Ex-Editor of American Scholar Splits With NYT

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"The Gray Lady," announces distinguished essayist and former editor of The American Scholar Joseph Epstein, "is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels." In fact, he announces, "I've had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I've determined to cut her loose." What he means to say is that he is canceling his New York Times subscription.

The problem, he explains in The Weekly Standard, is the Times' "stunning irrelevance," its lackluster op-ed section, its Arts-that-are-not. Atlantic 50 members Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof, and Frank Rich get panned in rather spectacular fashion:

With the exception of David Brooks ... I find no need to read any of the Times's regular columnists. Every so often I check to remind myself that Maureen Dowd isn't amusing, though she is an improvement, I suppose, over the termagantial Anna Quindlen, whom I used to read with the trepidation of a drunken husband mounting the stairs knowing his wife awaits with a rolling pin. I'd sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials. Laughter, an elegant phrase, a surprising sentiment--the New York Times op-ed and editorial pages are the last place to look for any of these things.

In addition, complains Epstein, the Arts section now features "video games and graphic novels." The Book Review has " for decades ... been devoted to reinforcing received (and mostly wrong) literary opinions and doing so in impressively undistinguished prose." Meanwhile, "The New York Times Magazine has always been dull, but earlier it erred on the side of seriousness. Now it is dull on the side of ersatz hipness."

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The conclusion:

The main feeling I have as I rise from having wasted an hour or so with the Sunday New York Times is of what wretched shape the country is in if it is engaged in such boringly trivial pursuits, elevating to eminence such dim cultural and political figures, writing so muddledly about ostensibly significant subjects. 

Perhaps one picks up all newspapers in anticipation and puts them down in disappointment. But the New York Times, at no extra charge, also leaves one feeling one lives in immitigably dreary times, and it does so daily. I don't need it.

Paul Krugman is not one to shrink from a fight of late. If the professor would care to defend the "old broad's" honor, the Wire, for one, would love to watch this duel play out.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.