Over the weekend, the New York Times published a satirical piece in which Larry David imagines how his fawning mother might have defended him if he had been the Boston Marathon bomber. The article, inspired by Zubeidat Tsarnaeva’s vehement denial that her own sons were behind the bombing, ruffled a lot of feathers — which led New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan to address the piece on her blog this afternoon, effectively writing that she thinks the Times shouldn’t have run it.
Sullivan compares David’s article to “NYC; Enough, Already! Reclaiming the Right to Be Grumpy,” a humorous column that ran three weeks after the September 11th attacks. Like David’s “My Son, the Terrorist,” it tackled sensitive subject matter; like “My Son, the Terrorist,” it gave some readers a queasy, “too soon” feeling. But for whatever reason — the piece’s lighthearted tone, the way it taps into New York pride — the article was mostly well received. In fact, reading it may have helped some traumatized New Yorkers begin to heal — after it was published, the novelist Jonathan Franzen reportedly told a New York Times staffer, “I read that column and I knew we were going to be O.K.”
David’s piece, on the other hand, “missed the mark,” according to Sullivan. She isn’t as tough on the article as the “disgusted and saddened” readers whose comments get excerpted in the post — one says the op-ed “makes [his] skin crawl” — but she does name it both “insensitive” and “unfunny.”
Of course, Sullivan’s opinion doesn’t reflect that of the editors who decided to run “My Son, the Terrorist” in the first place. Here’s how one of them defended the piece to Sullivan:
We believed it was acceptable because a) good political humor is always edgy and sometimes difficult to hear. Comedians make jokes about touchy subjects all the time. And b) the object of his satire was the mother and the absurd press conference at which she went on a dramatic tirade. Said it was staged. Paint, not blood. Just as ridiculous as Larry David’s mother’s fictitious defense of him. It in no way mocked or belittled the victims of the bombing or the seriousness of terrorist attacks. There wasn’t a joke about the attack itself. If we had run a conventional Op-Ed pointing out the absurdity of the mother’s tirade, would anybody object? The inherent subjectivity of humor is a separate matter.
What do you think — was David’s article on point, or pretty, pretty, pretty tasteless?