Thursday, January 10, 2013

Another “Times Effect”: The Times As Gatekeeper Of Populace’s Populous Debate. . Unpublished Noticing New York Comment On Beyonce’s Moral Choices

What’s most important in this world?  What the New York Times pays attention to or what our multitudinous citizenry invests its time and energy in scrutinizing?  Sometimes a Venn diagram would show those two things as substantially overlapping with the New York Times exercising a gatekeeper role to ensure it remains so as much as possible.

In a New York Times Sunday Review article last weekend Mark Bittman, food journalist and author and columnist for the Times, picked up reminiscently on what has been a repeated theme in past Noticing New York articles: Whether Beyoncé Knowles is behaving morally when she questionably associates with and puts her image and influence behind questionable things.  In this case Mr. Bittman's focus was $50 million that went into a Beyoncé Super Bowl Pepsi promotion, half of which was going directly to Beyoncé and her “creative projects.” Mr. Bittman's concern is that the consumption of sugary soda is a significant public health problem.  See: Why Do Stars Think It’s O.K. To Sell Soda?, January 5, 2013.

On Tuesday I covered and commented on Mr. Bittman’s Beyoncé article here in Noticing New York: January 8, 2013, Tsk, Tsk: More Criticism of Beyoncé’s Moral Choices In a New York Times Op-Ed Piece.

However newsworthy Beyoncé’s connection to sugary soda really is, the public who have participated in making Jay-Z and Beyoncé the world's richest celebrity couple definitely seem to care.  In my Noticing New York article I noted that Mr. Brittman’s column had generated voluminous reader comments (410 reader comments with still another hundred comments awaiting moderation before they show up) and wondered if the comment I submitted to his article would show up.  At the time of this writing, the comments to the Bittman article published by the Times site moderators are up to 425 with comments having now been published.  In answer to my wondering: My comment has not been published.

Although in one case it is close, to date, the number of published comments on the Bittman Beyoncé column exceed, in some cases substantially, the number of comments on any of the other articles in the Sunday Review set up to take comments.  Here are the number of comments published on other pieces appearing in the January 5th Sunday Review (commenting for most of them are now closed).  Collectively, they do evidence that the Times comment sections provide an active and important forum for public comment.
    •    Can Social Media Sell Soap?, (appearing on the front page of the Sunday Review) by Stephen Baker: . . . 90 Comments

    •    The Surreal World: Capitol Hill (appearing on the front page of the Sunday Review) by Maureen Dowd:. . . . 287 Comments

    •    The Myth of Universal Love, by Stephen T. Asthma. . . . 325 Comments

    •    How to Choose a College, by Frank Bruni. . .183 Comments

    •    The Blessings of Atheism, by Susan Jacoby. . . 297 Comments

    •    Diary of a Creep, by Rend Smith. . . 423 Comments

    •    Dying for Freedom (about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation), by Jim Downs. . . 323 comments

    •    Rapturous Research (about the exhilaration of authors when exhaustively researching an historical topic), by Sean Pidgeon . . . 153 Comments

    •    More Risk-Taking, Less Poll-Taking, by Thomas L. Friedman. .   264 comments

    •    Boehner, American Hero, by Ross Douthat. . .315 Comments

    •    The Public Editor: When Reporters Get Personal, by Margaret Sullivan. . .47 Comments
The New York Times published comments to Mr. Brittman’s Beyoncé morality story in three categories: “All,” “Reader Picks” and “NYT Picks.”  The additional fifteen comments published by the Times since I wrote on Tuesday appear as “Reader Picks” or “NYT Picks.”

For an idea of the additional comments the Times published while not publishing my comment here are the lead-in sentences of the last fifteen comments (they are largely reiterative of the 410 comments that went before):
    1.    Soda and diet soda are great items for celebrities to endorse, especially at the superbowl, where many ads (and parties) are focused on alcohol.. . .

    2.    Yes, if you isolate seeds from 200 apples and crush them (not swallow them) and eat them you will die of cyanide poisoning. But a few seeds will do nothing, . . .

    3.    Well Soda is American; an American thing to do: drink soda. . .

    4.    Once again Mark Bittman found food Jesus and now like a true fanatic he thinks we all have to convert.. .

    5.    Why don't they advertise the sugar free diet versions of these drinks? . .

    6.    How much money does Beyonce need? Seems like she and other celebrities take anything that comes their way without any thought to. . .

    7.    Doesn't anyone have any responsibility for their own actions anymore? One soda is fine. . .

    8.    Great article. Fit Fathers has been saying the same thing. Stars are hypocritical by. .

    9.    Get real. Soda, bacon, candy, beef, etc has been with us long before obesity. . .

    10.    Thanks Mr. Bittman for being willing to ask why popular entertainment figures are willing to endorse this particular seemingly innocuous product that actually causes . . .

    11.    In light of last week's CDC report on the lack of correlation between longevity and body mass (at least for "moderate obesity,") . . .

    12.    Give me a break. Comparing soda to cigarettes is a stretch, the vast majority of consumers consume soda with no ill effects . . .

    13.    It is a little laughable to think that Beyonce could be ashamed to endorse junk food. Almost everyone eats a little junk food now and then . . .

    14.    Can't wait until these celebs start endorsing 5 Hour Energy and Red Bull.. . .

    15.    Somehow it's fitting that Beyonce works to fill bodies with empty soda calories...after all she fills . .
Here is my comment that the New York Times editors moderating comments declined to publish:
Am I going to be the first reader to mention in my comment black actor and activist Harry Belafonte’s observation that Jay-Z and Beyoncé, now privileged with wealth and influence, have “turned their back on social responsibility”?  Mr. Belafonte wasn’t talking about the scourge of sugary soda, albeit a legitimate health problem, he was talking about broader societal issues.

Also, will my comment be published here and will it be selected as a New York Times “pick” if I mention that Jay-Z and Beyoncé have also both shilled for the so-called “Barclays” arena (part of the eminent domain and subsidy abusing Atlantic Yards project) which: 1.) The Times itself, with a conflict of interest, has shilled for even in its news pages, and 2.) partners to promote Coca-Cola, Pepsi’s almost equally sugary rival?

See the following Noticing New York article: [I then included the link to Tuesday's Noticing New York: Tsk, Tsk: More Criticism of Beyoncé’s Moral Choices In a New York Times Op-Ed Piece]
My inclusion of a link in my comment was not the reason for its exclusion.  Other comments published include links.

As I have pointed out before, the documentary “Page One: Inside The New York Times” described what it identified as the “New York Times Effect,” mostly using the Times’ own staffers to describe it, which refers to the way the Times leads the way in establishing what is, or is not, news.  It may be that the Times not only has an effect in leading the way to establish what is on the agenda for consideration as news but also has an effect on after-flow of the ensuing public discussion of those issues.

The morality of promoting sugary soda will be discussed; it happens to be a concern that New York Mayor Bloomberg has personally championed.  The morality of bringing the Atlantic Yards mega-monopoly into existence, including the so-called “Barclays” arena, will not be part of the public discussion.  As it so happens the same mayor has indicated that he wants the issues surrounding Atlantic Yards and the arena forgotten: “No one will remember how long it took.” (And by implication the associated issues and problems with the mega-project), says the mayor.  Says his mega-project-supporting ally, the Brooklyn borough president: “no one will ever remember what the fight was about.”

Not by happenstance, the top ranks of the city’s power elite are thoroughly permeated by individuals quite happy to see the mega-project issues similarly vanish from the public consciousness.  And the Times, which has relationships with all of these individuals, including the subsidy collector/developer Forest City Ratner itself, accommodates, scrubbing its news stories, even retroactively, of any mention of the issues, see: Saturday, September 29, 2012, Report: How The Times Expunged Its Own First Draft Of History On “Barclays” Center Opening To Replace It With The Pro-Ratner Narrative It Favors and Monday, October 1, 2012, New York Times Ghost Article: The Searchable Remnants On The Web Of Banished (Anti-Ratner/Anti-Jay-Z?) “Barclays” Center Opening Article.

Before I started writing Noticing New York I submitted prospective pieces to the Times that were not published.  If I ever were published in the Times I am sure that what appeared there would receive a greater readership than what I publish in Noticing New York.  That would have its advantages, but the advantage of a blog like Noticing New York is that when the Times does not publish what I write it can readily be published here instead, hopefully providing some balance.

If you have a reasonable comment on the Times Beyoncé article that the Times moderators won’t publish, I am happy to publish it here in Noticing New York.

Meanwhile, I have tried submitting the following new comment on the Bittman column to the Times:
I previously submitted a comment on this article that did not survive moderation to get published here.  It related Mr. Bittman's observations to the similar way that Jay-Z and Beyoncé have promoted the “Barclays” arena and the Atlantic Yards mega-project of which the arena is a part.  I notice that there is no mention in any of the comments published here to Beyoncé’s association with Atlantic Yards.  I am wondering whether any other of the comments that did not survive moderation to get published referred to Beyoncé’s and/or Jay-Z’s Atlantic Yards or “Barclays” activities.

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