Oh, puh-leeze, let’s quit bashing the New York Times and laugh at it. To get you off to a good start, Russ Smith of the New York Press, notes that the newspaper used to be written so that anybody with a sixth grade education could read it. Now you need a charge account at Bendels and a little place in Cap a’Antibes to get the references in a typical New York Times story.

“Today, the Sulzberger Jr.-led Times, determined after President Bush’s reelection to elevate its already stratospheric self-regard, is probably not within the grasp of sixth-graders, or, for that matter, much of its readership,” writes Smith. “A Nov. 18 editorial, for example, was headlined ’Lame Duck Confit,’ perhaps a reflection of what the writer had for dinner the previous night at a Manhattan restaurant frequented mostly by those in the top-income bracket, but a little weird considering the paper’s absurd stance as defender of, as the editorial says, ’the people’s business,’ or ’ordinary folks’ in Washington.”

Along these lines, Dennis Hastert was once described in a headline as “The Speaker Who Would Be Maitre d’.”

“Evidence of the Times’ condescension to a sizable percentage of its subscribers is scattered throughout the paper every single day of the year,’ Smith continues. Even a piece on the people who go shopping the day after Thanksgiving betrays condescension.

The Times reported: “Across the country yesterday, millions of Americans–most of them taking the entire day off from work–rushed into suburban malls, filled downtown shopping streets and department stores and mobbed discount stores everywhere. Often, they were waving colorful circulars and shopping lists, hungry for the hundreds of bargains promised to those who got there first. Merchants, eager to lure crowds wielding credit cards, opened even earlier than last year–in some places well before dawn.”

Smith, who was crass enough to go shopping that day (isn’t it so much nicer just to send one’s driver out to pick up things to try on at home?), found a different scene: “I don’t like shopping in general, and crowded stores in particular, but as it happened, my sons and I waded into the rush of ’Black Friday,’ and didn’t find the scene at all like the one [New York Times reporter] Rozhon described. Clerks were harried, customers impatient at long lines, but it wasn’t particularly dramatic. There were no proprietors dressed like Captain Hook, trying to get their claws on the credit cards I was ’wielding.’”

Fortunately, however, columnist Thomas Friedman is doing his best to get the paper back to the sixth-grade level. Smith cites as evidence this tidbit from Friedman:

“Yo, Mr. Secretary, I’d say someone in the White House wants you gone! If I were you, I wouldn’t renew any leases for more than a month at a time–or buy any really green bananas for the office. And those books you checked out of the Treasury library? Could you, like, maybe return them in the next few days? You know, just in case. I mean, it all depends on what the meaning of ‘long’ is.”

But Smith is critical of this kind of writing as not fitting in with the style of the Times: 

“This sort of fourth-grade wit is not good for the Times’ reputation,” he writes, “as the paper strives to offer writing that’s every bit as convoluted as that of Lewis Lapham. Yo, Mr. Friedman, ask for a helping of duck confit, like, right now!”