Tag Archives: New York Times

First Amendment: hey, we can buy that!

Penalty, Mr. Snyder: Roughing the press. © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

By Bob Hicks

Every reporter at one time or another has felt the heavy hand. The veiled or not so veiled threat. The “You know, I have lunch with your publisher every week, and he listens to me” routine. Sometimes it’s soft and condescending: “I know a smart guy like you is gonna help me out here.” Sometimes it’s hard and condescending: “I’m a major advertiser!”

But rarely does it come down as raw and naked as it did recently from Daniel M. Snyder, owner of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins, who had his lawyer send a letter that included this paragraph to the owners of the Washington City Paper, which had published an unflattering story about Snyder:

“Mr. Snyder has more than sufficient means to protect his reputation and defend himself and his wife against your paper’s concerted attempt at character assassination. We presume that defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment fund such as yours. Indeed, the cost of the litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper.”

Kapow. The hand smacks down. We can spend you into oblivion.

David Carr, the canny media columnist for the New York Times, unravels the story here, and if Snyder thought he was being ridiculed before … well, let’s just say a little local issue has blown up big.

This threatened takedown strikes Mr. Scatter as the posturing of a bully, and a bully who smells blood: Newspapers are weak, and they can be roughed up. Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise at a time when the Supreme Court has declared that corporations are people — or at least have all the rights of individual people, which in fact means they have many more rights, because they are much bigger and more powerful. We are living in a time when big money isn’t content to simply pile up and multiply in a few fat wallets. It wants to run every part of the show.

This shakedown won’t work. But it’s both telling and appalling that it’s been attempted. Has Mr. Snyder taken a look at what’s happening in the streets of Cairo?

Probably not. After all, he still insists, in the face of a culture that has shifted under his feet, on calling his football team the Redskins. Now, there’s an insult.


Penalty, Mr. Snyder: Roughing the press. © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

The emperor with no clothes hangs it up

By Bob Hicks

A while back, in this post, we groused about the shocking unprofessionalism of the team of bozos that had taken over management of The Tribune Company, publisher of such flailing giants as the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Baltimore Sun.

Illustration from Hand Chriastian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes." Vilhelm Pedersen (1820 - 1859)/Wikimedia CommonsWe were responding to David Carr’s report in the New York Times, laying bare the boorish behavior of the new guys on the block, whose obvious disdain for journalism and lack of respect for people in general seemed indicative of the moral morass that way too much of corporate life seems to be stuck in these days.

So, how about a modest celebration? CEO Randy Michaels, the overgrown frat boy at the center of the debacle, has resigned. Who knows what comes next, but it’s a beginning. You can read the Trib’s own report on the resignation here. And just imagine the celebrating in the newsroom.


Illustration from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Vilhelm Pedersen (1820 – 1859)/Wikimedia Commons

From Portland to New York, let ‘Esther’ sing

All right, I know. It’s way past time to get off this Portland Opera kick: Puddletown’s got a lot more fish to fry.


Christophera Mattaliano/Portland Opera

How can I not mention Christopher Mattaliano and his big splash (or rather, his show’s big splash) in the front-page centerpiece of today’s New York Times arts section?

I was surprised to see Mattaliano, Portland Opera’s general director, cruising the lobby Friday night at Keller Auditorium before the opening of the opera’s Orphee. After all, I knew he had his own very important production opening the following night: He’s the stage director for New York City Opera‘s new revival of Hugo Weisgall‘s Esther.

“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Don’t you have an opening tomorrow in New York?”

“Well, I’m done there now,” he replied. “The stage director doesn’t have much to do at this point.”

He seemed pretty casual about the whole thing. But surely he was pleased with the work he’d done. This was a heavy-spotlight show — not just NYCO’s season opener, but also the first production since the company’s return to its refurbished space at Lincoln Center. It was also the first revival of Weisgall’s Esther since its premiere in 1993, also at New York City Opera, and also with Mattaliano as stage director — a homecoming in many ways. And it was a critical production for a prominent company trying to return from the edge of a financial abyss.

But let Anthony Tommasini, the Times’s critic, tell it:

“(With Esther), this essential company, teetering on the brink of extinction not long ago, announced it was back. Not just up and running, but exuding purpose and confidence.”

Tommasini’s review suggests some of the forward thinking that Mattaliano has also brought to his programming for Portland Opera, including Orphee, the rarely produced opera by Philip Glass:

“Christopher Mattaliano, the director of the premiere production, has refurbished that staging, which used filmed images projected on scrims and screens. This revival uses richly detailed video and other innovations.”

For Tommasini’s complete review, click here.

Sweetheart, get me rewrite: We just hit an iceberg!

The Titanic, proud prowler of the ocean, steaming into history

Above: The Titanic, proud prowler of the ocean, steaming into history. Inset below: The Titanic’s bow, as seen from a Russian MIR I submersible. Wikimedia Commons.

As you may have noticed, American newspapers are in a spot of trouble these days. Bad economy, sinking circulation, this newfangled thing called the Information Superhighway … the troubles just keep piling up.

So I’m always interested in seeing what our best and brightest newspapering minds are doing to stop the bleeding. The New York Times has this thing it cleverly calls The New York Times Store, because it’s, well, it’s run by the New York Times and it’s a store. As in, a place where you can buy merchandise that you probably don’t need but that might be fun to have, anyway. A sort of readers’ boutique.

The haul is tasteful, and handy if you need to score a quick birthday present for a happily retired stockbroker uncle in Montauk. It’s a little New York-centric, but that’s OK: Derek Jeter memorabilia, Yogi Berra signed baseballs, Authentic Yankee Stadium “Freeze-Dried Grass” Sod (!), Babe Ruth baseball jerseys. Looking westward, Edward Curtis prints seem to be a popular item. So are crossword puzzles, executive-desk knickknacks … you get the picture. The store’s a good idea: When the ship’s going down, any little bucket on deck helps.

About that bucket.

The other day I flipped to the back page of the arts section and saw the latest come-on from the Times store.



the headline screamed, and there at the top was a photo of a splendid-looking model of The Titanic.

Ttitanic bow seenfrom Russian MIR I_submersible/Wikimedia CommonsJust $249 for the 32-inch edition, but let’s go whole hog: You can get the 40-inch model, complete with “accurate crow’s nest, metal propellers and railings, and intricate cranes, ventilators, ladders, funnels, steam pipes, benches and skylights,” for $379. It’ll look great on your mant …

Hold on: A newspaper’s selling a model of The Titanic!

Guys: Have you read your back issues? Is this really the image you want to put out there right now? How about a bronzed commemorative pile of molten debris from the Hindenburg? Have you been too busy rearranging the deck chairs to notice the iceberg out there in the fog?

Just sayin’, this might be a tactical mistake.

But I do like the idea of the company store. Lord knows, even in their current state of disarray the newspapers are raking in more money than this blogospheric whiz-bang buggy we’ve hitched our wagon to here at Art Scatter.

Anybody interested in a Mr. and Mrs. Scatter commemorative coffee mug?

How about a Large Smelly Boys minty air freshener for the car?

All the world’s a stage, especially the halls of Congress

Cultural types who complain that the mainstream media never pay attention to the arts just haven’t been reading the news pages, where it’s theater, theater, theater, hour after hour, day after day.

Daniel "Black Dan" Webster, heartthrob of the political stage. Portrait: George Shattuck, 1834/Mational Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.No figure in history is more honored in our news coverage than the revolutionary Russian set designer Grigori Potemkin, and his ingeniously adaptable Potemkin Villages are inhabited for our entertainment purposes by similarly interchangeable Potemkin People.

Somewhere back there behind these pop-up people and prop-up set pieces a real world no doubt languishes, waiting for its moment to step into the spotlight and state its case that a little attention must be paid. Never mind. The comedy onstage is just too delicious to abandon for the dreary drama of the broken-down kitchen sink.

Herewith, program notes on just one new show in a typically hectic season:

A Comedy in Too Many Acts

“You lie!” the gentleman from South Carolina shouted as the President spoke and the greedy cameras rolled.

Henry Clay, political performer par excellence. Engraving: John SartainAnd the House came tumbling down.

On Tuesday, United States Representative Joe Wilson, Republican from the Sovereign State of Secession, was formally rebuked by his fellow inmates for breaking up President Obama’s speech to Congress on health care reform with an outburst of what appeared to be actual passion. Following the traditional pattern of this highly ritualized form of theater, Wilson than prostrated himself before the President in shame, apologizing for his transgression and begging forgiveness. According to the time-honored script the Wise Leader graciously absolved him, with a parting, “Go, and sin no more.”

But unusually — don’t you just love it when a performance breaks through the fourth wall, and we all get pulled into the action? — that wasn’t enough. The neat pattern didn’t address Wilson’s true crime, which was this: He broke character. He was performing in a comedy, but he adopted a tragic tone. That practically guarantees a bad review.

It’s not that Wilson acted like a horse’s behind. That’s standard operating procedure in Foggy Bottom. It’s that he did it with so little finesse. According to the traditions of Congress it can be a natural advantage to be a horse’s behind, but you’re supposed to emit your credentials behind your opponent’s back, not blow them in his face. Republicans in Congress immediately jumped into damage-control mode, accusing the Democratic majority that forced the rebuke vote of playing politics — shocking! — and suggesting that it’s time, as Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia so nobly put it, to “get on with the business of the people.”

John Randolph, fiery orator and erratic marksman. Wikimedia CommonsPerhaps the show’s most intriguing plot twist is the revelation, as the New York Times review puts it, that “House guidelines on the rules of debate say it is impermissible to refer to the president as a liar.”

This disclosure, late in the third act, strains credibility. As a member in good standing of the League of Tough-Guy Arts Observers I’m compelled to report that Wilson’s little outburst of jackassery simply can’t hold a candle to the ones you can find in the classics. One of our better theatrical critics, the historian David S. Reynolds, recounts several instances of supreme congressional jackassery in his book Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, including this sketch of Virginia Senator John Randolph, a hard-drinking goliath who regularly put the screws to President John Quincy Adams and others of his many enemies:

“In a high, squeaky voice, he delivered rambling speeches that sometimes lasted ten hours. Every fifteen minutes or so he paused to swig from a glass of malt liquor or a brandy-and-water concoction; he would go through several quarts in an afternoon. Well lubricated, he lambasted his enemies with abandon. He did not shrink from calling Daniel Webster ‘a vile slanderer’ or Edward Livingston ‘the most contemptible and degraded of beings, whom no man ought to touch, unless with a pair of tongs.’ “

Once, Reynolds reports, Randolph’s abuse was so egregious that Secretary of State Henry Clay challenged him to a duel:

“Clay’s bullet ripped through Randolph’s white flannel coat without wounding him. Randolph’s hit a tree behind Clay. In a second round, Clay again missed Randolph, who raised his gun and fired into the air. The men talked and reconciled. Randolph joked, ‘You owe me a coat, Mr. Clay.’ Clay replied, ‘I am glad the debt is no greater.’ “

Ah, sighs Gus, the Theatre Cat. Now, that’s what I call acting!

Like so many political comedies, The Fall and Rise of the Sharp-Tongued Congressman ends with a mordant twist — a deus ex machina, if you will, setting everything aright and showering blessings on all the characters in the show. Again, from Carl Hulse’s review in the New York Times:

“The episode has become a political bonanza for both parties as Mr. Wilson and his Democratic challenger in the 2010 election, Rob Miller, have each raised over $1 million in the aftermath, and the two parties have benefited as well.”

Now, that’s a happy ending.

The bottom line: A pretty standard medieval morality play, with a veneer of coarse frontier comedy. Vividly drawn characters and some choice moments of burlesque, but a week from now you’ll be hard-pressed to remember any details of the plot.


Illustrations, from top, all from Wikimedia Commons:

Daniel “Black Dan” Webster, “vile slanderer” and leading man of the 19th century political stage. Portrait: George Shattuck, 1834. National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Henry Clay, fearsome performer in the political theater, always up for a good stage duel. Engraving by John Sartain.

John Randolph of Virginia: Prodigious feats of provocation on the congressional stage. Artist unknown.

Late Monday Scatter: Sex and the single turkey

So here it is, Thanksgiving week, and here this corner of Art Scatter sits, tied to the care of two adolescent and near-adolescent boys who’ve been ruthlessly cast out by the public education system on the flimsy excuse that teachers are entitled to a holiday. Ha.

Still, that hasn’t stopped us from reading. And curiously, what we’ve been reading about — in family newspapers, no less — is S-E-X. Or, as some quarters would have it, something to be thankful about.

First, to the Willamette Valley town of Silverton, a pretty little village that’s the gateway to the fantastic glories of Silver Falls State Park and also happens to have a mayor who’s a very public cross-dresser. Silverton seems to be just OK with that, and more power to the town. Personally we never get farther than the L.L. Bean catalog when it comes to dressing up, but we always appreciate a little black dress and some scarlet high heels on someone else. Even if it’s the mayor, and his name is Stu.

The Oregonian’s Kimberly A.C. Wilson reports on Oregon Live about what happened when a group of ultra-conservative church folk from Topeka showed up in town to denounce the mayor’s evil-doings. Silvertonians pretty much told them to shut up and go home. Seems they weren’t in Kansas any more — at least not the truculent and loony Kansas of the Westboro Baptist Church, which makes a habit of sending moral storm troopers out into the Gomorrah that is the rest of America. As for the rest of us, we’ve come a long way, baby. And that includes Silverton.

Meanwhile, down in Grapevine, Texas, the Rev. Ed Young of the evangelical Fellowship Church is preaching the gospel of love. And by love, we mean love — the scattering, as it were, of the good seed.

Rev. Young and his congregation of 20,000 (and growing bigger every day) have embarked on a quest he calls Seven Days of Sex: All the church’s husbands and wives are challenged to have sex every day (with each other, of course) in order to strengthen their marriages and ward off the temptation of extramarital affairs. Word is, according to Gretel C. Kovach in the New York Times, things have been going swimmingly, or maybe glowingly. It’s a great way to build up your congregation, and actually, Rev. Young makes a terrific theological case for his position on the subject. In Portland he’d be called a Young Creative. Which is our excuse for mentioning him on our esteemed cultural blog.

Moving on from sex to death and Thanksgiving dinner, the Web’s atwitter with the “news” of Gov. Sarah Palin’s “pardoning” of a turkey slated for slaughter (a pretty darned common seasonal photo op for politicians across the land) and subsequent three-minute on-camera chat while other turkeys were methodically meeting their maker in the background. The Huffington Post huffed. Wizbang responded with the neocon view. The nonsacrificial turkey didn’t have a clue its life had just been spared. And here in the Art Scatter kitchen, we’re looking forward to that savory vegetarian mushroom bread pudding we’re going to whip together in a couple of days.

As they say in spin-land, happy holidays. And keep America weird.

Newspapers: Leaner, meaner, livelier or else

I have been devoted to newspapers since — oh, since I was 6 or 7 and getting caught up in the ongoing adventures of Gasoline Alley and Our Boarding House and Little Orphan Annie and other daily heirs to The Yellow Kid.

My print addiction built with my childhood passion for baseball and the after-game quotations of heroes such as Ted Williams, whose fondest phrase, as passed along by sportswriters and dutifully cleaned up by copy editors, was “blankety-blank” — as in, “That blankety-blank umpire couldn’t call a blankety-blank pitch in a blankety-blank grade school game!”

Those were the days.

And these are these days, when the daily newspaper is teetering on the brink of (choose one or more):

— Irrelevance.

— Extinction.

— Rebirth.

Not a lot of people are betting on that third option. By the time I bailed out of the full-time journalism racket almost a year ago, after nearly 40 years of writing and editing for other people’s publications, we in the working press had pretty much taken to referring to ourselves (or at least, our institutions) as the Titanic, muttering with grim humor about rearranging the deck chairs.

And we did so in pretty much a vast silence, as onetime readers and never-bothereds ignored our flailings in droves — at the same time our advertisers were scuttling toward the greener pastures of Craigslist and television and direct mail and, if we were lucky, those preprinted inserts that arrive on your sidewalk with the morning news but don’t pay the newspaper what an old-fashioned ad on the page pays.

Long before Wall Street’s spectacular tumble, newspapers started taking it on the chin. Massive layoffs and buyouts, from the Washington Post to the New York Times (100 lopped from the newsroom) to the Los Angeles Times to The Oregonian, where I was one of nearly 30 members — all with decades of experience — of the Buyout Class of 2007. Now The Oregonian is in the process of another huge voluntary buyout, cutting 50 people from the newsroom and lots more in other departments. In Portland and across the country, it’s a journalistic brain drain of astonishing proportions.

What brought a great American institution to such a pass?
Over at Culture Shock, the sharply inquisitive blogger Mighty Toy Cannon has begun a fascinating conversation on newspapers and readership and the link between a critical press and a city’s cultural life. It’s a great discussion, right up Art Scatter’s alley, and I encourage you to join the fray. But the existence of broad and lively cultural coverage in the local press also depends on the health and stability of the press in general, and that’s a deeper discussion. So here goes. You’re going to read a lot of generalizations here, and a lot of tentative ideas. But it’s a start. Feel free to pitch in.

Continue reading Newspapers: Leaner, meaner, livelier or else