The latest installment of New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller’s Sunday Magazine column, “Among the Guerrillas -- What role do the mainstream media play in an environment beset by Assanges and O’Keefes?” likened conservative guerrilla film-maker James O’Keefe, who brought down ACORN and the executive suite at National Public Radio with his hoaxes, to Julian Assange, the anti-American anarchist who spilled secret diplomatic cables with the intent of harming U.S. interests.
Intriguingly, Keller went further than he usually does to meet his critics, confessing that his paper could be rightfully accused of a liberal outlook in a cultural sense, though he managed to make this particular brand of urban cultural liberalism sound appealing: “[Former Public Editor Daniel] Okrent went on to explain that The Times’s outlook, steeped in the mores of a big, rambunctious city, tends to be culturally liberal: open-minded, skeptical of dogma, secular, cosmopolitan....Okrent rightly scolded us for sometimes seeming to look down our urban noses at the churchgoing, the gun-owning and the unlettered.”
Keller’s journalistic sympathy lies with Assange, one formerly evinced by the Times’s participation in the last and most potent batch of diplomatic leaks from Assange’s WikiLeaks project. (The Times was not nearly as approving of O’Keefe’s hoaxes, which were aimed at liberals.)
Has anyone actually seen James O’Keefe and Julian Assange together? Are we quite sure that the right-wing prankster who brought down the leadership of National Public Radio and the anarchic leaker aren’t split personalities of the same guy -- sent by fate to mess with the heads of mainstream journalists?
Sure, one shoots from the left, the other from the right. One deals in genuine (albeit purloined) secrets; the other in “Candid Camera” stunts, most recently posing as a potential donor and entrapping a foolish NPR executive into disclosing his scorn for Republicans and the Tea Party. Assange aims to enlist the media; O’Keefe aims to discredit us. But each, in his own guerrilla way, has sown his share of public doubt about whether the press can be trusted as an impartial bearer of news.
Keller does admit to some liberal lean on the part of his paper, although he chalks it up to the cultural factor of being a Manhattan-based newspaper:
Back in 2004, Daniel Okrent, the first ombudsman at The Times, wrote a column under the headline, “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” The sly first sentence of his essay was: “Of course it is.” Nobody seems to remember what came after. Okrent went on to explain that The Times’s outlook, steeped in the mores of a big, rambunctious city, tends to be culturally liberal: open-minded, skeptical of dogma, secular, cosmopolitan. We publish news of gay unions on the wedding pages. We have a science section that does not feel obliged to give equal time to creationists when it writes about evolution. Okrent rightly scolded us for sometimes seeming to look down our urban noses at the churchgoing, the gun-owning and the unlettered. Respect is a prerequisite for understanding. But he did not mean that we subscribe to any political doctrine or are foot soldiers in any cause. (Anyone who thinks we go easy on liberals should ask Eliot Spitzer or David Paterson or Charles Rangel or....)