Fat-Hating, Midwesterner-Mocking New York Times Writer Taken to Task

Clark Hoyt — de facto ballbuster and Public Editor of the New York Timestook the Styles section to task today. Hoyt finally went after Cintra Wilson's hysterically size-ist, Middle America tone-deaf, awesome assessment of NYC's new JC Penney's.

Cintra Wilson's column has been a topic of much discussion! Basically, the entire thing went like this:

...Herein lies the genius of J. C. Penney: It has made a point of providing clothing for people of all sizes (a strategy, company officials have said, to snatch business from nearby Macy's). To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It's like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of "Roseanne."

There's so much more out there, but really, if you have yet to read it, you should, as it's one of the funniest things the Times has run in a while, and only a small minority of the reasons it's so funny are intentional.

Wilson's kinda kooky! She has been described as:

The new Amanda Congdon, as played by Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein.

which still kind of rings true from a strictly editorial standpoint. Cintra apologized a few times. She called herself a Buddhist and felt bad for doing harm (take that, Elizabeth Gilbert), and had to shut down her email from all the bad stuff her column hath wrought.

Fat-Hating, Midwesterner-Mocking New York Times Writer Taken to Task

There was much hand wringing and crazy talk about Wilson's piece! She was right! She was wrong! Comments got so downright nasty on the Times site that they shut them down. Finally, Hoyt — quickly becoming my favorite writer at the Times after firing shots at the Weddings & Celebrations section, Alessandra Stanley, and crazy texting/driving pictures — two weeks after it all went down, keeps the flames well tended to. Observe:

  • You do NOT talk shit on Bill Keller's momma, son: "Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, was unhappy, too. The column, he said, 'would make a fine exhibit for someone making the case that The Times has an arrogant streak.' Keller said his mother was a Penney's shopper for much of her life, and she would have found the review 'snotty.' He told me that he wished it had not been published." Oogh. Burn.

  • Basically, our editors failed again: "Wilson's editors should have saved her, themselves and the paper from the reaction they got from readers, who concluded that the humor was at their expense, not for their benefit." Wonder how many people this thing went through before it got to print, no?

  • You also made corporate monolith JC Penney haz a sad: "Darcie Brossart, vice president for communications at J. C. Penney, said, 'We found the review very offensive to our customers.'" Nothing on whether or not they're going to continue to advertise with the Times.

  • Her editor, Trip Gabriel, called her out for being inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory. Like the liberal, funny, Manhattan elitist version of Glenn Beck! "'She's a sharp-tongued writer whose columns are only to a secondary degree service journalism,' Gabriel said. He said she is more of a social critic whose 'style is to quite exaggerate things. She goes over the top.'"

  • The best part. Watch as yet another Styles writer displays complete and utter ignorance of both (A) the Times' readership and (B) the way in which she puts her cards out on the table as a Times writer. This is, as some stupid celebrities would say, major: Wilson told me she usually writes about "obscure stores that don't exist outside of Manhattan," and she thinks of her audience as "1,300 women in Connecticut and urban gay guys in Manhattan." She said it was "kind of provincial of me" not to realize how big The Times was and how her audience would expand when she reviewed a store like Penney's. She said she also thought she hit a raw nerve with people already disposed to think of The Times as disconnected and unsympathetic. "It was dumb on my part not to see this coming," she said. Well, yes.

  • Finally, the kicker, as given to us by Times editor Bill Keller: "Keller said, 'I'd like to think this will be, as they say, a teachable moment.'"

First, can we retire the term "teachable moment," please? It's a dumb euphemism for "foreseeable fuckup," and also, it just peaked. Second, Clark Hoyt: my Times mancrush. Third: maybe the New York Times wouldn't be worried about being owned soon by a Mexican Dude named Slim if they looked at instances like this — and most of the Styles section, as well as T Magazine — and crunched some numbers on how this kind of thing marginalizes newspaper readers around the country who were maybe on the fence with the Times, who were just thrown off of it. Just an idea.

Finally, of all the conversation Wilson's article generated, much of it missed the greater point, which are the reasons JC Penney's actually deserves to be shat on:

1. If New Yorkers wanted to shop at JC Penney's, we'd probably live somewhere other than New York.

2. What's next, Friday's in Union Square?

3. Also, yes the clothing there is cheap and accessible, but so is the clothing at, I don't know, the Gap. The clothing at JC Penney's is meh.

Fat-Hating, Midwesterner-Mocking New York Times Writer Taken to TaskS