Teddy (1932-2009)


We all called him by his first name, a nickname, really, and our parents never corrected us. In Massachusetts, we had the Kennedy Seat and we had an extra one for other people who wanted to run for the Senate. Teddy was a given, like four seasons and Plymouth Rock and sales tax.

He didn’t have the panache of John or the drive of Robert. He was the younger brother always trying to live up to what the Old Man would have wanted. He was the sometime-fuckup who drove drunk, cheated on an exam; who married the prettiest girl and then sneaked out on her. He might wake up with a ferocious hangover, but he put on his work clothes and went to the job he’d signed on for. He was just like us. He was one of us.

We mourned his fallen brothers, but Teddy was the guy who bought the round, who came to the funerals, who took care of his own. We watched him age, just like our fathers did, just like we did. He put on weight, his hair turned white. He quit tomcatting and settled down with a good woman. Whenever one of the Kennedy clan stumbled, or fell, he was the one who stood at the front of the church and explained the unexplainable.

In the end, Senator Kennedy had done more for America than all his brothers and sisters combined. He was braver and tougher than the Old Man.

Whenever we looked, he was on the job; he had our backs and we will always love him for it.

The Young and the Textless

Inspired by “They’re Old Enough to Text, Now What?” in The New York Times, I slipped into a daydream about what my now-distant childhood would have been like if we’d had texting. The first few scenarios that popped into my head had to do with my parents catching me at stuff:

Mother: WRU ?
Me: TOP BG PINE TREE
Mother: GT ASS DWN !

Father: MATH TST ?
Me: C-
Father: NO TV

Sure, texting would have allowed me to head off some of the decidedly un-warm-and-fuzzy moments of family life:

Sister: DAD FIRED !
Me: HIDE BOOZ !

Dad: SCOTCH ?
Me: OUT! (LOL)

But it would also have meant getting bad news even faster:

Me: CAR ?
Mom: REPO !

I wonder, would I still have been a bookworm if I’d had a cellphone?
I like to think I’d have still spent that summer reading all the Nancy Drew mysteries and pretending to be the intrepid girl detective:

Best friend: WHUP ?
Me: SLUTHNG. U ?

At worst I would have learned to type faster, which would come in handy now. Or maybe I’d have made a zillion dollars developing an ap for my iPhone that mapped all tall pine trees within a two-mile radius that were ideal for climbing. With little red flags marking any that were out of cell range.

O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

I think of myself as a pacifist.

Yeah, sure. So, how to explain my reaction to “Inglorious Basterds,” director Quentin Tarantino’s intentionally misspelled film?

I didn’t break into applause at the end as many in the audience did, but I was silently cheering this ultimate revenge-fantasy film even as I winced at the extremely violent treatment of Nazis at the hands of the American G.I. killers.

Maybe I can blame my tolerance on the hilarious portrayal by Brad Pitt of the unit’s Tennessean commanding officer, who actually made the scalping and carving of Nazi soldiers seem, well, amusing. Or the fact that Tarantino’s work is so bloody that by the end one is pretty benumbed.

It is probably closer to the truth that the legendary director has tapped into that part of me (and that part in a lot of other people, apparently) that finds solace for some atrocities only in like atrocities. That Biblical “eye for an eye” business caught on–and has hung on–for a reason, I guess.

Posted in: Art |

Big hips sink ships

Finally, an intelligent movement toward containing the dangerous fat element in our society.

Surgeon Delos M. Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, bravely stepped forward and said if he had his way, his health care facility, which already has a ban on hiring smokers, would quit hiring obese people.

(See the Aug. 16 New York Times Magazine piece by David Leonhardt that quotes him, here. The predictable bleating of knee-jerk apologists-for-the-zaftig followed.)

Cosgrove’s “tough love approach” as columnist Leonhardt cheerfully labels it, is a good start. But responsible hiring policies and a “fat tax,” as discussed in the commentary, are just the beginning. The nattering of weak-kneed fatanistas will soon fade, and real Americans can finally get down to the real work of protecting this country.

Given the way this whole torture business is being blown out of proportion, it’s no wonder that public figures are hanging back. But clear-headed people know that the fat-threat solution can be summed up in two words, and it’s time to step up and say them: Internment camps.

I know, I know, it sounds like a huge undertaking. You worry that it will distract us from the important business of getting the word out about President Obama’s missing birth certificate. But I respectfully suggest that the blueprint for the necessary relocation process already exists. No need to re-invent the wheel! A simple internet search will turn up all sorts of useful materials from the forward-thinking folks at the War Relocation Office of the 1940s. Simply substitute the word “obese” wherever “Japanese Americans” appears.

Our stories, Ourselves

“When Cancer Changes Your Appearance,” by Brian Nelson in The New York Times, is an unusual essay, well worth your time.

I’ll wager that Mr. Nelson has dealt with more health problems than everyone on my block put together. He links to the Google document he’s created just to keep track of his doctors and maladies. He talks about the physical changes resulting from cancer treatments, which most recently have caused shocking facial swelling and affected speech. He writes:

“How does one deal with someone whose appearance has changed from the dashingly handsome (O.K., I’m taking some poetic license) to totally disfigured and, one might say, grotesque? We’ve been trained by movies and TV to worship perfection. After all, the bad guy is always either bald, short, limps, is missing an eye, scarred or has some other abnormality to distinguish him from us, the perfect audience. My close friend recently told me he was “shocked, I tell you, shocked,” by my appearance when he saw me again after six months. I’m shocked sometimes too.”

Why would someone choose to share such personal struggles in words and pictures? To help others, of course. And to distract oneself, to create a routine; to matter.

About 20 years ago I collaborated with Seattle veteran TV journalist Julie Blacklow to create a news feature that dealt with my getting treatment for a breast lump. Alarmingly titled “Kimberly’s Breast,” it ran during National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Ms. Blacklow did all the work; I showed up and flashed the relevant body part.

At the time I worked for Seattle’s best daily newspaper. (Now the city’s only one.) The week leading up to the airing of the special, promos seemed to blare out of the newsroom’s TVs every 15 minutes. Each time the announcer’s ominous tones entreated viewers to tune in to follow one woman’s challenge or some such phrase, everyone in the room looked stricken. I got tired of assuring them I was okay and finally hung up a note at my desk: “I’m Fine. Go Back To Being Sarcastic Wise-Asses.”

I’d asked Ms. Blacklow if she’d follow me through the medical process, starting with the first mammogram. (I’d found the lump myself and my primary-care doc sent me to a practice that specialized in such diagnostic radiology.) I reasoned that if it did turn out to be cancer, I’d need a project to keep from caving in to babbling panic. As I tend to do, I imagined the worst, and then came up with a plan to deal with it before it could actually happen. (I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure it was an ancestor of mine that coined that famous glass-half-empty toast, “May you be in Heaven one half-hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.”)

Through mammograms, ultrasound, removal of the lump, then more mammograms, the doctor, nurse and one very tall cameraman gamely crowded into a tiny exam room. (Like all good shooters, the camera guy could fold himself up like a map and fit into an impossibly small corner.)

In the end, the lump was not cancer, the story had a happy ending, and people no longer needed permission to be sarcastic wise-asses, so I took the note down.

Folks who’d had a breast-cancer scare in their world said thanks. Some of the people who hadn’t faced that particular fear seemed to understand the business of Oh-shit-I-found-a-lump a bit better. One of the curmudgeonly printers in the back shop took me aside and informed me he’d watched the show, then told his wife to get one of those mammogram things, pronto. She did.
I was glad I’d done the show.

Mr. Nelson, whose story is much more dramatic than mine, seems to live his life with a great mix of fortitude and humor. He climbed up on a very big stage to share his thoughts and experiences. I hope he’s up to his swollen neck in congratulatory email and text messages today, from people all over the world who feel less alone and scared because he went so very public about such very personal stuff.

The airport beat

Heathrow Airport has a writer-in-residence.

The New York Times reports
that Author Alain de Botton is roaming the London airport for a week, chatting up passengers and employees, then perching at a desk smack in the middle of a terminal. As he enters notes into a laptop, they appear on a nearby large screen. After a week of this, de Botton will head home to craft his thoughts into a book to be called “A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary.”

Much of the news coverage of this thoroughly brilliant idea (thought up by a London PR agency) flogs two themes:

(1) Won’t it be awful if the author is a shill for the airport?
(2) Isn’t it terribly brave to allow an uncensored writer such access?

I’ll save you some time and answer those queries:

(1) No.
(2) No.

Of course he’s a shill. But even such confederates can be funny, sharp, observant and entertaining. de Button writes about an enormous range of topics, from architecture to Proust. His popular book, “The Art of Travel,” is promoted this way: “Unlike existing guidebooks on travel, it dares to ask what the point of travel might be – and modestly suggests how we could learn to be less silently and guiltily miserable on our journeys.”

Clearly this is a man who will manage to tell the truth without seriously wounding the folks who gave him the keys to the place.

As for the palaver about Heathrow officials’ bravery, consider this: Millions of people pass through this and every other international airport every day. Most of them are cranky. All of them have friends and family and co-workers with whom they share stories of how ill served they were while flying, retrieving baggage, being searched, paying $11 in local currency for a sandwich made 2 days earlier.

One writer on the loose is not such a big threat.

She ain’t heavy, she’s my sister

I stopped for a chat yesterday with a woman I see now and again when doing errands in a nearby neighborhood. We know each other in that remarkable inverse-familiarity way that happens often between women.

I couldn’t tell you many basic facts about her–damned if I can remember her last name–but I know her grandchild won’t be visiting as often because the toddler’s parents are at war. I know, roughly, how much money she and her husband have in their IRA. (They’re good savers; the economic tsunami didn’t hit hard.)

Likewise, I doubt she knows what I do for work, but she could tell you that Aug. 4 marked a year since a particularly painful death in my family. She knows I was not happy with my last haircut and that my best friend was in the hospital for a week.

Yesterday we were chatting about a new business moving into the block next to hers, when an ambulance roared past, sirens screaming. We both shivered.

“I hate that sound,” she said. We waited for the noise to subside. When it faded, she pushed up her long sleeves. Both arms were crisscrossed with scars. “It reminds me of all the times I cut myself when I was younger,” she said. I nodded and patted one of her arms. She pulled down her sleeves and we picked up the thread of our conversation.

“Your hair is growing out really fast,” she assured me.

Want your cubicle back? Too bad.

A blog entry in The New York Times traces job losses for both wage-workers and self-employed types in 2008 and 2009. The pace of job loss has slowed for self-employed workers, and writer Scott A. Shane, a professor at Case Western, asks readers to theorize on why this might be.

Any minute now some government economist is going to declare this to be a good indicator that things are starting to turn around. I won’t buy it. and here’s why.

Before the Neo-Depression hit, we were a country increasingly in love with the idea of self-employment. Along with that Bill Gates/Nirvana model of a lonely genius or two and their potentially lucrative start-up, a lot of people just love the idea of escaping the confines of an office where a boss always looms, where time clocks and dress codes exist. (As a bonus, self-employed people rarely get charged with harassment or creating a hostile work environment by making an off-color remark.)

But self-employment comes with the downside of financial insecurity. When I worked for a newspaper, an unproductive week might have earned me a few glares from my editor, but I still got paid. These days, a slow week means no money and glares from my creditors.

In flush times, this no-money glitch drives a lot of us back to selling our souls to the company store. But in the current rotten job market, there are no easy ways for we PJ-wearing homeworkers to slink back into the 9-to-5.

Hence, we stay put, and that’s why that graf in the NYT blog item shows the job-loss rate for self-employed folks flattening out.

All Roads lead to Oprah

I’ve been picking my way though the many stories about Eunice Kennedy Shriver on the internet, looking at the photographs I’ve looked at a thousand times before. (I even went back to Google’s LIFE magazine archive for more.)

Like most of the people I grew up with back in Massachusetts, I am steeped in Kennedy history; I know those handsome Irish faces as if they were family. Maybe better than actual family. I have a bunch of cousins I can’t name, but I can still trace that family tree that begins with “Honey Fitz,” the popular Boston mayor who was the father of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who in turn became the matriarch of the most famous American family since the Adams presidential dynasty.

We Kennedy watchers have learned to take good news where we can find it. Eunice Kennedy Shriver lived a long and enormously productive life, and she died of natural causes, unlike so many of her family. Her last living brother was nearby when she died, and one imagines she was deeply grateful for that.

Every time I click on a story or photo essay about the late Mrs. Shriver, I find pictures of her intriguing daughter Maria, former journalist and now First Lady of California, who is surely the least artificial of celebrities going. This morning’s perambulations landed me on an interview (from June I believe) between Maria Shriver and an old friend of hers, Oprah Winfrey. It’s well worth the time.

I read Winfrey’s magazine, O, and while I don’t often watch her on television, I’m definitely an admirer. It occurs to me that her enormous popularity is not unlike that of the Kennedy clan. We so badly want heroes, and we want them to be smart, handsome, courageous. We want them to do all the things we can’t, or won’t, do. We’d love it if they lived forever.

Cash for culottes, not Chevys

Apparently the “Cash for Clunkers” idea has not quite rescued our reeling retail economy. I hate to be the one pointing out the emperor’s state of undress, but please, did anyone besides some very isolated economists think this was going to work?

What we really need is Cash for Fashion Disasters. If every woman in America turned in those too-small (They’ll stretch!) and too-pointy shoes bought on sale, the Wonderbra that turns her homicidal in 20 minutes, the velour sweatpants and matching jacket that make her look like a living room set…we’d dig out of this fiscal black hole in no time.

I could probably lift the drooping economics of an entire mall all by myself, if I could include bad make-up purchases, like that Wild Berry lip gloss that stays on the rim of coffee cups through two dishwasher cycles.

Mr. President, members of House and Senate, top economists, listen up:

If you won’t let the women of this country band together to solve our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan — something we could get done over a long weekend — at least call on us to clean up the mess you’re making with this old-car nonsense. We’re here to help.

It’s all Latin to me

One of my freelance clients is a scientist-turned-writer who is crafting two very different manuscripts, one based on the fascinating story of his father, an immigrant to this country who lived a remarkably rich life, and the other a young-adult work about development encroaching on wildlife habitats. Both works, even in draft state, are very good.

In the section I was reading today, he used a word I have not seen in a long time: usufruct. (Say “youse-zoo-frucht”) It usually crops up in legal writings, meaning the use of property not one’s own, carried out in a way that doesn’t harm or devalue it.

There is nothing like going off to hunt down the origin of a word in order to avoid work, household tasks, exercise, bill paying. So, of course I did just that.

The word derives from the Latin usus et fructus meaning “use and enjoyment.”

I took Latin about 100 years ago. Despite my mediocre grades then and dodgy memory now, it still helps me figure out and retain the meaning of words. At the time the only thing I liked about the class was that every vocabulary word seemed to have a story, a bit of history, behind it.

It was a further bonus that no one was really sure how Latin was pronounced, so it did not have the tonal challenges of Spanish or French. We read it aloud as if speaking weirdly spelled English, which suited me just fine. (I once scored so low on a Romance-language ability test that I was asked to re-take it; the test graders assumed I’d had a damaged audio tape.)

For all its stolid structure, there is something warm and quite subtle about Latin. The fact that this phrase has been co-opted to describe the dull concept of what is essentially right-of-way to a neighboring property is beside the point.

When the Romans said usus et fructus, however they pronounced the words, there surely was a lilt to their voices. They were enjoying the moment, and no one else was the worse for it.

Seasoned to perfection

We saw “Julie & Julia” this past weekend, and it is a wonderful movie, well-acted, funny, transporting.

(This being film-crazy Portland, people applauded at the end and waited politely until the credits finished rolling before leaving.)

Along with the rave reviews, the movie has spawned some good features on Child, including this one in Vanity Fair.)

The movie and articles explain the culinary revolution Child fomented, but what interests me more (and what came across beautifully in the film) is the nature of the marriage of Julia McWilliams and Paul Child. It was, by all accounts, a very close partnership in all senses of that word.

They married when Julia was 32, an old maid by the standards of the day, and Paul a decade older, a dashing bachelor by standards of the day. They’d met while serving in the Office of Strategic Services.

Laura Shapiro’s book, “Julia Child,” published two years ago (and excerpted in Boston Magazine) characterized the later years of the Child marriage this way:

“Whenever she talked about her career, she said ‘we,’ not ‘I,’ and she meant it literally. Paul attended all business meetings and participated in all decisions… In the firmament of useful, devoted spouses who serve celebrity without a trace of malevolence, he was one of the few husbands. Every morning they liked to snuggle in bed together for a half hour after the alarm went off, and at the end of the day, Paul would read aloud from the New Yorker while Julia made dinner. ‘We are never not together,’ Paul said once, contentedly.”

Despite this feminism-infused marriage, like many women of her era who broke through gender fences, Julia Child did not like being associated with the “women’s lib” of her heyday. Also, as Shapiro reports, Child was more than a little homophobic, voicing particular disdain for effeminate men and bafflement about lesbian couples.

She was, however, also someone who never stopped learning and growing. When friends began dying of AIDS, she was shocked out of her old prejudices, and said so. She gave the $2.3 million proceeds from sale of her Cambridge, Mass., house to her alma mater, Smith College, by then a very militant Grrrl hothouse. She funded scholarships and plugged cookbooks for both women and men, putting her formidable influence where it counted.

She proved that cooking, and marriage, at their best, are joy-filled things.

Posted in: Art |

Book review: “That Old Cape Magic”


I reviewed “That Old Cape Magic” for The Seattle Times. See the review here.

You know those biographical lines at the end of reviews, the ones that usually tout a writer’s recent accomplishments? Well, sometimes we have to stretch a little for something to brag about:

“Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett is a Portland writer and native New Englander who has had both bad rentals and soul-restoring moments on Cape Cod.

(Review of the book from the Los Angeles Times here, with nice overview of both the Cape’s history and Russo’s. The Washington Post here, with a very funny lede. The Pittsburgh Post- Gazette writer took the time to explain the title. NPR lets Russo answer the inevitable, “Is this about your marriage?” question, here.)

Discrimination in due-diligence clothing

Employers are running credit checks right and left. Not just for money-handling jobs either. You wanna be a dog washer? A waiter? Movie-ticket ripper? Hair cutter? Willing to check urine samples or flip tofu burgers? Sure hope you’ve always paid your bills on time.

This has less to do with employer vigilance and more to do with how easy and cheap it is to do these checks online. It is also a sorting tool when 172 people apply for a $9 per hour job a company has posted on Craigslist. They pay someone $7.90 per hour to type names and Social Security numbers into a credit-check service, then draw a line through anyone without a clear slate.

News stories like the recent one by Jonathan D. Glater in The New York Times have begun to make the case that this probing creates a Catch 22: The guy out of work and behind on debts can’t get work because he’s out of work and behind on debts.

Even ignoring the thundering irony of worrying about worker-bee credit histories while bank CEOs blow their noses on $100 bills from your retirement account, I’m surprised that there isn’t more fury erupting over this practice.

I blame it on the fact that many job-seekers are unaware that supplying personal info on applications allows some stranger to look at their financial past. They assume such checking is meant to look for criminal activities.

A parallel problem is the huge increase in personal information floating around. My various gigs in Portland bring me into a lot of offices, and nearly all of them handle applications very casually. That Social Security number of yours is safer on the wall of the men’s room at the Greyhound station.

I can only hope that this will all follow the same trajectory as recreational drugs and tattoos in the workplace. Years ago you could not apply to be a cop if you’d ever been around anyone who even thought about smoking pot, now you can be a former stoner running an effective gang unit. Two years ago there were few salespeople with visible tattoos beyond the occasional rose-on-an-ankle. Yesterday I bought makeup from a personable young woman in Nordstrom with what looked like the Manhattan Yellow Pages inked on her arms.

So, hang on folks. Someday soon those old credit woes won’t stand in the way of getting a job. You know, the one where you call people and harangue them about unpaid bills?

The H word

I am, and always have been, deeply suspicious of people who aspire to be “happy.” This, to my mind, is like aspiring to be tall. If there’s an appropriate time in life for either goal, it ends at about age 15.

An even better analogy is that happiness, like weather, almost always occurs for understandable reasons. A cold front moves down from Canada, the wind picks up, and certain things happen. We might get the snow day or rainbow we wished for, but not because we wished for it.

As someone whose sturdy religious beliefs are undergirded by a secret sense of personal entitlement and deep superstition, I also think prolonged feelings of happiness are just asking for the Big Foot to squash me. I do have the odd out-of-nowhere flash of pure joy, but if it lasts more than a few minutes, I clear the mental decks and scramble back to safety.

I got some new insights into all this today when I read a wonderful post by Tim Kreider in “Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times,” a New York Times blog. Here’s the best bit:

“I suspect there is something inherently misguided and self-defeating and hopeless about any deliberate campaign to achieve happiness. Perhaps the reason we so often experience happiness only in hindsight, and that chasing it is such a fool’s errand, is that happiness isn’t a goal in itself but is only an aftereffect. It’s the consequence of having lived in the way that we’re supposed to — by which I don’t mean ethically correctly so much as just consciously, fully engaged in the business of living.”

This, of course, is a more sophisticated view than mine, and one that I will henceforth repackage slightly and claim as my own. Having this so well sorted out in my mind makes me feel satisfied and smart. It makes me confident that my time reading the newspaper this morning was time well spent. Does it make me happy? Certainly not.

Over and Out


E-mail, like so many of life’s short-cuts, turns out to be a little more complicated than it first looked.

You can’t beat it for speed, of course. Those of you who find it too taxing to cross the room and lift that heavy box of writing paper can toss off a heartfelt thank-you note via email without strain.

And I’ll be the first to admit that it is the best way to stay in touch with people in different time zones, as well as that one high school boyfriend who still thinks of me as weighing 110 and running the quarter-mile in less than a minute.

Over time, though, we’ve all come to realize that its flat affect and potential for dramatic misunderstanding makes e-mail less of a free ride than we thought. Fact is, many of the appendages of old-time on-paper missives just don’t travel well to screen. An entertaining piece in the Washington Post by Ruth McCann raises one of the biggest challenges: What’s the best way to sign off?

I’ve always loved the old-fashioned “Your obedient servant,” but the S/M undertone is too risky, let’s face it. “Sincerely” works for job-hunters, but is too stiff for real-life exchanges. “Cheers!” as McCann notes, can seem too boozy. I confess, I do the type-and-erase routine on this sign-off often, having done a quick mental evaluation of the alcohol issues of the recipient. (Me judgmental? Surely not.) I like “Best,” for business correspondence, but it stumbles a bit at the end of one of my frequent consumer-rant letters.

After reading McCann’s essay, I can’t help but notice the missteps people make, such as the client who sends long lists of demands, ending with “warmly” and the can’t-take-a-hint pest who jabs me with the guilt-inducing “thinking of you as always.”

I’m thinking that the trick here is to break new ground and begin signing off with phrases that rely on basic honesty:

Inadequately/gratefully yours,

Heterosexually,

Time for bathroom break,

Fresh out of small talk,

Off to next thankless thing,

Need paying work,

Resentfully,

Patiently,

Older but still cute,

Let’s leave it here,

Peace now,

And, courtesy of author Richard Goldhurst from Connecticut and his fearless editorial partner Jeanne, who read the blog and emailed this:

Sorry to dust you,

Kimberly

Flogging the help: Let’s do it right

It’s time to re-think this “public editor” stuff.

Public editors, or ombudsmen as they were called for a time, investigate and write about coverage decisions and mistakes made at their own papers. It’s a great principle that’s not so hot in practice.

The New York Times had a monstrous example of such un-hot execution in Sunday’s Public Editor column about a mistake-ridden obituary for newsman Walter Cronkite.

Now, seven corrections on one obit–yes, that’s right, seven–is surely worthy of newsroom soul searching and public apologies. But when columnist Clark Hoyt answered his headline question of “How Could This Happen” with the following, my heart sank:

“The short answer is that a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not.”

He goes on to name names and examine the troubled history of the obit. His column exemplifies the problems with insider commentary on coverage and editing decisions.

Hoyt is no doubt a fine reporter and writer, qualified to investigate his peers. But it’s impossible for an editor, whatever distancing title has been given to him, to sound anything but superior and whiny when ratting out colleagues. At best, he comes off as an ass-kisser, tsk-tisking along with the reader about journalism’s disappointing decline. At worst, he makes the reader instinctively side with the poor slob who stepped in a cow pie when crossing a field full of the stuff.

Hoyt’s probing of the Cronkite mess reveals the many ways mistakes can be overlooked or added to a story in a busy newsroom, and that is useful for readers to understand. But when he goes on to reveal the reporter’s past history of errors, one has to ask: Who is served?

Now we can all associate the byline of this prolific veteran reporter with sloppy mistakes. We can wonder if her latest story somehow slipped by her copy-desk keeper. Having seen this reporter spend a day in stocks on the village green, do you trust The New York Times more? I don’t.

But you can be sure the NYT brass feel better. Now they can go about their business, feeling pleased that they got to the bottom of the mess and demonstrated that they can kick butt with the best of the real CEOs out there.

Outside writers, preferably from places like the Pew Foundation or other reputable media watchers, do a much better job of this sort of reporting. If a newspaper wants to come clean about errors, they can instruct their staff to cooperate when the media watchdogs call. The brass can provide time lines for the process: Reporter A wrote this and got it right, Editor B messed it up, Editor C caught that mistake and made another….and so on.

The best of all worlds would be a revolving 3-person panel made up of, say, a NYT insider, someone from Pew and a veteran journalist-turned-academic. Let ‘em loose to gather facts, forbid them from consulting with each other, then run their conclusions in side-by-side columns. Maybe even let that sloppy reporter have a say beyond the obligatory mea culpa, “This is my fault. There are no excuses.”

We could all learn from that kind of coverage.