Of Moose and Timesmen
By 2003, it was obvious that the New York Times had gone off the rails, between the firings of Jayson Blair for serial fabulism and Howell Raines for hiring him -- not to mention Raines' obsession with the Augusta National Golf Club, while a slightly larger story was unfolding in America: 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the dawn of the Global War on Terror.
But the clincher was the Moose. You remember the moose, don't you?
At a 2003 meeting to reassure hundreds of troubled and irate Times staff members that everything was under control, Sulzberger suddenly displayed a stuffed toy moose. "He commented that unhappy Times employees should 'talk to the moose,' 'deal with the moose,'" wrote one journalist, "and he also urged employees to 'put their moose on the table.'" Sulzberger then handed the moose to Executive Editor Howell Raines, who put the stuffed toy aside next to his chair.
"You're sitting in the room with giants in the business," one Times reporter, appalled by Sulzberger's toy moose, told New York Magazine. "It was mortifying." "Its use struck some in the audience as a tone-deaf and patronizing gesture," reported the New York Daily News. "It wasn't just embarrassing," wrote journalist John Ellis. "It was embarrassing and pathetic."
For days thereafter, pundits pondered why the 52-year-old publisher had brought a toy moose to such a serious meeting. Eventually they discovered that Sulzberger is a huge fan of psychological motivation techniques. The moose is akin to the expression "the elephant in the room," a big topic that people are reluctant to acknowledge or talk about.
"My father and his generation were defined by the Great Depression and World War II, and it created a very strong command-and-control culture," Sulzberger has said. "My generation is defined more by revolutions…. We deal with the moose."
To amplify Pinch's comments, his father, Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger (1926-2012), who grew up in the dynasty that owned the New York Times, enlisted in the US Marines in 1944, serving in the Pacific Theater, and accompanied MacArthur to the surrender of Imperial Japan. His son deploys a stuffed moose during critical business meetings.
As James Lileks of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote in May of 2003, "Grown-ups do not behave this way. Unless they are running a day care. It’s a cute anecdote for a retreat, but applied to the real world, to the newsroom, is a sign of how infantile management theory has become."
Speaking of World War II, Lileks imagined how the stuffed moose would have worked during D-Day:
Patton: Dammit, Ike, I —
Eisenhower: uh uh uh, George. I don’t see Mr. Moose. I hear moosey feelings, but the table looks pretty mooseless to me.
Patton: (fingers pearl handle of his revolver) (drops a dirty, wet rag on the table) That’s my moose. It fell under the tank treads. Sir, about Normandy —
Eisenhower: What did you call you moose? You’re supposed to give it a name!
Patton: As soon I saw it was under the treads, I named it Monty.
Heh. When I was Googling yesterday to find more background on the moose story beyond Lileks' vintage Bleat, I came across an article published this past Thursday at another troubled MSM brand name, Newsweek, which is currently owned by the publishers of the International Business Times. They acquired the brand with nine lives, after it was was destroyed in recent years by first the Washington Post and then Tina Brown.
"The Stuffed Moose Strikes Again," as spotted by the newly reconstituted Newsweek:
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson was fired yesterday by the paper's owner Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in what was not so much a staff change as a beheading. This may seem like an odd choice for the top Abramson tab, but I think Taiwanese animated news site TomoNews best captured both the facts and the feel of the event here.
"Did you catch Sulzberger's moose?", asks Newsweek. "That's a real eye for detail, right there. That's why TomoNews is 'America's #1 Animated News Source from what is arguably sort of China.'"
As Matthew Continetti theorized yesterday in his must-read piece at the Washington Free Beacon, "The men and women who own and operate and produce every day the world’s most important newspaper are basically children":
This is the same New York Times that in 2003 admitted, in a multi-thousand-word correction, that it had been harboring, for reasons of political correctness, a serial fabulist who created tales and characters out of imaginative reverie and had seen these fictions published on the front page. This is the same New York Times that in 2005 fired its former Baghdad bureau chief after the paper’s management discovered that she had been emailing the wives of two foreign correspondents to say that they were having affairs. This is the same New York Times whose staffers are engaged in a “semi-open revolt” against op-ed and editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, a “semi-open” rebellion in which propaganda by the deed consists of not sitting at Rosenthal’s lunch table. And yet this is the same New York Times that day after day, in article after article, instructs its readers, and the country, in how to think, how to vote, what to eat, what to wear, who is in, who is out, what is doubleplus, and what is crimethink. The gall.
Gossipy, catty, insular, cliquey, stressful, immature, cowardly, moody, underhanded, spiteful—the New York Times gives new meaning to the term “hostile workplace.” What has been said of the press—that it wields power without any sense of responsibility—is also a fair enough description of the young adult. And it is to high school, I think, that the New York Times is most aptly compared. The coverage of the Abramson firing reads at times like the plot of an episode of Saved By the Bell minus the sex: Someone always has a crazy idea, everyone’s feelings are always hurt, apologies and reconciliations are made and quickly sundered, confrontations are the subject of intense planning and preparation, and authority figures are youth-oriented, well-intentioned, bumbling, and inept.
In retrospect, Sulzberger's moose was far from the first clue, but it should have been a damning one. And given the internal chaos that lurks behind the doors of the self-styled Most Important Newspaper on the Planet, as Newsweek hinted, perhaps the Taiwanese animators' recreation of the firing of their editor is more accurate than they'll ever know.
(Artwork based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)