the summit. It had gotten to the point that I was even a bit nervous of approaching anyone for fear of rejection. Each time I experienced a new wave of anger toward the paper, I would try various tacks to defuse their hostility. Did they know there was a difference between the editorial and news pages? What about the fact that we get just as much criticism from the left as we do from the right? Did they know how hard we worked to report the news fairly?" - Reporter Michael Luo reporting from the "Values Voters Summit" in Washington, D.C., October 28.