NPR

Bluff The Listener

Our panelists tell three stories about The New York Times going all out to maintain its reputation.

Transcript

CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. We're playing his week with Firoozeh Dumas, Paula Poundstone and Luke Burbank. And, here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Carl.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Thanks everybody. Right now, it's time for the WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-Wait-Wait to play our game on the air. Hi, you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

HEATHER WEIBERG: Hi.

SAGAL: Hi, who's this?

WEIBERG: My name is Heather.

SAGAL: Hello, Heather. Where are you calling from?

WEIBERG: I'm actually calling from Gravette, Arkansas.

SAGAL: Gravette, Arkansas?

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Oh, wow.

WEIBERG: Yeah, I'm close to Bentonville, which is the home office for Walmart.

SAGAL: Heard of them.

LUKE BURBANK: Oh, sure.

SAGAL: And what do you do there?

WEIBERG: Right now, I'm a domestic engineer.

SAGAL: I see. Well, good for you.

WEIBERG: And I also am a part time student at our local community college.

SAGAL: Well, that's great. What are you studying?

WEIBERG: I'm trying to become a phlebotomist.

SAGAL: A what?

WEIBERG: Phlebotomist. One that draws blood.

SAGAL: Oh.

POUNDSTONE: All right.

SAGAL: I didn't know there was a name for that business.

WEIBERG: Yes.

SAGAL: I thought that was the nurse who hurts me. I didn't know that had a title.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, good luck in the phlebotomy front. It's very nice to have you with us, Heather. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Carl, what is Heather's topic?

KASELL: There's a reason it's called the Paper of Record.

SAGAL: The New York Times has long prided itself on being the most fair, balanced, factual, and anally retentive newspaper in journalism history. And this week our panelists are going to read you three stories of the gray lady going to absurd lengths to maintain that reputation for accuracy. Guess the true story and you'll win Carl's voice on your home-answering machine or voicemail. Ready to play?

WEIBERG: Yes.

SAGAL: First, let's hear from Luke Burbank.

BURBANK: As a couple, Jacob Siegel Wasserman and Lauren Wells Heffernan seemed to have it all: good jobs, good educations, the right kind of families. And so it seemed only natural that when they decided to get married the New York Times got wind, and featured them in its "Vows" section. Things started to crumble, though, for the Siegel Wasserman-Wells Heffernans.

(LAUGHTER)

BURBANK: They both took each other's names while keeping their own - when the Times' fact-checking interns started making some calls.

Jacob, it turned out, had not graduated top of his class at Harvard, as he'd always told people, but rather had finished decidedly in the middle of the graduating class of the Cambridge Bartending School Class of '97. Meanwhile, Lauren's family, it turned out, hadn't made its money from her father's work on early versions of the Jarvic heart, but rather his invention of the Sham-Wow, absorbent cloth.

(LAUGHTER)

BURBANK: Quite accidentally, it turned out, while trying to clean up spilled beer at the family's trailer home in Sandusky.

(LAUGHTER)

BURBANK: Upon the paper's publication and seeing the mistruths exposed by the Times' fact checking, Jacob and Lauren quickly realized they were not so much in love with each other as the idea of each other and promptly split.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Fact checking a vows column breaks up a relationship. Your next story proving print isn't dead, it's just sleeping, comes from Firoozeh Dumas.

FIROOZEH DUMAS: After the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, the New York Times dispatched its brave correspondents to find one of the men thought to be responsible: Ahmed Abu Khattala.

They found him on a hotel veranda, scoffing at threats from the American and Libyan governments, bragging and sipping what the Times identified as, quote, "mango juice." Not so fast, Paper of Record. A few days after the original story, the Times issued a correction. It wasn't mango juice; it was a strawberry frappe.

(LAUGHTER)

DUMAS: How did the reporter confuse a flat orange drink usually served in a short glass with a pinkish red frothy thirst quencher usually served in a tall glass with a bendy straw and mini umbrella?

(LAUGHTER)

DUMAS: This watered down coverage begs the question: what's next, confusing a candidate's half caf pumpkin spice latte with 2% percent milk with a soy chi latte with no foam?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The Times correcting the record when it comes to an alleged terrorist's beverage. And your last story of the New York Times pursuant of excellence at any cost comes from Paula Poundstone.

POUNDSTONE: Not since Lois Lane has a reported gone to such extremes to get a story and, remember, she was never really in danger. She had Superman.

When New York Times reporter Zahir Raab became privy to allegations of bullying and a "look the other way" policy on the part of administrators at Patton Elementary School in Fishkill, New York, he enrolled. That's right he enrolled. Although he is 25 years old, Raab is wiry, short and apparently capable enough of passing for a second grader.

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: "I didn't like what I found," says Raab, "the culture of bullying ran quite deep. From day one, my beard and mustache drew unwarranted snickering."

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: "And kids pulling my tie became as common as raising their hands to ask to go the bathroom. The English teacher never liked me, which may have been because I corrected her grammar, but still."

(LAUGHTER)

POUNDSTONE: "As I read aloud my essay on what I want to do when I grow up, I'm sure heard her derisive laugh the loudest, amidst the cacophonous uproar when I came to the part about my retirement plan."

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: A New York Times reporter goes undercover in an elementary school. That was from Paula. Your other two choices were from Luke Burbank, fact checking a Vows entry shows that the engaged couple weren't quite telling the truth. And from Firoozeh, a story about how the Times absolutely had to get all of the details right about an alleged terrorist, including his choice of beverage. Which of these is the real story about the Times doing what it does best?

WEIBERG: Oh, that's going to be a hard one, but I'm going to go with the second one.

SAGAL: That was Firoozeh's story?

WEIBERG: Yes.

SAGAL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right, you're chosen that story. Well, we spoke to somebody who's familiar with the story.

JOE COSCARELLI: I think strawberry frappe is more ridiculous than mango juice, mostly because of the word frappe, but also it shows such an intense dedication to the truth by the New York Times.

SAGAL: That was John Coscarelli. He is the assistant editor for the New York Magazine Daily Intel, talking about the smoothie correction. Congratulations, you got it right. Firoozeh was telling the truth.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: And so was the Times. You've earned a point for Firoozeh, her first in this game, and you've won our prize: Carl's voice on whatever device you happen to want him to record it on. Well done, is my point.

WEIBERG: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well done. Thanks for playing.

WEIBERG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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