Yo Mama's Last Supper
February 16, 2001
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After getting scooped yesterday by the Daily News on the appearance at the Brooklyn Museum of a photograph depicting Jesus as a naked woman surrounded by black men, the New York Times unloads today in full force. The Times carries an editorial, a front-page news article, an art review, and a "critic's notebook" piece about the photograph and the objections to it that have been raised by Catholics and by Mayor Giuliani.
The front-page news article asserts "Mr. Giuliani's motives were a source of debate yesterday, particularly because he has no plans to run for office in the immediate future. In 1999, the mayor used his battle against the Brooklyn Museum in one of his successful fund-raising letters for his Senate campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton."
This cynicism about the mayor's motives is both unjustified and biased. For one thing, while the Times article asserts that the mayor's motives "were a source of debate," the article doesn't quote a single person questioning the mayor's motives or debating them. The only person commenting about the mayor's motives is the City Council speaker, Peter Vallone, who is quoting saying the mayor's motives are essentially sincere: he "feels he's on God's side."
What's biased is the suggestion -- unattributed to anyone other than the voice of the Times article itself -- that the only conceivable reason the mayor would protest the art is that it would help him in a political campaign or in fundraising. It's as if the Times is suggesting in its news article that the mayor's action, on the merits, is so unreasonable that he must have had some hidden motive.
Of course, the Times itself has higher standards than to show a full-frontal image of the photograph in color on its front page, or even clearly inside the paper. But the mayor's suggestion that the city's taxpayers might want to exercise the same discretion the Times editors did by not subsidizing the display of the photo is seen by the Times as so unreasonable that it raises "debate" about the mayor's motives.
The Times editorial makes a specious First Amendment argument, claiming that the First Amendment guarantees a museum a taxpayer subsidy to display anti-religious art. But it's funny how the Times' First Amendment absolutism all of a sudden evaporates when the newspaper supports, as it does in the name of campaign finance "reform," restrictions on the right of private individuals to buy political advertisements in the weeks before an election. According to the Times definition, the First Amendment guarantees museums a taxpayer subsidy, but doesn't guarantee individuals a right to political speech.
The Times art review asserts "we have every reason to be grateful" for the exhibit, and it suggests the contents are "a sign of conservative times." The Times coverage also repeatedly refers to the photograph of the naked Jesus figure as being of the photographer herself.
As the Forward newspaper, which has since been sold, editorialized the last time the Brooklyn Museum faced off against Mr. Giuliani: "The mayor does us all a favor, moreover, in illuminating the larger spectacle -- the astounding sense of entitlement of those who run our museums combined with the astounding sense of detachment from matters that are sacred and meaningful to ordinary people. . . the sense of entitlement has to do with whether the Brooklyn Museum is owed a subsidy from the already overtaxed citizens of New York so that it can mount a display of patently offensive sophomoric trash including the above-mentioned icon for those who mock Catholicism."
No Radio: The New York Times "Automobiles" section today features an article on the decline in "No Radio" signs in the windows of cars parked on New York City streets. The article attributes this to the plunging crime rate. But it may just be a consequence of the declining value of radios compared with other electronic equipment that is now available to be stolen. The editor of Smartertimes.com has seen cars parked in Brooklyn with signs that say "No laptop computer."
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