The New York Times jealously guards its status as America’s paper of record through an obsessive focus on decorum and propriety. So it’s interesting to see in two leaked photos that the paper’s brass has a sense of humor behind its respectable front—even if that humor veers into “making light of mass killings” territory.
Above is an old photo of the Times’ longtime opinion editor Andrew Rosenthal wielding a toy M-16 and a bottle of wine over many staffers stained with fake blood, “recreating,” according to the source who shared the photos with me, “the Nepalese royal massacre with the ‘dead and dying’ foreign desk.” The calendar on the wall indicates that it is June 2001—the same month in which Nepal crown prince Dipendra went on a spree shooting and killed 10 members of the royal family, including the king, queen, and himself, with three guns, including an M-16.
This photo, along with another that appears to show then-foreign desk editor and future Times executive editor Bill Keller presiding over a fake mass-suicide scene, meant to invoke the 1997 self-murders of the Heaven’s Gate cult, were recently provided to Gawker by a former Times staffer.
“These photos are in poor taste, not reflective of the values of The New York Times and deeply regrettable,” Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told Gawker in an emailed statement after being asked about them Tuesday morning.
It’s true that they’re not reflective of the stated values of the Times. But the photos show an edgier and much less formal newsroom than the square, conservative image projected by the paper’s genteel self-regard. Still, it’s better for all involved if Times editors horse around in ways that don’t involve glib reproductions of genuine tragedies—or, at the very least, don’t record it.
The Gawker source appears to have obtained both images from a Facebook group for New York Times alumni, where they were posted over the weekend by ex-NYTer and current Bloomberg View editor Anne Cronin:
Reached by email, Cronin told Gawker that the pictures were part of “a wonderful in-house tradition that I’d like to keep that way.
“I used to organize a Seersucker Day at The Times to mark the first full day of summer,” Cronin wrote. “I took all the photos every year and posted some on The New York Times Alumni forum, which asks that we not share this material with anyone outside the group.”
Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha confirmed that the photos “were taken as part of the foreign desk’s annual tradition of seersucker day almost two decades ago,” apparently mirroring a similar tradition in the U.S. Senate, albeit with more mock-killing.
Rosenthal did not respond to a request for comment. Asked by email about his part in staging the photos, Keller responded: “This is what journalists did with their childish impulses before there was Gawker.”