Keller Confesses: NYT Leans Left, But Fairness Is 'Tedious'

Former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller confessed to liberal bias at the Times, especially on social issues like gay marriage and the recent contraception debate, but defended it, saying “if we somehow achieved absolute objectivity, it would be kind of tedious to read,” and that "Watching The New York Times try to be even-handed on some issues is like trying to watch somebody dance their kids' dance styles. We look like we're trying too hard.”

Keller’s comments came at a Wednesday evening chat with Peter Beinart, an editor at The Daily Beast and a faculty member at CUNY's journalism school, where the talk was held. New York Capital has the story.

In the spirit of this new-found liberation (which is actually the second time Keller has enjoyed it: his first stint as an op-ed columnist immediately preceded his executive editorship following a meteoric 17-year rise from reporter to managing editor), Keller shared a number of opinions with the audience, including his opinion about which area of the Times' news report tends to be the most opinionated – that is, in the so-called "liberally-biased" way that seems to make some conservatives' blood boil.

Tough question!

"Um ... I think ... you know, I mean ... because I know most of the people who have bylines," he said, "and in the context of reading the stories I see them wrestling with their convictions, what is the issue on which they do least well? Uh ... it would ... it would probably fall under the realm of social issues, by and large."


Marriage, for instance. Or certain religious topics, like the recent debate over contraception.

Then again, how can the Times not reflect its own cultural milieu?

"We can't entirely leech the New York-ness out of The New York Times," said Keller. "If we somehow achieved absolute objectivity, it would be kind of tedious to read. ... Watching The New York Times try to be even-handed on some issues is like trying to watch somebody dance their kids' dance styles. We look like we're trying too hard. Yes, we should be even-handed, we should certainly follow the basic rule of reporting, challenging your assumptions, and we should be ruthless about having a public editor or an editors' note to call ourselves out. ... But it is possible to be fair and still radiate a cultural persona."

Keller previously admitted to, and defended, his paper’s liberal bias in a March 27, 2011 column: “[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. 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.”
 

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