New York Times Pans New Morning Show Book by Its Own Reporter

Brian Stelter Headshot - P 2013
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Brian Stelter Headshot - P 2013

Media writer Brian Stelter's "Today" expose is called "just plain silly" in a new review.

Well, this is awkward.

The New York Times has panned Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV, a new exposé about the morning-show wars authored by its own media reporter, Brian Stelter.

Stelter is a brazenly ambitious 27-year-old who has harnessed the power of new media so efficiently, it once led veteran Times columnist David Carr to call him "a robot assembled to destroy me." (That was in Page One, a documentary about The New York Times that was also panned by the Times.) Despite his media heat, however, Stelter is swiftly cut down to size by Ed Bark, a former TV critic for The Dallas Morning News, in a new book review. (It's standard practice for the newspaper to hire an outside critic to review a book by one of its staffers.)

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In his review, Bark balks at comparisons on the book's jacket to veteran Times TV reporter Bill Carter, author of 1994's The Late Shift and 2010's The War for Late Night.

"What Mr. Carter had that Mr. Stelter doesn’t is an economy of words, grander Hollywood stages and (as Mr. Carter noted in his acknowledgments) the full cooperation of the star players: first David Letterman and Jay Leno, and then Mr. Leno and Conan O’Brien," Bark writes. 

By contrast, the major figures in Stelter's book -- Today anchor Matt Lauer and executive producer Jim Bell, whom he paints as having conspired to oust Ann Curry from Today -- fought him at every step. Bark also suggests that the players behind Good Morning America were happy to assist in the pile-on and threw open their doors to Stelter -- resulting in a lack of impartiality.

"The author apparently even got a glimpse of what he calls the 'rather fabulous Italian neo-Classical bed' shared by Mr. [GeorgeStephanopoulos and his actress-comedian wife, Ali Wentworth, in their Upper East Side apartment," Bark writes, adding that "there are no such intimate details of Mr. Lauer’s sleeping quarters."

But Bark's bark is loudest with respect to Stelter's prose, which he calls "more than a little overblown" and "just plain silly."

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Among the turns of phrase singled out for scorn: "[T]he ratings were still shrinking faster than Al Roker after his stomach stapling" and a 109-word sentence which includes the image of a "growing warmth that spread through his broad bosom like the aftereffect of a double jigger of single-malt scotch."

Bark does grant that Stelter, three years shy of his 30th birthday, has "ample time really to get the hang of this." If that doesn't help, Stelter also can take comfort in knowing that Paul Krugman, the Times' Nobel Prize-winning economics columnist, also was trashed in the pages of his own newspaper.

"Give him a book to fill," wrote Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon in his Times review of Krugman's End This Depression Now!, "and he starts becoming a bit repetitive."

Correction: A previous version of this report stated Bark criticized the phrase, "[Stephanopoulos] worried about feeling like a cod liver oil pill in a jar of jelly beans." He in fact praised it.