Decoding the Times' cry for help

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As R. Scott Moxley observes at the end of his dissection of Dana Parsons' attempt to slap a coat of whitewash on the lazy and error-filled reporting of the Haidl rape case Parsons has filled his L.A. Times column with, the Times has a new slogan for its Orange County advertising: Now More Than Ever. As Scott notes, it's a recycled slogan– Now More Than Ever was the slogan for Richard Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign. "The paper craves conservative readers," Scott explains. True, but I wonder if that really is the reason for the new slogan.

The powers that be at the Times would have to be awfully stupid to think a little touch of Nixon would endear the paper to those Orange Countians, who are– as Donald Rumsfeld would put it– Nixon loyalists and deadenders. After all, they can get all the news they need from the Register or the radio rantings of the Nixon-worshiping Hugh Hewitt. So, while I would never wish to underestimate the stupidity to be found in the executive suites of the Times, I think it's worthwhile to look for an alternative explanation.

Now More Than Ever goes back much further than the CREEP-y days of '72. Almost as soon as the Nixon campaign trotted out the slogan, journalist Renata Adler pointed out that it's the first half of a very famous line of poetry. The fifth line of the sixth stanza of John Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, a poem practically ever American highschool student is forced to read, is "Now more than ever seems it rich to die". Given the amount of death, destruction, and general mayhem of the Nixon years, the resonance the line has as an election slogan for the Pride of Yorba Linda™ is obvious. But what resonance can the line have for the Times?

Perhaps it's a cry for help: "Now more the ever seems it rich to die,/To cease upon the midnight with no pain". Maybe worry over the paper's declining ad revenue and declining circulation, has reduced the Times to being, at least on a subconscious level, "half in love with easeful Death", as Keats puts it. If so, the Timesfolk should buck up. The Times is still a useful newspaper. Occasionally, it's even an exciting paper to read, albeit "exciting" in the same way I.F. Stone considered the Washington Post exciting. (The great muckracking journalist I.F. Stone said the Post was an exciting read, "because you never know on what page you would find a page-one story.") Though for the most part, of course, reading the Times induces, to stick with Keats, "a drowsy numbness". But even that could be positive– the Times could promote itself as a safe alternative to prescription sleep medicine. "Reading the Times", the new slogan could read, "as effective as Ambien, but non-habit forming". It makes as much sense as trying to attract new readers by regurgitating an old bit of Nixonia.

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