What Is Going on at the New York Times?!

What Is Going on at the New York Times?! April 6, 2020

What the heck is going on at the New York Times? I know, I know, people have been asking this for a while, but seriously, what is going on? 

Check this out, for instance:

What the what now?

Okay, background. The first place I saw this NYT article shared on twitter was by female scientists, virologists and epidemiologists who have been working on COVID-19 related issues for months and were not pleased to find that every single scientist profiled in this NYT piece on COVID-19 heroes was male. So when I then saw Matina Stevis-Gridneff’s tweet, not knowing who she was, I assumed the text was sarcasm—that she was poking fun at the fact that every single scientist in this ridiculous NYT piece was male by saying “they look like your uncle.”

But no! Stevis-Gridneff is the author of the NYT piece, and this is how she chose to highlight her article on twitter! They look like your uncle.

I’ve been following an increasing number of virologists and epidemiologists on twitter since late January, and most of them are female. It turns out there are a lot of women working in this field. Yes, I follow men too—there’s a fascinating collection of scientists sharing information, thoughts, and research with each other on twitter, and I like to read along—at least as far as I can follow. The idea that someone could write an entire article about scientists responding to COVID-19 and not include a single woman is mind-blowing.

Oh hey guess what. I just looked it up, and it turns out that there are actually more women in epidemiology than men. Maybe Stevis-Gridneff missed this fact because, in her mind, scientists are supposed to look like your uncle. But does the NYT not have editors? Was there no one, at any point along the process, who said “hey wait, are there any woman scientists doing work in this area?” No one? Really?

But this isn’t actually the most cringe-inducing NYT article I’ve read today. Oh no! I found a worse one! It wasn’t like I was looking for it, either—it popped up on twitter and I immediately knew it had to be a train wreck.

This twitter user, I should note, is not the author of this article. You can tell because she immediately clued in on the fact that the entire staff of the resort is stuck there serving this single couple indefinitely. Curious, I looked up how the NYT described the piece on its twitter. “This stranded South African couple are the last guests in a Maldives resort and they have no idea when they’ll be allowed to leave,” the teaser read. “Turns out it could be worse.” The whole framing immediately felt off.

 

I clicked through and read the article, and I was not disappointed. Or rather, I was disappointed. I was simply not surprised.

The couple arrived just married from South Africa, where they are citizens, on Sunday, March 22, planning to stay for six days. For a 27-year-old teacher and a 28-year-old butcher, the holiday “was an extravagance,” Ms. De Freitas said. But since they hadn’t lived together before exchanging vows, it would be a short, firecracker of a launch to their marriage.

Still, they had some concerns about the trip, considering the mounting travel restrictions imposed in light of the new coronavirus outbreak around the world. But nothing specific that would affect them had been announced, and their travel agent assured them that, whatever policy was forthcoming, all South African citizens would be allowed back home. Go ahead and have a great time, they were told.

March 22nd. March 22nd?! By March 22nd, my kids had already been out of school for a week! And it’s not just schools in the U.S.—by March 22nd, schools in South Africa had been closed too. If they’ve canceled school that means it’s bad! South Africa had already banned gatherings of more than 100 people, and this couple jetted off to the Maldives to honeymoon at a resort with hundreds of other people?

What!

Look, I get that having to cancel a much-anticipated honeymoon would be hard. But it’s not like they are the only people faced with this right now. It’s everyone. Weddings, trips, vacations, conferences—so many things canceled.

The article says they asked their travel agent and their travel agent said they’d be able to get back in the country—but did they check with anyone in government? On March 15, a full week before this couple left to honeymoon at the Maldives, the government of South Africa declared a national state of disaster. And what do you know, look at this, included in the announcement:

It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.

Right from the outset you have a highly irresponsible couple—and a highly irresponsible newspaper and journalist, too, because guess what the NYT article does not mention? The fact that the government was advising people to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers might be refused entry. This seems like it would be an important piece of information to include in this article!

So this poor couple, stuck at a resort in the Maldives and unable to return home, right? So hard! But see, it’s also funny, because who wouldn’t want to be trapped at an upscale resort, waited on hand and foot by an entire fleet of doting staff!

Oh yes, you read that right:

By Sunday, they were the only guests at their resort, the Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives, which normally is at capacity this time of year, catering to some 180 guests. (“Room rates start at $750 a night,” its website still says.) The resort comprises the entirety of its speck of an island. There is nowhere to go. The couple reign like benign yet captive sovereigns over their islet. The days are long and lazy. They sleep in, snorkel, lounge by the pool, repeat.

The resort’s full staff are at hand, because of the presence of the two guests. Government regulations won’t allow any Maldivians to leave resorts until after they undergo a quarantine that follows their last guests’ departure.

I want you to notice something. The staff can’t leave. They’re stuck at this resort because there’s a rule that says they can’t even start their quarantine until the last guests leave—and these last, irresponsible guests can’t leave because their country has closed its airports, which they were warned might happen. 

The staff at this resort live separately from their families—the resort comprises the whole island. There are likely many members of the staff who are worried about their families. They’re probably worried about themselves. The Maldives closed schools and had four resorts under lockdown due to tourists who tested positive for COVID-19 as early as March 11th—nearly two weeks before this couple’s visit.

None of this is in the NYT article. Instead, we get this:

Accustomed to the flow of a bustling workday, and the engagement with a full house of guests, most of the staff, having grown listless and lonely, dote on the couple ceaselessly. Their “room boy” checks on them five times a day. The dining crew made them an elaborate candlelit dinner on the beach. Every night performers still put on a show for them in the resort’s restaurant: Two lone audience members in a grand dining hall.

At breakfast, nine waiters loiter by their table. Hostesses, bussers and assorted chefs circulate conspicuously, like commoners near a celebrity. The couple has a designated server, but others still come by to chat during meals, topping off water glasses after each sip, offering drinks even though brimming cocktail glasses stand in full view, perspiring. The diving instructor pleads with them to go snorkeling whenever they pass him by.

I scrolled thorough the article desperately looking for the part where they interview staff, but it’s not there. The staff’s perspective is entirely absent.

And yet, we get this bizarre text about how the staff “having grown listless and lonely, dote on the couple ceaselessly.” Lonely? Lonely, really? The whole staff is still there! The only people absent are the rest of the guests, and it’s not like the staff turn to the guests for company! But it only gets worse: “Hostesses, busters and assorted chefs circulate conspicuously, like commoners near a celebrity.” What. What. Commoners, really? That metaphor doesn’t even make sense—commoners are typically contrasted to royalty, not to celebrities.

The only people the author appears to have interviewed for this article is the couple. That’s where he has it that the staff are eager and doting. And the author of this piece never questions that, despite the fact that the couple telling him all this took this vacation in the face of their government’s warnings to the contrary, raising serious questions about their judgement and perception.

And yet there is nothing in this piece about how irresponsible this couple was to take this vacation. There is nothing about how difficult it is for the staff to be stuck at this resort, unable to start even their 14 day quarantines so that they can return to their families in the midst of a terrifying global pandemic. There isn’t even anything in this article about the situation in the Maldives.

Instead, the article focuses only on the couple’s attempts to find a way to get back to South Africa and on how funny it is that they’re stuck at a dream resort being doted on by scores of eager servers. Because who hasn’t wanted to be in that situation, am I right? Sovereigns over an entire islet, waited on by doting commoners?

It’s a white colonizer’s dream.

Again I ask, does this newspaper not have editors? This piece reads like someone’s instagram post, or a random white girl’s blog. Was there no one at the NYT to say “hey wait a minute, did you interview any of the staff”? Or even “did you check whether the South African government had travel advisories at that point?”

No one? No one? Okay. Cool. Message received.

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