NYT Travel Writer Bias? Four Alarm Gag Alert

If you have a weak stomach, steer clear of today's New York Times, particularly their "Cruise Issue" which contains a travel article reviewing a cruise that will make you lose your lunch.

The author, Henry Alford, gushes over every detail, painting it literally as "The Love Boat for Policy Wonks" in a fashion that is so over-the-top it's almost a self-parody of what you'd expect the Times to write about a cruise hosted by the left-wing Nation magazine:

When 460 of the more ardent readers of a 142-year-old leftist weekly get together on a cruise ship, things can be a little topsy-turvy. “It’s like an S.D.S. reunion on the Love Boat,” said a guest speaker, Mary Mapes, the former CBS news producer who helped break the Abu Ghraib story among others, before being fired over her involvement in a “60 Minutes” piece on George W. Bush’s military record.

Minus that little detail, Mapes is fantastic and wonderful person. More:

During a weeklong cruise from Seattle up the Alaskan coast last August, Ms. Mapes and 11 other speakers — mostly Nation contributors and journalists, but also Ralph Nader, Richard Dreyfuss and Rocky Anderson, then the mayor of Salt Lake City — tackled the Big Topics, all within the confines of the Holland America Line’s amenities-drenched Oosterdam. Cultural dissonance was much in evidence — picture a self-described “atheist Socialist Quaker” marveling at an ice-carving demonstration; picture Birkenstocks in the piano lounge. (“Do you think we’ll ever see Ralph Nader in the hot tub?” I asked a fellow cruiser at one point. “I don’t think so,” he told me. “Every time I’ve seen him he’s disinfecting himself at the Purell hand-sanitizer station.”) [...] Many of the so-called cruisers were unhappy that the 2000 election spoiler Ralph Nader was on board.

“If he’s assigned to my table at dinner,” a pixielike retired Californian in her 60s told me as she downed her third cocktail, “I’m going to switch tables.”

 

Naturally, of course, since this crowd loves the sleazy likes of Mary Mapes, they are also prone to believing myths. Alford sees no reason to disabuse them:

In fact, spending time with the celebrated is, for some passengers, chief among the perquisites of the Nation cruise. While our four stops in ports — Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, and Victoria in British Columbia — would give us the chance to participate, at extra cost, in Holland America-organized activities like salmon fishing ($389) and glacier climbing ($354 to $499), it cost nothing to sidle up to Rocky Anderson midship and gush that you really, really love what he’s doing in Salt Lake with carbon offsets. The Nation guarantees that you’ll be seated with one of the guest speakers at dinner one night during the cruise. Moreover, after dinner each night, various of the speakers could be found drinking and relaxing up in the Crow’s Nest — an immense, airy cocktail lounge on top of the ship, surrounded on three sides by windows.

I was made aware of this hobnobbing for the first time over lunch on Day 2, when my seatmate, Marlena, a five-time Nation cruiser, told me that on one Nation cruise she had brought sheet music. She told me: “David Corn, the writer, played piano and Bud Trillin — all of us who know Calvin Trillin call him Bud — started singing ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.’ We had 400 people singing until 2 in the morning.”

Later, the Nation columnist Patricia Williams told me that Daniel Ellsberg, a guest speaker, did magic on one cruise — “He was pulling coins out of people’s ears. I wondered, did he learn this in prison?” (I didn’t point out that Mr. Ellsberg, did not in fact serve time for releasing the Pentagon Papers to the news media. Why ruin a good story?)

There's lots more in the article if you have the stomach for it. Be forewarned though!

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013