April 9, 2005
The stars are out tonightBy Richard N. Weltz
Inside sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have revealed that the New York Times' supply of little gold stars has been completely exhausted by the Saturday edition's appearance, leaving the paper's office management and procurement staffers phoning frantically around the city to find vendors who could replenish the stock by the end of the day in case additional stars would be needed for Sunday distribution to reporters and editors who earn them.
In but a single section (the Main one) of a single edition (Saturday, April 9), enough new stars were earned to deplete the already low stock.
A handful of the cherished 'goldies,' as they're known around the Times offices on New York's West 43rd Street, went to reporter Ian Fisher, whose front—page lead article covered the minute—by—minute procedures of the 3—hour funeral rites for the late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
Despite the necessity of describing in great detail the extremely lengthy and complex rituals, Fisher nevertheless managed to work in the gratuitously political comment that,
'His [the Pope's] views on abortion and the sanctity of human life resonated with Mr. Bush's conservative politics, even if his opposition to capital punishment and to both wars in Iraq did not.'
Bonus stars were awarded for Fisher's noting the Pope's doctrinal irrelevance to
'Many Italians,' who, 'as with liberal Catholics, liked his warmth and concern about poverty and social justice, even while ignoring him on issues like contraception, divorce or abortion.'
Meanwhile, reporting duo David E. Sanger and Steven Erlanger, devoted a good portion of an article on page 8 to impugning the President's lack of politicking at the funeral:
Papal funerals are not supposed to be about diplomacy, but put this many world leaders in one section of St. Peter's Square, and diplomacy happens. And so, at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, there was news about a president of the United States who did not shake the hands of two Middle Eastern adversaries, and a president of Israel who did.
The ceremony put President Bush in rare, close proximity to the Syrian president, Bashar al—Assad, and President Mohammad Khatami of Iran. But he did not use it as an opportunity to talk directly with Mr. Assad, with whom his administration has been sparring over Lebanon and Iraq. And while administration officials describe Mr. Khatami as a moderate among Iran's leaders, Mr. Bush had no contact with him, either.
But the biggest winner, who surely swept up enough 'goldie' awards to deplete the company supply, turned out to be TV writer (and presumed Frank Rich wannabe), Alessandra Stanley, who used her description of the funeral's TV coverage to let Times readers know that:
For American viewers, the pope's funeral was also a rare lesson in humility; the ceremony at St. Peter's Square was one of the few momentous, televised political events in which the United States played almost no role. The fact that the American president and his two predecessors attended a pope's funeral for the first time was ho—hum news overseas. * * * Inside the Vatican, American church officials are like Canadians at the United Nations: visible but not often heeded.
Regular readers of the Gray Lady are aware that, particularly after the accession to management of hereditary Crown Prince, 'Pinch' Sulzberger, a tracking system was put in place to encourage reporters and editors to advance the paper's political and social agendas and to ensure that those who do so may be suitably rewarded with choice assignments or movement up the hierarchical ladder.
This is accomplished by awarding one or more gold stars — depending on editors' judgement — to reporters who (preferably with some subtlety) insert in what otherwise should be factual and objective news reporting any gratuitous material denigrating the president, members of his administration, Republicans in general, organized religion, or any other snarky comments in line with the paper's editorial views.
In the days leading up to the Pope's funeral, reporters had a field day with negative quotes about the pontiff's reign and his forthright defense of his religion's doctrines. In one incident, embarrassingly revealed by blogger John Hinderaker of Powerline, the piling—on was so one—sided that an editor had to insert an instruction — erroneously posted on the Times Web site until discovered and removed — suggesting that something positive needed to be said about John Paul II just for a little balance.
So it was that the stars were awarded liberally all week, with today's (Saturday) issue garnering so many additional awards for Pope—pounding and Bush—bashing throughout what should have been objective accounts of the funeral and related events that supplies in the various editors' offices were depleted to the vanishing point.
But if the former 'paper of record' can just get through Sunday without having to hand out newly earned golden stars — a possibility subject to some doubt — the stores will all be open again on Monday; and Times staffers can continue their merry competition for the coveted awards.