The End of the Bill Keller Era

Available in the newest issue (Aug 2011) of Extra.

When Bill Keller announced that he would soon be stepping down as the New York Times’ top editor, he was hailed as the man “who rebuilt the confidence of the New York Times newsroom after the Jayson Blair scandal” (Forbes, 6/2/11). Rem Rieder of American Journalism Review (3–4/11) wrote that Keller “righted the ship” and “deserves major credit for steering our most important news organization in an immensely challenging time, for the most part avoiding the icebergs.” Hendrik Hertzberg (New Yorker, 6/3/11) commended his tenure: “The quality and quantity of Times journalism remain unsurpassed on Planet Earth.”

Despite all the praise, Keller’s record of major editorial decisions during his eight-year reign—especially on matters of national security, foreign policy and domestic surveillance—is littered with journalistic disappointments that warrant criticism rather than praise.

Underlying many of these critical decisions is a remarkable deference to state power, whether under a Republican or Democratic administration: his suppression of information about the National Security Agency’s illegal wiretapping program, his refusal to use the word “torture” when the U.S. engaged in it, and his closeness to the government regarding the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy project.

In a speech given at FAIR’s 25th anniversary ceremony (4/28/11), Glenn Greenwald highlighted Keller’s relationship with the government when he described the editor’s handling of the release of documents fromWikiLeaks:

What [Keller] is most proud of is that…the New York Times, before it publishes any of these [controversial or classified] documents, goes to the government and says, “These are the things that we wish to publish,” and then listens to the government say, “Don’t publish this and don’t publish that,” and in general the New York Times complies.... He’s so proud of the fact that he’s gotten government approval for what it is that he’s doing; it’s the proof that he’s doing the right thing.

Read the rest here.