There's a hidden curse to being a current or former top editor at the New York Times. Yes, you've held one of the most powerful positions in journalism. But who is going to edit you? Nobody, not very stringently, at least. So we find that when current or former NYT editors engage in writing for their paper, it often could have used a heavy round of editing, into the trashcan.
This is why we get things like Bill Keller's awful magazine column (RIP), or the indulgence of Jill Abramson's puppy fetish. They're the boss! Or were. We are also going to go out on an unsourced limb and attribute this weekend's NYT Sunday Book Review section review of Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain" to the same phenomenon.
The review is by Max Frankel, who is, his bio helpfully explains, a "former executive editor of The Times, [who] reported for many years from Moscow and Eastern Europe." Two things are subtly established by this single sentence, in NYT-ese: 1) Max Frankel's opinions are not to be challenged, and 2) Max Frankel knows what the fuck he is talking about here, see point 1. The notable thing about this review is not that Frankel (mildly) pans Applebaum's book, but the reasons he gives: "Her evidence, once again drawn from archival research and some survivor interviews, is overwhelming and convincing." Great! "But the heart of her story is hardly news." Hm.
Let us now pause and ask Max Frankel, a career newsman, a relevant rhetorical question: is the purpose of a book like Applebaum's to break news? Not necessarily. Not at all. The purpose of a newspaper is to break news. The purpose of a sweeping book recounting an ugly period of world history is to... recount an ugly period of world history. Hopefully in an interesting fashion. But Max Frankel, it seems, is under the impression that he is reviewing a newspaper dispatch:
It is good to be reminded of these sordid events, now that more archives are accessible and some witnesses remain alive to recall the horror. Still, why should we be consuming such a mass of detail more than half a century later?
Why would anyone read a book, when they could have simply read about these events in the New York Times, in the 1940s?
The point here is that former editors of the NYT should be banned from writing for the NYT after they retire, for the good of everyone. Freelancing would do them some good.