The New York Times' Admirable Embrace of Real, Flawed Love Stories

Sometimes, people get married, cheat on their spouse, and then marry the person they cheated on their spouse with. It's good for the paper of record to acknowledge that.

Johnny Cash and June Carter (played here by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon) met when they were both married to other people (20th Century Fox)

Last week the New York Times ran an article about the renovated home that Babar author and illustrator Laurent de Brunhoff shares with his wife and collaborator Phyllis Rose. Writer Jacob Bernstein included the lovely couple's meet-cute.

"I was sitting next to a very funny man," Ms. Rose said, "and he had me laughing and laughing. And Laurent, sitting at the other end of the table, loved my laugh. So we sat together after dinner and I said something like, 'I hope you don't mind if I tell you how much I love your work.' And he said: 'I don't know your work. I hope you don't mind if I tell you how much I love your eyes.'"

Utterly charming, right? But wait! What did the preceding paragraph say again?

Mr. de Brunhoff was actually a late transplant to New York. In 1985, living in France and married to another woman, he discovered Ms. Rose at a Paris dinner party.

I'm listening.

In short order, Ms. Rose took Mr. de Brunhoff back to the United States, living with him at Wesleyan University, where she was a professor of English. In 1990, when his divorce was finalized, they married, and expanded their real estate holdings with a home in New York. In 1996, they bought in Key West.

This tale of infidelity-turned-marriage echoed an article featuring the wedding of Carol Anne Riddell, an anchor at a New York City NBC affiliate, and Time Warner executive John Partilla, which ran in the Weddings & Celebrations section of the Times in 2010. Riddell and Partilla met at the Upper West Side school their respective children attended. At the time, they were married to other people.

The backlash to the Times' write-up of their wedding was substantial. Slate's Dana Stevens tweeted that it was "staggeringly monstrous." Jennifer Barton of (the now defunct) Lemondrop, wrote that by appearing in the paper together, "the couple comes across as selfish and tasteless." Barton believed Riddell and Partilla were trying "to dress it up as a great love affair that overcame the odds." She speculated, as did many, that their marriage would be short lived. The ever sagacious Kathie Lee Gifford used her Today platform to both compliment and condemn the couple: "If you're going to do it, do it...I guess our big question is why advertise it, why celebrate it, why say, "Look at us!'" Nobody in love ever does that.

In reaction to the outrage, the Times issued this statement:

The Vows feature gives a close-in account of a wedding every week. Every one is different. We don't attempt to pass judgment on the suitability of the match, the narrative of the romance, the quality of the ceremony or the flavor of the cake.

The Times did well by asserting that no one love story is alike. That being said, many of the couples who appear in the Weddings and Celebrations section, and most certainly Vows, seem to live in a vacuum, a kind of alternative world to the gossip rags that feature celebrities with oily hair on supermarket runs, proclaiming "they're just like us!" Times couples aren't "like us," and readers don't want them to be. People have M.B.A.'s. Someone's grandfather arrived on the Mayflower. Husband and wife met at Yale. There is a judge or politician in the family most honored to officiate the ceremony.

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Alexis Coe is a writer in San Francisco and a columnist for SF Weekly.

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