[Guest post by Isaac Chotiner]
In his seemingly endless quest to write about the most trivial and minor subjects imaginable, The New York Times' "public editor," Arthur Brisbane, penned a column yesterday on filth. According to Brisbane, 'The culture is headed for the curb, and The New York Times is on the story." What Brisbane means is that society is going to the dogs, and his beloved newspaper is following along. Now, you might say to yourself that of all the problems that ail this fine newspaper, a preponderance of sex-drenched, vulgar reporting is not near the top of the list. But according to Brisbane, who from the tone of his writing appears to be over 200 years of age, people these days are just plain uncultured and rude.
It's a challenge for The Times to preserve its dignified brand as it undertakes to cover the world as we have come to know it: high, low and, at times, suffused with vulgarity.
After huffing and puffing about the salacious coverage of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Brisbane turns his attention to an article about a certain "unspeakable word" that was the subject of an essay in the New York Times Magazine (the word is four letters and starts with a C). Brisbane thinks this essay, which never used the word, violated the paper's standards. (His pompous phrase for the piece is that it represented "loitering at the edge of propriety.") Next on Brisbane's list is a memoir by Jon-Jon Goulian, which received reviews in both the Sunday edition and the daily paper. Brisbane's objection to this appears to boil down to the fact that Goulian wears women's clothes. Really, that's it. As Brisbane writes:
But the ubiquitous Jon-Jon is symbolic, I think, of the strong tug on The Times and other mainstream news media to follow society, sometimes eagerly, to its fringes.
Brisbane concludes with this:
My preference would be to see more restraint. True, other media are indulging in questionable journalism, and it is difficult to resist the downward revision of standards. But The Times could just as easily pull back, recognizing that its readers don’t need and aren’t relying on it to chronicle these badlands. Other news outlets are more than willing to go there.
That's right: the Times should ignore the "badlands" of cross-dressers, of words that make Brisbane sweat, and of stories about, say, the head of arguably the most important financial institution in the world possibly committing sexual assault. The real question is why Brisbane continues to write for the paper when he could be monitoring playground language at his local public school.