February 14, 1997

The New York Times

All the news that's fit to print.

Times motto

My dislike of the New York Times goes back to my high school days. In my social studies class, the assignment was to take a news story and read it in several papers. We were expected to analyze the objectivity of the author and the biases of the author and the paper. With the story that I analyzed, the Times came out at the bottom, well below the New York Daily News, which was then considered a cheap tabloid. The story was as slanted, and obviously so, as it is possible for a story to be without it being considered outright propaganda. From then on, I ignored the Times.

My next experience with the paper was when my book, The Topic of Cancer was published. They didn't bother to review it, despite the fact that other publications gave it excellent reviews. At that point I realized how much power that paper had. By choosing to review or not review a book, that paper held the life of a new author in its hand. The New York Times Book Review had a degree of power that is unimaginable, unless you happen to be an author who has been ignored by it.

A reviewer, being a fallible human being, can be right or wrong about a book. I wouldn't have cared if the reviewer had panned the book unmercifully; that is his/her privilege. But the Times chose to ignore it; to treat it as if it didn't exist. That, I have never been able to forgive.

The representative of my publisher tried unsuccessfully to get it reviewed by the Times. She said that some publishers get all of their books reviewed, while others do not. She was very cynical about it and implied that someone might be sleeping with the editor of the book review.

The fact is that the New York Times Book Review determines what books are ordered in quantity by the large booksellers and what books get on the best seller list. In short, it is the arbiter of what is read in this country. And what does it have that it deserves to be the arbiter and unofficial censor of American books? Damned if I know!

If you think that the reason that a book is on the best-seller list is because more people are buying it, think again. What puts a book on the list is how many of a particular book are bought by the booksellers. It doesn't matter if they don't sell a single copy. It is not the public that makes a book a best-seller, but the large booksellers -and the New York Times.

Is there anything that I do like about The Times? Yes, The Times has, and has had, some excellent reporters and writers. I will never forget Harrison Salisbury's incisive articles about Vietnam. One of my favorite columnists Molly Ivins once wrote for the paper. She didn't last too long; no free spirit could.

Another thing that I don't like about the paper is that it is stuffy. They still don't have comic strips. I think that the modern comic strip is an effective means of social commentary and satire. Perhaps satire would be more at home in a less ponderous newspaper.

I consider it an unforgivable sin for any publication that is used to wrap fish and start fires to take itself as seriously as the New York Times does.

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