What happened to comments selection at the New York Times?

The comments sections for pieces in the New York Times are always divided into three sections: All, Reader’s Picks, and NYT Picks. I often just read the NYT Picks because who has time to read all the comments and the Times usually selects the most articulate and informative comments from all sides of an issue.

Yesterday I watched the video they posted of Patricia Krenwinkel titled, My Life After Manson. My take: it felt like a performance. But I’m not saying she is insincere, necessarily. I’ve noticed over the years that people expect a certain script from criminals. If they don’t express the right amount of remorse, and the right amount of horror over what they’ve done, and in the right way, using the right words, people don’t accept that they’ve changed and that the person truly understands what they’ve done is wrong.

This felt like what comes of a person who has spent over four decades in prison. She is thoroughly schooled in the script. Which is not to say that it doesn’t represent what she feels. I believe she feels what she says she feels, along with many, many, many other things. Feelings are complicated, and not so neat and packaged as they are presented in this film. I believe she expressed herself in the way that she has learned to.

Some of the people who commented on the video said she doesn’t talk enough about the victims, and that they are not named. I think she does talk about the victims, and I believe she doesn’t name them because that would only enrage the victim’s families and friends. If I were a family member I absolutely would not want to hear their murderer talking about them personally in any way shape or form. I would not want to hear my relative’s name pass their lips.

The bottom line: she is never going to be able to express herself in a way that will satisfy everyone, and some people will never be satisfied no matter what she says.

I was alive at the time of the crimes, but I didn’t really understand the full horror of what happened until I read the book Helter Skelter. I think Patricia Krenwinkel was a seriously fucked up person in 1969, honestly I can’t fathom it, except drugs were involved and from my study of murder, I found that drugs and/or alcohol do seem to enable people to do horrible things, and in some cases, people who would never have done them otherwise.

I think she probably always will be damaged, but if she is eligible for parole, the questions are, is she a threat to society? Has she been rehabilitated? I know for some there is also the question of has she been adequately punished for her crimes? For those who believe the punishment must equal the crimes the answer to that question will always be no.

I also read the comments section, and came back this morning to see which the New York Times selected. There were only five, and they were all on the side of never letting her out of prison. They were also not of the calibre the Times usually selects. I guess it’s difficult to avoid emotion, but they seemed to either be about hating Krenwinkel, or hating the commentators the writer disagreed with. Although I liked one suggestion that came out of the commentator-hater, to contribute to the Innocence Project. The point made accompanying that suggestion was a good one.

Where are the comments from the other side, from people who present reasons for letting her out? Maybe I just checked too early and the Times hasn’t finished making their selection?

Update: I was too early. I went back later and there was an array of comments of the quality I’ve come to expect from their selections.

Yesterday I also had the pleasure of visiting the Surrogates Courthouse, formerly The Hall of Records, and home to one of my favorite places in New York City, the Municipal Archives, where I took this shot.

Surrogates Courthouse, Municipal Archives, New York City

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

2 thoughts on “What happened to comments selection at the New York Times?

  1. I listened to it but it was just an excerpt, right? What I didn’t get was more about her early years. We know she didn’t feel loved, but a lot of people don’t feel loved but don’t completely give themselves over to a murderer and go on a killing spree. There was a lot missing there.

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