Breakdown at the New York Times.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Dec. 4 2006 3:44 PM

Breakdown at the New York Times

Unprecedented dumbness strikes the good gray broadsheet.

The Dec. 4 New York Times contains the single stupidest sentence to appear in that newspaper since I began reading it more than three decades ago. It's in a news story by Holli Chmela about the Kennedy Center Honors, an annual ceremony recognizing lifetime achievement in the performing arts. One of this year's winners was Andrew Lloyd Webber. Here is the sentence:

Mr. Lloyd Webber is often referred to as the Shakespeare of his time with musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera.

Setting aside any aesthetic judgments (which I'll admit is difficult), this sentence has an apples-and-oranges problem. William Shakespeare was a playwright and a poet. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a composer. Yes, they're both popular and British and men of the theater, but to compare the two makes as much sense as comparing Nathan Lane's acting with the set designs of Ming Cho Lee. Moreover, a quick search of the LexisNexis database indicates that it simply isn't true that Lloyd Webber, however idiotically, is "often" compared to Shakespeare. What few comparisons turn up tend to fall into two categories:

1) Soup-to-nuts (as in the Liverpool Daily Echo noting that Cornwall's Minack Theater hosts "a 17-week season of plays and musicals in the summer, from Shakespeare to Andrew Lloyd Webber")

2) Your-face-and-my-ass (as in Ireland's Sunday Independent observing, "You don't go to an Andrew Lloyd Webber show looking for Shakespeare.")

The only favorable comparison I was able to find between Lloyd Webber and Shakespeare was from a piece by Peter Goddard in the Toronto Star, and that focused solely on business acumen: *

In truth, old Will was not a bad business role model himself, spending the years leading to his death in 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon a very rich man, the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his time.

"For starters, Shakespeare was from a business family," says Bard-based American management consultant John O. Whitney, who sees the Bard as the Boss of Bosses. Shakespeare, after all, "was also a businessman, shareholder in the most successful theatre company of his time, a servant of the king."

I don't mean to hang Chmela out to dry. We all write something stupid now and then. But I've always believed it was impossible that the editors at the New York Times would ever let something this transparently stupid into their newspaper, except possibly during the last week of August or the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, when most smart people go on vacation. We live and we learn.

Correction, Dec. 4, 2006: An earlier version of this column made erroneous reference to the Toronto Post. There is no Toronto Post. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 29 2014 3:10 PM The Lonely Teetotaler Prudie counsels a letter writer who doesn’t drink alcohol—and is constantly harassed by others for it.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.