August 27, 2012 · 1 Comments
By Jay Rosen:
In his final column after two years on the job, the New York Times public editor, Arthur Brisbane, was moved to criticize the Times for being “powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.”
And what are these like minds thinking? In covering the presidential campaign they manage to avoid major bias, Brisbane says. “Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.” For examples he went with gay marriage and Occupy Wall Street, which “seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.”
Brisbane also says he is disappointed in the Times for not making enough progress on transparency, which to him means being super clear with readers about Times standards and values and practices.
A major step in transparency was take[n] eight years ago by the first public editor, Daniel Okrent, who in his column asked, “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” (See: http://nyti.ms/OdRo27 ) His answer: of course it is. It reflects the city where it is made. What would you expect?
“The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists,” Okrent wrote. He didn’t agree that in most coverage of politics and policy the Times was “left,” but he did agree that a tone of “implicit advocacy” came through on social issues: “gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others.”
What’s odd to me about Brisbane’s parting column is not only that he doesn’t mention Okrent, who was there first. He also doesn’t seem to appreciate the contradiction between calling for greater transparency and bashing the times for showing that it has a world view. Wouldn’t real transparency mean that the Times embraces who it is, where it is made, and the culture of New York City, acknowledges that it has a sensibility and takes other steps away from the implied (but absurd) default: the View from Nowhere?
The new executive editor, Jill Abramson, seemed to signal this when she told The Politico’s Dylan Byers: “I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base,” she continued. “But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping ‘the paper straight.’ That’s essential.” (See: http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2012/08/nyts-abramson-rebuts-brisbane-charge-133211.html )
Believe it or not, that’s ideological evolution at the New York Times. A good way to interrupt this welcome movement toward greater transparency is to frame the world view of the Times as a kind of ongoing scandal, a problem that needs fixing, a blight on its reputation, an injury to its journalism.
That is what Arthur Brisbane chose to do. Yet he also presented himself as the champion of greater transparency. That’s odd, as I said. Here’s an idea: The New York Times would be better [off] everyone knew where it was coming from. The departing public editor believes that… except when he doesn’t.