I found myself a bit embarassed last night at the SPF Salon theatre bloggers panel (thanks to all who came!) for being the only person in the room who had not heard about this very public David Hare spat with the Times' Managing Editor, Jill Abramson, at a recent social function.
The story made the NY Post's gossip report, Page Six, apparently sourced by Michael Riedel.
The nut of it:
Abramson was seated next to Hare and immediately launched into a speech about the supposed superiority of the Times' theater coverage.
Hare - whose "Vertical Hour" with Julianne Moore was a hit despite a scathing pan by Times chief drama critic Ben Brantley - snapped, "You must be kidding. The Times has contempt for the theater, especially Broadway, and especially plays."
Witnesses told The Post's Michael Riedel that Abramson replied: "Listen, it is not our obligation to like or care about the theater. It's our obligation to arbitrate it. We are the central arbiter of taste and culture in the city of New York."
Hare: "What are you talking about? If you believe that, you are even more out of touch than your newspaper appears. You have a critic who despises the theater."
While I'm all for people chewing out the NYT theatre coverage, and taking them down a peg, there are a few things about this story to be skeptical about. First, Abramson is too big a wig at the paper to monitor or be well informed about the arts coverage. (She strikes me as more of a Washington type.) Second, say what you like about Ben Brantley, but... "hates the theatre"??? Not the words I'd choose. Hates David Hare's plays, maybe.Also--as Page Six notes--Hare happens to be in town directing the season's latest snob hit (now that "Vertical Hour" proved not to win that title) the Vanessa Redgrave/Joan Didion collaboration, "The Year of Magical Thinking." And the Times has certainly been, um, friendly to that project.
Look, the Times's problem is certainly not being not positive enough about Broadway. More arbitrating and more "contempt for Broadway" sounds like a good idea!
But still, ultimately what's important here is someone got Abramson's words on record about that "arbiter of culture." Hare's laughing incredulity was surely the only sane response. And it reveals the smugness and complaceny behind the increasing lameness and sellout decisions we see in the paper's arts coverage day after day. It comes from the fact that they have been the defacto "arbiters"--due to lack of competition. Lack of competition due to a collapsing media business, the downsizing of arts coverage, the laying off of real critics, etc. The fact the Time still has an arts section and a theatre staff of more than one, does kind of give it a crown by default.
But it doesn't have to stay that way. Down with the one-party state. Support the competition!
Personally, my own response might have been: So Jill, are things so bad that Brangelina, Paris Hilton and Pete Doherty are all your "arts" editors have left to "arbitrate" about?