The Daily Show Gets In On the Times-Baiting Act

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So the Daily Show's Jason Jones was somehow invited to infiltrate the Times for a segment that ran last night called "End Times," in which Jones wandered the office ("Look at me, I'm a reporter from the '80s, making sure everything's factual!") and scored sit-downs with both executive editor Bill Keller and assistant managing editor Rick Berke. "You know who would love this?" Jones asks a befuddled Times publicist, while waving around a hard copy of the paper: "My grandma." It's obviously a tough love kind of a sketch, but Jones is pretty unstintingly brutal. ("Charming," says Jones in a voiceover at one point, "but not profitable. A quick Google search shows they've lost 74 million this quarter and 40 percent of their ad revenue to Craigslist." Yikes.)

It's not like the Times didn't know what they were getting into, although there are moments when both Keller and Berke are so authentically and amusingly speechless that they seem like maybe they're being impersonated by Daily Show straight-man extras. And when Jones asks Keller "What's black and white and read all over?" and then answers, "Your balance sheets," Keller truly looks like he wants to stab someone. The Times executive editor was defended by ArtsBeat blogger Dave Itzkoff in an interview he did with Jones that ran on the Times site this morning:

    How were you able to set this up, and how did you gain access to our offices? They just said, "Please, come to our building and destroy our reputation?" I'm not so sure it was, "Please, come." Certainly, it will never be, "Please, come again." Clearly, we had some goods on you, because I don't know why you let us in. I think we've got some pictures of Bill Keller, I think, that he does not want published. So he gave us 20 minutes.

    What were your impressions of him? Talking to Bill, I realized how dumb I was. He's a very well-spoken, cogent man. With no time for my juvenile fraternity humor.

    You understand, he covered the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of apartheid in South Africa? Yes, but I can make [flatulence] noises.

When Itzkoff did the interview, he hadn't yet been allowed to watch the segment. But in it, Keller makes a similar point, telling Jones that "The last time I was in Baghdad, I didn't see a Huffington Post bureau or a Google bureau or a Drudge Report bureau." Both exchanges get at the basic fact that the Times still destroys everyone else at doing actual reporting, a truth so self-evident that the higher-ups at the paper actually allowed this thing to happen in the first place. Among all the public airing out of their balance sheets and "aged news," that public reminder is pretty much the paper's only silver-lining here. Score one for both sides, I guess.

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