Upon becoming editor of The New Yorker, Tina Brown dredged from its harbor tons of silt deposited there by the magazine’s longtime chief, William Shawn, during his 36-year reign. Brown decreed that stories be newsy and that cover illustrations be relevant. She introduced photography and adrenalin to the magazine’s pages, hired new blood, and proclaimed the end of The New Yorker’s traditional “50,000-word piece on zinc.”
But one New Yorker tic endures: The lede weighed down by a date. The purest expression of this New Yorker tradition came in a June 18, 1984, feature titled “The Staffs of Life: 1—The Golden Thread,” by E.J. Kahn Jr., which commences:
When the New England farmer and botanist Edward Sturtevant retired, in 1887, as head of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, in Geneva, he left behind a bulky manuscript that was published in 1919, twenty-one years after his death, as “Sturtevant’s Notes on Edible Plants.”
Peeved by the date bloat, Michael Kinsley wrote at the time, “Even supposing we need to know about Dr. Sturtevant’s book, when it was published, and when the good doctor died, why do we need to know when he retired?”
Defenders of the dated lede say that such time markers provide readers with an anchor to help them weather the whirl of data about to wash over them. The date pileup assures readers that there will be no narrative surprises, that all to be revealed will first be foreshadowed. Plus, it gives the fact-checking department something to check! Detractors heave phooey on the magazine’s devotion to straight chronology and dismiss the dated lede as “once-upon-a-time” hackwork. They yearn for magazines that refuse to script linear TripTiks.
Setting all editorial preferences aside, here are nearly two dozen dated ledes from this summer’s New Yorkers for your inspection. And to think that summer isn’t even over. …
In 1835, Georg Büchner, a young sometime medical student, began to write “Lenz,” a story that inhabits the schizophrenic breakdown of the eighteenth-century poet Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz.
—”She’s Not Herself: A first novel about marriage and madness,” by James Wood, June 23, 2008
The Presidential flight of Hillary Rodham Clinton, which had been aloft for nearly a year, began its descent stage on January 3, 2008, somewhere over Iowa.
—”Exhillaration,” by Hendrik Hertzberg, June 23, 2008
On March 16, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President.
—Short uncredited review of The Last Campaign, June 23, 2008
It was nearly midnight before Keith Olbermann left the NBC News election studio on May 13th, having spent five hours on the air, co-anchoring coverage of the West Virginia Democratic primary.
—”One Angry Man; Is Keith Olbermann changing TV news?” by Peter J. Boyer, June 23, 2008
On October 7, 2002, in Cincinnati, Ohio, George W. Bush delivered the defining speech of his Presidency.
—”Barack Obama: What’s The Big Idea?” by Dorothy Wickenden, June 30, 2008
In July, 1820, John Keats published his third and final book, “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems.”
—”Cloudy Trophies: John Keats’s obsession with fame and death,” Adam Kirsch, July 7, 2008
When Janet Hamlin first went to Guantánamo Bay to work as a courtroom sketch artist, in April of 2006, she was forbidden to draw the faces of detainees in any detail, as part of the Pentagon’s efforts to comply with the Geneva Conventions.
—”By a Nose,” by Ben McGrath, July 7, 2008
Last October, Sheldon Adelson, the gaming multibillionaire, accompanied a group of Republican donors to the White House to meet with George W. Bush.
—”The Brass Ring: A multibillionaire’s relentless quest for global influence,” Connie Bruck, June 30, 2008
In February, 2007, when Barack Obama declared that he was running for President, violence in Iraq had reached apocalyptic levels, and he based his candidacy, in part, on a bold promise to begin a rapid withdrawal of American forces upon taking office.
—”Obama’s Iraq Problem,” by George Packer, July 7, 2008In 1841, Andrew Jackson Downing published the first landscape-gardening book aimed at an American audience.
—”Turf War: Americans can’t live without their lawns-but how long can they live with them?” by Elizabeth Kolbert, July 21, 2008Anne Carroll Moore was born long ago but not so far away, in Limerick, Maine, in 1871.
—”The Lion and the Mouse: The battle that reshaped children’s literature,” by Jill Lepore, July 21, 2008One day in 1995, Barack Obama went to see his alderman, an influential politician named Toni Preckwinkle, on Chicago’s South Side, where politics had been upended by scandal.
—”Making It: How Chicago shaped Obama,” by Ryan Lizza, July 21, 2008In June, 2007, a thirty-nine-year-old unemployed physicist named Garrett Lisi arrived at a professional conference in Morelia, Mexico, to give a twenty-minute talk.
—”Surfing the Universe: An academic dropout and the search for a Theory of Everything,” by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, July 21, 2008In September, 1922, after the Turkish forces of Mustafa Kemal defeated a Greek army that had recklessly occupied the Anatolian city of Smyrna, members of Smyrna’s Greek, Armenian, and expatriate communities were killed, raped, and robbed.
—Short, uncredited review of Paradise Lost, July 28, 2008On the morning of April 15th, a short video entitled “2008 China Stand Up!” appeared on Sina, a Chinese Web site.
—”Angry Youth: The new generation’s neocon nationalists,” by Evan Osnos, July 28, 2008The summer of 1949 was long and dry in Montana.
—”The Eureka Hunt: Why do good ideas come to us when they do?” by Jonah Lehrer, July 28, 2008 (abstract)In April of 1862, Emily Dickinson wrote to a stranger, initiating a fervent twenty-four-year correspondence, in the course of which they managed to meet only twice.
—”Her Own Society: A new reading of Emily Dickinson,” by Judith Thurman, August 4, 2008In a handwritten letter to himself, dated December 13, 1990, Specialist Alan Rogers, a twenty-three-year-old African-American chaplain’s assistant, grappled with the issue of fear as he prepared for his first combat tour.
—”A Soldier’s Legacy: Don’t ask, don’t tell, but Alan Rogers was a hero to everyone who knew him,” by Ben McGrath, Aug. 4, 2008In 1861, the year Tsar Alexander II freed the serfs, Elena Molokhovets published her domestic bible, “A Gift to Young Housewives, or the Means of Lowering Household Expenses.”
—”Soup to Nettles,” by Julia Ioffe, Aug. 4, 2008On May 3, 2005, in France, a man called an emergency hot line for missing and exploited children.
—”The Chameleon: The many lives of Frédéric Bourdin,” by David Grann, Aug. 11, 2008One Sunday last February, a young woman named Kristen Smith left the parking lot of Bethany Baptist Church, in Plant City, Florida, and drove along a two-lane country road with a large gold crown on the seat beside her.
—”The Strawberry Girls,” by Ann Hull, Aug. 11, 2008 (abstract)In August, 2000, Dr. Roger Wetherbee, an infectious-disease expert at New York University’s Tisch Hospital, received a disturbing call from the hospital’s microbiology laboratory.
—”Superbugs: The new generation of resistant infections is almost impossible to treat,” by Jerome Groopman, Aug. 11, 2008On a bright September day in 1993, not long before he ended his two decades in exile, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn delivered a rare public address in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.
—Boundary Issues,” by David Remnick, Aug. 25, 2008
What was it that the Chambers Brothers said? Time has come today? Send your favorite dated ledes to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a “Press Box” correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the words New Yorker in the subject head of an e-mail message, and send it to email@example.com.