Press Box

A Times Assortment of Bogus Trend Stories

The New York Times discovers bogus trends in home bartending, ID theft, park rangers, and rebelling moms.

The New York Times claims that more thirtysomethings are hiring bartenders for private holiday parties.

Mixing Drinks, Adding Class” in the Dec. 9 New York Times bogus-trend-clotted Styles section asserts that there is a “consensus of a growing crowd of 30-something New Yorkers” who believe that you shouldn’t throw even a small party unless you’re willing to hire a bartender. Only the slimmest proof of a “growing crowd” or of a “consensus” is offered. The Times reports that a guy who runs a serving and bartending firm says the number of people calling him to book home bartenders “for extremely small apartments” has gone up 20 percent in the last three years.

Are the fortunes of one New York company enough to prove that the home bartender business is trending? Of course not. Assuming that the proprietor is on the level about calls being up 20 percent, maybe he’s taking business away from his competition and leaving the total New York market for home-bartenders flat. More bogosity: The first “bartender” named in the story wasn’t assigned to mix drinks but to pour vodka punch and rum eggnog.

Stripped of its pretentions, this Times article states something that has been true for a century or longer: In New York, you can hire servers and bartenders for even the smallest of home parties.

In “Service Members Face New Threat: Identity Theft” (Dec. 7), the Times finds that the military’s overuse of Social Security numbers as personal identifiers poses dangers to members of the armed forces. “All of this is putting members of the military at heightened risk for identity theft,” the piece asserts.

Heightened risk in theory, perhaps, but has the overuse of Social Security numbers resulted in more ID theft? No. In the 10th paragraph of the piece, the Times reports the estimates from one study that show that 3.3 percent of active military personnel were victims of identity theft in 2006, slightly lower than the 3.7 percent for the population at large.

Additional scaremongering can be found in a Times piece titled “In the Wild, a Big Threat to Rangers: Humans” (Dec. 7). It finds that park rangers are exposed to “heightened dangers” by armed park-goers, but its evidence—two recent shootings of rangers—is limp. One park ranger was shot and wounded in Utah while making a traffic stop. Another was shot and killed in Pennsylvania while confronting a man who was hunting illegally. These shootings are tragic and deplorable but not out of the ordinary. Indeed, the reports state that 15 wildlife or park employees have been killed on duty—”most of them by gunshot, since 1980.” In other words, the threat to rangers seems to be constant, not heightened. The other threats the Times documents seem like a stretch to me: A 2009 law legalized possession of guns in “many” National Parks this year and “many” parks and rec departments have cut staff, putting more patrol pressure on remaining staff. Bogus bogosity, I say.

For more sleight of hand at the Times, see the Dec. 2 article, “Frazzled Moms Push Back Against Volunteering,” which finds five mothers across the country resisting the demands placed on them by schools and PTAs. Other data points: The president of a Georgia PTA says volunteerism is down at his school and one harried mom in Los Angeles wrote an article titled “Just Say NO to Volunteering.”

From this slim evidence, the Times reports:

Around the country there are a number of altruistic, devoted and totally burned-out mothers just like Ms. Lentzner who are becoming emboldened to push back against the relentless requests from their children’s schools for their time. What started out as an admirable civic gesture somehow snowballed into an inability to say no to any committee assignment or project request, and spiraled into night, weekend and after-school commitments, middle-of-the-night e-mail exchanges, as well as frozen dinners, takeout pizza and baby sitters at home.

But is this news? Could you not visit any year in the past 50 and not find “a number of altruistic, devoted and totally burned-out mothers” rebelling against the volunteer overlords? I remember my exhausted mother telling the PTA’s pushy bastards to shove off in the 1960s. The piece further claims that “economic necessity” has forced some stay-at-home mothers to return to work, hence reducing the time they can devote to volunteering. But as reader Daniel Carlson says in an e-mail to me, wouldn’t the economic conditions that have forced some mothers to work also be pushing other mothers out of work, theoretically freeing them to volunteer? In other words, no trend, just a wash.


Meanwhile, volunteers continue to flood me with bogus trend nominations. Send yours to Many thanks to bogus volunteers Rose Hart, Jennifer Van Leigh, John Rambow, Leah Kanne, Daniel Carlson, Geoff Butler, Jeff Quest, Andrew Vierling, Luke Sweeney, and all the others. Mix and pour yourself a stiff one and hang out at my Twitter feed. (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.)

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