Dog bites man: former editor says Times is "socially liberal"

Well, who’da thunk?


Former New York Times editor Bill Keller sat down for an interview at the LBJ Library last week and discussed the Times’ editorial stance when covering hotly contested social issues. In a forthright admission, Keller openly described the paper as “socially liberal.”

Keller, who stepped down as Executive Editor of the New York Times and was replaced by the Times’ managing director Jill Abramson in June 2011, rejoined the paper as a senior writer and Op-Ed columnist. Keller is responsible for adding the Public Editor position to the New York Times staff. He recalled a famous 2004 column by Daniel Okrent, the first man to hold the title. The column had a simple answer to whether or not the Times is liberal: “of course.” Okrent’s more nuanced take was that the Times reflects its New York base, and thus takes a more cosmopolitan and liberal view of some divisive social and cultural issues.

Keller essentially agreed with this. He said, “we are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense. Socially liberal.” He also said that the paper “treats evolution as a fact.”

Keller’s comments contrast somewhat with those of Abramson. When she officially assumed the Executive Editor position in early September, dismissed the Times’ liberal label. “Journalists in the newsroom play it straight,” she told The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz.

She reiterated this point when speaking with Times’ public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane. When asked if she will oblige with “legendary Times executive editor A. M. Rosenthal” who “felt the need to steer The Times to the right to compensate for the leftward political leanings of some staff,” she pointed to the general political leanings of New York that might impact reporters’ perspectives, rather than reporters personal political leanings.

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  1. It’s interesting that acknowledgement of the vast factual basis for evolution is considered a partisan “liberal” leaning. I wonder what sort of ideological bent is implied if one “treats General Relativity or Ohm’s Law as fact?”

  2. Just “socially Liberal?” How about economically and politically Liberal too. In fact down right socialist. Is there an issue under the sun they don’t take the left side on?

  3. Manny, 100% correct. Of course that is why papers such as this keep seeing their readers disappearing.

  4. Most newspapers will admit to their political and social leanings (left, right, or middle) on the editorial page. No shame in that. From my quick scanning of Keller’s comments, that seems to be what he’s owning up to. He’s not claiming that the NYT lets that bias creep into its news reporting in any insidious way. (Anyone who was awake while Bush 43 was laying the groundwork to attack Iraq will remember Judith Miller’s anything-but-liberal approach to writing about that subject. Miller might as well have been deputy press secretary for Bush’s White House. She was glad to spread the gospel according to Dick and Condi and skipped the fact checking on a frequent basis.)

    Now, if only the hosts of Fox & Friends were to announce tomorrow morning that their supposedly straight-up, “no spin, we let you decide” approach to the news is actually riddled with conservative (nay, Tea Party) propaganda every day — wouldn’t THAT be newsworthy!

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