The New York Times Throws a Hip Inauguration Party for Obama

NYT graphicThe New York Times celebrated Obama's presidency Inauguration Night at a hip location in the already painfully hip Lower East Side of Manhattan. Reid Pillifant, blogging for the New York Observer, filed the day after Tuesday night's NYT party at the New Museum on the Bowery, a Twitter-ific shindig co-sponsored by Facebook:

Last night at the New Museum on the Bowery, a crowd of left-behind New Yorkers gathered to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. The party, sponsored by The New York Times, attracted not the hoped-for celebrities (it was rumored that Moby, Dave Matthews, and Isaac Mizrahi would be attending), but rather the crowd of young Internet scenesters who seem to show up, like moths to a flame, at every media open bar party in town (who knows how long that gravy train will last?)

Pillifant noticed the Times had its own take on Obama's famous "O" emblem:

At the party, Ms. Gentry and Mr. Sender's iconic "O" was overshadowed by the Times's own specially designed Obama emblem.  It was already ubiquitous for anyone who logged onto Facebook yesterday, (members could "give" it to each other), and last night, each party-goer received a logo lapel pin on the way in, and a small poster on the way out.

But Times metro reporter/byline beast Sewell Chan, who as of this afternoon had 2,383 Facebook friends, assured the Daily Transom that, specially-designed logos not withstanding, the paper maintained its objectivity throughout the day, and that nothing journalistically untoward had happened earlier at the informal watching party in the paper's conference room. "It was exciting, but decorous," Mr. Chan said.  "There was no inappropriate whooping or cheering."

Gabriel Sherman of New York magazine had a similarly puzzled reaction to the Times "O".

When I arrived at the party, an attendant instructed me to wear a red, white, and blue pin showing an illustration of Obama in profile with the date 01/20/09 stenciled in white, all floating above the Times' logo. The gift bag contained a twelve-inch by twelve-inch poster of the same image. The marriage of the Times' flag and Obama's silhouette was jarring. One guest remarked that the poster looked like something put out by Pravda -- state-run liberal media. (Except with less red and more blue.)

Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis explained that the Times' marketing department, and not the newsroom, staged the event. "The items in the gift bags -- UTZ chips circa the era of Mad Men, discounts at Public restaurant because it's for the "people" -- were chosen to celebrate the new era in politics and to allude to [the] time of Kennedy when the nation seemed to have a similar sense of hope and excitement," Mathis wrote in an e-mail.

Sherman noticed how the Times is trying to make a buck off Obama and briefly questioned the propriety of the paper "hosting a party for a political candidate":

But there are also economic benefits to an Obama presidency. The Times -- like most media outlets that saw traffic spike during this campaign -- stands to gain, at least financially, from an Obama presidency. His celebrity, and power to inspire the audience, is even a profit center -- selling papers ($29.95 for the "Inauguration and Election Newspaper Set") and photographs ($1,129 for a 20-by-24 Damon Winter image) -- at a moment when the paper must find new ways to market itself and make money. (For readers who want their Obama first thing in the morning, there's a $24.95 set of Obama "Victory Mugs," part of a extensive collection of Obama memorabilia available at the paper's online store.)

Hence the party. But for a paper with the Times' long-held journalistic values, hosting a party for a political candidate is far from seemly. "I don't know how to explain it," one Times staffer said. "I don't know what the thinking was."

Clay Waters
Clay Waters was director of Times Watch, a former project of the Media Research Center . Read more: http://archive.newsbusters.org/bios/clay-waters.html#ixzz3CdgxLFgQ