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NY Times Tells Writer It’s Not OK To Call J.C. Penney Shoppers “Fat”

Remember the J.C. Penny scandal of the week before last? Recap: New York Times style writer Cintra Wilson managed to offend the masses by calling Middle Americans fat, J.C. Penney shoppers fat, and even managed to insult their mannequins with the barb, “[J. C. Penney] has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on.” She apologized for her behavior once with the rawtha dismissive: “You know I didn’t mean it that way, so please remove the knot from your panties and when you’re ready, join me for a cigarette and several Pucker martinis,” followed by a more “heartfelt,” “I very much regret that my J. C. Penney article in the Times caused any wounded feelings whatsoever, particularly to people who already feel they take more than their share of abuse from our very shallow and ridiculous society. I sincerely apologize.” Er, yeeaahhh…We wondered what Wilson’s so-called review said about how far removed the world’s fashion elite are from the general public — just what kind of la la land are these people living in, anyway? — and naturally, you guys had plenty to say on the subject.

So this weekend the Times attempted to answer a crucial question: How did the editors of one of the most prestigious, respected papers in the nation allow this scathing, insulting, and above all, cuckoo bananas rant to be published in the first place?

In an Op-Ed published on Saturday, Public Editor Clark Hoyt tried to explain how all this came about. “Although Trip Gabriel, the Styles editor, said the lines can be blurry, it seems to me that they were crossed and left far behind in this case,” Hoyt writes. “Wilson’s editors should have saved her, themselves and the paper from the reaction they got from readers, who concluded that the humor was at their expense, not for their benefit.” Then they asked fashion editor Anita Leclerc how it slipped through her, um, crack, and she claimed that “she was so used to Wilson’s ‘stream of consciousness writing style that is so full of barbs’ that ‘the alarms weren’t set off that should have been.’” Sounds like a real witch hunt. Also, jeez, what’s the big deal? Wilson like, does this all the time!

When Hoyt called Wilson to get her side of the story, she simply replied, “Ouch,” then went on to defend all the nice things she wrote, citing the large dressing rooms (ironic since she mentioned the largesse of the clothing itself numerous times) and the “cheerful” employee that she also wrote about in a condescending tone. In the end, it was Big Poppa Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, who summed it up the best. He referred to the incident as “a teachable moment” and expressed his dissatisfaction with the whole sordid affair, as “making a fine exhibit for someone making the case that the Times has an arrogant streak.” Nooo! Hoyt concluded his exhaustive investigative piece with the following sage observation: “The lesson, I think, is that it is OK to have fun with your readers. It is not OK to make fun of them.”

And that is the story of how The Grey Lady fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe fashion types aren’t the only ones who are out of touch. [New York Times]

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