My British dad swore by it; his
American raised younger brother would cap his career there and treating my
teenage self to a tour of its cavernous 43rd Street newsroom
as the presence of Russian missiles in Cuba took the world to the nuclear brink
– before treating me to perhaps the 60’s most surreal political thrillers where
a macho Sinatra fended off Red agents in drag; the price mirrored that of the
subway: a nickel, a dime, fifteen cents for the edition containing the once top
secret Pentagon papers; it was the paper of record: if your obit ran there --
you were still dead – but most famously you had arrived; the drama critic
fussed that my favorite playwrights (Albee/Williams) lacked an organic
connection to their female characters; there were no Sunday funny papers and
the slang “gay” for homosexual was verboten; Truman Capote would find the story
of a slain Kansas farm family buried back with the lingerie ads; the Stonewall
Bar riot was buried even deeper; a editor named “Abe” was thought to hate the
mere idea of queer reporters;
gay media pioneer Larry Gross dates the first appearance of
penis to a 1976 personal hygiene column; the death of Abe Rosenthal and an
obscure to the public family matriarch hastened the Times’ blooming as a major
source of LGBT news.
A new doc from director Andrew
Rossi takes us inside the “Gray Lady’s” expensive new HQ’s to explore how this
singular American institution is defying the death spiral of the American
newspaper industry, or is it? Rossi traces the debate raging within the blogs
and the newsroom. An unlikely star emerges: former drug addict turned
irreverent hot charging investigative reporter Dave Carr whose expletive
undeleted lingo is not exactly fit to print in a family paper. When asked if
he’s afraid for his future at the embattled Times Carr replies, “I’ve been a
single parent on welfare – this is nothing.” As he pursues an investigative
piece on the allegedly frat house atmosphere at a rival chain, he chuckles “I
have a scary voice on the phone and it definitely scares you to gat a call from
The New York Times.”
My chat with director Rossi ranged
from why the right thinks the Times leans to the left to why women on the
paper’s media desk choose not to appear in the film.
David Lamble: I’ve wondered why the right faults the
Times for liberal bias when its “sins” in the modern era – such as inaccurate
reports on weapons of mass destruction hardly reflect a “liberal bias.”
Andrew Rossi: The Times has consistently run stories
talking about gay marriage in a way that’s clear they support it; and it’s
something I support as well but it’s something that many might view as liberal;
that’s like a human rights issue that the Times covers as such, not like a
culture war issue.
Lamble: Any regrets?
Rossi: I wish we had more women in the film; there
were fourteen journalists on the media desk when I began, two of then were
women; I wanted them in the film, I would ask them every couple of weeks; they
got so exhausted hearing me ask them to participate. Unfortunately they didn’t.
Lamble: The “professional ghost” of disgraced Times
reporter Jason Blair seems to influence your slant on the paper’s commitment to
accuracy and earning back reader trust.
Rossi: One of the taglines that the social action
campaign surrounding the film has is “consider the source.” I think that’s
relevant on many levels; one of the first things people think about is “well, I
read things on-line that I can never be quite sure whether they’re accurate or
not.” It’s even relevant to things we read in the Times; The New York Times is
not a bible, not every thing there is 100 percent accurate.
Lamble: The corrections on page two often exceed the
Rossi: And thankfully those errors are not as
stunningly a field as in the Jason Blair case or the Judy Miller case in the
reporting on weapons of mass destruction before Iraq.
Lamble: It has been written that overturning the
Times’ unofficial ban on the word “gay” and extensive coverage of LGBT issues
was eased by the death of an important matriarch in the Sulzberger family.
Rossi: Our sources for the history of the Times were
really The Trust by Alex Jones and The Kingdom and the Power by
Gay Talese. So things you’re referencing about Iphigenia Sulzberger and
her views on gay issues is not something I’ve ever read about; I do know that
Adolph Ochs, when he purchased the paper in 1896, part of his distinguishing
the paper from others was to be a paper of record and to really categorize fact
in contrast to the yellow journalism of that era. The family ownership has kept
it from “dumbing down” or becoming a supermarket of sections just to sell ads.