The creeping menace of diverse voices

BillKellerSometimes you know you’re doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. Other times, you know it’s right because you’re ticking off the right people.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, might take some comfort from the quality of responses to his memo (PDF) announcing that the Times will cover religion more seriously.

Keller sent his memo to all Times staff in response to an earlier report (PDF) by the Times’ Credibility Committee. (Terry commented on the committee’s report in this post.)

Like the report, Keller’s memo mostly addresses questions of responding to the Times’ critics and assuring that anonymous sources are both necessary accurate and preventing errors (or correcting them punctually).

Here’s what Keller wrote about the importance of giving more serious attention to religion:

Of course, diversifying the range of viewpoints reported — and understood — in our pages is not mainly a matter of hiring a more diverse work force. It calls for a concerted effort by all of us to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation. This is second nature for many of our reporters, especially on the national staff, and there have been some exceptional successes — the coverage of conservatives by David Kirkpatrick (including the splendid piece on evangelicals in the class series) and Jason DeParle, and a number of recent Magazine pieces. I intend to keep pushing us in this direction.

I also endorse the committee’s recommendation that we cover religion more extensively, but I think the key to that is not to add more reporters who will write about religion as a beat. I think the key is to be more alert to the role religion plays in many stories we cover, stories of politics and policy, national and local, stories of social trends and family life, stories of how we live. This is important to us not because we want to appease believers or pander to conservatives, but because good journalism entails understanding more than just the neighborhood you grew up in.

Editor & Publisher ran a concise report on the memo Monday.

Southbound Cinema offered this commentary:

The aim, [Keller] wrote, is “to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation.”

In other words, Rush Limbaugh has spent fifteen years whipping idiots up into a frenzy, making people perceive bias that isn’t there. We helped beat the drum for the Iraq war, but we’re still a favorite whipping boy for jack-offs who take Fox News and the Washington Times seriously.

So, we give up. Here’s more right-wing shit on our editorial page. Here’s a bunch of religious crap that isn’t news.

Here’s the end of the end of the New York Times.

Screw em.

And Echidne of the Snakes wrote this:

Let’s see. Why would the New York Times want to diversify its coverage of news by hiring more ex-military, more Evangelical Christians and more Republicans? For that’s what the bland statement above boils down to. Isn’t this just a way to pretend that one is increasing diversity while hiring more and more white men? Just consider the recent hirings among the opinion columnists: John Tierney and David Brooks. We don’t need women columnists on the Times. One is plenty, even if she’s on leave. After all, we have John Tierney telling us that women can’t compete, and all the columnist boys telling us what their wives think.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note that both the Credibility Committee and Keller cited these examples of how the Times has sometimes painted with too broad a brush (quoting from the committee’s report):

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist “inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.” We often apply “religious fundamentalists,” another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

We particularly slip into these traps in feature stories when reporters and editors think they are merely presenting an interesting slice of life, with little awareness of the power of labels. We need to be more vigilant about the choice of language not only in the text but also in headlines, captions and display type.

Print Friendly

  • Christopher Fotos

    Great post, and one of the best heds for a post I’ve seen in a long time.

  • JB

    Does anyone know if Keller or the NY Times has ever addressed the op-ed piece he wrote during the Howell Raines era and during the height of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal where he compared Pope John Paul II to the mass-murdering Communist commissars who once oppressed Poland and said that the Catholic Church was the enemy of progress and must be stopped.
    Outside of Pat Buchanan I can’t think of anybody who really took Keller to task for those comments which can be found here:

    My point being that I doubt anyone who made similar comments about Islam or Judaism (even in an op-ed piece) would have gotten “promoted” to Managing Editor. If these are Mr. Keller’s real thoughts on the largest religious denomination in the US, is it any wonder why anyone questions the NY Times when it says it will take religion more seriously?

  • Stephen A.

    If anyone needed a “credibility Committee” it’s the NY Times. This is a good step in the right direction, I suppose. Much like someone on the beach in Southern California facing eastward, grudgingly, is the first step towards Delaware.

    I love those F#$&ing responses. Again, I really love the language.

    But I suppose it’s really reflective of how the Left thinks about us peons who DARE to not automatically share their worldview.

  • Kyle

    Stephen A.,
    I classify myself as a political independent, largely because I find the condescension from both the left and the right stultifying. You are no exception here, and yet you probably wonder why liberals are condescending in return… The right also consistently expresses shock with anyone who dares to disagree with them, and they too have perfected the exasperated expression to paste on for the cameras.

  • Brant

    Don’t know if you caught the Times’ own estimate last week: there are about a million “evangelical Christians” living in the New York metro area.

    Something tells me it’s at least a good business move to quit deriding a million people — residents of your own city! — as a bizarre band of extremists.

  • Justine Surrat

    This is exactly why we have two Times in this country — one for the ignorant and one for the enlightened. And the beauty is that both sides can place the terms where they like and feel superior! What a country!

  • Michael

    I know that Times bashing is everyone’s favorite sport, but maybe this isn’t deriding at all. One could argue that questioning a mass political and social movement that views itself as a victim of oppression–despite evidence to the contrary–is a good thing and the proper role of the NYT and other media.

    The chief criticism appears to be that the Times has it’s own view and it refuses to follow the script that Evangelicals believe should be followed.

  • Fred

    “One could argue that questioning a mass political and social movement that views itself as a victim of oppression–despite evidence to the contrary–is a good thing and the proper role of the NYT and other media.”

    By the same logic it’s appropriate to question the questioner, lest it become an ultimate authority, a dangerous precedent.

  • Michael

    Fred, I don’t disagree. But second-guessing the NYT is a decades-long tradition by the naysayers and elites. Questioning the story of Evangelicals is a fairly new effort.

  • Stephen A.

    I am not being condescending to liberals by noticing obvious bias and calling it what it is.

    But I suppose I’m condescending down to a certain level to accept what NPR does as “news” in the first place, since it’s obviously propaganda for elitist snobbery, be the topic politics, culture or faith.

    And are you really going to say you are neutral and/or independent on ALL social and political issues? I have never met anyone who could pull that off.

    Usually, they are on their way towards being conservative or liberal on a majority of issues, but are either afraid to admit it because they like the concept of being “free” of biases, or, as in much of the mass media, are oblivious to their own developing biases.

    I also find that simply saying you’re independent won’t make it so. Mr. McCain may get away with it on occasion, but not lower mortals.

  • Brant

    For those scoring at home: People who question the Times “bash”, while the li’l ol’ Times merely “questions”.

    As an elite, I’d feel much worse about my Times-bashing if the Times editors themselves didn’t keep admitting the analysis is right-on.