January 18, 2005

Shameless Scribblers of the New York Times: An Endless Series

Sarah Boxer, 2001
Attitude: Check.
Trendy Hair: Check.
Transgressive; Check.
Good to go.

Jeff Jarvis takes hard look at the latest clueless twit of The New York Times, one Sarah Boxer, for endangering the lives of the Iraqi brothers who run Iraq The Model:

So here is a reporter from The New York Times -- let's repeat that, The New York Times -- speculating in print on whether an Iraqi citizen, whose only apparent weirdness and sin in her eyes is (a) publishing and (b) supporting America, is a CIA or Defense Department plant or an American.

Ms. Boxer, don't you think you could be putting the life of that person at risk with that kind of speculation? In your own story, you quote Ali -- one of the three blogging brothers who started IraqTheModel -- saying that "here some people would kill you for just writing to an American." And yet you go so much farther -- blithely, glibly speculating about this same man working for the CIA or the DoD -- to sex up your lead and get your story atop the front of the Arts section (I'm in the biz, Boxer, I know how the game is played).

How dare you? Have you no sense of responsibility? Have you no shame?
-- Jarvis

The answer is, of course, that Ms. Boxer has neither shame nor a sense of responsibility. Not only does the ham-handed manner in which she approaches this story attest to that, but her entire body of work -- such as it is. Shame is something that, if taught to her in her childhood, has been ruthlessly expunged by her education and "career." Instead of being shamed by having risked the lives of people she has never met, I'd bet real folding money that Boxer will spend the next few weeks preening in the attention her article brings her. Pats on the back and free lunches at Michaels will be her reward.

Jarvis rightly takes Boxer to task for her abysmal lack of basic Googling skills ( Something that seems to afflict The New York Times en masse. ):

Isn't this amazing: The New York Times chooses this time to quote a blogger without fact-checking them and trying to find someone from the other side. They pick this blogger, known to be a bit, well, from the fringe. Again, Boxer, a Google search would have been quite handy. You'd have found this story about this from the National Review. Oh, I know, you're probably not a subscriber; not many of those at The Times. But that's what makes the internet so wonderful: You can expand you reporting and hear more than one side and you don't even have to put the source material in a brown paper wrapper. You quote Martini and length but quote no one who questioned their baseless accusation. You simply spread them again. -- Jarvis
Of course, she spread them again. They are all she bothered to collect and they are all she has. Coredump.

It isn't a mystery to me how Boxer was assigned to, or pumped for, this "Blogging" article in the Times. Having been in and around the editorial types at New York newspapers and magazines for decades, I can well imagine the editor's mindset when confronted with either Boxer's desire to write about this or the need of the Times' "Arts" section to get with it on 'the blogging thing.' Boxer is young, Boxer is "hip," Boxer must "get it." Except, of course, she doesn't, but the editors at the Times have no way of knowing that, because they get it even less. In fact, none of them have to get it. They are, after all, The New York Times. Who would better know later what they don't know now?

But let's apply our basic Googling skills to Ms. Boxer and see what we can learn about her?

From an interview with The Idler on September 4, 2001 concerning her little noted and less remembered "graphic novel" In the Floyd Archives

Boxer says she published her first cartoon at the precocious age of eleven, and read Freud as a teenager growing up in Denver, Colorado. There, she would leaf through her father's copies of the New Yorker, no doubt reading the cartoons, her only direct exposure to East Coast intellectualism prior to the undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Harvard that resulted in her transplantation to the East. She currently divides her time between New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In the same interview, we learn that Boxer grew up in Denver, had a father who sold a steakhouse to teach English at Metropolitan State College, a mother who taught in a Head Start Program, had a subscription to The New Yorker ( "There are people who read west of the Mississippi."), and went to public school until the 9th grade when she entered the Colorado Academy Prep school ( "I was in the first class that admitted girls."). From there to Harvard and a BA in "Philosophy." Hence, to the Big Apple, ArtForum, and the New York Times.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? All the parts of the standard Liberal vetting engine are in place. Turn the key, and, vroooom!, away you go.

It is not that it is any wonder Boxer ends up writing a lead arts item without a scintilla of common sense, it is only a wonder that it has taken her this long to oil her way across the floor. Then again, real world experience -- such as living in a country where people behead men and women as a means of promoting their cause -- is something Ms. Boxer is short of. But that doesn't matter: a berth on the Times means she's got 'a chip in the game,' and if she plays the game right, as she does here, she'll soon have a whole stack.

Boxer is not an unusual example of her generation. Ms. Boxer is the one of the many young scribblers attached to the New York Times for the odd arts story or artist's obituary. ( "William Steig and Saul Steinberg. Also Charles Schulz. I got to write some of their obituaries for the New York Times. I also wrote an obituary for Bob Kane, who invented Batman." ) She recently penned one for Will Eisner for which the Times issued a correction to the effect that "Batman relied on intelligence and skill, not supernatural powers."

Will the Times issue a "correction" if Ms. Boxer's article leads to the death of the brothers at IraqTheModel? Doubtful. Will Ms. Boxer be given the blog beat at the "Arts?" Much more likely. After all, she's given every indication that she doesn't understand what she is writing about, is willing to push liberal bias, knows who to contact, and, more importantly, who not to contact. All without being told. In short -- a good soldier, "one of us." That's grounds for promotion at The New York Times. In addition, having cut her eye-teeth on "arts criticism," she's an unusually bad writer. That's golden.

Normally, Sarah Boxer's most at home staring at photographs in the safe confines of a Manhattan gallery or museum. From these moments of shallow breathing and reflection, she emits standardized artsblather in Art Forum, that bastion of anti-lucidity:

There are anatomical confusions, too, photographs in which a model's chin and upper arm read like a third and fourth breast or in which a torso is so twisted that the faint line running from navel to sternum looks like a butt crack. In some pictures the navel is the button nose and the nipples are tiny eyes that peer suspiciously at the lens. It is almost as if this formless flesh were pleading for recognition. In a few of the shocking high-contrast pictures Penn made of a lower torso scrunched in a chair, the sagging breasts are eyes with sleepy bags under them, and the hinge where the leg connects directly to the belly (bypassing the pubis entirely) reads as an ingratiating smile. One big happy face. -- Sarah Boxer on Irving Penn for Artforum
A classic of the genre. This has all the standard hallmarks of the kind of blather afflicting the world of museum curators and art critics: the extreme granulation of description ("... (bypassing the pubis entirely) reads as an ingratiating smile..."), the insertion of the hip coarse expression ( "... butt-crack..."), and the assignment of intent that can only exist in the mind of the writer ( ".... button nose and the nipples are tiny eyes that peer suspiciously at the lens..." ). This well-trained dancing dog of a prose style is, at best, harmless. But it becomes something more disturbing when the anti-critical and amoral mindset engendered by this sort of contentless navel-gazing is turned loose on matters of life and death.

But delving deeper in 'The Googling of Sarah Boxer' we discover yet other artifacts that mark her for ascension at the Times. It would seem that Ms. Boxer, as indicated above, has committed "a graphic novel."

The tale begins when Mr. Bunnyman runs into Dr. Floyd's office to hide from a wolf that is chasing him, and Floyd, a classic pipe-smoking analyst, insists that Bunnyman's problem is psychological -- that he is not actually being chased but is having paranoid fantasies. Enter Dr. Floyd's next patient, Mr. Wolfman, a swaggering cross-dresser with a hysterical female alter ego called Lambskin (who soon insists on being treated by Floyd, too). Ratma'am rounds out the Floydian client list: she’s an obsessive-compulsive pack rat who likes giving orders and being spanked.
-- In the Floyd Archives by Sarah Boxer
Random House. Pantheon. Cross-dressing. Spanking. Bad drawing. Irony. This book's got it all -- edgy, dare I say, "transgressive."

I imagine, for those who haven't looked too closely at the work in question, this deepens her street-cred to her editors at the Times. Hey, blogs, comics, graphic novels, all sort of Internet trendy, right? Right. In addition, her graphic novel seems to involve sending up Freud. Even better. Plus, it turns out she can draw about 15% better than Ted Rall, so that's a plus as well. ( I can hear her editor's edgy inner narrative now -- "Give this babe a byline and cut her loose on the Blogsphere, that'll show 'em.")

In the end, what we have is the classic, uncaring and unclued Times' hack-work on the Blogsphere. It is loose, biased, poorly sourced, over-written, and, yes, shameless. But then, Sarah Boxer and her generation only know shame as an outmoded concept that cannot be counted in the spare change that passes for their ethics. If it wasn't so dangerous, it would just be sad.

Posted by Vanderleun at January 18, 2005 1:05 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Love the photo caption, GV.

Posted by: Allah at January 18, 2005 2:57 PM

Keeping it real for Allah, keeping it real.

Posted by: Van der Leun at January 18, 2005 3:53 PM

The same New Yorker that lauded Peter Singer, Princeton's DeCamp Professor in the University Center for Human Values, as the "greatest living philosopher"

Whos last contribution is a review of the book, "Dearest Pet: Bestiality," after a detailed description of sex with chickens, Singer writes that "our physical similarities with other mammals...are so strong that the taboo on bestiality stems not from physical differences but from our desire to differentiate ourselves...from animals.

That New Yorker

Did the NAZI's stoop that low ?

Posted by: Raymond at January 18, 2005 4:15 PM

She's clearly a member in good standing of the chattering overclass, lazy, arrogant and dripping condescension from every fingernail. No wonder she feels comfortable putting the lives of ordinary, brave decent non-arrogant, non-condescending people in danger by repeating nonsensical allegations about the CIA.

Posted by: max at January 18, 2005 4:25 PM

I found this article from boxer to be the stupidest thing someone could write. This article was picked up by the BBC and lord knows who else. The bbc that is read by many Arabs etc in the middle east.

This chic does not know what she just did. Even though the speculation was in the internet, it was refuted and refuted, but it probably wasn't reaching even the number of people that it would reach in the NYT or BBC.

In short, she did a "hit piece" and she didn't even understand what sort of "hit" she was perpetrating.

Posted by: kat-missouri at January 18, 2005 6:20 PM

As soon as I read Jeff's first post I knew you would perform delicate verbal surgery on this immature bitch. Good job.

I just wish Ali had enough sense not to talk to her. . . .

Posted by: Yehudit at January 18, 2005 6:21 PM

I'm not sure if this is the same Sarah Boxer, but apparently her contribution is a cartoon, so could be.

Posted by: Jim Treacher at January 18, 2005 6:46 PM

Not just in oppostion - they're on the other side.

Posted by: P.A. Breault at January 18, 2005 10:36 PM

Knowing the situation in Iraq at this time, this is one of the most frightening things I've read. The author either knew what she was doing (frightening and unscrupulous), or didn't know what she was doing (even more frightening).

Posted by: drmom at January 18, 2005 10:36 PM

Mrph. I don't think she's actually trying to get them killed. (This would require more awareness than I think she has.)

I *do* think there's a move to delegitimate the elections, however. First there was "there'll never be elections", then there was "the elections will have to be postponed. They'll just *have* to!", and now that it seems shall we say unlikely, the next fallback is "the elections weren't legitimate!" The accusation that three of the candidates are actually CIA agents, or Americans, or whatever, is to be a small brick in that edifice.

("What? You mean planting this suspicion in the minds of Americans might endanger the lives of Iraqis? But of what importance is that?" Which actually makes sense in its own demented terms; the very enterprise demonstrates that these people don't give a damn about Iraqis in the first place. Pro-American Iraqis are even less worthy.)

Posted by: jaed at January 19, 2005 2:14 AM

Bunnyman? Is she lifting some of Matt Goening's earlier work? Now, that's derivative and unimaginative.

Posted by: SGA at January 19, 2005 4:50 AM

what i don't understand is why you would choose to ruin what was a serious op-piece of journalism with needless neo-con (and unnecessarily personal) vitriol. it's no wonder the rest of the world looks on disbelieving while you guys (on both sides of the divide) sling juvenilia and rotten oreos at each other. what a waste of sharp minds that could actually be doing something useful.

Posted by: Mr Jarndyce at January 19, 2005 6:15 AM

Mr Jarndyce,
"serious op-piece of journalism"??????
Have you been following along?
Have you ever been to ghandi's blog?
So, are you saying the NYT SERIOUSLY gets into outrageous conspiracy theories for serious op-pieces, or are you saying they are seriously biased? OR BOTH? Because those were the only serious parts that weren't dangerous.

Posted by: jedati at January 19, 2005 8:43 AM

This piece was junk. Regardless of the content it was an example of very poor work processes on the part of the author.

I wont get all worked up about the content. She may have made up the whole thing. This is the NY Times after all.

Posted by: terrible at January 19, 2005 4:22 PM

Ali says at Free Iraqi (http://iraqilibe.blogspot.com/2005/01/i-feel-i-should-give-my-opinion-on-ny.html):

"I won't make the mistake of talking to anyone from the NY times again. It's important to note though that my feelings of respect, gratitude and love for the American people have never and will never change."

He also has some choice words for Juan Cole, but who doesn't?

Posted by: Glen Wishard at January 19, 2005 5:12 PM