December 10, 2000
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The Sunday Styles section of today's New York Times features, on page 3 of the section, a comic strip. This would be unremarkable -- most other American newspapers have comics -- but this is the New York Times, where comics have long been a no-no.
In fact, by starting this comic, which runs with the title "The Strip" and which has made its debut in the past month or so, the New York Times is abandoning a longtime practice that was carefully guarded by its previous publisher, Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger, who ran the paper from 1963 to 1992.
In an interview with the Economist magazine in 1991, Mr. Sulzberger vowed that there would be "no comics, no horoscopes, no handicapping of horses" so long as he was in charge.
In a 1999 memoir, Max Frankel, who was executive editor of the New York Times from 1986 to 1994, recalls that Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. -- Punch's son who succeeded his father as publisher -- asked his editors to consider which comics the Times might pick up if the Daily News folded. "Stumped by Arthur's inquiry, I punted to Punch, who set me right with a typically wise and witty response," Mr. Frankel writes.
Frankel quotes Punch Sulzberger as writing, "I am very much from Missouri when it comes to introducing them in the New York Times. . . .We should nurture and strengthen the perception of the Times as a serious paper. . . . I am a comics reader from way back . . . .But I would have great reservations about importing or starting our own strips. . . . Suppose all these comics and an editor cost us $500,000 per year. Is that where we would best be spending it? There must be a million ideas to capture new readers and still keep us in the news business -- a business for which we are known and in which we excel."
The Times' new comic strip is just another example of how Punch Sulzberger's son has discarded his own father's wise preference for serious news.
Riding the Dog: An article in today's New York Times magazine quotes the chairman of security for the Air Line Pilots Association describing disruptive airline passengers. He says, "Remember, these aren't nice people. They're the kick-the-dog, beat-the-wife, Greyhound Bus types that don't belong in the air." Well, excuse me, but the Times might want to think twice before besmirching all Greyhound Bus riders by printing this quote unchallenged. The Greyhound Bus isn't exactly the preferred means of transportation for Smartertimes.com executives, but one once did a serviceable job of getting the Smartertimes.com editor from Albuquerque to Cimarron, New Mexico, in a pinch. And how dare the Times magazine suggest that the Smartertimes.com editor isn't nice? Anyway, the Times is trying to define its audience, and if the ads in the magazine are any indication, it is succeeding -- check out the ad today that advertises, "The World's Most Expensive Perfume, From $560." Not for "Greyhound Bus types," that.
Chad Chatter: The "On Language" column in today's New York Times magazine discusses the derivation of the word chad. The column fails to mention an explanation reported in the November 22 Wall Street Journal, which says that after the Korean War, a certain Mr. Chadless "invented a keypunch that didnÕt make a mess." The Journal reports that by a process lexicographers call "back formation," "techies in the brave new Chadless world began referring to any punched paper dot as . . . a chad." Smartertimes.com doesn't vouch for the accuracy of this derivation, but it seems like the Times should at least mention it as a possibility.
Old News: An article in the New York Times magazine today on money laundering in Nauru bears a funny resemblance to an article in the December issue of Mother Jones magazine on money laundering in the Bahamas. Sections in the two articles about Citibank's private banking business are eerily similar. The Mother Jones article lists Citibank's clients as the family of Nigeria's Sani Abacha; dictator Omar Bongo of Gabon, and Raul Salinas of Mexico. The New York Times article mentions Abacha, Bongo and Salinas. Neither article prints a response from Citibank. Both articles also mention an anti-money-laundering bill offered by Rep. Jim Leach. Smartertimes.com isn't suggesting the Times copied the Mother Jones article or did anything improper, just noting the coincidence.
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