New York Times: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

MorganThe travel writers at the New York Times are a bunch of stoooooopid loooooosers. I’m just saying that with more money than it is huuuuuuuumanly possible to spend intelligently, they still produce complete garbage and they refuse to treat MagoGuide fairly. If the NYT does not acknowledge our greatness, we are going to skip the next travel writers debate in favor of joining Mr. Creosote for a huuuuge meal cooked personally on our eeenormous private jet by Thomas Keller who we personally saved from oblivion by hiring him to cook happy meals for our “thoroughbred offspring.” That last bit is a quote from Trump Bumped in the Feb. 6, 2016 on-line Economist describing Donald Trump’s family by the way. I have no offspring, thoroughbred or otherwise.

Over the years MagoGuide has taken a hard look at some of the New York Times reporting, sometimes agreeing but mostly pointing out what a bad job they’ve done. We’re going to recap those excellent posts below for your reading pleasure. You won’t believe it, but we’ve never heard a peep back from the New York Times. Not a peep. What? Are they scared? Or perhaps they’re just unobservant. So we’re going to make it easy for them and ask straight out; you got something to say to us? We’re not afraid. We’ll take it on. Go ahead… make our day.

The Good

Wolf in the Fog or Cruise Ship on the Rocks?


While we stand by our earlier critiques of what passes for travel writing at a journalistic institution that should know better, in this post we wanted to thank Shivani Vora for alerting us to the fifth annual Feast Tofino in time to attend its finale weekend. While Team Mago was initially prepared to dismiss Ms. Vora’s gushing descriptions concerning “the newfound culinary enthusiasm of this tiny seaside haven,” we eventually decided to make Tofino the final stage of an island hopping gastrodition of the San Juan and Vancouver Islands. To our delight and amazement, Team Mago’s culinary fact checking almost fully vindicated the claims in her article. [Read my full post here.]

NYT Eschews a Per Se Relationship and Delivers for Diners

Morgan in the Serenity Dining Room
We have had our differences with the Grey Lady in the past and will surely continue to in the future, but Team Mago knows a good review when we read it. Unless Peter Wells was lying in just about every sentence in his review of Thomas Keller’s Per Se in the New York Times (see At Thomas Keller’s Per Se, Slips and Stumbles on Jan. 12), he gut punched the second best restaurant on the planet and seriously damaged Keller’s culinary halo. [Read my full post here.]

Even a newspaper gets lucky every once in awhile. Now on to the bad.

The Bad

Far from the Hordes; Lesser-Known Antiquity Sites in Rome

Circus of MaxentiusTeam Mago spent six weeks in Rome searching out antiquity venues that offered solace to the traveler beset by the tourist hordes at the “must see” sites. Fortified by extensive notes, a couple months of reflection, and a bucolic writing environment in off-the-grid Montana, I was slapped upside the head by Francine Prose, whose “3 Quiet Museums in Rome” appeared in the September 6 edition of the New York Times. Ms. Prose directed her article at readers “who, lining up outside the Colosseum, find themselves wondering if the lines at Disney World might have been shorter.” Anyone who equates a theme park to one of the greatest artifacts in human history deserves to wait in the forever line at the Flavian Amphitheater while readers of MagoGuide saunter past them holding pre-purchased tickets. [Read my full post here.]

Queen Mary 2

Sailing on the QM2

If our readers are getting a bit tired of this David vs. Godzilla theme just imagine how Team Mago feels about it, but The Times just can’t let it go. This time The Gray Lady dispatched Dwight Garner, whose day job is writing book reviews, on the Queen Mary 2 for a trans-Atlantic crossing in January (see Seven Days on the Queen Mary 2 from February 8, 2013). There is actually a lot to like, if not down right admire, about Mr. Garner’s review of the Grande Dame of the cruise ship industry. It’s well written, contains more than its fair share of wit leavened with just the right amount of sarcasm, and several interesting anecdotes. In short, Mr. Garner is a very welcome respite from the usual suspects who masquerade as “cruise critics” when in reality they are venal shills shamelessly hyping a travel experience that is mediocre at best in the hopes of getting their snouts and both trotters into the cruise trough for free or at least at a steep discount.

Unfortunately, Mr. Garner has also drunk the Cunard Kool-Aid. MagoGuide does not blame him so much as his employer. Put a guy, his wife, and a good friend on the QM 2 for the first time and pay at least a big chunk of the bill (actual reimbursement arrangements remain mysterious) and you are going to get a puff piece. Predictably, Mr. Garner wraps things up by stating unequivocally that he would make the QM 2 crossing again in heartbeat.  [Read my full post here.]

A Barcelona Brouhaha

Service at Cal Pep

The NYT Frugal Traveler, aka Seth Kugel, blew into Barcelona for a mere four days in 2013, declared that he was “not in town to write about food” and proceeded to produce an entire column about, uh, food (see Going Vegetarian in Tapas-Happy Barcelona from May 21, 2013). Blaming jet lag, Mr. Kugel decided that he can only eat vegetarian fare at Barcelona’s tapas bars and then churned out a series of culinary quickies that overlap with all but a few of the tapas bars that MagoGuide spent a month courting properly before consummating our gastronomic nuptials with vows to renew our relationship at frequent intervals over the years to come.

Let’s start with Mr. Kugel’s central premise that “a tapas-loving vegetarian in this pig-and-shellfish crazy city, is a bit like a rock fanatic who won’t listen to guitars.” The Frugal Traveler clearly has only a nodding acquaintance with the classification vegetarian. He seems to think that vegetarians can be divided into vegans and lacto-ovarians and be done with it. Though an extreme omnivore, I have long cooked for and located restaurants for the full spectrum of vegetarians, which includes, in addition to Kugel’s categories, raw vegans (nothing cooked), lacto-arians (no eggs), pescatarians (no meat), baconarians (bacon is a vegetable), and my personal favorite atremisarians, who only eat meat or fish that they have personally sourced or killed. And by Addephagia Seth, every last one of them can eat well in Barcelona. [Read my full post here.]

The Ugly

The Americans: Why the New York Times Travel Section Sucks

As a traveler, writer, student of history, and paying subscriber I was appalled by The New York Times Travel Section’s coverage of World War I’s centennial. According to the Times website’s clunky and antiquated search function, seven of the eight articles about World War I sites published in 2014 dealt with battlefields where American forces fought in 1918. So Monica, what stories are you going to run in 2018 (not to mention the three intervening years)? Is it just possible that travelers–nay, even tourists who are clearly your preferred readership–would be interested in the events and sites associated with 1914, given that the vast majority of commemorations in 2014 had little or nothing to do with America’s role in World War I? Might not concentrating on the events of the Great War as they occurred chronologically, which is what a centenary is all about after all, lead to a deeper connection with the Great War for Americans in 2018? Indeed, the Times has followed such an approach with its Disunion series concerning the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War.

Ms. Drake has a particular fondness for Richard Rubin, author of The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). Rubin was allotted half the 2014 Times Travel Section articles on World War I. Here is his take away from a tour of the trenches in the Foret d’Apremont:

“Hike around these woods, and you quickly come to understand that this was a war unlike any other when it came to murderous ingenuity, and that the Germans had a distinctive technological edge. They also had better weapons, better-trained soldiers, better generals, better spies, better maps, better barbed wire, better barbed wire cutters. They always seemed to hold the better ground; their strategy was better. You can’t help but wonder: How did they lose?”​ (see In France, Vestiges of the Great War’s Bloody End from Dec. 24, 2014)

Well since you asked Richard, MagoGuide will happily deconstruct these superficial and spurious pronouncements.

  • World War I “was a war unlike any other when it came to murderous ingenuity”: well, not to put too fine a point on it, most Holocaust survivors as well as those from Hiroshima and Nagasaki might well disagree.
  • “… the Germans had a distinctive technological edge”: nope, unless you want to ignore things like British code breaking and French signal intercept capabilities, British artillery sound ranging technology and the French geophone, Marie Curie’s mobile X-ray machine, and Hiram Maxim’s design that was the basis for all the combatants’ machine guns.
  • better weapons”: you must have missed the memo about the British Lee Enfield rife, the French 75mm field gun, tanks, aircraft carriers, depth charges, the Mills bomb, etc.
  • better-trained soldiers”: four words, First Battle of Ypres. In the fall of 1914 an entire German army composed of barely trained eighteen year-old volunteers led by officers in late middle age was thrown against the most professional soldiers on the planet in human wave attacks that resulted in 80,000 German casualties and a major defeat that marked Germany’s last chance for a quick victory at the outset of the conflict.
  • better generals”: like who? The four men who commanded Germany’s armed forces during the First World War—Moltke, Falkenhayn, Hindenberg, and Ludendorf all made disastrous strategic decisions that led directly to their country’s defeat. Then there were all those princelings and dukes given high command based on their titles as opposed to military skills.
  • better spies”: certainly not in Britain where the entire German spy network was rolled up and (mostly) executed in the first months of the war. As for German spies operating in France, Mata Hari was unmasked by British code breakers working for Captain Reginald “Blinker” Hall, arguably the greatest spy master of World War I. Rubin does not source this assertion (or any others) but he was probably influenced by Dark Invasion: the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America by Howard Blum (another Times alumnus). A screenplay masquerading as narrative history, Dark Invasion (Harper Collins, 2014) argues that German espionage and sabotage severely degraded the Allied war effort and thus played a major role in the U.S. decision to declare war on Germany. I am rather partial to historian Gerard DeGroot’s judgment that “the book is as insubstantial as a factory loaf of white bread.” (see Gerard DeGroot’s Washington Post review of Dark Invasion).
  • “better maps”: OK Richard I’ll give you this one.
  • better barbed wire and cutters”: while it is true that the German wire was sturdier and sported larger barbs, the British came up with the ‘‘silent picquet’’—a pigtail-shaped fence post that could be screwed rather than pounded into the ground, thus saving lives during nighttime wire laying operations since the sound of hammering attracted deadly fire (no one tried laying wire during the day and lived very long).
  • better ground”: well even a broken clock is right twice a day.
  • better strategy”: don’t you usually win with one of these? From the Schlieffen Plan in1914 to the Spring Offensives in 1918, German strategy on the Western Front was a disaster. Germany chose incompetent allies and then fought a two front war of attrition against enemies with superior numbers of men and complete command of the sea.

[Read my full post here.]

And that, Richard, was how Germany lost the war and why the New York Times, I’m sorry to say, at times sucks.

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Morgan Hart was launched in 2011 as a website and virtual storefront to showcase Patti's software and Morgan's content. Dedicated to slow travel, culinary excess, and ripping good yarns, MagoGuide is the digital scriptoria for the Mago Scrolls, Morgan's historical fiction series about the Punic Wars in general and one Mago of Syracuse in particular. Although Morgan has written a great deal of non-fiction over the years in the form of specialized journal articles, book reviews, op-ed pieces, and (his personal favorite) the most unpopular coffee table book in the history of the planet, he always viewed himself as a happily frustrated novelist. Get more information about Morgan's novel and travel writing at our Products page.

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