Remember When the NY Times Reported, You Know, News?

To borrow a line from Capt. Louis Renault in the classic movie Casablanca, I'm shocked, shocked, to discover that Donald Trump likes beautiful women and sometimes calls them honey.

Actually, what's truly shocking is that The New York Times has shamefully succumbed to that old but accurate adage: sex sells.

Following a Sunday NY Times "exposé" of Trump's flings with various beautiful women from 20+ years ago, and one interviewee's swift response that the Times completely twisted her words and meaning, the Internet is a-twitter with the usual hand wringing -- was it a hit piece, as Trump claims, and did the reporter exercise a little (or a lot) of journalistic leeway in his recounting of the women's interviews, or was it an accurate profile of a sexist playboy?

Interesting as those questions are, they miss the boat, namely the economic one. NYT stock is down 15% over last year and a whopping 50% over 10 years. Despite modest growth in digital subscribers in Q1, its overall earnings were down and its ad revenue is dwindling. And no matter how much the Times will look to digital ads to save them as print ads dwindle even further, c'mon... they're competing for online ads with the big guns -- Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, et al. And online ads aren't yet working out for those guys, either.

Clearly, somebody thought a titillating sex story might help. And with the Donald's name attached to it, how could they go wrong, right? Wrong. Not only did it never occur to any of their editors that perhaps The New York Times doesn't actually know how to do titillating sex stories, it messed up even the most basic journalistic part of the piece -- i.e. don't misquote someone who can hit you back. Within 24 hours of the article appearing in print, one of his ex-girlfriends, Rowanne Brewer Lane, quickly decried the report as misleading and false.

"I made it very clear over a two-hour interview that I never felt offended and he was never anything more than a gentleman," she told CNN. Trump jumped on that, tweeting out at least 10 separate anti-NY Times posts on Monday. Tuesday morning, Trump Organization's general counsel Michael Cohen called for a retraction from the Times and an apology to both Trump and Ms. Lane from the reporters. The Times, meanwhile, continued to defend its article.

It will be interesting to see if indeed sex does sell for the paper of record. According to Theodore Kim, a Times assistant news editor, it was "our most read story of the year" as measured by internal metrics. So a point goes to The New York Times. But as we all know, one big traffic day, or even week, does not a turnaround make, and the true proof of the article's success will be seen in their year-end annual report.

Meanwhile, if the goal was simply to be a hit piece on Trump, as he claims, the results are still questionable. After all, it's no secret that a negative article on Trump by the Times is pretty much preaching to the choir, so any success rate at increasing the NeverTrump population by that measure is debatable. Also, as every major media outlet has shown in the past 10 months, every story on Trump, especially the negative ones, seems to just increase his popularity and fervor among his adherents. It also gives his campaign yet more free advertising, so the bottom line remains--what was The New York Times thinking?

Instead of going the Kardashian route of "sex sells," if the Gray Lady is looking to energize new subscribers, perhaps she should consider just coloring her hair. It's a lot more dignified.