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May 20th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History

Is Some Sort of Journalistic Karma Striking the New York Times?

To expand on my tweet, it is Aron Pilhofer that’s leaving the New York Times and joining the Guardian now as Executive Editor for digital. As is clear from the Guardian‘s announcement, he was recruited by Janine Gibson, beginning last March, she points out, to make clear it was underway before the recent unpleasantness. Gibson has found herself an inadvertent participant in the Jill Abramson firing debacle, as she had been in the process of being courted by Abramson, and other Times bigs including Dean Baquet, now the top editorial exec at the Times replacing Abramson. A continuing disagreement among the principals in the imbroglio is what Abramson said to Baquet about the likely level of Gibson’s role, if she came to the Times. Baquet says Abramson never told him they’d be co-managing editors. For what it’s worth, I think he ought to have sensed she’d be a senior figure, with a great rep preceding her at the Guardian. Did Baquet underestimate her likely station, hence his dismay upon learning of it? Whichever is the case, it seems clear that Abramson never had a chance to offer Gibson any job at all before Sulzberger acted to get ride of her, following lunch with an angry Baquet. I love the irony then of the fact that Janine Gibson, onetime recruiting target of the Times, just “pilfered,” in a manner of speaking, a bright new hire named “Pilhofer,” an improbable aural accident of two words sharing several sounds.

I might not have bothered to tweet this yesterday, or written this follow up—the lethal politics of the NY Times don’t interest me that much—if not for the high irony of the new hire.

I had an experience of my own involving the Times. From 1997-2000 I was Executive Editor at Random House for the Times Books imprint, a long running line of books for which the Times licensed their name to titles often written by their reporters, or drawn generally from the newspaper’s deep reporting. I liased with editors and staff at the newspaper, dreaming up book ideas with sections like the Sunday Book Review (Books of the Century); Real Estate (“If You’re Thinking of Living In . . .“; City (FYI); and Dining (The Best of Craig Claiborne). I also got to do a fun analog job of photo-editing, publishing illustrated wall and desk calendars drawn from the Times’ 100-plus-year-old Photo Archive, once a physical place that is now digitized.

As the imprint liaison I was invited to a few Times parties. I recall going to one for a new Anna Quindlen novel. I arrived on the early side. At first it seemed a light, fizzy crowd, certainly no tensions evident. Suddenly I took note of a rising anxiety in the room as senior honchos arrived, one by one, each seeming to jockey for positioning in some hierarchy fully visible only to those in the power circle, though the rest of us in the room could sense it. The toasts and encomiums that came when the author was feted seemed to be done through gritted teeth, as eyes darted around the room. Watching the takedown of Abramson committed by Sulzberger reminded me of that Times party, which I recall leaving as soon as the speeches were finished.

As a closer here, I want to share the succinctly apt tweet put out by Janine Gibson the day Jill Abramson’s firing was announced by the NY Times.

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January 16th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet

A Windy Day for the New York Times

I feel a draft from this sentence in a NY Times story on Chris Christie’s most senior appointee to the Port Authority, David Samson. This is some seriously over-written and comically bad news writing:

“The firm’s doors in West Orange and Trenton often spin from the wind of its lawyers departing for, and soon returning from, state government positions.”

As the New Yorker used to put it, “Block that metaphor.”

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January 9th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History

The Chris Christie Scandal You Haven’t Heard of Yet But Should Know About

As a blogger whose site is inspired by the look and lore of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, I immediately began following with great interest the political scandal involved in the mysterious closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. In the month since I first posted about it, the episode has mushroomed in to a full-blown scandal, especially with yesterday’s revelations that aides close to Chris Christie deliberately targeted the mayor of Fort Lee for petty political retribution. In light of this news, I am urging all visitors to The Great Gray Bridge to read this October 10, 2013 story by the New York Times’ Michael Powell, which chronicles the quashing of a lesser-known criminal case against a close Christie ally. Like #GWBridgeGate, this story deserved much more attention before New Jersey voters chose their next governor last November, but that didn’t happen. Again, as with #GWBridgeGate, Powell’s story should be much more widely read and shared, as evidence of the climate of casual and criminal corruption surrounding Chris Christie and his administration. Below is the opening from Powell’s lengthy article. You may read it all here.

“Prosecutors sent tremors through rural Hunterdon County when they announced a sweeping indictment of the local Republican sheriff and her two deputies in 2010. The 43-count grand jury indictment read like a primer in small-town abuse of power. It accused Sheriff Deborah Trout of hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths. Her deputies, the indictment charged, threatened one of their critics and manufactured fake police badges for a prominent donor to Gov. Chris Christie. When the charges became public, the indicted undersheriff, Michael Russo, shrugged it off. Governor Christie, he assured an aide, would ‘have this whole thing thrown out,’ according to The Hunterdon County Democrat. That sounded like bluster. Then the state killed the case. On the day the indictment was unsealed, the state attorney general, a Christie appointee, took over the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office. Within a few months, three of its most respected veterans lost their jobs there, including the one who led the case.”

Powell also reports that one of the prosecutors unfairly dismissed in the case, Bennett A. Bailyn, “has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the attorney general killed the indictment to protect prominent supporters of the governor.” With the GWB scandal growing bigger by the week, it’ll be fascinating to see if Bailyn’s case can advance through the courts so he can get justice and the public can learn more about this troubling incident.

Please read Powell’s article and share it in your social networks.

 

 

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December 16th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, TV, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Books & Writing

William Morris’s Historic Printing Press Gets a New Home in Rochester, NY

Albion No. 6551On December 5 New York Times reporter David Dunlap published a fascinating article about the forthcoming sale at Christie’s auction house of the illustrious printing press that under William Morris’s cultivated hand and eye printed the Kelmscott Chaucer, with illustrations by pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones. Completed between 1894-96, it is among the most important modern fine press books ever printed and published. I’ve always enjoyed Dunlap’s reporting, in which he usually covers architecture. He brought the right sensibility to this article, which I loved for it being stuffed with factual nuggets like these:

“The instrument on which this artwork  [the Kelmscott Chaucer] was composed was the Improved Albion Press No. 6551, a hand press almost seven feet high, weighing 2,000 to 3,000 pounds, that was made in 1891 by Hopkinson & Cope in England. It is to be auctioned on Friday by Christie’s [in New York]. The estimate is $100,000 to $150,000.”

I’ve been waiting to blog about Dunlap’s article, because I wanted to report the auction result, if I could. And from a report I just found today, I’ve got that now, and also great detail on the provenance of the press. For instance, I’d been wondering: 

How did the Albion Press No. 6551 even get to North America?

Turns out, in 1924, noted type designer Frederick Goudy shipped the Albion across the Atlantic to his print shop in Marlborough, NY. I’m glad it wasn’t wartime, when the ship could’ve been the target of a U-Boat crew. In a real sense, the precious Albion carried the legacy of Morris’s elevated enterprise, so devoted–all-in, as we say now– to cultivating the art of the book. In 1960 the press was acquired by J. Ben and Elizabeth Lieberman of White Plains, NY. Under their ownership it was moved on three occasions, the last time when they moved house to Ardsley, NY. Though the family had long been active in fine printing circles, they came to find day-to-day operation and maintenance of the press beyond their capacities. Current owners, Jethro K. Lieberman and his wife Jo Shiffrin, told Dunlap, “It’s time for someone who will put it back into service.”

Dunlap reports that over two years in the last decade of the 19th century, 438 copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer were printed by Morris and his pressmen on the Albion, and that every copy is accounted for, whether in institutions, libraries or private hands. He writes,

“Four belong to the Morgan Library & Museum. John Bidwell, its curator of printed books and bindings, permitted this reporter to examine a volume bound in white pigskin.The sheer amount of ink on paper is breathtaking. The decorated pages are blacker than they are white. Yet the printing is so exact that there is not so much as a stray smudge in this jungle of leaves, vines, berries and flowers.”

The report on the auction, running at What They Think, a site devoted to news of the commercial printing industry, reports that the Albion N. 6551 will now be housed at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate NY in the Cary Graphic Arts Collection. It was bought for RIT by the “Brooks Bower family. Bower, a 1974 graduate of the School of Print Media, is an RIT trustee and chairman and chief executive officer of Papercone Corp., an envelope-manufacturing firm in Louisville, KY.”  The auction price was $233,000, well above the estimate. It will be put in to regular use by RIT students. I was pleased to read this thorough provenance of the press, which includes a lovely bit of history provided in part by Steven Galbraith, curator of the Cary Collection:

“’From 1932 to 1941, Albion No. 6551 was owned by the Cary Collection’s namesake, Melbert B. Cary Jr., director of Continental Type Founders Association and proprietor of the private Press of the Woolly Whale. . . .Cary bequeathed the press to his pressman George Van Vechten, and in 1960, J. Ben and Elizabeth Lieberman acquired Albion No. 6551 for their Herity Press. They topped the press with a Liberty Bell, a reminder of the vital role that private presses play in the freedom of the press.’ Albion No. 6551 will join the Cary Collection’s Arthur M Lowenthal Memorial Pressroom, a working collection of 15 historical printing presses and more than 1,500 fonts of metal and wood type. Supporting study of the press is a collection of Kelmscott Press publications and archives of material related to Frederic Goudy and Cary’s Press of the Woolly Whale. The Cary Graphic Arts Collection is located on the second floor of The Wallace Center at RIT. Hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For information, call 585-475-3961 or go http://cary.rit.edu.”

It’s been a good week for the art of the book, as last Friday I saw gorgeous printed materials at the Center for Book Arts’ holiday open house, and now this news about the outcome of the Christie’s auction. I hope to see the Cary Collection and the Albion No. 6551 someday. The photo at the top of this informational post and those borrowed below for it I happily credit to Eddie Hausner and Marilynn K. Yee, photographers of The New York Times, and thank them for this fair use.Kelmscott ChaucerJPKELMSCOTT1-articleLarge-v2

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December 11th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: News, Politics & History; Urban Life & New York City

Chris Christie—Playing Petty Politics over the Great Gray Bridge

January 9, 2014 Update: In the month since I first posted about the mysterious closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, the episode has mushroomed in to a full-blown scandal, especially with yesterday’s revelations that aides to Governor Christie deliberately targeted the mayor of Fort Lee for political retribution. In light of this news, I am urging all visitors to The Great Gray Bridge to read this October 10, 2013 story by the New York Times’ Michael Powell, which chronicles the quashing of a lesser-known criminal case against a close Christie ally. Like #GWBridgeGate, this story deserved much more attention before New Jersey voted for governor last November, but that didn’t happen. Again, as with #GWBridgeGate, Powell’s story should be much more widely read and shared, as evidence of the climate of casual and criminal corruption surrounding Chris Christie and his administration. Below is the opening from Powell’s lengthy article. You may read it all here.

“Prosecutors sent tremors through rural Hunterdon County when they announced a sweeping indictment of the local Republican sheriff and her two deputies in 2010. The 43-count grand jury indictment read like a primer in small-town abuse of power. It accused Sheriff Deborah Trout of hiring deputies without conducting proper background checks, and making employees sign loyalty oaths. Her deputies, the indictment charged, threatened one of their critics and manufactured fake police badges for a prominent donor to Gov. Chris Christie. When the charges became public, the indicted undersheriff, Michael Russo, shrugged it off. Governor Christie, he assured an aide, would ‘have this whole thing thrown out,’ according to The Hunterdon County Democrat. That sounded like bluster. Then the state killed the case. On the day the indictment was unsealed, the state attorney general, a Christie appointee, took over the Hunterdon prosecutor’s office. Within a few months, three of its most respected veterans lost their jobs there, including the one who led the case.”

A Power Play Goes Awry

As a blogger whose site is inspired by the look and lore of the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, I’m following with great interest the current political scandal unfolding around the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who before becoming chief executive of the state was a US Attorney in the state. If you’re just catching up to this bit of tawdry political theater, it seems probable that Christie and minions of his unleashed a vendetta against Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, NJ, the small city at the western end of the busy, busy span.

Multiple news reports, including an audio and written piece by WNYC reporter Andrea Bernstein and this NY Times article suggest that the trouble began when Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, declined to endorse Christie in his recent re-election. Back in September, as the gubernatorial campaign unfolded,  local access lanes to the tollbooths approaching the bridge from Fort Lee were closed without explanation. Little notice was given to bridge or Port Authority officials; those who were told anything say they were informed the lane closures were supposedly for a traffic study, a claim that since been debunked. They were also told not to report it or discuss the matter with colleagues. The result, during the first week of public school with traffic peaking right after Labor Day? This is how the Times reports it:

“Cars backed up, the town turned into a parking lot, half-hour bridge commutes stretched into four hours, buses and children were late for school, and emergency workers could not respond quickly to the day’s events, which included a missing toddler, a cardiac arrest and a car driving into a building.”

The  person behind the scenes pulling the strings was David Wildstein, a close friend to Governor Christie who has now resigned from his state job, lamely claiming he doesn’t want to be a “distraction.” Beyond that, he declined comment to reporters. Meanwhile, Christie denies any role in the episode. Democrats in the NJ legislature smell a rat. They are subpoenaing officials and holding hearings, trying to get to the bottom of the stupid, petty vendetta against Mayor Sokolich.

A month before Christie’s re-election, which came by a wide margin over his Democratic challenger, the excellent NY Times reporter Michael Powell published a story that should have gotten a great deal more attention than it did. The Quashing of a Case Against a Christie Ally detailed how in 2010 a serious public corruption case against local law enforcement authorities in NJ’s Hunterdon County was halted with no apparent reason and local prosecutors who had prepared the case against County Sheriff Deborah Trout and an underling were fired, on orders that came from a longtime Christie ally in the state government. Having read that story, I’m not at all surprised that Chris Christie may have pulled such a petty stunt as this new one, or countenanced the conduct. Powell’s story includes this paragraph:

“There is no evidence that Mr. Christie ordered the dismissal of the charges against Sheriff Trout. But his attorney general, Paula T. Dow, who had served as his counsel at the United States attorney’s office, supervised the quashing of the indictment and the ouster of the respected prosecutors. Sheriff Trout had political ties to the administration. She led an association of county law enforcement officials that backed the candidacy of Mr. Christie and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who had previously served as sheriff in Monmouth County. Ms. Guadagno and Ms. Trout exchanged chatty e-mails, according to court records. After the election, Ms. Guadagno thanked Sheriff Trout for sending her deputies to work on the campaign. Ms. Trout left office in 2010. But the case and the Christie administration’s role in killing it have surfaced again because one of the dismissed prosecutors, Bennett A. Barlyn, has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming that the attorney general killed the indictment to protect prominent supporters of the governor. In August, a New Jersey judge ordered the attorney general to release the grand jury records to Mr. Barlyn, who said the records would detail the considerable strength of the now-dead case. The state has appealed the decision. “I was frog-marched out of the prosecutor’s office,” Mr. Barlyn said, ‘because I objected to the dismissal of a viable case against an important local official.’”

As Christie revels in his 30-point win last November and moves ahead with what I expect to be a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination I’m sure there will be efforts to dismiss this affair over the GWB and people will joke about corruption being a common affair in New Jersey. However, I believe that the deliberate instigation of traffic jams on the bridge has a potent resonance that just about everyone can relate to, including people who don’t follow politics closely.  I hope that media stay on the climate of casual corruption that has infected the Christie administration.

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November 28th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, TV, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Urban Life & New York City

RIP Saul Leiter, Important NYC Photographer Appreciated in the NY Times

Thanksgiving Afternoon Update: After tweeting and posting about Saul Leiter last night, I’ve seen a few more pieces on him today, and have had quite a wide reaction to what I’d shared. The best piece today is Teju Cole’s postscript on Leiter in The New Yorker. The Brooklyn writer, born to Nigerian parents in the US, was best known to me for his 2102 novel Open City, but now I see he’s also accomplished in photography, writing about it and taking pictures. This is from the end of his fine New Yorker appreciation:

“The content of Saul Leiter’s photographs arrives on a sort of delay: it takes a moment after the first glance to know what the picture is about. You don’t so much see the image as let it dissolve into your consciousness, like a tablet in a glass of water. One of the difficulties of photography is that it is much better at being explicit than at being reticent. Precisely how the hypnotic and dreamlike feeling is achieved in Leiter’s work is a mystery, even to their creator. As he said in “In No Great Hurry,” laughing, “If I’d only known which ones would be very good and liked, I wouldn’t have had to do all the thousands of others.”

 

 

 

Foot on ElSaul Leiter was an amazing photographic artist who I am only just learning about now, because of the obituary on him by Margalit Fox; the Lens blog post about him by friend Tony Cenicola, in today’s NY Times, and a Lens blog post by Cara Buckley from November 15 about a new film on Leiter, “In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter.” Much of his work is at the Howard Greenberg Gallery in NYC. I urge you to look at his work there. This is from Cara Buckley’s post:

“There is something so poignant about Saul Leiter’s work that looking at it can feel like taking a dart to the heart. Drenched in luxuriant, saturated colors, the images instantly transport the viewer into the photographer’s shoes: peeping from beneath an awning to a snow-swept street, or through a befogged cafe window, weeping with condensation, to a man taking pause on a wintry sidewalk. Intimate and empathetic, Mr. Leiter’s photographs relay what all New Yorkers know about their roaring, daunting home: that life in the city is filled with stolen glimpses and fleeting, quietly personal and often gorgeous moments.”

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September 27th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Food & Spirits; Urban Life & New York City

Taste of Persia, Flavorful New Restaurant Near Union Square

A few weeks ago I read a restaurant review of A Taste of Persia, a new eating spot near Union Square in Manhattan. The review was by Ligaya Mishan, who writes a NY Times column called Hungry City. The piece was delightful, with paragraphs like this:

“For two decades, Mr. [Saeed] Pourkay, a Tehrani émigré, ran a print shop across the street from the pizzeria. After cashing out his share in the business a few years ago (to go “searching for my happiness,” he said), he started selling ash reshteh, a wondrous, wintry, outrageously thick Persian soup, at the Union Square Holiday Market. Fans clamored. Happiness was found. This past March, he returned to 18th Street and set up under his former neighbor’s roof. Here, in an imposing vat, is the justly fabled ash reshteh, a result of the eight-hour communion of five kinds of beans, a riot of herbs and onion cooked down to a sweet density. Dark and luxuriant, it has no broth and only a trace of oil. Broken strands of linguine snake through it. Fenugreek lurks, faint but insistently bittersweet, underscoring cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. But it is the garnishes that turn it into poetry: caramelized, verging-on-burned garlic; dried mint flicked in a pan; crispy fried onion; and a swirl of kashk, a Persian whey more sour than yogurt, with a bite like feta.”

This was a chef whose food I really wanted to taste.

Last Sunday, which happened to be my birthday, Kyle and I headed out to the Brooklyn Book Festival. We had a great time at this event which for us has replaced BEA as the most enjoyable book event on our literary calendar. I’ll post some pictures from the fair later, and meantime here’s just one of the shots that Kyle took.Reader

After nearly 3 hours in Brooklyn, enjoying the crisp autumn air, blue skies, bright sunshine, and many serendipitous encounters with friendly bookpeople, we took the subway back in to Manhattan and walked over to 18th Street for our first meal at A Taste of Persia.

Not as spicy as some overly familiar Indian fare, the dishes we tried were distinctive and different from any similar food we’ve encountered in the city. The tastes and textures left no doubt that the dishes had simmered for hours. There was a smoothness and total mingling of flavors that only comes from slow and patient cooking. We met Chef Pourkay, as genial and hospitable as any maitre’d you’ll ever be greeted by in a four-star hotel dining room. He exudes genuine warmth and takes great pride in serving this food. Even after we’d finished our angus beef stew with celery and a chick pea dish cooked with tomato and cilantro, he offered us a gratis take-away sample of a lamb stew he’d just finished preparing.

We met two other diners, one of whom said he works in the fashion industry. These Iranian New Yorkers were breaking up pieces of a soft flatbread and dunking them in a savory soup. Chatting with them while Chef Pourkay readied our take-away, I told them that I enjoy listening to Iranian-Canadian Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio’s daily culture and current affairs program “Q”, which is carried in New York City on WNYC FM weeknights at 10 PM. I told them and Chef Pourkay that I will urge Jian to visit A Taste of Persia the next time he comes to NY for a live taping of “Q.” I’m sure he’ll love the food. Below are photos Kyle and I took during our visit to the restaurant. What a great way to spend my birthday!

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August 25th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History; Sports

How is the NFL like Big Tobacco?

 

I find the NFL’s conduct in this matter more and more like that of the Big Tobacco executives who in the 1990s lied to Congress and denied there had long been knowledge within their companies that nicotine in cigarettes was addictive. Among several issues that league execs should answer for is whether they have for many years known that injured players risked longterm disability and shortened life expectancy from competing too soon after having suffered concussions. I find their behavior obnoxious but unsurprising. But for ESPN, I have I think even more scorn. They’re happy to be thought of as an influential media player, committing journalism and keeping an eye on organized sports’ tendency toward corruption and malpractice when it serves their reputation-building purposes, but then they readily revert to being a commercial player, with Disney corporatism holding the whip hand once the league turns on the heat full blast.

Maybe the lesson is we should not show trust for the journalism put out by ESPN. A pity, because I know there are many capable reporters and correspondents working for the network, including the brother reporting team of Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, authors of the forthcoming  League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth, the book accompanying “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” the PBS Frontline documentary that the NY Times article suggests Disney forced ESPN to back out of sharing in ownership of and credit for, even after the network and the authors had spent months working on it alongside producers at Frontline.

Below is the trailer for the program that according to the Times became a major point of contention at the recent midtown Manhattan lunch meeting between NFL and ESPN execs. The book, with nearly the same title as the program, will go on sale a few days before it is first broadcast. Another item of interest is the online statement Frontline producers put out, regretting ESPN’s decision and promising their viewers “The two-hour documentary and accompanying digital reporting will honor FRONTLINE’s rigorous standards of fairness, accuracy, transparency and depth.”

Watch “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis” preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.