Parody Of: The New York Times. Title: “The New York Times.” Parody By: Spy.
Date: July 15, 1992. Length: 4 pages. Contributors: Uncredited.
Availability: Occasionally seen on eBay and abebooks; online right here.
Amid the current worry over “fake news,” it might be soothing to revisit a political hoax that only wanted to raise a few laughs. On the night before Bill Clinton’s nomination at the 1992 Democratic Convention, Spy magazine smuggled a thousand copies of a facelifted New York Times into Madison Square Garden for delegates and journalists to find the next morning. “The front sections of copies of the real Times were wrapped with Spy’s new pages one, two, op-ed, and back page,” George Kalogerakis wrote in the 2006 history, Spy: The Funny Years. “Ross Perot was running as a strong third-party candidate, so the lead front-page story was: PEROT SET TO PICK TV’S OPRAH WINFREY AS RUNNING MATE. For a few seconds, democracy teetered. Then everyone laughed. … [T]he parody was discussed on the The Tonight Show by Tom Brokaw, reporting live from the convention floor, and by [Nightline‘s] Ted Koppel as well, who fooled his wife with a copy.”
A second Ross Perot story said the eccentric billionaire had kept his mother’s body in an attic for seven years after her death, “apparently believing she was still alive.” Spy later said this was one of the alleged “dirty tricks” that prompted Perot to suspend his presidential campaign on July 16, the day after the parody appeared. True or not, it’s no crazier than Perot’s own claim that George H.W. Bush and the CIA were planning to disrupt his daughter’s wedding.
Spy was obsessed with the New York media world generally and the Times in particular, and both are skewered here. British tycoon Robert Maxwell, who had conveniently drowned off the coast of Spain as his media empire was collapsing, reemerges on page two as “Roberto Maxbueno,” secretive publisher of the Canary Islands’ trashiest tabloid. Vanity Fair’s Tina Brown promises Condé Nast a “New New Yorker” in the back-page “Chronicle,” and, on the Op-Ed page, former Times editor Abe Rosenthal says nothing for 400 words in a column aptly headlined “I Don’t Know.”
The other Op-Eds parody a trio of familiar Times types: the Highly-Credentialed Has-Been (played here by Michael Dukakis), the Concerned Empathizer (Anna Quindlen), and the Gadfly Intellectual (Camille Paglia). All three are aped precisely and, in the Paglia take on Bill Clinton’s sex appeal, exuberantly: “In a way, we citizens are like millions of sperm ejaculated toward the great womb of the commonweal, driven to swim in order that one may be selected to fulfill the general imperatives of the organism as a whole,” runs a typical sentence in “A Hot-Button Candidate.”
The real Camille Paglia appreciated the attention: “Just a note to express my admiration of your New York Times parody, with its deft, skilful and hilarious send-up of my heavy-breathing, multi-adjectived op-ed pieces,” she wrote in Spy’s October issue. The July 15, 1992 “Times” succeeds as both a prank and a parody, and is still funny 24 years later. I’ve posted it here so you can see for yourself. — VCR