The New York Times is a brand name associated with journalistic integrity. They pride themselves with unbiased news reporting and analysis. So imagine my surprise and dismay when I read their Summer Movies section of the Sunday May 2, 2010 newspaper. In it they featured profiles of Julia Roberts by Leah Rozen and one of Mark (Marky Mark) Wahlberg by Dennis Lim. Profiles might be too neutral a word as these pieces seemed to have been taken straight from the actors’ publicists’ press kits.
According to these articles not only are both actors excessively talented, but they also are amazing parents and the friendliest most amazing people you have never met. I have heard nuns speak more critically of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.
There is a time and place for such puff pieces. Fan newsletters or People Magazine are arenas where one might expect to read how divine and balanced our celebrities are. The New York Times markets itself as being above such fawning. But championing mediocrity is the surest way for an arbiter of criticism to lose the public’s trust. If Mark Wahlberg brings “Herculean efforts” as an actor how can we trust the newspaper to point us toward true excellence.
If they would have billed the Summer Movie section as an advertisement I would have no problem with reading how Julia Roberts is “so beautiful, people don’t completely realize that she’s an actual great actress.” But to present these two examples of celebrity worship with the New York Times seal of approval sullies the New York Times’ credibility.
It is amazing that no one has challenged the practice of newspapers running advertisements on the same page that they run features and reviews for those same movies. Until people do newspapers will be able to blur the lines of journalism, criticism, and commercialism.