A week ago today the Times published an article (which I'm not linking to because you would have to pay to see the archived article so it would only make sense for me to link to it if the Times was willing to pay me a cut for my advertising for them) about the history of the PG-13 movie rating. The point of the piece was that the PG-13 rating is becoming more common because studios are explicitly seeking it more often, in order to attract a broader audience than they could with an R, because, for one thing, theaters are actually enforcing the "Under 17 Not Admitted Without Parent or Guardian" rule associated with the R rating much more so than in the past.
In order to support the claim that the studios used to go after R's more often Bernard Weinraub went through the traditional Baby Boomer film declinist narrative: Why, back in the 70's everyone made edgy, groundbreaking, brilliant films for thinking grown-ups. Filmmakers weren't afraid of tackling disturbing, R-rated subject matter. In fact they welcomed it; because, back then you see movies were art. So far so good. Typical piece. Typical NYT Baby Boomer sanctimony. Okay grandpa, we get it. In your day, all movies were brilliant. Everything was like Chinatown and The Godfather. Everything was so goddammned artsy and bold and visionary and there was no such thing as a bad movie back then. Airport and The Poseidon Adventure never even happened. And then we Gen-X cretins come around with our Jerry Bruckheimer and shoot everything to hell. We suck. Blah blah blah. (For more see the IFC series A Decade Under the Influence)
But, just as I was dozing off on the train reading this thing, something extraordinary happened. Weinraub blamed it all on Jaws. There's nothing extraordinary about that. The evils of the popularity of Jaws are always a part of the typical 70's film nostalgia narrative. However, in this case Weinraub asserted that Jaws was responsible for making the PG-13 rating more popular, because it was such a huge success; a novel theory since the film was released in 1976 and the PG-13 rating wasn't created until 1984. Nowhere did he in so many words say that Jaws had a PG-13 rating, but he clearly states that its the beginning of studios seeking the rating out, which is strange because Jaws was rated PG, a rating which our erstwhile media critic asserts elsewhere is now considered too soft, kiddyish, and G like.
I didn't think too much of this gaffe at the time. I just had a good self-congratulatory chortle and wondered if someone on 43rd street was going to have a conference with a stuffed moose that day. I thought about blogging it, but I just assumed that such an obvious factual error would be corrected more quickly than I could get my post up. Beyond that, the real issue was what such a piece of drivel was doing in the Times anyway, with or without the factual error. To my surprise, the error still wasn't corrected by the time Sridhar Pappu wrote that weeks "Off the Record" column for the Observer. (It's the third item in the column) And, apparently neither Weinraub nor his editor on the piece returned e-mails or phone calls from Pappu.
This is obviously not an earth-shaking story, but it never ceases to amaze how the Times army of reporters, editors, and fact-checkers lets these stupid errors get into print. No one between the ages of say 25 to 40 could possibly have made this mistake, as just off the top of our heads we all remember that the PG-13 rating was created largely because of complaints about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I of course don't know Bernard Weinraub from Adam, but I'm from now on just going to assume that he's either a 21 year old college dropout promoted above his abilities, or another Maureen Dowd-like fossil. I hope I don't see his byline on West Virginia sniper stories in either case.
UPDATE: Turns out I should have run Weinraub's name through Google or TimesWatch. He's the guy who mangled the famous "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against" quote by omitting the "a bit" part in order to provide fodder for anti-war polemicists the world over. Apparently he got promoted to covering Iraq on the strength of his reporting for the Hollywood beat, where he also had a reputation for screwing things up. Why exactly does he still have his job?
ANOTHER UPDATE: The correction finally ran Sunday, August 24th, a week after the original story ran. They also corrected something else I'd forgotten to mention; the fact that Weinraub had also claimed that Finding Nemo was a PG-13. So, to sum up, there were two glaring errors in this little piece of piffle; one of which could have been corrected by asking any random half-sentient Gen-X'er, the other by looking at the marquee of your local multiplex. It's enough to make you long for the days of "Pablo Picasso."